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.

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