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20 Questions: Danielle Tarento - 'Producing is challenging every day'

Danielle Tarento is producing the upcoming run of ''Dogfight'' at the Southwark Playhouse, with more projects in the pipeline. She co-founded the Menier Chocolate Factory with David Babani, and produced the WhatsOnStage Award-winning ''Titanic'' last year

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Danielle Tarento

1. Where did you grow up?
I was born in London, within the sound of Bow Bells, so I'm a proper cockney! Not that my mother was having any of that! We moved around a lot when I was a kid but settled in Sutton, Surrey when I was 11, where I went to a very respectable private girl's school.

2. You started off your career as an actress - what made you want to act?
I decided to be an actor at four years old after playing Mary (obviously) in the school nativity. I never really wanted to do anything else. My parents thought I was being ridiculous and made me complete my academic schooling before making any decisions. I'm so glad they did because a rigorous education stands you in such good stead, whatever career you decide to pursue. But the passion never went away and the three years I spent training at Guildhall School of Music and Drama were some of the happiest of my life.

3. What then made you want to become a producer?
Well, let's be honest, acting's a silly job for a grown up! Seriously though, I think there were several reasons. I became an actor because I love theatre, yet, in my eight years, I only appeared on stage three times. I did a lot of mid 90's sitcoms and serial drama, which was lovely financially but it just didn't give me that same buzz or sense of satisfaction. I felt myself getting bored. I was approaching 30 and thought to myself "can I imagine doing this when I'm approaching 40?". Also, I'm an anal-retentive control freak! So moving over to producing theatre seemed a very obvious choice.

4. What are the challenges you face as a producer?
Producing is challenging every day and those challenges change daily and with every show. I choose to work predominantly Off-West End because of that immediacy and interaction with the audience. So for me, my biggest challenge is budget. We do limited runs in small houses with a fixed top ticket price, so trying to balance having the highest possible production values with the practical limitations of the box office can be tough. Also, there simply aren't enough available theatres for the amount of product I'd like to put out so acquiring rights and scheduling is a constant jigsaw puzzle.

5. Have you noticed any differences between yourself and your male counterparts?
I really can't say I have. I don't believe I'm taken less seriously as a woman, certainly not in the UK anyway. But if I'm honest, I don't pay much attention to that sort of stuff. I'm busy enough getting on with my job.

6. What does the future hold for women in theatre?
Only good things. There are so many women in top positions in the industry. I genuinely feel we are well represented and equally treated. As long as all of us, men and women, continue to make exciting, innovative, entertaining theatre, we're all winners.

7. Who are your influencers?
I'm in awe of Nica Burns. She has achieved so much with so much integrity and quality, which is what I aspire to. There are some other wonderful producers who I look up to and will be collaborating with in the near future, but that's a secret for now!

8. Do you have a favourite show you've worked on?
This is such a hard question; it's like asking a parent who their favourite child is! Tick...Tick...Boom! will remain forever in my heart as it was our first musical at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Titanic was incredibly special too... to hear our incredible cast singing "Godspeed Titanic" that close up moved me to tears every single time I saw it. But right now, Dogfight is my favourite. I always love the show I'm working on at the time the best!

Promotional image for Dogfight

9. Take us through a typical day in your life.
There is no such thing! That's part of what I love, every day is different. There isn't really a model show by show either as each has it's own set of parameters. But if I pick a random day from this week, I do an hour of yoga first thing, then answer emails, update budgets, proof programme copy, check in with creatives and the like in the morning, pop into rehearsals in the afternoon, then off to the theatre in the evening (I go to the theatre a lot!).

10. What attracted you to Dogfight?
The score, the score and the score! It's so beautiful. I was alerted to the show by a close friend who's a producer in New York. He kept on and on about the fact that I should be the one to bring it to London that I partly took it just to shut him up! But seriously, it is the most beautifully constructed piece. The score is sublime and very smart and the book is easily as strong. It's perfect for Southwark Playhouse and so right up my street that I couldn't say no to it.

11. Favourite song in the show?
It changes every day and will probably continue to do so as we get into the run. Rose singing "Pretty Funny" at the end of her disastrous date is heartbreaking. "First Date/Last Night" is a beautiful, touching, funny, awkward example of the blossoming of a new relationship that we all recognise. And Eddie's final number, "Come Back", is almost too powerful to watch.

12. You have produced a number of shows at Southwark Playhouse. What is it about the venue that you like?
It is, in my opinion, the best Off-West End venue. The space is stunning - totally versatile and the height gives it a vastness that is unbeatable, yet the audience are never more than five rows from the action. To be able to be epic and intimate at the same time is a blessing and quite rare. I also go back there again and again because of the team there. When I'm there I feel like I have ownership of the building and they feel like they have ownership of the show. It's the nearest I have got to feeling I had at the Chocolate Factory.

13. First big break?
I think Sunday In The Park With George really put the Chocolate Factory, and us, on the map. To have a show from a small Off-West End theatre transfer to the West End and then Broadway was remarkable. Since going freelance, I think the shows I have done with Thom Southerland (director) have put us on the musical revival map, so I'd have to say that Parade was pretty important.

14. Shows you'd love to produce?
There are so many I wouldn't know where to start. But the one that is at the very top of the list which, if I haven't produced by the time I die will feel like a failure, is Maury Yeston's Nine.

15. What was the first thing you saw on stage that had a big impact on you?
Les Misérables changed my life. I went again and again and it made me realise at a young age what theatre had the power to do. It also ignited a passion for musical theatre which has never gone away.

16. And the last?
Probably Matilda. I was on my feet sobbing at the end, not necessarily because it was sad but because of the immense, overwhelming pride I felt to be involved in an industry that could make all those people around me react in the way they did.

17. You co-founded the Menier Chocolate Factory. What's it like opening a venue?
It's the best, most fullfilling thing I've ever done. I've never worked so hard in my life but the rewards outweighed the exhaustion by a thousand to one.

18. Any temptations to open another theatre?
Every day. And one day, it will happen.

19. If you could swap places with anyone for a day, who would it be?
I'd like to be Cameron Mackintosh for one day... if that day could be the day he announced that Miss Saigon had recouped on its first preview!

20. What's next?
Next up is Frances Ruffelle's solo show, Paris Original, at St James Studio on 3 October and at 54 Below in New York later that month. I'm producing the transfer of Man To Man by Manfred Karge from the Mercury, Colchester to Park Theatre in November. Next year I have 5 (yes 5!) projects, but in a spectacular show of appalling interview technique, I can't tell you about any of them quite yet! Watch this space...