How To Stage a Play: with Gruff Theatre

Photo: Camilla Greenwell

We at The Tung have been fans of Gruff Theatre ever since our Editor reviewed their production of The Skriker back in April of last year. That performance, like everything they’ve done before and since, was immersive and raw, and made us consider what it is about theatre that keeps us coming back for more. What better way to round off our How To Stage A Play series than with tips from Gruff Theatre member Alistair Foylan.

What was the first play you ever produced, and how did It go? 

Our first play that we produced as a company was Instructionally Invited, a devised piece of work that we created while studying at University.

We were blessed with precious time when creating the show (about a year to be precise) so by the time we produced it for The Space, a year after conceiving it, we could focus more time on the production side of things rather than creative.

It went well (we think). As we work site-specifically it was a bit of a challenge taking a show that we devised in an old massive church to a smaller site but it was great to know that our work could be transferable from space to space. 

What do you know now that you wish you’d known then? 

Photo: Hannah Burton

Photo: Hannah Burton

Be sure to make a real thorough plan! Have things in place, like a production plan & a person dedicated to producing and generally a clear idea of what everyone’s role is. We are a collaborative theatre company so charged in with everyone doings bits & bobs of everything and unsure of who was responsible for what.

It wasn’t ideal and it’s still something we implement today. Opportunities to produce work sometimes come up fast so it’s important to have this grounded so you understand what is possible/ not possible when undertaking work.

How can you gauge how much money you’ll need? What do you need to take into account?

 A really detailed production plan & clear idea of what your ambitions are for your project will help. Also a plan A, B & C for budgeting so you know what the minimal amount you would need to get the production up on its feet

It’s really important to understand how much time you will require of those involved in working on the production so you can get a sense of how much you will need to pay them. Making a very clear map of the process and plans for rehearsals, techs, dresses and get ins/get outs will give you a rough idea of who you need where and when and how long you need them for.

When marketing on a shoestring, what are the priorities?

I think for a first production in an ideal world you want to get people through the door who can firstly programme/fund/support your work in the future & secondly people who can provide constructive feedback on the current work.

Find other theatres/companies/producers who make similar work to you or work that you love and find a way in getting in contact with them – they may be able to help spread the word about your show to audiences who are interested and also support you in some capacity in the future.

It’s important for a first show that you give yourself a platform to build on for future work – so asking people who attend your first show for their details (for a mailing list, newsletter etc.) and keeping them informed will help spread the word around.  


Ask for help! Ask the artists and makers you admire to buy them a cup of tea or coffee and ask for their advice. People are busy but they do want to help and the advice they can give you is invaluable.

Feed yourself creatively, there can be long stretches of non activity outside of the rehearsal room. See yourself as an instrument, practice and train. Teach yourself from the books, experiment and blend. Keep the theatre-making muscle alive. Keep experiencing, keep reading and watching, seeing, listening, tasting and imagining!


Waste Contacts! Nurture and build the relationships you have with your fellow artists, teachers producers and buildings. They will help you in your careers and become your surrogate work families. 

Make the work you think will get programmed, instead make the work you want to make, you feel you need to make! Find the space it belongs in, if there’s isn’t a space make one.

Thanks to Alistair for the sound advice!

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