Year of the Producer Blog: The Theatre BugDate: 9 December 2011
Inspired by our adoption of Stage One as the charity for the 2012 Whatsonstage.com Awards, we’re declaring this the “Year of the Producer” on Whatsonstage.com, and are running a 12-month editorial series of interviews, blogs and other features to give theatregoers a greater understanding of the crucial role of the producer and an insight into the people who put on the shows they love.
When I gave a talk at a secondary school last week, one girl asked me what credentials I have as a producer and if I need any qualifications to work with investors and agents. It pained me to admit that pretty much anyone can be a producer. Is that really true? Can anyone just decide they’re never getting into drama school or they don’t have a creative eye but would love to stay in theatre and so just fall back on producing?
I say no! I think producers are a unique breed that take the form of the sticky, slightly arrogant jam that holds theatre together.
As Anton Ego from Ratatouille famously pontificates over Chef Gusteau’s motto, "In the past, I have made no secret of my disdain for Chef Gusteau's famous motto: Anyone can cook. But I realise, only now do I truly understand what he meant. Not everyone can become a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere." Replace 'cook' with ‘produce’ and ‘become a great artist’ with ‘make theatre’ and you’ll see what I mean. It is those great producers that worked their way up to the top that have really inspired me.
At the beginning of my talk I asked the girls, "Who here is passionate about theatre?" and most put their hands up – being a performing arts society I wasn’t surprised, and even when you minus the third that were probably just looking for an excuse to miss lessons, you were still left with around 50 girls who loved theatre. The advice I should have given the girl at the end was that you don’t need any qualification, but every single qualification will help. In my short time on this earth I have made it my mission to do as much as I possibly can to be involved in theatre. My first secondary school drama teacher warned of the theatre bug – "once you fall for theatre, that’s it, you’ll clean the dressing rooms just to be involved" and it’s true.
You start by volunteering at your school theatre, you might act, light or even just hold a charity bucket front of house. Then you spend all your time in the there until one day you go to this magical place called the Edinburgh Fringe and it all changes. Between the ages of 13 and 18 I have lit, operated sound, built, directed, projected, acted and done countless jobs that I’m not proud of, just so that I could say I work in theatre. However, I didn’t feel all that fulfilled. I wanted to make theatre, control all the elements so that I could sit on a chair with a director or writer and go, "you know what, let’s do it, let’s put that show on" and a few months later, sit in an auditorium with 30 people working on the show and go, wow, I did this. I find nothing more exciting than seeing all these people working on one of my shows, creating this mini family with the sole purpose of turning an idea in to a living breathing thing.
I don’t believe I could sit in front of these people and claim to be able to manage techies, actors and designers without experience. You can’t talk about not needing an ETC ion for a design using ten channels that can be operated using manual masters just as easily (some techies don’t understand that it’s not the size that counts, it’s what you do with it), without first venturing through that backstage world of lighting; without stage managing and set designing I couldn’t explain why the stage manager is unhappy about the 20 foot high raked platform with no rail and naked flame next to the pyrotechnics.
Your budgeting, team’s efficiency and morale all relies on your experience to manage the team. You need to know about marketing, design, PR, budgeting, contracts, casting, who’s popular, what shows will work once it’s on stage, teching, licensing and most of all you need to be able to bullsh*t the back legs off a horse, and you have to do this all at the same time – you shouldn’t let or think anyone else can do it for you.
So, yes, anyone can be a producer, but you have to want it and work hard for it. Another girl asked what they should do next to get into producing and I just told her to do loads of theatre; every opportunity she gets, she should take. A good producer can come from anywhere, they just need to get from there to being a producer. Unfortunately, that’s the hard bit. Although a rat couldn’t be a producer, or a chef. That’s just stupid.