Open Book Theater Management

Open Book Theater Management

Ethical Theater Production

How to run a low/no budget theatre company or production, without losing either your integrity or your shirt.


In the world of Fringe (or Off-Off Broadway) theater, a strong debate has been raging for years - when you're producing a low/no-budget production, how on earth can you make it happen and still treat everyone involved in an open, honest and ethical manner? Where do you stand with profit-share productions when you can't afford to pay Union minimums?
Open Book Theater Management, along with its free online resources of instructional budget spreadsheets, is the first book ever to show you exactly how to mount a theater production without losing either your integrity or your shirt.
It is aimed at actors, directors and producers in the early stages of their careers; drama schools; and further and higher education establishments. The methodologies outlined in the book are transferable across all countries in which arts funding is difficult to secure.
The time for going to the Establishment with the begging bowl is over. There need be no more excuses. The author will even show you how to start your own theater company for only a tenner…


Stories about unscrupulous production companies – unpaid bills, exploitation of employees, no insurance and so on – are regrettably common. Rafe Beckley, an East 15 Acting School-trained actor turned producer, suggests an alternative way of creating work in an ethical, open way – although he is careful to stress positives and never to suggest that the industry is full of sharks. He proposes open book management, so that everyone in the company knows exactly how things are done while observing that you have to make money first and art second, because if you make money on your first show you are far more likely to be able to stage the second. He takes the reader – wittily and informatively – through the finer points of budgets, contracts, raising finance, cashflow, profit share and more. ~ Susan Elkin, The Stage

A quite extraordinary solution to the very real problem of funding low-budget theatre, Rafe Beckley takes a financial model from US co-operative business and re-structures it to create an open, honest, practical and ethical system for theatre financing that is required reading for stage producers and directors everywhere. I don't often give 5 stars to anything. This book totally deserves it. ~ Ivor B, Amazon

This is the new Bible for recession theatre. Whether you're in Rotterdam, anywhere, Liverpool or Rome this book is hugely important for a long and developing career. SPREAD THE WORD and we can change the face of British Theatre. Rafe is inspirational and honest. I shall continue to refer to this book throughout my career. ~ Thomas Steer, Amazon

Open Book Management: The future of the fringe? Last week, I looked at the future of the fringe, amid a fevered debate that is being waged by Equity (and recently in the employment tribunal courts) about the enforcement of legal minimum wage requirements. Given that most actors are self-employed rather than employed, however, the courts may have no jurisdiction (a subject that is soon to be tested in an employment tribunal appeal). But a lot of fringe producers, as I also pointed out, are taking a pro-active step towards trying to come to fair, sustainable agreements, both with Equity and the actors they both represent (or not), to go somewhere towards meeting a minimum payment of some kind. This is a step in the right direction, since at least there’s an acknowledgement now of a desire to make the numbers work in a way that includes the actors. David Babani, artistic director of the Menier Chocolate Factory, recently gave me this sage advice for a budding producer: Drill your numbers — make sure you’ve really done your homework as to how things stack up and if you don’t sell the amount of tickets you think you’re going to, what is your plan B? Make sure you have one and that it is succinct before you embark on the show. It’s a piece of advice that is reiterated in a new book by director and producer Rafe Beckley called Open Book Theatre Management. Advising that producers have to make sure that the projects they take forward are “commercially viable”, he writes, they need “to seriously consider whether any given project is likely to at least break even… If the numbers don’t stack up, then you’re placing yourself in a position where you know you’re going to lose money, and a lot of that money will belong to other people. Can you honestly do that with a clear conscience?” And that’s a principle at the heart of the open book philosophy, which is to be open, honest and ethical in all they do. Of course, a lot of theatrical endeavour is purely speculative; we can never predict the likely commercial outcome in advance. More shows lose money than make money. (As they always say about the theatre, you can’t make a living, but you can make a killing). But who should take the risk? In the commercial model, it is investors. But in the existing fringe profit-share model, is it right that actors carry the biggest burden of risk, in terms of being the last ones to receive a potential benefit, after all others have been paid back? That has invariably meant that actors typically receive little or no financial return. So the new models of building certain guaranteed fees for actors, however small, is an attempt to redress it. But last week I asked if it would be viable for the smallest fringe theatres; and one theatre, the 50-seater Hope in Islington, has made it clear that they already have an agreement in place with Equity to do just that, paying actors (plus stage management and box office) minimum wage for hours worked, including rehearsals and performances. It also covers visiting companies. So they’ve already proved it is possible. Of course, it may not be possible to stage the kind of productions that routinely take my breath away at places like the Union, Landor or Finborough with their massive casts; there are, after all, only so many productions of I Do, I Do or The Last Five Years that the first two could stage in a year, or Shirley Valentine and Educating Rita for the latter. It would lead to a serious disruption in their usual adventurous programming, to the point that they might as well cease existing. So what’s the alternative? An open book goes a long way to alleviating concerns that someone, somewhere is making a lot of money (however unfeasible that is in reality). On the one hand, the people that run the venue need to have an income stream from somewhere — unlike the actors, who can take other, hopefully more lucrative jobs around working there, venue managers need to be remunerated for their full-time efforts. But in a venue that runs an open book throughout its production process, at least everyone has access to seeing where the money is coming in and going out to. They can then choose whether or not to work there. That’s another key thing: choice. No one is forcing anyone to work at these venues — as self-employed professionals, they can turn down offers to work there as well as a accept them. Away from the self-producing venues, Rafe Beckley’s own children’s touring theatre company Red Table Theatre has been putting its (lack of) money where its mouth is, and demonstrated that with an open book policy it can function successfully and even pay people. For its most recent tour, it managed to pay all the actors the Equity day rate, plus travel and accommodation costs, but were not able to fulfil a full Equity contract as there wasn’t enough money to pay per diems as well. He’s now drawing up plans for the company’s next tour, and is committed to putting the actors on an Equity contract. But he finds himself in an interesting position: he can only make the numbers work if he takes three actors and a stage manager out on the road, rather than the four he usually takes. “It’s an unintended outcome,” he tells me, “that in order to reach the union minimums, I have to create one less job for an actor.” But perhaps it is better to have three actors being paid ‘properly’ than four not. Rafe Beckley’s Open Book Theatre Management can be bought on Amazon, and is available at Foyles Bookshop. ~ Mark Shenton, The Stage

5.0 out of 5 stars - Essential reading for anyone and everyone in the theatre industry This book is an essential read for anyone who has just started out in the theatre industry, is thinking of starting out or - hell, is even experienced in the industry. Beckley's passion for encouraging ethical theatre production is clear from the outset and his personable style of writing makes the book readable and, most important of all, the concepts understandable. His clear experience and history in the industry (including one example of a time he ended sitting in an aisle in a supermarket in despair) demonstrate that this man is not a theatrical philosopher but an experienced practitioner who knows what change in the industry will make a difference to those on the ground. I won't go in to too much detail as to the actual content and ideas, as that is something which needs to really be experienced by those that read it, but I will say one thing. The concepts and ideas are not easy to stomach at first; a prime example being the 'three guiding principles' at the outset which clearly state that making art is not the first priority. As hard as this could be to fathom, along with other ideas which seem may seem alien, they ring true and in the depth of your heart, you feel that he is right. There is the risk that some may find the tone occasionally over-bearing, even arrogant. But this is a personal thing. Approaching this book with an open-mind and a willingness to learn will pay dividends. His passion, again, for the subject make for a compelling argument and you leave the book feeling that, if everybody read this, the industry may just be the better for it. The inclusion of a complimentary website, with examples of budget sheets, is great - especially for people like me who are to accounting and budgets what flocks of birds are to aeroplane engines. The outcome of my reading this book? My small production company is now fully signed up to this style of theatre production - and I hope many others follow suit. This is the voice of a theatre practitioner who knows what change needs to take place, and is unafraid of being the person to make that change happen. ~ D Segeth, Amazon

Learning to put 'trust' first in Theatre Prodns 5 Stars by Machen on Sep 24, 2014 Well, the first thing you notice when you get hold of Rafe's excellent treatise is that he spells 'theater' the wrong way. Well, it's for the US (larger market which I can forgive). This also extends to the use of dollars rather than pounds in all the free Excel spreadsheets. These are the core of his ?method? and are simplified so that 'dumb' producers like myself can use them without having to delve into the intricacies of cell formula writing (until we want to customize our own budgets) This book is written in a very easy to read conversational style (almost feel as though you know the author) When I emailed to Stage One that I thought ethical theatre production may not be a book I can buy from Amazon the author emailed me straight back to let me see a preview copy. It is available from many outlets from Friday 26th September. Great to be able to interact with the author. So now I do feel as if I know him. I was even able to suggest adding lines in one of the spreadsheets. He discusses profit share and royalty pools shared amongst the team (including the actors and anyone connected with the show) Perhaps a little more could have been mentioned regarding author royalties especially with regard to musicals (Book, Music, Lyrics) He just lists the 'writer' as getting a small part of the profit share (2 points) but it is up to you the number of points allocated. A great book that should help to galvanise discussions amongst theatre producers worldwide and lead to changes in the ways we work. Ethics is being considered in all walks of life now and some theatre companies are looking at green issues - Arcola Theatre in Hackney, N London, Metta Theatre and I'm sure loads of others too. I am at the point of having finished my first two 'fringe' productions and knowing how hard it is to make ends meet let alone make any money from the business. This has given me a deeper insight into the way I should be travelling. The journey can be exciting and working with others should be truly rewarding if 'Open Book' Trust is used amongst the theatre 'company' . Rafe only has three rules: Make Money, Make Art and the third rule is rule 1 always comes first. Now this applies specifically to professional theatre production but amateurs will find useful guidelines here too. Rafe discusses raising finance (suggesting how to put on a production for a tenner-optimistic!), contracts and profit share. Cashflow is one of the most interesting chapters I am trying to get my head around at the moment. And Continuous Learning is what we all espouse. In the Appendix there is a Model Cast/Crew Contract Templateand Model Unit Funding Contract as well as 5 spreadsheets on the website which are freely available. ~ Machen, Alibris

Practical, moral, fair and inspired. Small-scale and fringe theatre has been waiting a long time for Open Book - we should embrace it with open arms. ~ Ivor Benjamin, Chair, Directors Guild of Great Britain

This book is just what actors and directors starting out need to read before setting up or joining a theatre company. Clear and to the point, ethical and principled, and encouraging Trade Union membership and contracts - an extremely helpful guide for employers and employed in the low budget field of theatre work, but applicable to all areas. ~ John Gillett, Author of Acting on Impulse, Acting Stanislavski, and co-author of Voice into Acting.

A powerful insight into a straight-from-the-hip method of shooting down the stars and capturing your theatrical dreams. A great balance of practical wisdom, clear methodology, and space for artistic expression ~ Max Lewendel, Artistic Director, Icarus Theatre Collective

Rafe Beckley
Rafe Beckley Rafe Beckley trained as an Actor at the East 15 Acting School in England. Since then, he has worked as an Actor, Theater Director and Teache...