Some of the best lessons I have taught others have been those which explore the challenges and failures that I have been involved in – projects ahead of their time, schemes which needed backing which never arrived, and exploring the step-by-step process which led, not to a smash hit, but to a hard fought not-quite-hit. I never learn as much myself when I am listening to a hit-machine talking about the way they got to the top.
As I gather the faculty of mentors and teachers for the Diploma in Creative Producing which starts in November I am asking each person to explore the challenges they have had, the lessons they have learned, and one or two books which they recommend for new producers. These, together with excellent accessible texts covering fundraising, marketing, business, and understanding the arts ecology are all going into a Reading List to share with the new cohort of producers.
I have my new star book for the ‘lessons learned’ section of the Reading List. “Maddie and Us” was published last week telling the 8 year story of a new musical from idea to West End opening. It is full of “twists and turns, triumphs and disasters, extraordinary coincidences and sudden cliff-edge reversals” to quote the cover copy of Shaun McKenna’s heartfelt memoire of those years. Originally written as a warts and all book to come out shortly after the triumphant opening in September 1997, it went back into a bottom draw and only now finds the light of day. Every aspiring producer and writer and director and theatremaker and theatre collaborator should read it. There are lessons for us all.
Some of the characters in this epic drama are now great and good in the world of theatre. Some are still there battling at the coal face. Some have vanished after doing damage on the way. The three collaborators at the centre of the story are still working, still working together on other projects, and still friends. I saw much of the journey unfold as a member of the audience and friend of some of the characters. It is so so true to life.
Applications are now coming in for the November Diploma from around the world and I am so looking forward to welcoming some of them to be with us as creative collaborators learning to be the producers of the future, changing the world one show at a time.
Maddie and Us will be on the Reading List along with other classics on my bookshelf such as Act One by Moss Hart and My Indecision is Final by Jake Eberts & Terry Ilott. Each of us can learn from the masters as they go dancing toward disaster – especially from the survivors.
I look forward to inviting one or more of Shaun McKenna, Steven Dexter and Stephen Keeling to meet our producing cohort in time. In the meantime grab the book, and grab the CD especially the Deluxe 20th Anniversary edition from Stage Door Records. To quote Maddie herself – “There’s no sense in thinking small”