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Producing – Proper Job – Honest

Workshop Participant: “I learned tonnes of answers that i didn’t even know the questions for…! Really exciting to hear about the industry beyond student theatre as well, and have a chat about the big post-covid questions… thank you thank you thank you!” Student / Bedlam Theatre

It is fascinating meeting the next generation of theatremakers and creative producers during my ongoing magic-cloud tour of University drama societies and festivals. Last week I was in Edinburgh. This week Chichester and then Durham. Last month the National Student Drama Festival and Exeter.

My Zoom Q&A/talk is around the massive world of understanding the role of the producer, considering career paths into that job, and looking at the world in which we live in a new way.  Each session I am struck by the comment of at least one person in the room, making me think differently about the world I live in.

Here are some of the topics we have covered in the order the Agenda was set in various talks: What is a Creative Producer ? Difference between Production Manager and Producer, Pathways to the career, Prepare ourselves for the real world of theatre producers, Is an MA worth doing – what’s involved, Interview for Creative Producing Courses, Do you need to do a Masters, Building v Theatre Co producing, Options for training, Corporate and Sponsorship, Accessibility – courses and programmes, Leadership tips,  Rates of pay – for the producer, Agency / Talent Management, Programming a post covid world, Programming and producing differences, Post Covid Theatre, Fundraising – sources not ACE / CS, Producers’ Pool.

These talks have led to enquiries from trade bodies, career guidance organisations, theatre access groups, international networks, a think-tank, and other universities – and I look forward to meeting many different aspiring people wanting to make a difference in our industry in the future.   They are leading to enquiries for our Diploma, and I hope for other pathways which I discuss in every session.

What is becoming clear to me is that those creatives who are 16 to 25 at the moment, just hoping to make a mark on the arts, are the advisors we the 40-70 yr olds need to help us think differently. Before they get drawn into the expectation of grants and funding and systems and rules which all may be broken in the new world.  I am lucky. I do not have a building to worry about, or staff to care for in the way so many of my colleagues do. I came into Covid with a relatively clean slate [The project I had been working on for 2 years had just been cancelled, and since this was intended to be 50-75% of my working life for the next couple of years, it left me pretty free (if a tad bruised)].  The CGO Institute is the result of my blank sheet of paper.  I am not sure whether we, the Faculty will end up being the students, and the trainee, aspiring creatives will be our teachers.  They will, most definitely ask questions which challenge the old-ways. We will work together to make new ways possible.

What the old guard (and here I am talking of a Faculty aged 28 to 65ish) can bring is an understanding of some of the tools we used in the past, some of the audience expectations there were in the past, some of the things we failed to address in the past. I was struck by this quote from a BBC interview with Kwame Kwei-Armah, artistic director of the Young Vic Theatre in London “When theatres do turn the lights back on, those who have often been excluded in the past must be present. From class to race to gender, we have made great progress over the last few years in our sector in trying to equalise it. I’m determined absolutely that all of that progress that we’ve made cannot go for naught. We have to rebuild with that as a fundamental.”  The first few cohorts of the DipCP will be at the vanguard of supporting this determination.

I keep coming back to the tension between the public’s ‘need for community’ and ‘fear of gathering’.  I sense it will be a theme for the next two-three years across the industry, around the world. 

Last Thursday I was in an audience of 30-40 people clapping along to a lone piper in the heart of our village theatre/square, as the sun tipped golden through the clouds, and we all shared thoughts engendered by a single performance and a communal gathering. (Thursday 8pm NHS clap).  How easy it will be to go one step further and welcome some barnstormers/ travelling players into our midst. To bring out some chairs for our family groups. To have a glass of wine, beer or a cuppa, and to enjoy some fine theatre and good laughs.   I hope there are producers doing a proper job all over the UK thinking about these ‘full houses’ and gatherings which are possible.

For now I continue to offer my “Producing – Proper Job – Honest” workshops and am looking forward to getting dates in the diary with the Mousetrap Foundation, a network of theatremakers in Kazakhstan, a bi-lingual version with my colleague in Saudi, and some other University networks who have said they want it for their members. Cheers (and yes I would love to be propping up the bar of The Lobster Pot in our village or a gathering of the Producers’ Pool network and tasting a freshly poured pint of Proper Job)

Brake or Accelerate ? – A Creative Producers’ dilemma

Confusion, overwhelm, unrealistic expectations, and uncertainty of what to do next seem to be very understandable emotions as we all check that, if you are living in England, you understand any aspect of the instructions from y/our leader. I am so grateful that here in Scotland we have the joint leadership of Jane Godley and Nicola Sturgeon saying it how it is.

Over the last week I have once again checked in with producers in other countries and continents and felt a heavier vibe of balancing a desire to be creative with the realisation of the challenges of picking up a project which existed in the ‘old days, the old ways’ and re-fashioning it for the ways in which we may, must, can, will work in the new world.  One theatre is taking their 1000 seat theatre and effectively creating a 250 seat socially distanced safe house in which work can begin to be created in the coming few months (in a region of the world which has managed the process locally and clearly). Another company has taken a solo work for piano and, in a responsible socially distanced way, brought a creative team and artists together and broadcast the song cycle for a new global audience. Another has put together a small hardship fund and is reaching out to all the artists on its books and making an offer of a small stipend for a piece of outward facing (in the end) creative practice – developing a new script, using technology in new ways, gathering actors for a virtual event which enriches practice. These are small examples of the work which is going on all over the world to make sense of the new theatre methods.

One of the assignments I always give students on the Creative Producing and Arts Management courses I have run is to invite them to picture a time in 5-6 years from now when the world is in someway different, and to think how they would market the show, a theatre, their work in a new way.  Even the most extreme essay only pictured the destruction of the internet.  But now we are dealing in real-life and wondering how we will market theatre and performing arts in 6 months or one year, rather than 5-6 years.

This is the time for the Creative Producer to really come into their own. At this time of ‘confusion, overwhelm, unrealistic expectations, and uncertainty of what to do next’.  The producers that we will be seeking to inspire and train with the Diploma which starts in November will be people who can take the challenge. They are flexible enough to see things differently. They have the ability to play the role of an informed potential theatregoer/ consumer of the artistry which someone wants to bring to the stage.  They/we can think laterally and wonder how the work may be realised differently, how it might be brought to the consciousness of the audience in a new way, and how we can make the potential audience stretch a wee bit to reach our juicy creative fruits, but not panic that they may topple over or be upset by any risk.

I am concerned that so many people are sharing work for free at the moment. It may have a knock-on effect in the future to undervalue the cost of artistry needed to create work. In a discussion this week there was also shared concern over the quality of some work being rushed up online to fill a perceived vacuum in supply, and whether that on-line roughness will put some people off in the future. Audiences may believe that the roughness will be replicated on the stage, so why bother when I can watch a blockbuster or a heavily subsidised massive show from the NT or the Met.

Creative Producers at this time, and at all times, need to have these concerns in mind. They may not always plan the direction of travel (the artistic director may be in the driving seat), but they are the keepers of the brake and accelerator pedals. They can encourage a slowing down and taking time to ensure quality, or indeed a speeding up to catch a moment or a potential audience with some extraordinary work.

I am talking to a lot of individual artists and theatremakers at the moment who are maybe running out of steam and ability to see the light at the end of the tunnel. If you are in England this is even more worrying. Here at least in Scotland I sense there is clear messaging, we may take longer, but we are following a collectively shared path.

May I make a call out to creative producers, coaches, mentors and those who help artists to stay creative and positive.  If you have capacity, reach out and see how you can help them move some of their ideas going forward. Do the thing we do best, think differently, think laterally, inspire, support, and help them see that their artistic practice is going to be, once again, an essential part of our landscape in the future.

I’m looking forward to doing a producing session with the University of Edinburgh producers this week, and then a gathering with some of the 550+ global independent producers who make up part of the Producers’ Pool.  We keep moving forward with these collective conversations as we find new ways to market and develop new work. If you fancy knowing more then I have a Chocolate Cake workshop for creative practitioners on Fri 29th. Have a look.  

Collectively we will come through to educate, entertain, heal, offer joy to, and celebrate with audiences the world over.  Now we have to take some time, keep ourselves safe, and do what we can in our current stay-home-cation. Slow down, apply the brakes, look both ways, and then lets find a creative way forward.

Gratitude – what’s your lockdown gift to yourself ?

I have in front of me a card from a glorious pack of inspirations by Ghata Engels called ‘creative gateways, inspirations and meditations’ Today’s card is Gratitude and it suggests reflecting on what I can be grateful for in my world at the moment, and what I can be grateful that I am manifesting or being in the world.  It seems a good time to think about this.

The world has changed for me, and for many many (maybe most) people beyond recognition.  Looking back at my blogs – it was only a few weeks ago that I was celebrating being in Russia, excited by a show heading to the Edinburgh Festival, and talking about my many upcoming workshops with aspiring creatives around the UK.  Now I sit in my little office and think ( and Zooooooom rather a lot)

This week I have much to be grateful for.  A young theatre producer from Exeter University, Suzi Bramwell,  heard a Zoom session I did with the National Student Drama Festival and asked whether I’d do a session with the Exeter University Theatre / Drama Society.  This week I had a fascinating Q&A with 16 locked down theatremakers exploring future careers under the banner of ‘Producing – Proper Job – Honest’   Now I’ve booked dates with Durham and Edinburgh University.   I am grateful for the chance to share my old grey-haired knowledge, and be challenged and inspired by the next generation of theatremakers. Happy to do more of these.

My gratitude goes out to 19 amazing experienced producers, theatremakers and marketing/development experts who have agreed to be part of the first Faculty of the CGO Institute   We met for the first time across 6 time zones and many countries to discuss the progress on the course, the joy that applications are already coming in, and the challenges to ensure that we will be delivering a creative and playful space to work and learn in when we arrive in the cloud-based classroom with our first cohort on November 2nd.  The passion and knowledge around the room was humbling and I honestly believe that we nearly have the expertise in all artforms and fields of endeavour which may be presented to us by the first cohort. 

So my question to you, dear Reader, is what are you grateful for, which is caused by, or part of, the present strange and unexpected situation ?   What might you take forward when we are once again allowed to speed on with our lives, or rebuild our worlds ?    What are you doing now in the quiet spaces, the boring spaces, the child-care overwhelming spaces, the cramped spaces, the virtual spaces, which you might want to keep in the new world when it happens ?

I’m aware of the increased reach of Producers’ Pool meetings each month now we are on Zoom rather than a welcoming café or bar in London.  I want to keep that global connectivity and see how we can grow it. 

I’m reminding myself it is OK to go and make the soup, or read a book, or go for a walk getting away from the zoom and desk.  I’m really aware of the people I am missing that I can only meet on messenger or skype or the phone.  And I miss the Lobster Pot in Blackness and the Railway in Clapham North where I could nurse a pint and do emails and work.

Thank you Ghata for the light you shine on this blog and my life. Thank you to Kath’s amazing Authentic Artist collective who I meet each Sunday for a zoom workshop and realise each week the power of connection that is possible even on remote platforms.  And thank you to Lewis Barfoot, Mhairi Campbell,  and Original Theatre for giving me access to concerts, ceilidhs and theatre which I might have missed in my rushed diary, rushing, rushing.    Take it slower friends and enjoy moments of Gratitude.

Unlocking Creativity – a vital Role of the Producer

Each week I am looking at my work and my path to starting the Diploma in Creative Producing in November.  Yesterday I received our first completed application and assignment, and I am awaiting a number of others.  I am delighted by the interest in CGO Institute and the ways in which the organisation may develop training globally in many different fields of the theatre/events over the next few years.  The first of our new short-courses for senior creative practitioners is now with one Country for potential bi-lingual delivery.

Each aspect of my life, and I believe the lives of most producers, resolves around unlocking and then realising, or supporting the realisation, of a vision.  At this time of lockdown an inspiring yoga instructor in Clapham is using the simple question – what can you unlock in lockdown?

This week I undertook 16 tutorials with 4th year graduating theatremakers who are locked down and trying to make their final showreels (without live showcase, kit or mates), websites, and professional cv’s. They have done good innovative work – why not film a monologue in a bath (clothed but trapped), where the speech reflected the struggle of this time of lockdown. That theatremaker was unlocking their potential with a propped up iphone and a first try at using imovie. 

This time for these 16 people is intense as they hand in their work away from campus and each other. For some the motivation is immense to get on with the planning for their theatre companies, but for others there may be a creeping sense of lethargy and pointlessness in it al after the rush of deadlines.

The role of the producer with these aspirational theatremakers is to help them see opportunities and understand that there are ways to make connections with other locked down folk who, in time, may be the casting director, agent, producer or director they most need.  We as creative producers can help them unlock their possibility to be creative.

The Creative Producer must be, sometimes, pessimist and pragmatist – raining on the parade of uncontrolled, unrealistic, unaffordable ambitions of another creative. But sometimes, and in fact now more and more times, we need to be optimist and enabler.

No work, no money, nothing in the diary, and nowhere to go can be debilitating. And we have to give ourselves a hug, and time to be kind to ourselves. But then the creative producer can help others to help themselves with harnessing the creativity of the slightly crushed.  We have each other. We have zoom. And for once in our lives most of us are in the same boat in terms of work/fees/projects for the next few months.  So we can invent together.

On Tuesday it is Producers’ Pool monthly meeting where 25-40 of us will share experiences and look forward. From this meeting will come confirmation of some regional Producers’ Pool networks which have been bubbling. Places where producers can talk more locally and regionally about the uncertain future. And then later in the week I do my first open workshop/Q&A with a University drama society and local arts community. Under the banner “Producing, Proper Job, Honest”, I will be meeting many in the cloud who would normally be around the Exeter campus. I now have dates in Durham and Edinburgh and look forward to more invitations.

So producers one and all – think how you can use your skills for unlocking creatives, networking, idea generation, listening to the next generation and peers, and making stuff happen to help anyone out there who is slightly crushed by lockdown.  Let’s continue to share great stories of small achievements through CGO Institute, UK Theatre Producers, and Producers’ Pool pages on Facebook and through Twitter and other outlets.

Wonder at a ‘new normal’

From all the devastation of the fires across New South Wales and beyond last year, I was struck by a series of photos taken by my sister-in-law who went off to volunteer with BlazeAid for many weeks helping farmers to repair their land.  The photos were of tiny shoots of natural recovery amidst the wipe-out.  Now, just a few months later, we have our own devastation to our livelihoods and infrastructure amidst lockdown. Nature, here, continues unaffected and I hope everyone wherever they are can take some moments to look out of a window, take a walk, or get into the sun, and see the beauty of our world.

I am looking forward, to November 2nd when the first cohort of creative producers will gather from around the world to begin study with the CGO Institute on the very first Diploma in Creative Producing.  At this point we have no idea whether UK theatres will be open, whether audiences will be returning.  I understand from a zoom session with an international flock of young producers that some countries have already decreed that their theatres and public spaces will be closed until 2021. 

In the words of Charles Eisenstein in an extended article The Coronation, he talks of “feeling that humanity was nearing a crossroads”…and “all of a sudden, we go around a bend and here it is”…“We are right to stop stunned at the newness of our situation. Because of the hundred paths that radiate out in front of us some lead in the same direction we’ve already been headed. Some lead to hell on earth. And some lead to a world more healed and more beautiful that we ever dared believe to be possible.”

The 20 diploma studying producers will be joining us to look at a new landscape. Some theatre and producers around the world will be aiming to re-create the same, because that is what the public loved before.  Some of our closest friends and theatremakers will have chosen, or been forced, to shut up shop.  And some will be contemplating new pathways to reflect on, champion for, and be part of a new more healed world – daring to believe.

Nicholas Berger in The Forgotten Art of Assembly argues for “the urgency and value of our form”. “There are undoubtedly going to be casualties. Theatre companies won’t survive, and the ones that do will be more strapped for cash than they already were. But this environment of scarcity must not be a time for artistic safety, rather a time for leanness and daring. Provocative, risk-taking, unabashedly theatrical work is going to be critical when we are finally allowed within six feet of each other again. Only in our excellence will we make a full-throated argument for the urgency and value of our form. We can use this surplus of time to prepare for that triumphant return, not just to distract ourselves while we wait for it. “

My question at a gathering of the Royal Society of the Arts (RSA) last week with fellows from the UK and Australia was to wonder about the audience. I was wondering about the conflicting emotions between the fear of gathering and the need for community.   One expert talked of “furlough as a form of methadone” another the hope that we may see “the folly of so much that was normal’ and come out of our isolation with a desire to witness and be part of a more healed world.

These are big topics which the students gathering in November will be tackling as they learn the tools and rules of creative producing, and work with our faculty of 25 international practitioners.   Each of these people, working in the business, will be coming to terms with the need to understand their audience.

There is hope “history suggests that the performing arts world will be resilient. Bringing venues back on-line and reassuring audiences of their safety is not going to be an easy process, however people will be hungry for culture and engagement once lockdowns and self- isolation end “ says Byron Harrison of Charcoalblue in Performance Buildings in the Post-Pandemic World.

I wonder how strong and resilient theatre and the performing arts’ own natural ecology is. I too am hopeful.  But I sense (with absolutely no research or grounds for sensing this) that the first tiny shoots to grow out of the scorched landscape will be the theatres that are rooted in community. The producers who know their audience personally They will understand their fears and can adapt to grow an offer to feed the hunger for engagement.

As a marketing person I ask many many directors and producers Who do you want on your front row ?  Who are they? Describe them in great detail. Where have they come from? What else do they do with their time? What has drawn them to this particular event at this particular place at this particular time.  Now I think the question has another fundamental level to be explored.  Where is the front row? How are they getting to this place of gathering? How are they feeling about life and this adventure to join community?   Can we ensure that their desire for community and entertainment/inspiration is greater than their fear of gathering?

Felix Salmon in Axios Edge reminds us “A mistrust of mingling with strangers — or even with friends — is likely to linger for a generation” He then adapts Weisberg’s Law to suggest “Everybody more paranoid than you has gone way overboard, while everybody less paranoid is not only putting themselves at risk but is acting in a deeply socially irresponsible manner.“   We have to remember this knife edge balance may be deep in the core of many of our potential audiences. 

But Bryan Harrison believes” We will emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic with a new appreciation for how connected we really are, irrespective of the availability of global travel. At our best, we’ll find a “we’re all in this together” attitude that will embrace new and adventurous artistic work. …Our industry must find ways to be resilient; our humanity depends on it.”

Tonight I go to my second private house concert/international ceilidh produced by Edinburgh based musician and theatremaker Mairi Campbell.  Last week she had artists playing from their homes in Mexico, Nova Scotia, London, Los Angeles and across Scotland. Tonight we will gather again and celebrate the artistry created in community.  It is a glorious gathering without fear.  It is from these seeds that a ‘new normal’ arts and theatre community will grow, I believe.

I can’t wait to work with creative producers in November to explore the new normal. Between now and 6 months time the world will keep changing, and nature will keep growing. Let’s see who amongst the next generation of producer will choose to take roads less travelled.

When This Is Over by Jamie Zubairi

When this is over,
When the numbers have fallen,
When we can give our neighbours a hug,
When we can kiss our grandparents on both cheeks like they do in Rome,
When we can whisper to our parents and our children “I love you” in their ear,
When the sound of children playing is coming from the school yard,
When my neighbour in her blue uniform can finally smile.
Someone baked her a cake last week.
I made her a curry and felt bad
That she had pudding before her main.
When this is over I’ll know her name.
When this is over, can you imagine the celebration of the simple things?
The party in the street rejoicing in holding hands, standing side by side;
The festival we will have after stockpiling love,
Hoarding kisses and hamstering embraces
And dancing like no one is watching
In full sight.

I am sharing this with Jamie’s permission. He read it at a ceilidh last night and it felt positive, heartfelt and hopeful – if presently sad. https://jamiezubairi.com/

Looking for trainee unicorns

Each week, until November, I intend to use my blog to chart the development of the CGO Institute from the idea (Sat 28 March 2020), through launch at the virtual NSDF Conference (Sun 5th April – see blog Launch into the clouds) and onward to the arrival of the first cohort in the cloud on 2nd November 2020.  That’s the plan. It is a selfish practice, to help me see the progress I am making, and hopefully a helpful one to generate thoughts and discussion about the course and the world we are preparing for.

Today, Easter Saturday, week 3 I think of Lockdown in the UK, I am sitting looking out at a deserted Blackness-on-Sea Square, a locked down village pub and shop, and a low tide empty beach. It is a strange time to predict a new world.  But I hope that the planned Diploma in Creative Producing will come at the right time for a re-emergence of creative practitioners across the Globe.

The producer Josh Foyster described producers as unicorns – he suggested that every creative practitioner, company or theatremaker is looking for one to help them realise their project. This was reported by Lyn Gardner, one of the UKs most respected critics and commentators in The Stage, and discussion followed.  I have enjoyed finding images of unicorns to pepper my website.

Immediately following my talk ‘Producing, Proper Job, Honest’ for the NSDF I had three enquiries for places. Each are now preparing their short assignment/application to be considered for a place. The instant response was exciting – but I have to remember that there is a heavy slog now to Base Camp.

This week I completed the gathering of the first 20 Faculty Members who will be with us as we start the Diploma. Most are now up on the website allowing potential participants in the course to see the diverse people who will be guiding me, and them, through the first 16 week course.  Everyone I asked to join said yes. That was my second of many excitements of the week.  Thank you to all of them spread across Scotland, England, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Australia and the USA.

And then I had tea with the marketing and digital experts Emma Martin (UK) and Ellen Burgin (UK/Australia) – at the Zoom Coffee Shop, bring your own cake or easter egg in one case !!  They put me through my paces to explore how best to use the Facebook and Twitter platforms to amplify the message about this course.  My challenge is, from a standing start, and without being affiliated to a massive University or funded machine, to make a noise in the ears of the exactly the right people.  Maybe you can help…

  1. There’s a Press Release – please shout if you would like to write about it.
  2. Are you part of a network where there might be theatre/arts folk who could be interested to share the word – here’s some pages on the website.
  3. Are you rich in creative friends on your facebook or twitter platforms. Could you help to amplify the message.  Here’s the facebook page for you to Like and talk on…1 day old and being built slowly with loving care by Emme and Ellen.

My fascinating and slow work this week has been to choose one country and to focus on who I already know there who could reach out to the theatre/arts community, or help me find aspiring producers who might want to study.  I have started with Brazil, moved to Korea and India. A few contacts who may have time to connect me with more people. Maybe you know someone I should know.

Next week Russia, USA and China.  I have been so lucky to have had a really helpful response from a lead player in the ITI (International Theatre Institute) and the British Council who have pointed me to bureau chiefs or lead officers in each of these and other countries.  Step by step I reach out to them.

I have to be patient. I have to be steady in the work. I need to find a wonderful group of 6 practitioners to make sure the course runs in November, and we will be delighted with 10-12 if that happens.   If you are a reader of this Blog and you are isolated and locked down, with a moment on your hands. Please have a read of my vision of the Diploma on the website, and wonder whether there is any group I could talk to by Zoom or individual I should know.  Thank you.

But now. It is Easter Saturday and I’m treating myself to Brunch, and being a good citizen and washing the car.  The sun is shining. The Saltire is flying outside the pub. The rooks are going about their business of nesting. Nature goes on.  Stay safe to one and all this week.

Thank you for reading

Chris