Curating the right ambiance for any theatre showcase can be difficult, especially if you’re working with a smaller budget. But it’s more than possible to create a beautiful performance space with limited funds. On The Stage offers a few ways to create a stellar set on a less-than-stellar budget. 

Create Your Bare-Bones Budget First

Any solid showcase begins with a gameplan. Before any big purchases or decisions are made, ask yourself a few questions:

  • What are the items you absolutely need to tell this story?
  • What are additional props and set pieces that would be nice to have, but you can go without?
  • How can you tell your story without those add-ons? Which of these add-ons are most important? 

By investing in, and focusing on, your must-have pieces first, you’ve created a baseline budget and plan from which to start. When you get additional funds down the line (pssst, we can help with that!) you can build upon an already workable set.

Reach Out to Community Partners

When it’s time to build your set, community partners can make a huge difference. 

Touch base with other artist-based companies around your area, alongside businesses near you, to see how you can come to a mutually beneficial agreement or exchange of services. 

Perhaps a local artist can help paint your set in exchange for a shoutout on social media or a free ad in your program. Maybe a mom-and-pop home improvement store nearby has extra lumber to help build the stage, in exchange for some volunteer hours here and there. 

People in your community likely want to help and be involved – just make the offer attractive!

If you’re within a school program, authority figures or leaders of other clubs likely have a variety of items you may be looking for, too. 

Make An Online Wishlist 

Any theatremaker can probably relate to the song “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg.” And with an online wishlist – at places like Amazon and Target– community members, parents, and other loyal patrons can contribute to the success of your show with just a few clicks. Much like community partners, you should consider offering incentives to donate, whether that’s free tickets to a preview or opening night, a shoutout at the top of the show, or a small walk-on role in the next production. 

Want to make a wishlist but can’t find what you need in stores? A production registry is an effective and flexible way to identify and specify the items required for your show, such as props, costumes, or equipment. By budgeting out the tools, fabrics, paints, etc. that you need for a specific item, you can create a registry that helps you raise money for what you need. With On The Stage’s fundraising suite, and our easy-to-use wedding-style registry templates, you can quickly create a customized registry that will allow the community to donate to specific items, like the Hunchback’s bell, or Dorothy’s red slippers. By utilizing this tool, you can ensure that your production has all the necessary resources to deliver a top-notch performance!

Plan Engaging Fundraisers 

Perhaps the most intuitive way to create a better set is to drum up more funds to get the items you need. But fundraisers are only as successful as they are engaging – so make it fun! Consider bake sales, ticket sales contests, car washes, or even a talent show with your cast and crew. 

With the extra money, you’ll surely be able to elevate your set, and have fun along the way. 

Build Strategically 

Build and budget strategically from day one. What are the set pieces that can be used more than once in your show, if any? What are the items that may cost more, but are absolutely necessary to tell your story? (Doors, platforms, furniture, etc.) 

While you may want to focus on the fun items that will bring pizzazz to your show, it’s far more practical to focus on the pieces necessary to your set first. Splurging on those big-ticket items will reap benefits for later shows, guaranteed.

Reuse and Recycle 

Chairs, platforms, tables, costumes, and props can all be reused with a little imagination and some TLC. Reach out to local creators, or your school’s art program, for assistance on furniture reupholstery, sewing or tailoring needs, help with major painting projects, and other DIY gems that can bring your cast and crew together. 

Consider making these craft days camaraderie events – which will keep your group strong and keep morale high during high-stress rehearsals. 

Focus on Other Creative Elements

A truly great theatre performance doesn’t solely rely on a beautiful set to tell a story. Other elements you can focus on in your show, that cost very little to nothing, include:

  • Lighting – Beautiful mood/ambient light can set the tone for a great show. Additionally, projectors can be a great way to create an engaging background without spending time or money on wallpapers, extra set pieces, or pricey murals/paintings.
  • Sound – Creating excellent sound design – alongside beautiful scores and music – will elevate your performance.
  • Blocking – If your budget is small, it’s a great time to get creative with blocking and stage design overall. Have fun with it, and don’t be afraid to be a little experimental. 
  • In-Depth Character Work – With less on the stage, actors can focus more on their characters, their motivations, and their backstories. It’s an excellent opportunity to help your actors hone their crafts. 

Bonus tip: 

One of the sure-fire ways to elevate your entire theatre experience – including a killer set – is by partnering with professionals who can help you succeed. Enter On The Stage, which empowers thousands of organizations with ticketing, box office, marketing, fundraising, and reporting tools in one robust platform, all for free. 

Take a look at OTS’ fundraising suite now to see how we can help. When you’re ready, book a demo to get started.   


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