Last night I was given a wonderful bouquet of flowers – a beautiful array which is now bringing joy to us in Clapham. They were given to me by a complete stranger on the tube after I commented on how lovely her celebratory bouquet looked, and hoped she’d had a nice evening. I don’t normally talk to strangers on the tube, but then I don’t normally get given flowers. It was a joyful way to end the day.
I am lucky to work in an industry that is generous with its gifts – especially the gift of time and talent. Over the years I have sought to help foster that generosity, and create opportunities where people can share their gifts. Each month the Producers’ Pool, which I run, asks of those present “what can you give?” and “what do you need?” What skills, time, talent, and maybe treasure do you have or do you need. And over the evening people try and match their wants and offers.
Last night the vibrant creative musical theatre producer Katy Lipson and I were sharing a panel talking about our lives with emerging musical theatre producers, and writers who were seeking to self produce. We were guests of Musical Theatre Network. We were talking before the session about the generosity of spirit we had both experienced along the way as we developed our careers, and how it was important to find time to support, encourage, and challenge the next generation.
Its tough to be a producer. It is an immensely lonely profession, at least at the beginning and for the first 5-10 years. Your non work friends can’t find you because you are in a darkened theatre space or hunched over a laptop. You can spend days over spreadsheets and emails, connecting across timezones and cities, all from the privacy of your own bedroom or the corner of someone else’s office. After 20 or 30 shows you may hit a winner. Katy talked of the change in her future planning with The Addams Family under her belt. John Brant talks to young producers about the changes in his thinking now he has Come From Away making headline and award news.
I’m slightly different. I described myself last night more of an “inventor” than a producer. I have chosen to stay most of my career on the edges of new work and r&d and new initiatives. I have invented things like MTN (previously Musical Theatre Matters), writers’ courses, festivals, and training courses to facilitate change. I don’t necessarily practice what I preach, as I teach or mentor producers.
This week I worked with my producer Ellie Claughton (love the sound of that…my producer) on a grant application to the Arts Council for the space for me to explore my own creative practice towards the gestation of my own show. Not producing other’s work, or guiding other producers, but being the creative at the heart of a project with a producer to challenge me. It has been a wonderful experience. The producer/theatremaker or the producer/director relationship can be so powerful when both aspire to work together. Now I hope ACE will help me along, and I can get into a research and personal development phase at the ripe old age of 60.
Each person in this business needs to find their own path, and that path may not become clear for many years. I was mentoring a creative yesterday and we agreed that the most important thing, early in a career in this underpaid, under-resourced, over-stretching world, has to be that you are seeking joy and happiness in what you do. You have to have a passion for each project – and wow Katie showed that to the room last night as she explored what motivated her to work 70-80 hours a week. You have to have a reason for taking each step you make – especially the hard ones.
And then I argue we should all remember one other array of advice. As we step forward in this business, and indeed in any business, we need to connect, communicate, praise others, support the team, honour our commitments, solve our own problems, and say thank you. I recommend the study “Leaders Eat Last” which really focuses on these aspects of running a business and a life in the 21st century.
There is money out there to make projects happen. There are people with phenomenal expertise out there who can help. If you are interested in them, and what they are doing, and why they might want to work with you – then (in most cases) you will be rewarded.
And maybe one night, as you head back home 16-17hrs after you left that morning, someone will give you flowers.