Year of the Producer Blog: The Journey from Actor to Producer

Inspired by our adoption of Stage One as the charity for the 2012 Awards,
we’re declaring this the “Year of the Producer” on,
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.

In this blog post, Dan Brodie, a current Stage One Apprentice at the Royal Court, tells us how he came to be a producer.

It’s an odd thing to say, but I think deep down I have always wanted to be a producer. I doggedly covered it up and pretended to want a life on the stage but, by 17, even I realised what a terrible actor I was. My poor parents had been forced to sit through countless dodgy plays which were invariably three hours long. There was Macbeth, The Lower Depths and The Beaux Stratagem to name a few, each performed through an array of fake beards and providing a valuable education in ‘beard acting’, a life skill I have not forgotten.

My family were invariably nice, if a little sympathetic, but you can imagine their joy when – after ten shows, more than a day of their viewing time and an astonishing variety of facial hair – I told them I was going to stop acting. My follow-up announcement that I intended to be a producer and would begin with a student production of Hamlet, was hardly what they wanted to hear!

Hamlet started me off on the producing journey. I was very lucky to be at a university where producers were encouraged to take real risks (with a safety net) and had to raise real money and deal with real theatre owners. On one particular show in the UK a venue were really tough with us on a clause in the small print which specified that performances had to finish at 10pm sharp to allow the club next door to open their doors and start the music. I knew the play was long but not quite how long. I also thought that we would get a grace period. I was wrong.

During the dress rehearsal, at exactly 10pm, just as Hamlet was taking a turning for the worse, music started pumping through the walls and the theatre manager came in and turned on the house lights. Cue: hysteria, a shocked company and a long night of trying to persuade the director to cut! Anyway, it ended up alright on the night and whilst the resulting five minute interval may have been painful for the audience, it was less painful than the threat of legal action…

Apart from that minor blip, Hamlet was a great success, taking more money than any other student play before. But, as I was to find out, it was not always going to be so easy. Following working on more shows in Oxford and London, and finishing my BA, I moved to Montréal. Aside from enjoying a brilliant city, I was studying for an MA, working at a theatre and producing an all-female version of The Dybbuk.

The venue was mostly known for music but, as the former headquarters for a Socialist Jewish community group (and ridiculously cheap) it was a perfect fit so we decided to give it a go. Apart from the constant noise from the downstairs bar, the staff were deeply unhappy about being silent for two hours whilst nobody bought drinks or gave them any tips. They would nip out every so often for a cigarette, usually (and perhaps deliberately) at a tense moment. This we could deal with, but the thing we really struggled with was marketing to the different groups within the city.

Montréal is a multi-cultural place but we were producing an English play, directed nearly entirely at an English audience, in a French part of town. The Quiet Revolution of the 1960s was still fresh in the minds of some. People refused to put up our posters. There was suspicion (especially with me being English) about the entire project. But through targeting some aspects of the French media, and promising that I was not here to reassert the Empire, they slowly turned. There would always be people who wanted nothing to do with it, and no amount of nicety was going to change what they saw as decades of mistreatment, but I felt great satisfaction when a French Quebecer came to the show and enjoyed it. I hoped we had shown some of the doubters that we were adding to the cultural vitality of the city, rather than taking it away from the French.

Politics and theatre aside, it was a great experience and I think it took me out of my comfort level. I would recommend producing abroad in general, as the difficulties provide an opportunity to take more responsibility. In August I came home and was fortunate enough to be accepted into Stage One and get a wonderful post at the Royal Court Theatre. This is a new challenge but one that I am very excited about. It is particularly exciting to be working in a venue dedicated to new writing. New plays by David Eldridge and Nick Payne, which are opening soon, look like they are going to be the next examples of new British writing at its very best and I think myself very lucky to be involved.