Creative producers make more than the tea

In Features, Inspiring people, Opinion by Chris GradyLeave a Comment

If I have learned anything in my six years with Mountview, and four years of that conceiving, championing and teaching the MA in Creative Producing, it is that the title “creative producer” needs to be kept. And we still have a lot of work to do to help theatremakers understand the role of the producer.

In the first term of the course, the amazing David Glass came to challenge and inspire our producers bringing with him a selection of tennis balls which we still have around the office. He infuriated with his seeming dismissal of the word creative. It led to some heated debates over many pages of Facebook with one of our producers, Daisy Hale, who decided to take his mighty strong opinions to task. They locked horns and David was impressed by her argument and by the course which was there to inspire creative expression in all its forms.

This week I am mid-exit-interview time and reflecting on so many occasions where the word “creative” producer has been challenged and where, in some way, the producer has been seen as a threat to the creative process. All they do is try to save money, or they will probably steer the director in the wrong direction are two of my favourites. I have been blessed by three cohorts of producers who were strong enough and professional enough to make their own paths.

Two years ago Stephen Jameson, principal of Mountview and champion of the MA Hub, decided the producers deserved their own projects, whilst also supporting the work of others within Mountview and doing their placements and research around the theatre businesses of London and the world.

In one sweep of the pen the Catalyst festival grew from eight plays to 16 plays and solos (and is now 20 plays and solos over seven weeks). This year each of the 12 producers was given a small fund to commission/find a new solo piece of work and Mountview arranged with Theatre503 for them to be presented as a two week season above the Latchmere with professional actors and directors. I am writing this as two of the final six plays do their tec.

This post is inspired by seeing a pot of tea delivered by one producer to another at the handover from the first’s to the second’s tec. It could not have been more welcomed. Yes producers make tea – and creative producers find a very fine pub and order an even better pot of tea from them, and deliver it on a tray. That’s creative.

Last week we played 6 new pieces – one rehearsed in Spain and flew in to deliver the premier of an amazing live art reflection on Medea, before returning to Madrid and being re-worked into Spanish and French for a trilingual tour. Another went from a scratch 10 minute monologue to commission a full piece which played Theatre503, and is already booked for a first showing at the Kings Head . The producer Tanya Agawarl said” “I wanted to use this opportunity to showcase BAME voices and i was intrigued by the largely forgotten story of Claudia Jones.”

Tonight Joanne Blunt opens her commissioned piece Havisham. In answer to my question How/Why did you choose your piece “Because an incredibly talented writer like Emma White needs opportunities to show their work and have artistic freedom in a low risk environment as they’re starting out, otherwise how do they get a foot in?   Together, me and the writer chose a topic to cover. Her writing style is unusual in that she records conversation and then develops character voice from that and then establishes an arc afterwards. I then aided her in the drafting process and in frequent readings of the piece to shape it into what it is now. I then appointed a director who is very different in style to the writer’s own directing style to try something different and really broaden the range of what she can do.”

And she added, because I was sitting opposite her as she wrote this quote just now for me – about creative producing, sotto voce, “Endless, thankless, admin.” No wonder she needed that pot of tea.

I can’t wait now to hand over all the reins to my successor, Pam Fraser Solomon, who has been watching the process and exploring her take on the course for the last two months. I am delighted that 14 producers have been offered places for 2018/19 which will being to 39 producers from 14 countries – Scotland to Australia, Thailand to Peru – who will have gone through the first cycle of the UEA approved MA. In the next year Pam will bring new teachers, new inspiration and new opportunities to this new cohort – as they settle into the new building in Peckham.

But for now 11 creative producers are still here at Theatre503 straining every creative sinew to bring good new work to a new audience. The making of the art is inspiring. The reaching out to a sun drenched, tennis loving, football mad, holiday planning public is an immense challenge. We open tonight at 7pm and play to Saturday. By then I will have helped the three cohorts bring 46 new plays to the stage either in association with the MA Theatre Directors, or by commissioning their own new work.

If you are looking for a producer that can do more than make tea; That does have opinions on many things, but is experienced in the art of listening and supporting a creative as they go in many different directions; or someone who far from trying to cut budgets wants to find the financial solution to an exciting creative idea; and who is willing to do the “endless…admin” (but hopefully thanked) – then come to Theatre503 this week, or check out their details on my website.

In answer to the question, why make this new work, our producer from the Bay Area, California, Christina Sturken answered, “Given the politically turbulent times we live in, I wanted to help cultivate a new female driven narrative while engaging a collaborative and international team of creatives”. And Olivia O’Connell commissioning a composer to draw from her own verbatim libretto “I wanted to tell a story of the new normal for families in the UK and showcase contemporary music writing”

Sadly I suspect it will be some years before the term “creative” producer becomes a tautology – for the moment it is an essential reminder to all those who work in the business and have not had their bacon saved or their day supported, at some time, by a producer.

Come visit us at Theatre503 – The halloumi wrap in the Latchmere is a meal in itself.

 

Chris Grady on Twitter
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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Chris Grady on Twitter
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.