Lydia Fraser-Ward juggles being a creative producer with working as a choreographer. Here, she talks about making site-specific work and tells us why being organised and being creative go together...
Full name/age/job title:
Lydia Fraser-Ward, 30, Site-Specific Creative Producer and Choreographer, currently working at Pagrav Dance Company and as a consultant for Rich Mix.
Please give us an overview of your average day…
I’m a bit of a night owl, so I tend to work until late in the evening and start later in the mornings. I alternate between full-time jobs and freelance contracts, so at the moment I’m juggling freelance work with my own creative projects, which means every day is different. I allocate each day of the week to a different client or creative project and spend much of it at my laptop. I’m in the early stages of choreographing a new dance piece called Binge so I might be working on some dance phrases for that or looking at photos and films that I find inspirational for movement material. I’m also working on a brand new arts festival in empty shops, so I’ll be spending time scouting for unusual vacant sites in East London.
What is the most common misconception about your job?
I think a lot of people don’t know what a creative producer is, or that producers can be creative people. Generally if you work in the arts you get lumped into two categories - organised or disorganised. If you’re disorganised then you must be a genius artist, and if you’re organised – or even just practical – then you can’t be creative or artistic. It’s bonkers, but unfortunately a lot of really exciting artists who happen to also be methodical, realistic, problem solvers get pushed towards arts management and then find themselves stranded there. In my experience I find productions that have had a creative producer at the heart of the process, shaping both the artistic and logistical elements of the project, are much stronger for it.
What is the hardest thing about your role?
Managing lots of projects at the same time. Even when I’m working as a full-time producer for one company, there are always several shows on the boil at any one time, and they’ll all be at different stages of development. Stopping for an hour to allow yourself to just sit and think can sometimes be the hardest thing to do. That, and knowing when to switch your computer off for the day.
When did you decide what you wanted to do with your life and how did you set out to achieve it?
I don’t know if I have decided. I’m certainly still figuring out exactly what it is that I want to do.
I suppose I always knew I loved the performing arts and I ended up auditioning at Rose Bruford where I took my degree. My time at drama school was hugely influential and still shapes my devised dance practice today, but it was my MA at Central School of Speech and Drama that gave me the final nudge to specialise in site-specific work. After graduating I set up my own site-specific theatre company and worked in arts management at the Bush Theatre and BAC. Eventually I managed to combine these skills with my site-specific knowledge when I became producer at London Bubble and since then I’ve enjoyed other roles at Underbling & Vow and Akademi South Asian Dance, producing theatre and dance projects for public spaces.
What can you do to get a head start?
Don’t be afraid to ask questions. If you see a piece of work and think it’s amazing, contact the artist and ask them out for coffee. You’d be surprised how often they’ll say yes. Even a 20 minute chat can totally transform your thinking, just make sure you come with prepared questions and don’t ask them anything that you know you could find out for yourself online, as it just wastes their time.
Could you describe the creative element to your job?
As a creative producer I want to be involved right from the very start of a project. I’ll sit with the choreographer or director and we’ll throw around the early ideas and concepts, making connections where we can. If it’s a site-specific project, usually the work is completely inspired by the space, so as I’m scouting I’m thinking about the history and real people that live and work in that site, and what stories could be told there.
As for being a choreographer, there’s no part of that role that isn’t creative - you are constantly using your imagination to visualise the final product. It’s hugely exhausting, which is why I couldn’t do it all the time.
What’s the one thing you wish you had known at the start of your career that you know now?
That it’s not egocentric to talk about your work. You must feel comfortable talking about what you do, because others won’t take you seriously if you don’t.
Also that there’s no yardstick for success - write down what you want a project to achieve at the start of the process, and if at the end you can look back at your notes and see that you have reached those initial goals, then that’s a more accurate indicator than ticket sales or reviews, because at the end of the day it has to have moved you forward.
Which organisations/websites/resources do you think would be useful for people entering your industry?
Websites which I find useful: for jobs, IdeasTap is obviously the best place to start but also at ArtsJobs, Arts Jobs Online, Arts Hub, Guardian Jobs, StageJobs Pro, Arts Admin’s weekly E-Digest is excellent for jobs and artistic commissions, I Send You This is also good for artistic opportunities. Run Riot lists a wide range of cultural events in and about London, The Place lists a number of dance jobs and funding opportunities in its Services section and Dance Cast has loads of opportunities for dancers and is on Facebook.
Photo: Matt Haswell
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