23 New Creative Theatre Producers in one room

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My third blog from The National Student Drama Festival – this time cheering the role of Creative Producers, the lovely opportunity to make connections, and the rather unexpected claim from one panelist that there were no such thing as producers in his day of early creating theatre (the mid 90s), and that we were in someway an invention of Mr Gove and the corporatization of the arts.

I’m sadly on the train after less than 2 full days at the Festival, but not before I have been cheered by seeing the future of our business in robust, energized, passionate hands.   I did my first NSDF workshop this morning for Creative Producers. I had seen that the acting, music, drama school workshops had sold out in advance. I thought maybe 3-4 producers would join me for the discussion. I arrived and laid out 8 chairs to get a feel for the space.   I was surprised and delighted to find there were 23 bookings…and we needed a rather large circle of chairs.

The producers set the agenda and, in 2hrs we covered starting a company, the structure of commercial and subsidized theatre, taking a show to Edinburgh, exploring a sustainable model for producers and small companies, charities, community interest companies, what makes a hit, necessary theatre, narrow cast marketing, people styles at work, and the fact that the world of the arts needs and loves new producers. Running throughout the session was information on the new MA in Creative Producing which I will be running for Mountview Academy of Theatre from September, which will of course cover all these areas in much much more detail.   In the final time I ran a group coaching session to allow each person to explore their own topic, in private, and set a short-term goal and eventually some action points to move forward with. The tools of coaching can be so powerful for creative practitioners and again this 45minute section gave a taste of a 3 month programme which creative can choose to follow.

One of the themes of the café and lunch discussions is the realization by the next generation of creative (writers, actors, producers, directors, creative and technical teams) gathered in their hundreds here in Scarborough – that the wise saws and battleworn soldiers giving classes and seeing shows are most definitely wanting to talk, to listen, to share inspiration, and to give anyone a bit of help where possible.   One lovely conversation was reported to me from a food queue…I paraphrase… Student to Soldier: ‘I really liked what you said at the panel yesterday, thank you” Soldier: “Thanks so much’ Student “Would you like to join our table for lunch” Soldier: of course…there followed a vibrant conversation between a senior national theatre director and three 16-17yr old theatremakers about the shared challenges of casting and broadening the sudience.   Those kind of conversations were happening all over the Spa Centre. This was described quite often as a wonderful leveller.

At one of the big daily panel and group discussions there was a real concern raised at the demise of Ideas Tap with its free support for new creative endeavour. Whilst very sad to lose this amazing organisation after 6 years, there are other ways to reach people who can help you test ideas, and can give wise advice. The coffee bar queue at NSDF is one. But that generosity of spirit is present in most organisations(I’d love to say all but maybe that’s too rich). The challenge for the emerging creative is to think carefully to whom they address their call for advice. We are all out there. We have blogs, workshops, surgeries, EdFringe panel discussions, books out, and theatre foyers to wander. We don’t aim to hide. Far from it…remember every theatre manager, artistic director, mentor and guide is WANTING to find the next great talent and pass on their enthusiasm for their craft.

And I just have to add (as all of you would expect who were at my workshop this morning, and those who are championing the various Creative Producer courses and devising opportunities like Stage One)…There have been creative producers since the dawn of theatre. We may have been called many different things…but we are not an invention of the conservative destruction of arts funding and gove development of targets. I first “produced” a show at 15. I had a lovely title of administrator to the writer/director driven company. I looked after the budget. I wrote rather childlike pompous scheduling letters, and rather innocent wonderful tour booking letters, and then I did the catering on tour [everyone lived to tell the tale]. I was the producer. I had to deal with the moment the writer/director decided to ditch one of the plays and write a new one overnight. I was the producer.   So please, honoured creative wise people, welcome us with our willingness to look after some of the business stuff, the grant applications, the project management, maybe the marketing and general day to day admin. This should leave you even more time to direct, write and work with us to make stuff happen. Thanks.

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Chris Grady
Chris Grady is a creative and business life coach who has worked in arts and project management for more than 30 years, running marketing departments and creating festivals and theatres in Bristol, Plymouth, Edinburgh, Buxton, Keswick, London and Bury St Edmonds. He has also run the Vivian Ellis Prize for new musicals, and written Your Life in Theatre, a careers guide for all stages of your career. He is preparing an MA for Theatre Producers with Mountview Academy for Theatre Arts. Chris blogs about arts management at www.chrisgrady.org.

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