No Producer is an Island

In a few weeks time audience at Southwark Playhouse will be electrified by Anyone Can Whistle and hear these lyrics from the late Mr Stephen Sondheim.  I hope his estate won’t mind my using these as words of advice to anyone who wants to be a producer (especially those who may be studying or working and wondering whether they should rather get/keep a ‘proper job’)

Everybody Says Don’t
Everybody Says Don’t
Everybody Says Don’t Walk On The Grass
Don’t Disturb The Peace
Don’t Skate On The Ice
Well I Say Do I Say
Walk On The Grass It Was Meant To Feel

I Say Sail… Till To The Windmill
And If You Fail You Fail

Yesterday I shared the graduation event with the third cohort of our CGO Institute Diploma in Creative Producing under the banner of No Producer is An Island. Their invitation to us read: You are invited to join the third cohort of Creative Producers at CGO Institute for a unique online graduation event – set sail on an exploration of our learnings, challenges, and intentions as producers, as we map out our journeys to theatrical projects and adventures anew. Under the theme of No Producer Is An Island, we will Zoom-cruise through both the interconnection and distinctiveness of each producer, taking in the sights and exploring 6 islands to interrogate our practice and vision as producers, and with time for coffee and cocktails on the Captain’s Deck at the close of the event. Graduating producers: Patricia Dzigbordi Akoli, Ellen Burgin, Finlay Carroll, Tori Jones, Caron – Jane Lyon, Charlotte Mafham.

6 more producers join the other 17 producers now out in the world having worked with our amazing Faculty across their 16 week course.  One of those ‘diplomats’ is the co-producer of Anyone Can Whistle at Southwark.  I cheer Liam Mackintosh (He/Him) as he skates on the ice / walks on the grass and produces this work packed with amazing musical numbers with director Matthew Rankcom (They / Them).

Yesterday the 6 producers laid out their visions for their own work and the artforms/societies they wish to work in. Our audience of international festival directors, marketing experts, investors, film and theatre directors and community activists learned about the changing face of Musical Theatre advocacy;  the potential of metaverse theatre across three planes of existence – rural village hall, digital home streaming and VR/AI platforms; the creation of work for young people with musicianship and storytelling at its heart which also spoke to adults; the intersection of queer work, ecologically sustainable practice and musical theatre; the power of photography, story, life painting, and group sharing to give power and voice to those living with skin conditions – especially black voices not heard or understood enough within the mainstream medical world;  and the importance of working deeply with a single geographic community to use the arts and participation to re-awaken the voices, creativity and personal power of mothers.  That blend of commercial production, community activism, and reaching communities that may miss out on metropolitan offerings seem to be a running theme through each of the cohorts that have found their way to CGO Institute to study and share producing.

I am looking at my mugshot wall of 23 amazing creative producers currently located or focussed in/on 8 Countries. In amidst their faces are some inspirational quotes which guest lecturers have offered us.  Here are a few to enjoy – and maybe take forward in our practice.

Theatre puts a frame around time” (David Glass) but remember to ask yourself “What do you need to make your best work?” (Kate McStraw).  When things get tough remember the phrase “Problem, Solution, Action” (Anna Grady) and remember to “Put your own oxygen mask on first” (whoops – can’t find credit)  Our producers know that they are looking to work with either a “Reflected Audience or a Change Audience” (Joanna Morley) and over 16 weeks each producer on the course is reminded to “Know your superpower” (Alice McGrath).   There have been hundreds of powerful quotes and challenges laid down by our Faculty, all captured in audio/transcript for us to return to and explore in weeks and months to come. As I prepare to interview applicants for the fourth cohort (starting Nov 7th 2022) I will also be reviewing the course and reaching out to new voices to join the Faculty of guides and mentors.

For anyone wondering whether to be embrace their passion for creative producing and make a career in the business of show, then go and chat with any of those who have done our course, and of course consider other pathways.  The world needs the next generation of producers, entrepreneurs, and employers to step forward and make a difference.  If you want to know more about the pathways then I run regular Producing – Proper Job – Honest courses, either in zoom drop in events, or for groups of passionate/enquiring beings who may be part of a University dramsoc or a regional network. 

And for me – back to budgetting and planning some new training projects which are in discussion with 5 different countries at the moment. I suspect I will be walking on quite a lot of grass, but I am surrounded by other producers and faculty and mentors to work with me. No producer is an island. My thanks to all those who work with me and guide me to invent new programmes and support structures as we navigate this strange world.

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