“You didn’t have to come to rehearsal tonight. Didn’t anyone let you know?” No, but I enjoy travelling for 90 minutes on a train to get to a rehearsal I didn’t have to be here for, so don’t worry about it!
It doesn’t matter whether your theatre production has 6 people involved or 150, a good communications system is going to make everyone’s job easier and help you avoid some of the challenges you find yourself facing over and over again.
I see two common mistakes made by all sorts of organisations:
1. Private information shared without permission.
Did you know that you must have my permission to share my private contact with others? When I filled out my audition form, I didn’t expect to have my email and mobile contacts extracted from it and then shared with the rest of the cast. This is NOT how you create ‘community’. This is how you P*** me off. I may choose to share this information when I have built rapport with my fellow cast members but I will probably just friend them on Facebook.
When you collect private information on audition forms it is expected that only those within the governance of the company will see it.
I’ve also signed up for information from smaller companies and found that they are still using Gmail for their eNews distribution. Instead of blind copying all addresses, my email address is included with everyone else in an ‘open address’ email. So now a bunch of complete strangers have my email address without my permission. Companies that do this are opening themselves up to a whole lot of legal pain if someone decides to take them to task. Use Mailchimp for your eNews distribution. It’s free [up to 2000 subscribers], prettier, more professional and helps you follow the privacy laws that, as governance, you have a responsibility to be aware of.
2. Multiple points of communication within the company.
The most effective way to communicate with everyone within a production is to have a central communications point.
One mobile and one email address that everyone uses. This means that one person receives all the late/absent notices from cast, distributes all notices and is generally the go to person for information. This doesn’t mean they can or should answer every question but they know who to go to for the answer. Your Communications Manager should be an organised person with access to a good mobile phone plan and email service.
If you can set up a general email address under your company domain, for example, firstname.lastname@example.org all the better but a simple email@example.com will work. It is preferable to using the persons personal address as your Communications Manager may change. Simply redirect the corporate address to the Communication Manager’s personal address for convenience.
When the show has been cast, the Communications Manager enters all email and mobile details into their phone contacts and creates a ‘group’. At the first rehearsal they introduce themselves as the central communications person and inform cast that they will receive an email and text within the next 24 hours.
Set up a group in your email contacts so that you’re not adding individual addresses every time, and send out your first cast email containing any information they need for the production. At the top of the email include the instruction – “Please hit REPLY now so that I know you have received this important email.” As replies come in, tick each person off an excel sheet containing columns for ’email’, ‘text’, etc. Anyone who doesn’t respond or whose address bounces back can be checked personally at the next rehearsal.
Do the same for texts with the following instruction – “You have an important email in your inbox. Please REPLY to this text now so that I know you have received it.” Manage each reply as you do the emails.
Once you have set up communications with the cast, you can now be sure that 99% of your notices will get through. Your ‘secret’ cast and crew Facebook group is not a secure form of communication as not everyone uses it the same way. I always upload any documents I email to the Facebook group but it has never been a good primary communications point.
Communicating with production team members is different. You have to leave the email address line ‘open’ so that everyone can see who has received the email. This way, they can make sure the right people in their teams are getting the information.
Any important documents or information that goes to the cast should then be sent to the production team to keep them informed. The key to being an effective Communications Manager is to COMMUNICATE. Make sure those who need to know, do know and in good time.
I have found this a fun role as you will generally be aware of everything that is going on, making you more helpful to those in the production and you get to know everyone. You should be a good problem solver, have a ‘can do’, positive attitude and be willing to go the extra mile for everyone.
If you are not willing to be positive and serve others, then don’t be a Communications Manager.
A Communications Manager can have a major impact on your theatre company in ways that will make you more efficient, professional and respectful of your volunteers’ time.
Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions about creating this role within your company.
Have a great week.
An Idiot On Stage exists to equip and encourage community theatre to expect more and be extraordinary.