As with producing, there is no right way to build a plan, and as someone that is neurotypical, my way of planning may not be effective for someone that is neurodivergent. Please take these suggestions and make them your own for whatever works with your brain and life.
What is pre-planning?
Pre-planning is an extremely part of planning a production. This is where you start to get more solidified on your ideas, values, and goals,
Pre-planning is reflective, so it feels like you are focusing on the past, but it is important to know where you are before you can figure out where you are going. You can do this maybe once or twice a year so you can track and reflect on your growth as a producer over your creative career, specifically if you are producing a show once every few years (which is totally okay). While this might feel more corporate or business than you expect theatre to be, these are helpful tools as a producer to ensure you stay on track with the goals of your art.
For project-specific planning, this helps you understand your priorities, which will help you make artistic decisions and stay on the right path. This comes with a lot of self-awareness and self-analysis. Think of pre-planning as vision building, and it will make the reflection more exciting!
What is a Goal?
A goal is an abstract, big-picture, overarching, long-term, short statement of a desired outcome. This statement is usually broad and focuses on the intended results, not the methods and the nitty-gritty of what’s required to achieve them.
So your goal can be broad and abstract, with a longer-term end result, but having a goal helps set priorities and motivate you when you are asking yourself “why am I doing this?”
What is an objective?
An objective is a specific, short-term, actionable target that needs to be achieved or a set of activities that must be completed in order to reach a set goal. It is action-oriented, concrete, measurable, and time-bound. This helps you measure your progress and provide you a sense of accomplishment as you work towards your goals.
For example, if my goal is to learn how to cook, then my objectives would be something like:
Cook 3 full meals a week
Try 3 new recipes a month
Take 1 cooking class a quarter
Building a project plan
This is where you start moving into project management, which may feel overwhelming or less fun than focusing on the artistic ideas of a show, but they can help you stay on track and build a foundation for your artistic work later. The plan will change as you get more information and circumstances change, so you want to stay flexible but let's go over the basics of how to make sure a plan works.
What makes a plan work?
Having clear goals.
The will and ambition to be successful (while accepting that failure is possible and being okay with that).
Focus on a limited number of goals to not get overwhelmed or split focus too much.
Plan and schedule to reach goals,
What makes a plan fail?
Planning to say you had a plan but having little intention of following it.
Ignoring reality when planning, specifically ignoring your own limitations or the external realities.
Excluding key change-makers (aka not getting buy-in from your team).
Don't require accountability, there is nothing holding you from accomplishing this.
One of the best ways to start planning is to do a Strengths, Weakness, Opportunities, Threats (SWOT) Analysis. This is part of any business plan, which is partially what you are trying to build out as you plan for your project and career as a producer. At the moment we are focusing on you as a producer, we are getting to project analysis later, but you can and should do a similar analysis of your project idea when you have one.
Things you do well
Qualities that make you unique
Tangible assets such as intellectual property, capital, technology, etc.
Things you lack
Things other people might do better than you
Underserved markets for specific products
Renewed community support
New income streams/funding opportunities
Changing regulatory environment
Negative press/media coverage
Changing customer attitudes towards your company
How to Find out your strengths and weaknesses
It's been mentioned several times that your show is only as strong as your vision, but it is also only as strong as your self-awareness. Understanding your strengths and weaknesses may be uncomfortable or feel a little "corporate" for a theatre producer, but it is actually really helpful to see where you can lean into your strengths to make them stronger, and find support for your weaknesses.
There are a few ways you can start to find out your strength and weaknesses.
Journal and reflect on your experiences outside of theatre.
What are your strengths?
What are the qualities that make you unique?
What do you think you do well?
What have you been successful at in the past?
What tasks do you feel confident in?
What has worked for me in the past and how can I optimize it?
What are your weaknesses?
What do you think you need to work on?
What are you struggling with?
What tasks do you avoid? What tasks make you anxious?
What has not worked for me in the past and how can I change it?
You don't have to have all of these answers right away, but start to be mindful of your own strengths and weaknesses as you build out your team and project.
Reflect on past projects
What went well?
What did you struggle with?
What could have gone better?
What went better than you expected?
Ask others (whom you trust) for their feedback.
What do they think you do well?
What do they think you need to work on?
Online quizzes can be helpful, but feel free to take them with a grain of salt. They are not defining but can help you uncover parts of your personality you might not otherwise have noticed about yourself.
Values in Action (VIA Character)
How to find out your opportunities and threats
Since opportunities and threats are both external factors, this is where market research comes in. Market research for LA theatre is particularly challenging because the market is currently going through a strong transition, however, these are still important questions to ask when thinking of your skills and your project ideas. These questions are to help you understand the market around you, plan, and feel prepared, not to build a competitive spirit or scarcity.
You want to know who your audience is because theatre needs an audience. So you need to ask some potentially uncomfortable questions.
Who will buy tickets and why?
What are their behaviors, characteristics, and demographics? What are their likes and dislikes?
How big is that potential audience?
You want to be as specific as possible because this will help you understand who you are trying to serve with your work.
Once you know your audience, you should consider pitching your project ideas to people who fit into your ideal audience descriptors to see how they react to different ideas and help you understand ways to describe the show. Keep in mind that theatre is a non-tangible product, so people who see theatre at other companies are more likely to see theatre at your show too, it isn't a competition or a zero-sum game.
Part of understanding your threats is understanding the companies around you. Now the word "threats" and "competitors" feel aggressive, but think of them more as potential challenges and external companies that can help provide context and insight to your own company.
Who are your competitors?
What companies are doing similar work, or what are events where you might have to compete for audience attention (like are you trying to plan a show during the Hollywood Fringe Festival, or similarly busy times of the year)?
What are their strengths and weaknesses?
What is your unique competitive advantage? What makes you stand out?
When you have a better understanding of your place in "the market" you can start to reflect on your opportunities and threats.
What opportunities do you have?
What problems can you solve?
What gaps in the market can you fill?
What trends are you noticing?
What threats might there be?
What could cause damage to your plan?
Once you start to have an understanding of yourself, your goals, and the world around you, you can start building a foundation for the type of stories you want to tell. Which we will talk about next!