Everyone knows a theatre producer, but do we really know what they do? We spoke to three successful practitioners to get the lowdown on what being a theatre producer really means and how you can get ahead…
An overview from start to finish
“I don’t like the term creative producing,” says Julius Green, author of How to Produce A West End Show, “because all producers are creative by definition: they create the piece of theatre from the ground up. The producer puts together the team of directors, designers and actors, books the theatre, issues the contracts, raises the finance and builds the budget.”
“No two jobs are the same,” says Roxanne Peak-Payne. “Every time I start a new job as a producer, I ask them what exactly it is that they expect because it’s always different. In very loose terms, it’s an overview of the whole production, from start to finish, across all areas.”
Looking after the money
“In the subsidised sector, the producer budgets for a deficit, hoping to attract funding, while in the commercial sector you budget for a profit, hoping to attract investment,” argues Julius Green. “Don’t be scared of money. Money is the fuel that we need to make it all work.”
“Never tell anyone what the full budget is,” advises Roxanne. “If I’m doing something for myself, I always build in a contingency – of time and money – that no-one else knows about. However strict you are, something completely unpredictable always pops up.”
Bringing people together
“The ability to get on with people is hugely important,” says freelance producer Mark Cartwright. “Your job as a producer is to be sure that you have achieved the best possible result, for all the creative team and the audience.”
“You’re a very unifying figure,” says Roxanne. “You have to make sure that everyone is singing from the same hymn sheet. The director is obviously central to the show itself, but as a producer you’re responsible for people’s journey to the show, whether they’re funders or audiences or cast.”
Picking the right project
“You get shows through a mixture of routes,” says Mark. “A lot of brilliant ideas come through directors, but sometimes it’s something the producer has read or commissioned. Sometimes it comes from an agent or just a friend.”
“Most people are scared of the administrative and financial elements, but that’s actually the easy bit,” says Julius. “The difficult bit is creating a piece of art. There is so much work out there and so many people wanting you to put their work on. You should only produce something that you have a real passion for and that you would personally want to buy a ticket for and go and see.”
“If there are any problems then I suppose it is the producer’s responsibility to solve them,” says Mark. “I suspect I’ve always been the last person working on every show that I’ve done, right up to sorting out the wages and reconciling the budget.”
“When it boils down, if there is going to be a bad guy,” warns Roxanne, “it will probably be the producer. You will sometimes have to make hard decisions that the director might not like."
Top Tips for theatre producers:
Don’t let the relationship with the director become too casual or unprofessional.
Go and watch rehearsals on agreed days; don’t just drop in randomly.
If you have any hidden talents – from carpentry to speaking French – you will end up using them at some point in your career.
Internships and training courses:
Stage One have great apprenticeships that enable people to work in a busy production office, either in the West End or The Royal Court or a subsidised house
Battersea Arts Centre do a three-month producing internship, concentrating on the producer as initiator and programmer.
There is an MA course at Birkebeck for creative producers.
Central School of Speech and Drama have also just started a course in creative producing.
Theatre sign by Larry Myhre via Flickr under a CC BY-NC-SA 2.0 license.
How to Produce A West End Show by Julius Green is published by Oberon Books, £14.99.
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