Unless you get that magical, out-of-the-blue invitation (it does happen!) it’s important to remember that developing international work is a slow burn. The biggest mistake organisations can make is to decide to stick an international week on the end of a national tour. It rarely works like that.

Bearing in mind all the preparatory research and development already discussed as well as preparing yourselves for the extra work involved, you should really be looking at a minimum of 18 months to prepare yourself for a project.

This means making the decision about international work even before the work is made. Apart from the necessary groundwork of meeting people and researching potential partners and markets, you can start building the international word into everything you do.

top tip: right from the start, ask questions. How will this set design work if we need to take it abroad? What about the marketing and print materials? Are the themes in the new work we’re developing universal? What cultural implications are there for the work if we want to work in the Middle East or Japan?

It’s worth putting some dedicated time aside each week just to concentrate on your international development. Build it into a job description. Check your website, your mission statement, your business plan. Are you coming across as an international company? It’s been mentioned before but you must have the capacity in the office to carry out these plans which will happen on top of, not instead of, the usual demands.

“Having mastered the art of national touring in a Nissan Micra, by which I mean being able to fit it all in, international touring is a whole different ball game and one which requires much more thought and pre-planning. When going to Australia, not only did we have to think about transporting the show set alongside our personal things, there was the additional challenge of organising visas, booking flights, and, as our show involved a food stuff that could not be purchased in Australia (Battenberg cake in quite large quantities), checking the policies on bringing certain items into the country. We were very lucky as it was allowed through customs but, as a huge part of our show it was a significant issue that we had never had to consider before….”

Clare Beresford, Little Bulb Theatre


Don’t be afraid of negotiating, rather view it as a two-way discussion between you and your international partner. A good outcome for all parties involved – and this includes the audience – is a win-win situation where everyone is happy with the deal, even if small compromises have been made.

top tip: another essential outcome of negotiating is that there are no surprises for anyone, so pay attention to detail.

With all this in mind, be clear in advance of what you would ideally like to achieve. Mark areas where you believe there can be compromise and those that are essential for the success of your work. Be yourself, you’re having a conversation not a stand-off.

top tip: always follow up your negotiations with a written summary of what you agreed. This is good groundwork for the contract.

Click here to download a negotiation check list.


The contract is a natural progression from your negotiations and follow-up written agreement. The contract should be a clear and concise document that lays out the agreement between you. It also covers for certain eventualities.

Wherever possible, use your own contract. Standard contracts from promoters and festivals tend to be broad in nature, covering a whole range of activities. If you do use theirs, don’t be afraid to add detail and delete anything that’s irrelevant to your project. Never feel pressurised to accept contract clauses – keep negotiating and offering alternatives until you are happy.

top tips:

  • don’t forget that a contract means nothing until it is signed!
  • you may wish to include minimum travel and accommodation requirements such as direct flights, no less than 3* hotel, single rooms, including breakfast
  • for fuller documents, refer to them in the contract and add as separate schedules
  • the technical rider should already have been agreed. It is important to sign this too
  • only sign a contract that is in English
  • check on Withholding taxes (see below, Nuts and Bolts)
  • always quote in Pounds Sterling. If there really is no alternative (China, for example will only pay in USD) agree an exchange rate and include it in the contract

Click here to download a contract checklist.

nuts and bolts

The devil, as we say, is in the detail and there is a never-ending list of things to consider at the planning stage. It’s impossible to cover everything here but here are some top tips to help you on your way.

In no particular order:

  • Visas. You need to do your research on this and involve your promoter who will know what the local requirements are. Give yourself plenty of time, months rather than weeks.
  • Passports. Physically check passport expiry dates yourself. For some visas or visas-on-arrival, there needs to be at least six months unexpired on a passport from the time of entry.
  • Freight. Never do it yourself! If you are airlifting set, costumes and technical equipment, use a shipping agent. An agent will look after all customs documentation, airport and customs clearance and be responsible/insured for pick up and delivery.
  • Carnets. These are an inventory of goods for customs purposes in your shipment (usually not needed for the EU). You must list everything, down to the smallest item. You must also ensure that everything on the list is packed again for the return journey. Some countries will also want serial numbers for electronic goods. Your promoter and shipping agent can advise.
  • Withholding Tax. Each country will have different requirements, though some will withhold nothing. Check with your promoter and do your own research to avoid surprises.
  • Travel delays. Allow plenty of time to reach the final destination. Anything can happen at any stage of the journey from volcanic ash to an overturned pig lorry on a Belgian motorway (true!). Plan, as much as you can, for a contingency.
  • Crib sheet. Prepare a handout with all useful information in one place: phone numbers, addresses, emergency numbers, bus/metro information and a map of the local area with the hotel and venue clearly marked. Involve the team in researching bars, restaurants, health centres, tourist spots etc.
  • Electricals. You can never have too many extension leads or adapters.
  • Bills. Be clear with your team about any bills they may be responsible for: mini bar, personal laundry, phone calls. Also research the cost of mobile phone roaming as a warning!
  • Briefings. Brief the team about the destination country: cultural issues, clothing, the weather, the way to greet people, some basic language for politeness.
  • Daily reports. Ask the company or stage manager to complete a daily show report. This is most useful for helping with feedback, evaluation and future planning. Also include practical information including hotel problems, transport issues, technical issues, repairs.