Theatre producers get productive

Co-managing a theatre collective like Living Room Playmakers, on top of a full-time day job, is not easy. Our needs are large. Our budget is tiny.

Fortunately, there are many digital systems, platforms, and apps that can help us stay organized. Very many. So, so many.

We had to make some decisions on which to use.

Our Needs

First we zeroed in on our particular needs.

1. Scheduling

We have meetings, rehearsals, performances, readings—the list goes on, and we all need to be on the same page.

2. Project and task management

From making the press release to buying the PBR, we need to know who is doing what—and when it gets done.

3. Better communication

Our email threads get long, partly because of opinions, partly because of jokes. In-person meetings are not always possible.

4. Shared documents

Sending around attachments of various doc versions is a nightmare.

5. Media sharing and archiving

Photo, video, audio, drafts...there's a lot of files to keep and to share.

6. Budgets and invoicing

Though we don't have many dollars, we do want to keep track of what we have, and where it goes.

7. Email marketing

Our show announcements need to look slick, and make it to our dedicated email list without hitting the spam folders.

8. Ticketing

We could just buy a roll of Admit One tickets, but...

9. Website

I mean, you have to have one.

Selecting the Right Tools

Next, we identified a few key factors to help us determine which tools would be best for our team:

1. Ease and pleasure of use

We're writers. Not techies. This stuff has to be simple.

2. Cross-platform support

None of us use the same machines or devices. We all need access.

3. Cost

For a group of playwrights, this number has to be as low as it can go.

We spent a lot of time researching and testing out contenders, but we have formed a system that works for us! Here's how it breaks down:

SCHEDULING : Google Calendar

Yes, the humble but mighty Google Calendar. It's shareable, it's simple, it's powerful. Everyone already has a Google account, it costs nothing, and it can be accessed from any computer or mobile device.

PROJECT AND TASK MANAGEMENT : Trello

Trello is a highly visual and intuitive system for managing projects. It's versatile, it integrates with many other platforms, and best of all, it costs us zero. You can keep it to a simple to-do list, or you can assign people to tasks with due dates and notifications. It's available on any device, and is fun to use.

BETTER COMMUNICATION : Kato

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With a dedicated chat platform we can communicate in real time, organize our conversations by project, and keep unlimited records of everything we say. We tried others, such as Slack (which I really love), but Kato won out for its simpler interface, stripped down approach, and totally cost-free model. 

EDIT: Kato has since closed its doors, unfortunately. We now use Slack.

SHARED DOCUMENTS : Quip

Quip gives us shared documents and spreadsheets with full version history, commenting, and is organized as a desktop with folders—so it is instantly familiar. It is free for small teams such as ours, and their support team is lovely. As a mobile-first word processor, the simple interface (I shake my head at you, Word) helps us focus on writing instead of on formatting.

MEDIA SHARING AND ARCHIVING : Dropbox

We used Google Drive at first, but Tony said it best: "it's like trying to read a VCR manual." Dropbox, however, is a simple and clear way to keep track of our files, and makes it easy to share with both on-team and non-team members. Its free version is limited, but by off-loading most of the large files to a couple Pro accounts, we are able to do everything we need to do.

BUDGETS AND INVOICING: Wave

Wave is designed for small businesses—and for tiny teams like ours, we can make use of it for free. Once you link your bank accounts you can use it as your central finance hub. It allows us to generate invoices and track receipts, and provides helpful analytics on our income and expenses.

EMAIL MARKETING : MailChimp

MailChimp makes it easy for us to build and maintain a mailing list, and to create and schedule beautiful campaigns. It is cost-free and gives us a lot of useful data on the performance of each email we send.

TICKETING : Brown Paper Tickets

BPT allows us to sell tickets online and to pull in valuable stats on who attends our shows. They also give a portion of sales back to communities who need it, and we love that.

WEBSITE : WordPress

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The whole team is able to log in to post or edit, we can keep a blog as well as static pages, and there's a fair amount of customization we can do without learning reams of code.

Next?

Our list will surely continue to change and grow. Up next we're experimenting with automation by linking of the above systems through Zapier, for instance, which may help us unload some tasks onto the robots of the internet. Hooray for robots.