Producers – balancing openness/generosity with confidentiality/business sense

I’ve been having a few conversations recently around how different established producers treat those who are aspiring and entering the industry.  At the core of the teaching which I have been doing since first starting for the Arts Council leading sessions on fundraising and investment 25 years ago, has been the need to be open and sharing wherever possible.  All those who have done the DipCP with me or the MA at Mountview and Anglia Ruskin, or been part of Producers’ Pool have, I hope, met Faculty members who share their working, share their challenges, and share their best examples of how they have worked.

It is, of course, right that anyone in business keeps a level of confidentiality that is appropriate. But template budgets, sharing investment document examples, offering contacts, and even suggesting great places to seek investment or support are all good practice.  No-one is going to share their list of personal investors, but maybe they could offer to make a connection, or help to raise a little money from their own connections.

I have also been rather horrified to be reminded how different the experiences of young and aspiring producers have been around internships. My first boss John Gale at the Strand Theatre gave me a summer job and then a year long engagement where I was paid enough to buy my lunches and theatre tickets PLUS he paid my rail fare to work from home. Initially £15 a week (equiv of around £135 per week now, but enough to buy 3-4 theatre tickets a week then).  If a senior producer is offering work experience then the best, like John, offered a very basic stipend, expenses, and some brilliant training. There are still some producers out there year-on-year who seem to take a pleasure in trying to break interns through overwork, under appreciation, and almost no pay.

We have seen massive changes in most venues and producing groups engaging staff/volunteers at Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It is testament to Pleasance, Space and others that staff/volunteers return year after year to be part of the experience, work hard, see great shows, and come away from it believing they have been cared for and respected as a human.  Best practice is rewarded, and we have seen exploitation (in the main) rooted out.

All I can do is encourage producers who come through the programmes I run and champion, to be generous in spirit, share their intelligence with colleagues,  support in whatever way they can those who are coming up behind them, and treat the industry as one which does not need secrecy and fear.  The same names are repeated to me time and time again: The senior 30+ years experienced producers who always have the time of day to support the next generation. And the few 20-30+ years experience who are exploiting or (apparently) fearful of those who are coming into the business.

I know who I recommend aspiring producers talk with about new projects.

I will pick up on some of these themes at the next two Producers’ Pool meetings – October in London, December on Zoom – with producers and curators of other people’s work. A space where we can be honest about our experiences and the theatres/producers we have found to be the best support.

The world needs more new producers and to encourage those 2-3 years into the business to stay, thrive and survive.. They are the employers, inventors and entrepreneurs of the future. They refresh the environment in which we all wish to thrive. I am blessed with an amazing Faculty of teachers, and a wonderful array of Alum who I know go out and re-energise and re-invent the business of show.  I am so looking forward to working with another group of aspiring future producers who join me in November for the new Essential Creative Producing short course from our CGO Institute.

Thank you to all those who see the wisdom in being open-hearted, supportive and generous to those who come after them.  It’s a tough time. We all need all the refreshing energy we can get.

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