Theatre actor

Some theatre in the studio

In our work with agency owners we often hear about people using the ‘theatre model’. There’s much more to this approach than many think.

Fifteen years ago Carol gave a me a Melbourne Theatre Company annual subscription as a Christmas present (what a lucky guy!). Since then we have seen about 200 live performances and sponsored the MTC.

Part of our sponsorship gave us access to the creative director, business director, actors, stage directors, lighting designers, set designers and costume designers. From this we learnt about the live theatre business model. A model we have recommended for many agency owners.

Simply employing freelancers is not a theatre model.

A theatre model is cooperative; a creative colab.

The theatre company

A theatre company has a core of a creative director and a managing director. They seek out productions they think will resonate with their audience. They read and purchase scripts to meet this need.

If you think of the script as a brief you get a good idea of how a designer can operate a theatre model.

In the theatre they use a script reading to start the creative process. The creative director, actors, stage director, lighting designer, set designer, sound designer and costume designer come together in a roundtable script reading. Everyone at the table has equal right to input ideas.

Theatre in the studio

Transfer this to a design business and you bring together the talent required to answer a brief. You don’t come up with a solution. Collectively the designers, writers, animators, illustrators, photographers, coders help develop a creative solution.

Here’s the rub. A theatre model is not a way to reduce the cost of the job. This approach will cost more for a client, but the result will be far better. The cost saving is the agency owner not paying full time staff. This shouldn’t be the motivator just an advantage.


The theatre model is not for everyone. There are certain areas such as FMCG where you need full time staff to handle the turn around deadlines. However for a branding agency it has a lot of promise. For a one or two person business with a diverse client group it is a way to take on larger jobs.

Greg Branson

Always happy to talk the business of design – contact me if you would like to learn more.

Design Business Council : business advice for creatives.
We help designers build better, stronger, more sustainable, businesses.

More articles about business models

  1. Some further thoughts on the theatre model
  2. Putting the theatre model into a business model canvas
  3. An interesting insight into set design. Many hints for a design agency.

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Greg Branson

Greg’s passion is the research and development of methods that improve design management and the role of design in business.

Greg has developed The Design Business School to help owners manage their business better along with showing designers how to get more involved in the studio and develop their career path. Contact Greg.

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