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What’s in a budget? Practical help for the creative brain

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If you are planning a show, a fundraiser or a workshop, you will need money. And if you are applying for sponsorship or a grant, you need to have a pretty clear idea of how much money you will need.

Why artists shouldn’t get creative with numbers

A budget needs to be as accurate as possible. Underestimate, and you’ll run out of funds before you can get off the ground or – just as bad – in mid-air. Overestimate by too much and funders, grant-givers will smell something fishy. Trust me, they know you don’t need RM10,000 for photocopies.

The only way to get an accurate number is by doing your research. Calling, asking for estimates, knowing how much market rates are, not leaving anything out.

Include everything

The first step is to make a list of everything you will have to pay for. Even if you are confident you can get some of this stuff for free, jot them down until you know for certain. Some likely items on your list:

  • Venues – site, rehearsal and performance space rental
  • Salaries – How much will you be paying your stage manager, performers, musicians, director, stage hands, technicians? Remember that you won’t only need these people on performance nights. Who will be paid for rehearsals and how much will you need?
  • Rights – Unless your work is completely original you will likely have to pay for the right to use scripts and music. If you are doing a Broadway musical, these costs become a big part of your budget.
  • Design – Lighting, sound, costume, set, etc. If any of these are essential to the quality of your production, it will cost money.
  • Equipment rental – Microphones, podiums, projectors, screens, etc.
  • Costumes – And make sure your budget includes t-shirts for ushers, technicians, and anyone else you want to recognize as part of your team.
  • Set and props – Design, construction, rental costs for everything you don’t already own and can’t pilfer – er, borrow – from friends.
  • Publicity – Include posters, social media ads, etc.
  • Travel and shipping – even if you aren’t touring, can you get your set, costumes, props etc. to and from your performance space?
  • Printing and merchandise – Before you can sell programmes, mugs or t-shirts, you have to have them. What else do you need to prepare? Name cards, invitations, feedback forms? Does anything have to be sent by snail mail or courier? Small amounts add up.
  • F&B – Will you be serving food at your event? Will there be a bar? Will it be free or are you hoping to make money from it? Will you need a bartender, wait staff, caterers or cleaners?

Be thrifty but smart

Start with your ideal budget then see where you can cut back if you need to. You can probably do without six live horses on set. On the other hand, if your dance school is doing its annual event with sixty kids doing 20 different numbers, a wardrobe supervisor is a smart investment.

One-time vs running costs

If your performance is going to show more than once, prepare two budgets. First, your production budget – which pays for everything up that leads up to opening night. Scripts, rehearsals, costumes, sets, sound and light design all fall under this budget.

The second is your operating budget – this is what you’ll have to pay per show and includes salaries and anything you rent, including props and the performance venue. Having these two budgets will make it easier for you to decide how many shows to do. And should your show be phenomenally popular, how much it will cost to extend the run.

Remember, sponsors will take you more seriously when they see you are serious about your event.

We welcome your questions and comments. Write yours in ‘comment’ box below.

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Amy De Kanter
Amy De Kanter

Former Chief Editor, frequent contributor and enthusiastic audience member, Amy is thrilled to have a job that lets her do three of the things she loves most.