Year of the Producer: Howard Panter & Rosemary Squire On ... Topping the ChartsDate: 9 January 2012
Last week Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire, the husband-and-wife team at the helm of the Ambassador Theatre Group (ATG), the country’s largest theatre owning and producing group, jointly topped The Stage newspaper's list of the industry’s 100 most influential people for the third year running.
Joint CEOs, Panter and Squire co-founded ATG in 1992. In 2010, they successfully purchased 16 Live Nation theatres for an estimated £90 million, taking ATG’s national portfolio to 39 venues, including 12 West End houses, amongst them Trafalgar Studios, the Piccadilly (currently home of Ghost the Musical) and the Savoy (housing their own production of Legally Blonde).
As part of our “Year of the Producer” series on Whatsonstage.com - inspired by our adoption of Stage One as the charity for the 2012 Whatsonstage.com Awards - we spoke to theatre’s power couple about how they make it work.
What’s the key to being a good producer?
Howard: I guess it’s trying to hold the ring on a production, which is everything, because in the end the buck really does stop with you. Whether it’s the money that goes right or wrong or the art that goes right or wrong, in the end, the producer is the only one left to blame, you’re the only one who has to make those final decisions. So I think it’s the ability to hold the ring and to make the big decision, that’s probably the essence of a good producer.
ATG has a unique position in that you’re the largest UK theatre owners as well as theatre producers. How does owning and managing such a massive chain of venues affect your production side?
Rosemary: We’ve got a lot of theatres to fill 364 days a year, so I suppose it’s focused producing towards meeting some of those needs and an enlarged producing team. We’ve recently added Evanna White and Adam Speers to our in-house team, and we are focusing on producing work for the regional venues, with a lot more regional touring musicals in particular. It started with Spamalot, which was a new version we launched in 2010 and that’s been very successful. We’ve got Legally Blonde and South Pacific out now and soon we’ll have Monkee Business with Michael Rose.
Howard: We’re also working with Matthew Borne doing Nutcracker again, we’re premiering Zac Braff’s play All New People, and we’re doing a new version of Dolly Parton’s musical 9 to 5. We’ve got a huge range of new plays, great dance work, popular rock and roll musicals, classic musicals … it’s a big, big canvas. And, as I say, it’s really trying to get the best of each type of work, that’s the way you get people to come. Today more than ever, it seems to us, people want something special, they want something worth getting off the sofa for.
How do you balance your time between production and venue management?
Howard: I’ve got a bit more, yes. It’s an oversimplification to say Rosemary looks after corporate, business operational and finance and I look after content, programming production and marketing. It’s broadly at least where our primary responsibilities lie, but we cross over all the time. Often, problems are not just one thing or the other but a mixture of issues. In order to get something solved, one has to look at something from a programming point of view, a financial point of view, a marketing point of view all at once. Hopefully, between us, we’ve got enough experience to deal with those things.
Rosemary: There are pluses and minuses to our being married. You never leave work at the doorstep, but you have a great shorthand. So the upside is you can get to the nub of something very quickly, and you trust each other. You know what the other person is saying is true and real and honest so you can get to the essence of what the problem is quicker, and you can trust each other’s judgment and make a decision fast. But the downside is that work does come home and can drive you insane.
How important is the connection between New York and London in theatre today?
What do you think is the biggest challenge facing young producers today?
I started up with no money at all and Rosemary had about the same. Perhaps we were lucky, perhaps we worked three jobs at a time, but even when the numbers were smaller, we had to mortgage the house or the flat twice, or sell the car to pay wages. I don’t fear for the producing talent coming through today – that is, I don’t fear for the enterprise, I don’t fear for the imagination or the enthusiasm or the passion, but I do fear for the difficulty young producers face to raise money given that a lot of commercial shows don’t make money and it’s hard to get a momentum going. I worry whether new, normal people who just don’t have any particular capital will be able to become successful producers.
- Howard Panter & Rosemary Squire were speaking to Whatsonstage.com managing & editorial director Terri Paddock