Awards Shmwards

Awards are great – recognition descending from on high to give you a firm slap on the back. An award tells people that you’re one of those rare artists doing good, making work and being successful. If it comes with cash you can even pay rent this month. The glamour of the ceremony, the snacks, the champagne… rubbing body parts with the movers and shakers of the industry.

I got my first award in 2013… what a day. I was elated. I was free with my high-fives. It felt good. I’ve gotten a couple more since then and it’s a thrill every time. Getting an award is almost enough to quiet that niggling voice in the back of my head… that maybe… possibly… awards aren’t great. That awards may actually be the opposite of great. That awards maybe actually be terrible.

everything-i-do-is-the-attitude-of-an-award-winner

Awards are inarguably good for two entities: The organisation giving the award, and the individual receiving it.

We’re in an incredibly unequal society. Awards can function to pick out talent and push it forward, forming part of a virtuous circle (the opposite of the more famous vicious circle – a virtuous circle is where good things lead to more good things, a positive positive feedback loop). This can be a force for social change, combatting the inequalities of the system, but only if that is a conscious goal of the award. We see this in targeted awards for basically everyone who isn’t a white heterosexual male, they are addressing persisting historical equality.

In these virtuous circles sit not just awards but many opportunities that we want to believe are based solely on merit. But the rewards are disproportionate, the person who came second rarely gets any prizes and certainly not the publicity that leads to more offers of work. One instance of this is fine, it’s the circle we should worry about. Let’s take a look at a kid who went to a school with good drama program, they audition against others who have passion but no training. They get into a top tier university with opportunities for bursaries and residences. Their peers are mostly like them, passionate with a talent that has already been nurtured. Competition and collaboration drives them further. By the end of their university career they take a production to the Student Festival at the National Arts Festival. They win some categories like best production, best writer, best director. Part of their prize is to present a new show at the next NAF. Focus is on them and they get an Ovation award. The next year it’s the Arena program. A virtuous circle.

How far back do you trace a person’s success? Is my career dependent on growing up in a house filled with books? Or unconsciously absorbing the cues all around me that told me I could do whatever I wanted? Is it being brought up in the language of the global hegemony?

There are advantages being handed out all around us all the time. I believe that talent, intelligence, and passion are distributed equally across race and class. But that is not the story that the advantages handed out tell. That story is that advantage leads to advantage.

Awards and opportunities need to be open to questioning. In 2014 we saw outcry on social media about the all-male Standard Bank Young Artists for 2015 and we saw people questioning the selection process of the Cape Town Fringe. People were questioning the gatekeepers about their decisions from Maynardville to the NAF. And that’s important. Awards and opportunities innately stratify industries so we need to be aware of their effects and cautious about how they’re handled. Above all else awards need to be proportional to the achievements (and opportunities to the potential) not only of the recipient, but of their peers. Setting one person above another is a great responsibility and who ever does so must be able to answer for it.

Perhaps the best way awards contribute to change is in their fallibility – the value of high profile awards like the Grammies, the Oscars, or the Standard Bank Young Artists is that we see how untransformed we are clearly. It is an opportunity for us all to address it.

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Tax for Performers

Tax. It’s pretty much a word spoken in dread by performers and artists, and like most of the things we fear, it’s powerful because we don’t understand it. Well, that’s not entirely fair – it’s powerful also because it’s backed up by laws, the Income Tax Act No. 58 of 1962 specifically. But it need not be scary in its power; in fact for most of us the benefits of the tax system far outweigh the personal costs. Despite sharing a name with a notorious virus, SARS is there to help you. At least that’s what I thought I’d say to make you feel less scared of them. Unfortunately ‘m advised to make it clear that while individuals at SARS may be friendly and helpful, their job is to collect as much tax as is owed to them. So for various reasons most artists early in their careers are paying more tax than they should; and SARS will help you get it back but only if you follow their guidelines. This article will help you understand the tax process and how to use it properly, but the best advice any one can ever have is ask an expert. There are many tax advisors with reasonable fees, as well as internet services like Tax Tim.

All this applies to Individuals, not necessarily to other kinds of entities like companies or partnerships. The information in this guide comes largely from SARS’s own website and from Marc Sevitz from Tax Tim and Brendan Murray along with some other sources. I am not a tax expert and have interpreted and contextualized the information based on my reading and experience. If you have a helpful perspective or have found an error please post a comment or get in touch with me.

First of all, what is income tax?

Income tax is a tax levied on all income and profit earned by a taxpayer, hence the name. Basically it is a percentage of the money you earn that goes to the government. This amount owed is modified in two major ways: those that determine the percentage owed, and the deductions from this amount that you are entitled to.

The Tax Year is from 1st March to 28/29th February, after that you have fixed amount of time to get square with SARS by filing your returns.  More on this later…

Tax returns must be submitted by everyone earning over R160 000 per year. If you earn under this amount and all your income is from a single employer who has been taking off PAYE you don’t have to submit. This doesn’t apply to most of us in the creative economy, but if you’re stopping here from somewhere else…

That said it may still be a smart move to submit a return because with PAYE you are probably entitled to some of that back. Which brings us to…

 What is PAYE? And who pays my Tax?

You are responsible for paying your tax. However there are processes that are sort of out of your hands. Employers are responsible for paying PAYE tax – that’s Pay As You Earn. Again SARS is literal with the names; instead of waiting for the end of the year tax is taken off your salary or wage by your employer and paid to SARS on your behalf. This is bad because you get less money, but very good because SARS will owe you money – it’s much nicer to be receiving money at the end of the year than to discover how much you owe. In theory there shouldn’t be refund because your employer should be paying all your valid expenses; however in practice, especially early in your career, the PAYE rate will be greater than the amount your liable for. Your employer may take off 25% while you are in fact in the 18% bracket.

You’ll find on your pay slips the deductions made. Keep your slips; having good records will save you a lot of trouble. As I said before, the tax year ends at the end of February – but there is a lot of administration for big companies to do and for you to do too. So Tax Season begins on the 1st of July. From then you can get your tax info in order by chasing after something very important: the mysterious IRP5s.

All your employers over the course of the year have been giving the PAYE tax to SARS; the IRP5 is a record of this. Most companies will post it to you, some will ask you to collect it, and some you’ll need to chase down (but only if you haven’t gotten it by the 1st of July – according to the exasperated accounts manager of the Market Theatre when I started bugging her in April). Your pay slips come in handy here to check that no mistakes have been made.

Here it’s pretty important to note that you shouldn’t ever send SARS your original documents. You should make copies and keep the originals. Brendan Murray describes his ingenious system of record keeping: “You have to keep everything for at least 5 years – that’s a SARS rule. So I have 5 shoeboxes. One for every year in a pile with the most recent at the top. At the arrival of new tax year I toss out the oldest from the bottom, put it on the top and start filling it with my documents and receipts for the year.”

How do I file my returns?

OK, so now we’ve finished a financial year. There are 3 ways to file: you can request SARS post you the forms (you can’t download them because they have barcodes specifically linked to your tax number and then post them back; you can go in person with all your documents to a SARS office; or you can e-file. E-filing is the easiest, you log on to the SARS website and fill out the online forms. The limit of e-filing is that you can only enter 15 IRP5s. A busy actor would get one for each job and so might amass many times more than this. Look for the section on Local Business Income and there’ll be a block for IRP5/IT3a income: add all your remaining IRPs together here. Remember to have copies ready as supporting documentation.

All these require you to get your documents and records in order. We’ve gathered up our pay slips and IRP5s. But if you’re like me you’ve also done a lot of freelance work for small companies and individuals who didn’t take off PAYE. The temptation is just not to declare this to SARS. That’s dishonest and also sort of a crime that can get you fined and even go to jail. But it’s also a widespread practice and is pretty much summed up by the term ‘informal sector of the economy’. My view is that if you’re straight with SARS they’ll be good to you. So far, so good.

So what I do is make an invoice for every job, even when it’s not requested. Here’s a mock one for poster update:

So very important: it says Invoice and it has an invoice number (my system is straight-forward: count them and  add the year). Other details it should have: the date, who it’s to, who it’s from, what it’s for, how much it’s for and how it should be paid.

Some of you aren’t just registered as individuals though, are you? Some are registered as other tax entities (companies and wot-not) and so there are rules around invoices that apply when dealing with them. Rob Keith of UCT’s drama department enlightens us:

If you are Vat registered as a company, you must charge and indicate Vat on your invoice. Your invoice must be titled Tax Invoice (not just Invoice). If you do not charge Vat because you are not registered for Vat, your invoice is not allowed to be titled Tax Invoice, only Invoice.
If you are Vat registered, your Vat Registration Number must appear on the invoice as well, to be perfectly in line with SARS regulation.
UCT (as an example) requires that if you invoice them for anything (UCT thus being the costumer), that their Vat number also appears on your invoice, even if you do not charge VAT. This is not only best practice, but will increasingly become the norm when dealing with larger institutes and companies. It may be a wise idea to ask your customer for their Customer VAT number right from the beginning, before invoicing to avoid possible delays down the line.
UCT (again just as an example) will reject any payment that does not align with these requirements – not because they are particularly wanting to be difficult, but because SARS does not give them a choice.

Right, that should cover all your income. Now for the deductions, the answer to the eternal question:

How can I pay less tax?

You can pay less tax by keeping good records. We’ve looked briefly at tracking the money that comes in, but just as vital is keeping track of the money that goes out. In principle the money spent to earn money is deductable however you must be able to prove that the benefits are entirely work related and not personal.

The first step is to hang on to the slips for pretty much everything. All your printing, your pens, notebooks and stationary. All the brown paper, glue, wood and string you use to make puppets. Every screw, bolt and bulb. I told you SARS is your friend. I manage my invoices by writing a number on each of them, noting which project they relate to, and recording them in a nice excel spread sheet while I stick the originals to A4 pages in my flip folder. Everyone loves spreadsheets, right?

Our profession allows us a great deal of flexibility in what we can deduct, as long as we can back it up with paperwork.

The general guidelines are these:

1. Incurred in connection with your trade, business, or profession 

2. Must be “ordinary” and “necessary” 

3. Must NOT be “lavish or extravagant under the circumstances” 

So far all my examples were objects, mostly consumables, so there’s not a lot of room for “extravagance” – but what about necessary costs like accommodation on tour? Or lunch meetings or meals on tour? For meals  and travel relating to work SARS has an allowable amount that can be deducted per day. These are found on tables on the SARS website. As for business meetings where food is involved, record who your meeting was with and what it was about. The issue of extravagance really boils down to common sense. You could run up a bill at a five star hotel while on tour and try claiming it as an expense, but you’ve still got to pay it upfront yourself. I hope you’re earning enough on that tour.

Or how about bigger or more expensive items? Like a laptop, a dimmer rack, or a camera? These items don’t get written off in a single tax year which is reasonable considering you’ll be using them over a couple of years. These assets ‘depreciate’ over a couple of years, so for instance you can write off your car over a period of 5 years. The length of time is specified on a table you can download off SARS’s website. (I found it hard to find clarity on the threshold, but it seemed that this rule applies to any item over R7000, as long as it isn’t part of a set whose total value exceeds R7000 – like a chair which should be calculated with the table and other chairs.)

Tax Tim has a table of the periods as well as handy tax calculator on their site.

As performers we get to deduct a lot of things that would be personal purchases for other people, like tickets to shows, and the weird items of furniture we buy as set dressing. There are a lot of misconceptions around these. There are rumours that as long as we get receipts for them we can deduct them – I have heard from a number of folk that haircuts, gym membership and beauty treatments are similarly deductable . They’re not unless you can produce the contract binding you to getting a six-pack, haircut or treatment. SARS are very strict on these sorts of things because there’s a lot of scope for abuse. So if you try to claim for something be prepared to have to back it up (and when you do remember not to send in your original documents). Filing false returns is a criminal offence, and SARS could even come to your home. Don’t claim a lamp as a stage prop and then put it in your living room.

So keep your receipts.

“Oh, come on,” you say, “Surely it’s not a big deal if I miss out on some. I lose out on like, R500 over a year. Whatevs.” Maybe.  But here’s the thing… Deductions come before you get put in a tax bracket. So that R500 may mean quite a big difference. Here are the tax brackets:

So that’s it then?

Pretty much. Tax boils down to record keeping. The better records you keep, the more you get out of SARS. Or rather get back from SARS.

Mr Muftic speaks!

Hello dear readers. Yesterday I posted about the GIPCA symposium Directors and Directing: Playwrights. I expressed some frustrations and reservations about the focus of the platform and whether it really spoke about playwriting in a significant way. Sanjin Muftic has pointed out that I missed his presentation at the final panel (the burger I got in lieu attendance were tasty though… ) and so I can’t really sum up the symposium. Of course I can (I argued) after all the panel was New Directions and featured only one playwright. So Sanjin sent me his presentation. Check and mate by Mr. Muftic.

Here follows Sanjin Muftic’s presentation at the symposium:

I must start by saying that I feel that I come to this presentation as
a bit of an outsider. I am not South African. I am a Bosnian refugee
who found himself in Ethiopia during the war of the 90s, and managed
to study in Canada as an immigrant before arriving to this country
when I was 22.  But I have spent the last 8 and half years in Cape
Town – which has recently become the one place I have spent the most
years in my life.   Having started out as student in theatre, I now
spend most of my time as a drama lecturer, I feel as if I might have,
just like most of you, made little footprints in the sand that is the
theatre industry of South Africa.  And my concern, just like yours, is
to work towards doing my part to contribute to the future of this art
form, as a lecturer and director, even if I am not of this land.

My concern for this “New Directions” panel is for the future of this
theatre role that we call the “playwright”.  From this weekend’s
thoughts I have found that a playwright covers everyone from the
director/auteur, the facilitator of a workshop production, to one who
feels compelled on their own to put words on a page.  Thus for me a
playwright, is anyone who writes down a blueprint for a future
performance and playwriting is the craft of creating that blueprint.
With that in mind, my question is where are the future playwrights of
this country going to come from? From where will come the scripts for
future directors? I am concerned about this because I feel that there
are not enough true craft playwrights around and not enough new texts
being produced today to inspire the playwrights of tomorrow.  I
believe we need to find ways to improve that.

At this moment, and it might seem like a bit of a generalization, but
we proudly claim that everybody can be a playwright.  If you have a
story, and have we acknowledged that all of us have stories, our
stories that we want to say- write it and you might end up a
playwright.  However, some playwrights are better than others, more
supported than others, have more education opportunities than
others…so we are not all equal playwrights. While experience and a
certain amount of incubation can help you tell your story, it won’t
necessarily make a good play, no matter how much the actors, directors
and producers contribute to its development.  It seems to me that what
is missing from our focus on playwrights, and perhaps all of ours, is
the issue of working on and developing our craft.  Not enough
attention is paid to the training and the improvement of each
playwright, ensuring that their end product on the page, their script
is as much art as the sum of their experiences.  For all the talk of
live productions, and even in this digital age, where it is much
easier to capture the visuals and somewhat communicate the experience,
it is the script that is the starting point for many a creative
process.  Playwrights outlive the actors and the directors, future
generations pick up the pieces of paper they set down and realize them
into life, much as we do with Shakespeare today.

So how do we go about improving the playwrights and also increasing
the number of playwrights? We celebrate the notion that to survive in
this industry you need to be multi-talented and multi-skilled while
many of us play different roles in order to survive.  A lot of
students are trained with this logistical necessity in mind – being
responsible for everything from writing a script, rehearsing it,
designing it and even performing it.  This is indeed a series of
remarkable achievements and many artists are fantastic examples of
this multi-skill set.  However, while it is necessary to have an
overview of the whole theatrical process, general exposure doesn’t
breed mastery in any one of those crafts.  We need to set up
structures, especially for future playwrights, which would allow them
to focus only on that aspect of the theatrical craft.
Playwriting needs more South African opportunities to be taught as a
craft, and those that are passionate about setting words on a page to
take place on stage, need to be given the space and the time to have
their interest and talent nurtured.  To my knowledge, no higher
education programs in this country, offer focused playwriting
programs.  We struggle with the education system at a basic level
because reading and writing are not supported or encouraged as much as
we would need to have future playwrights, and students not held
accountable for not gaining proficiency in each one of those skills.
But we must fight this trend even at an undergraduate level with
playwriting and dramaturgical classes that look at the writing and the
development of a theatrical script. We don’t need to have an aversion
to written words, but in order to conquer it we need to be wrestle
with them from the very start of our training.  The training should be
continuous, forgiving, multi-voiced, multi-styled, personal and
practical.   We don’t need to prescribe a certain method of writing,
but rather take students through various approaches, using examples
from South African and from the rest of the world – thus allowing for
each voice to find its own style. A playwright does not need to wait
until a certain age to begin writing or to be considered as a
playwright, it is not only experience that makes them one, but also
the mastery of their craft, and that can be trained.  Playwriting
needs to be taught at more South African tertiary institutions, more
student playwrights need to be signed up, more attention must be paid
to them, more scripts need to come out, more scripts need to be
performed and developed. And thus more scripts may exist for us to
pick up and direct in the future.

But what can we do today? It is a very idealistic view to say that the
increase in playwriting programs will generate plays and more
individual stories, and perhaps allow for a wider reach for our
audience. I also understand the difficulty in setting up such programs
especially with the personnel required to teach this new stream of
playwrights.  But how could we go about setting that up and what would
we teach?  The idea of introducing dramaturges has come up, and others
have mentioned mentorship as something that young artists need to
improve their craft. Both of these, I believe, are something that can
be done anytime from tomorrow, if we open up our creative processes a
lot more than they are at present.  A dramaturge is somebody who is
trained in the art of developing plays, but why can’t that role be
outsourced to other theatre practitioners in the country? Why can’t we
serve as each other’s dramaturges, offering our point of view (as we
have shown that we have) about scripts, rehearsals and productions?
Can we also be humble enough to understand, analyze and act on it?
Can’t we crowd-source the training of playwrighting until we build up
those who can teach it? Is it possible for current playwrights to
offer courses and workshops to be aligned with higher education
institutions to mentor those who show interest and promise in the
craft of writing? Can those be set-up in some kind of continuous
engagement?  Is it about increasing the accessibility and transparency
within our methods of creating art? Can larger theatrical institutions
and companies take on recent graduates or promising writers to align
them with resident practitioners who can offer advice, support and
work experience? Should current South African playwrights make their
texts more accessible to a younger population, allowing them to study
and investigate their written words and how they would be put on
stage?  Do we need to investigate new methods and formats of writing
down script? Does writing now also include curating and archiving as
some of its activities? Do we need to move away from the belief that
writing something down claims authorship more than it allows for easy
dissemination among people?

For all the discussions and opinions that have come out of the GIPCA
symposiums such as this one, and how they force us to confront the
experiences and the craft of the art we practice, we must leave these
sessions with some kind of plan. What is that each one of us can do to
further the development of theatre in this country?  The development
of new writing voices has to be placed into our teaching curriculum,
lifting the playwright to a more stable and proficient position within
the South African theatre society.  It needs to be celebrated,
respected and taught as a craft of its own. Performing your story is a
transaction between you and your immediate audience, but creating the
blueprint of your story is a transaction between you and a future
audience.

Word of the Weekend: Problematic

I missed the final panel of GIPCA’s weekend long symposium Directors and Directing: Playwrights. Kim Kerfoot and I ducked out to grab a carnivore’s lunch. We never came back. We were too busy arguing about the keynote speeches we’d just listened to. We ended up going back to my place to continue the debate over tea and then wine as the day corpsified into night. It ended a weekend of being smart very appropriately.

I skipped the Friday stretch of the programme so I missed the opening addresses by Lara Foot and Mike van Graan, fortunately GIPCA seems to have been recording everything going on so I’ll be able to catch these when the video is uploaded. As for Waiting for the Barbarians, I’ll have to hustle a ticket to it sometime this week (unless they’re uploading that too?). Saturday was a marathon; I arrived at 8.30am and the day ended at 9.45pm after Kragbox at the Arena at the Artscape. Sunday I overslept and only just arrived in time to catch Mark Fleishman delivering the first of the final keynote addresses of the weekend.

Playwrights were supposedly the subject of the symposium, but Director’s and Directing trumped it, with Dramaturgs coming up with regularity too. Last year a question came up over and over: where are the writers? Well, here they are apparently. Satisfied? OK, back to directors.

I found the first panel particularly frustrating. Five writers in turn got up and introduced us to their work. Only Juliet stirred my brain with her 30 thoughts about writing. I think it was because I came to hear about writing, about why there’s a perception that the writers are missing, about who our mentors are meant to be. I came to hear about what it means to be a writer. I came for some real opinions please. Last year I heard Athol Fugard speak about what it meant to be a writer; that moved me, messed with my head a little. That’s what I wanted and what I didn’t get.

Regardless of what I wanted though, I had one major problem with what I got. It wasn’t a big statement, no one presented a fat theory that I felt I needed to deflate. It was in the way people were talking about subjects. Kim disagrees with me about this, but hasn’t convinced me I’m wrong. There was a recurrence of phrases and sentences that equated passivity with action. “Not engaging” became “silencing”, “not using stories” became “denying a right to be heard”. The simply being was to be the obstruction. In a moment of supreme irony that one of the audience members pointed out, Brett Bailey raised a point about the constituency of a panel at a European festival he was presenting work at. The panel was all white European men bar a lone white European woman.

The audience at GIPCA was mostly white. That is a problem. It is not a problem that I was there. Should I do a reversal and frame the non-attendance of black theatre-makers as an active rejection of the academic institution it represents? I could. But it’d probably be better to ask how the event was marketed. We first must make sure people have a choice before we frame their simple absence or presence as statement – or even more problematically, as a unified statement. We tend to frame actions in groups – in masses – but they are the choices of individuals and that act of framing them as an overarching political narrative is worse than silencing or denying the rights, because it does these while it shifts the discourse from the concrete solutions to practical problems of access. The solution to the problems of individuals rest with the decisions we can and some do take as individuals.

Alright, that’s enough of the politics. Here are some quotes and some things I liked in a list (just like Juliet, and Megan, and Gabriella):

1.)    It was more difficult to buy tickets for this from Computicket’s website than it was to buy tickets for my flights to and from Joburg next week.

2.)    “The form demands familiarity” – Juliet Jenkin on playwriting

3.)    “Writing, like dancing, is to expand yourself through space and time” – Juliet Jenkin again

4.)    James Ngcobo on politics and debate: “There’s a place for that – it’s called parliament”

5.)    “Work must be made in a place of joy” – James Ngcobo again (of all the speakers I felt he really loved theatre)

6.)    “The obsession to make the perfect theatre, kills theatre” James on letting go

7.)    Malcolm Purkey described our industry by referring to a documentary that showed chimps and crocodiles so desperate for water that they fought to death, the chimps becoming vicious carnivores.

8.)    “more love or more resources are needed to resolve it” – paraphrasing Malcolm on integration in theatre

9.)    Thando Doni’s merging of performance and music is beautifully done.

10.) Kragbox balances the joys of youth and the fear of a gangster movie perfectly.

11.) “assert order on a maelstrom of language” – Brett Bailey on tackling the text for medEia

A Week to Talk About

Grahamstown is a week away. Literally. The first performances are Thursday the 28th – that’s Stories of Crime and Passion, the Shadow of Brel, London Road and Owl. That’s a hell of a day. In the fever of preparation it’s been hard to find time to write a meaning post on something significant like research or practical ideas on marketing and producing. Instead of writing it I have to be doing it. A pretty common excuse for artists, but ultimately we need to be writing down our thoughts for them to develop. Art grows when a thought is planted, in the hurly burly of production we have to find time to sit on a park bench and let our minds wander. It’s not that I can’t work under pressure, I can and do, but I can’t think freely under pressure. That stroke of insight, that ‘Ah ha!’ moment, needs space to happen. The gap between the first musing and the flash can be huge, sometimes years can pass before you’re ready to make an idea you had into art. That’s why I keep a notebook; it’s my external memory.

As much as this is fundamental to the personal act of making art, it is also crucial to the practical and social act of making art happen. The Cape Town theatre industry seems to have academic writing hanging around the university libraries and reviews at various points along a popular/critical spectrum. It’s hard to find out how people actually make art happen. It’s pretty much the point of this blog and I’ve been letting that down for the past month. So on the one hand, sorry, and on the other, let’s start a conversation about theatre that doesn’t happen over beer in smoky bars or in a library or a lecture hall. Let’s start talking about what it takes to make art in this country.

Direct it Yourself

Warning: This Post May Contain Traces of Nuts

Heeeey… so you’re a writer? You’ve been sitting in front of a computer screen, hunched over and away from natural light or maybe you’ve been sterilizing your baby-maker by perching a humming laptop on, obviously, your lap. I can tell these things. You’ve probably spent a couple of weeks or years working on your script. You’ve revised it, rewritten it, thrown it away and started over a couple of times. But now it’s ready. What do you do now?

Direct it yourself.

No, no, no! That’s what everyone tells writers not to do! You need another mind on it, you need a trained director to shape and mould it – someone who has experience, or a degree, or something.

And they’re right. A good script does need all of that to reach its potential.

But …

Have you ever heard a director say he has an idea for a production and get this advice: “Great idea, go find someone to write it for you. You need another mind on it, you need a trained writer to shape and mould it – someone who has experience, or a degree, or something.” I haven’t.

Writing is regarded as an innate skill in the Cape Town theatre industry. Everyone has it. While overseas the writer/director is a rarity, here it is almost impossible not find a director who is also a writer. And it requires very little to bring out this wonderful storytelling ability that lurks in the heart of talented people. You don’t need to study a degree or even read a book on it; after all you’ve read/watched /listened to stories your whole life. What if I was to say the same about directing or acting? UCT has 4 year long programmes for each of these. But not for playwriting, that’s something you’re meant to have picked up along the way.

When a person is a writer first they create opportunities for actors and directors. They often take on the role of producer too. Look around: Nicholas Spagnoletti and his play London Road; Duncan Bulwalda and Dream, Brother; Louis Viljoen just finished a run of his new script The Verbalists at the Arena; Amy Jeptha who is too prolific to cite only one example;  and, yes, me.

Directors generate jobs often – for actors, designers, techies and musos. Actors generate jobs too. But in all my wracking of my brain the only independent production I could think of where a writer was approached to write something is Damage Control. Well played Lauren Steyn.

Independent theatre doesn’t generate jobs for writers but writers generate jobs for independent theatre all the time.

This is an absurd situation.

That was Owl – Part 3

The Building Blocks of marketing: A How-to guide to Estimating the Effectiveness of Marketing Strategies

With the tagline and a firm idea of identity I went into step two: drafting press releases and covering emails, creating content for the website and material like posters and flyers. But how do you decide what to spend you money and energy on?

There is a formula I use to work out how valuable a certain strategy might be. I made it up based on common sense, high school maths and general reading. If you can spot any problems I’d love to improve it. Basically answers the question: How likely is it to pay for itself?

Stage 1: How many people does it need to bring into the theatre to pay for itself?

Simple version:

(unit cost x number of units) / (minimum ticket price) = number of tickets you need to sell

Then take that number and compare it to the number of units. How likely is it to bring in those audience members?

Ticket sale target / number of units

This gives us a ratio to compare

So Case Study time! The design stuff is pretty straight forward for me, being a designer myself. I decided to make a thousand business card format flyers and distribute them. I handed them to people who wanted to know what I was up to. I left piles at coffee shops, bookstores, back packers, and had the magnificent Mwenya hand them out to her students. Yusrah recommended a super cheap printer out in Kensington 7th Avenue. They were R360 for 500, so we’ll plug that straight in:

R 720 / R50 = 14.4

Which means 1000 flyers need to bring in 15 people to pay for itself, sunk into a single value: 0.0015. We’ll call this number its minimum effective value. Of course this is pretty useless since we’re now just looking at it with our gut. Unfortunately until more people share their strategies and audience numbers it’s impossible to work out a statistically significant average effective value – and even then marketing is a remarkably tangled system. All we can do is rely on our personal experience to try figure out if the minimum effective value is greater or less than the average effective value.

Frustrating.

What we need is a Fermi formula – a means of organizing our ignorance and generating a logical estimate – to find the average effective value.

number of days x number of distribution points x (daily average traffic at distribution points x percentage of population interested in theatre x percentage of people who notice ad)* x percentage of people who intend to come and follow through**

* this cannot exceed the number of units per point if it’s a flyer.

** this is the ‘facebook event’ phenomenon – the percentage of people who rsvp ‘attending’ and actually show up.

This is roughly the way that websites and advertisers work out how effective an advert is, except that they have detailed numbers returned to them so they don’t have to guess.

OK, so plugging in the guesses:

7 x 10 x (70 x 0.05 x 0.6)* x 0.4

This gives us a total of 58.8 to 1000 flyers or an average effective value of 0.058

I’m not going to lie, this system is spotty and I may have missed some obvious modifiers but the margin between the minimum effective value and the average effective value is wide enough that we can safely say that flyers are good value for money.

Is anyone still reading? The point of all of this is that I can remember graduating and planning how to advertise my shows and doing things because they were what everyone else did. Really there is a lot to think about and you can go about it in quite a logical way. You can maximise your efforts by concentrating on improving one or two aspects of the formula. You could increase the number of distribution points, or pick points with greater traffic. You could discard the idea of flyers entirely and concentrate on more noticeable strategies with greater visibility but higher cost, like banners or posters. These formulas also help you to be realistic about free strategies like Facebook events or emails, which is what I’ll be covering next.

With these ideas in my head I chose to do business card flyers, 20 posters only, and to focus on free strategies: emailing, Facebook, blogging and Twitter.