One of the joys of running the CGO Institute, and I hope one of the reasons people choose to take the Diploma in Creative Producing. Is the phenomenal level of skill and inspiration which our Faculty offer in talks and workshops. Last week we had a session from Kris Stewart who, as well as being the Artistic Director of the massive Brisbane Powerhouse in Queensland Australia, is the founder of the New York Musical Theatre Festival (or NYMF) which ran for 16 years until shortly before the pandemic.
The focus of the discussion was the creation of major festivals and events from the tiniest idea or inspiration which comes to you in the dead of night. It was 2hrs of powerhouse wisdom and very focussed support for our Diploma producers. He explored in great depth the role of the producer as the pathway provider – especially helping us understand the need to, and how to, keep the faith in your own idea.
Kris explained that people buy into people. If you are passionate and clear in your idea then it is You that will excite the potential backer, even more than the great idea. As the champion of the project you/we have to work out “how to match excellence with demand”, because most audiences don’t yet know they need/want this new idea. The producer needs to build trust and a sensible plan because “an artist maintains faith when they can see a pathway to being seen”. In Kris’s case 300 submissions of new work, led to 32 new musicals being seen by audiences in the first year of NYMF in 2004. It went on, over 16 years to premiere 447 musicals. 100 of them went on to have professional future lives including Title of Show which Kris eventually produced on Broadway. Every one of the writers and creatives of those 447 musicals were offered a pathway to being seen.
He explored the key things every producer needs and there were three which struck home: Yes If, Imagine Change and having a Check & Balance. Firstly “The answer to every question should be Yes If” There is a way through every problem – even if that is about realising the ‘if’ is not worth taking. The producer should “start with the end in mind” (to quote Habit 2 in Stephen Covey “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People“) Then along the way upsets, cliff edges, icebergs and storms may arise, and you will ask ‘can I overcome this’ – the answer is Yes If.
Secondly “If you can’t imagine change, you can’t imagine better” feels like a great challenge to us all. Don’t always do the same thing and expect a different outcome. Don’t always use the same team and expect innovation. Don’t always gather the same audience and expect to be able to offer innovative and exciting new work. One thing which remains so exciting to me leading the DipCP is that the producers around the desk want things to be different. They want to tell different stories. They want to reach and inspire and delight new audiences. They want to give, and be given, new opportunities.
And thirdly “your check and balance, as an artist and producer, is the observer…the audience is one of the key ingredients” without whom we cannot do our work. With them we can change the world, one show at a time.
We talked about the ways to hold and support and artist, as a producer, so that they can fly. We talked about valuing what we and they make, and about what we as a producer need in order to make work – we need space, time, attention, some money, advocates and honesty around us. Kris answered questions on so many aspects of making a show happen and how to be bold.
It was a pleasure to share time with him on the same day as he was celebrating the 21st anniversary of the Brisbane Powerhouse which, for those with a knowledge of the London scene, might best be thought of as a blend of Battersea Power Station and Battersea Arts Centre.
Now it is back to Week 6 of the 16 week Diploma programme, where our producers will be building budgets, looking at sources of income, considering commercial break points, understanding pitch and investment documents and exploring how to tell a grant/funding story. And they will be taking a quick trip to Singapore to explore this gateway where East meets West.
Applications are welcomed for the 3rd Diploma which will run from 1st Nov 2021 to 25th Feb 2022, bringing together up to 12 aspiring producers from the UK and around the world. For more information have a read here