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Tag Archive | "Stage One"

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Feature: Stage One – Funding the future producers

Posted on 08 April 2014 by Harriet Stevens

Stage OneLast month, Stage One, a charity funding body that supports the work of emerging theatre producers, announced the latest recipients of its £50,000 and £25,000 Start-Up Investment Fund.

Stephen McGill and David Hutchinson were the winners (respectively), and these sums will be used for the upcoming productions of The Pyjama Game (West End transfer, co-produced by McGill) and Avenue Q (UK tour, co-produced by Hutchinson).

As, for me at least, the role of the producer is a little elusive, I wanted to find out more about the role in general, what drove McGill and Hutchinson towards a career in producing and how they got to where they are today.

McGill explains his perception of the role of the producer: “I suppose the general perception is of the cigar smoking, Dom-drinking West End Producer – who I follow on Twitter and is hilarious! – but in reality, the producer is responsible for most aspects of a production, from the administrative side (which includes budgeting, financing, negotiating contracts, marketing and press of the production) to the creative side (collaborating with writers, directors, actors, musicians, stage management and technical crew), to create a show which hopefully everyone is proud to be part of.”

For Hutchinson, “essentially the producer brings everyone together. It’s their original idea and they conceive of how it could all work as a whole production. They’re the risk taker. They have to have the belief from the beginning.” Hutchinson explains how “risk is a big word in theatre at the moment. I hear it at conferences and in arts discussions all the time.” Hutchinson describes the types of risks that producer is taking as being both financial and creative, as not only are they playing with huge amounts of money but “it only takes one flop to put theatres off your work; one bad show, one project that is under par…” As Hutchinson will be using his Stage One funding to finance a regional tour of the puppetry musical Avenue Q he tells me how, particularly in recent years, there is even more risk associated with regional theatre: “Regional theatre is in crisis. The only way we can rebuild it is with funding people [like Stage One] who are taking these kind of risks”.

Both McGill and Hutchinson agree that the funding provided by Stage One is a vital support network for emerging or early-career theatre producers, and both are thrilled to have received the funding for their individual projects. McGill tells me that “Stage One has been crucial to my development as a producer. As well as nurturing and developing my skills through the New Producers Workshops, the advice and support of established producers is there to ensure the next generation can come through and hopefully continue the success.” And it would appear that Hutchinson is also grateful to Stage One for more than just the financial support as he explains how, aside from the monetary boost, Stage One adds a level of credibility to the project which Hutchinson calls the, “second wave” of securing funding, where the backing of Stage One “really makes everything more concrete as now, as we’re applying for more funding, we already have the cast and have started with rehearsals, as well as having secured some tour dates”.

Although both are now well stuck into their producinf careers, neither McGill nor Hutchinson came to the world of performing arts with this intention, as both initially trained as actors. McGill explains how he came to producing when, “during a particularly long ‘dry spell’ between acting work I was fortunate to work as a production assistant on the transfer of Jersey Boys into the West End. It was so exciting being part of a big production from the first rehearsal – which was my first day on the job – through to previews, opening night and beyond. I learned a huge amount in regards to the work that goes on behind the scenes to get such a big musical on stage and it was as rewarding, if not more so, to be part of the production side of the show.”

Hutchinson tells me how, whilst he was training at LIPA, “we had what they called ‘management classes,’ and they were the first lesson the morning after the weekly ‘£1-double-vodka-red-bull student night’ and everyone would sit there, head in hands, but I was completely fascinated. I graduated knowing that I wanted to produce. But I consider the actor training as a tool. I think it’s important to know how to talk to other creatives and I know that I can speak to actors on a level. It’s a tough career and I respect that; I don’t think that some producers have that understanding.”

Hutchinson believes that the best way to learn is by doing things yourself and that, specifically with a producer, this comes from initially working on small scale or fringe shows where, due to budgeting, there really is no choice other than to take on a vast number of different production roles. But all this experience will eventually pay of as, as Hutchinson puts it, “you realise after doing all of these things yourself that you need to build a team where you can find someone who specialised in all these different areas, but then when you are working on this kind of larger-scale production and you need to speak to a technician and want to use the right vocab, or you’re asking someone to design a lighting plot, you can – because you’ve done it before.”

Hutchinson assures me, however, that even further up the career ladder, the job of the producer isn’t necessarily all glitz and glamour, and those intending to shoot for a career in producing should be prepared for a difficult journey. “We all want to dive in straight at the West End, but you have to start small and then you can up-scale. It’s a real slog. I’ve had five years of battling ‘no’s. I’ve been driving vans down motorways at midnight, washing and ironing costumes because the stage manager’s off sick, so don’t think it’s going to be glamorous!”

But it seems that at the end of the blood, sweat and tears that a producer has to put into realising that initial vision that they had for a show, all the work can pay off when the show is performed to an audience, as McGill expressed: “for me, the best part is seeing the production you’ve worked on for months – or maybe years – on stage in front of an audience for the first time. I love the journey a show takes from page to stage and it’s so exciting to finally be able to share it with an audience.

 

Stage One supports new theatre producers with industry-led training workshops, bursaries, apprenticeships, start-Up investment, mentoring and advice. For more information see the Stage One website.

Harriet Stevens

Harriet Stevens

Harriet is an applied theatre practitioner working with young people in London, and a recent MA graduate of Royal Central School of Speech and Drama. She is hugely passionate about theatre and live arts, and spends much of her free time seeing as much theatre as possible.

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Theatre news: Kevin Spacey Foundation, Stage One and Papatango announce opportunities for young people

Posted on 16 March 2013 by Becky Brewis

theatre news finborough

As National Apprenticeship week comes to an end, here are a few opportunities for young theatre practitioners that have caught our attention. Producers, writers, actors – read on…

Last week the Kevin Spacey Foundation launched two new initiatives: a grant giving scheme for emerging creative talent and a major new partnership with Regent’s College London.

The foundation was set up by the award-winning actor, director and producer Kevin Spacey in 2010 to support, train and mentor emerging creative talent. Following its success since then, the Foundation is now offering those at the start of their creative careers KSF Grants to help them make their own projects happen, whether they are making a film, dance piece, theatre performance or a music track. Grants of £500, £1,500 and £2,500 are offered.

The second opportunity is for those pursuing higher education and offers six KSF Scholarships a year for the BA (Hons) Acting and Global Theatre course at Regent’s College London. The university setting means that creative collaboration can take place across academic subjects, with a focus on international study – a global outlook that is at the heart of the Foundation.

Kevin Spacey will lead the audition process and those lucky enough to gain a scholarship will attend master classes with him as part of a programme of learning events with other high-profile artists.

Meanwhile, National Apprenticeship week has seen a flurry of announcements including, rather excitingly, the news that Stage One is to offer two regional producing apprenticeships.

The charity, which is committed to developing and supporting producers for the commercial theatre industry, has been awarded £30,000 of funding from the Eranda Foundation, to offer a 12 months training programme for entrepreneurial new producers.

Stage One’s Apprenticeship Scheme already offers hands-on training opportunities within established producing companies, but the additional funding means that this year they will be recruiting eleven outstanding candidates; six for their Commercial Placement, three for a Commercial/Subsidised Placement which was launched in 2011 and two for the new Regional Placement opportunity.

Also this week, submissions opened for the fifth Papatango New Writing Prize, the latest venture from a company set on finding the best new talent in the UK and bringing their work to the stage. Papatango was founded in 2007 and has been in partnership with the multi-award-winning Finborough Theatre, since 2011.

The winner will receive a full four-week run at the Finborough Theatre in November 2013, and the script of the play will be published by leading theatre publishers Nick Hern Books.

This year’s judges will be the four members of Papatango – Matt Roberts, George Turvey, Sam Donovan and Chris Foxon, together with Neil McPherson – Artistic Director of the Finborough Theatre, Francis Grin – Literary Manager of the Finborough Theatre and Reen Polonsky – Senior Reader of the Finborough Theatre. In a development from previous years, all entries will be judged entirely anonymously.

Last year’s competition received over 700 entries, and previous winners have earned critical acclaim, award-nominations and high-profile future commissions.

Applications close at midnight on 31 May and the longlist will be announced on 1 July 2013 and the final winner declared on 1 August 2013.

Image: Finborough Theatre

Becky Brewis

Becky Brewis

Becky Brewis is Commissioning Editor of AYT. She is a freelance writer and editor and has written for Huffington Post UK and IdeasTap and reviews theatre for Broadway World and One Stop Arts. Sub-editing includes IdeasTap, Nick Hern Books and fashion and art magazines Nowness and Wonderland. She has worked for theatres and arts organisations including the Finborough, the Pleasance, the Southbank Centre, Cecil Sharp House and the Barbican Centre.

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Marmite and mischief: Belt Up’s The Boy James

Posted on 04 January 2012 by Douglas Williams

“One of our more ‘Marmite’ shows,” is how Jethro Compton describes Belt Up Theatre’s current venture, The Boy James. “Some people hate it and some people absolutely love it.”

The Boy James began life in 2009 at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe as a sideline to a programme of more high profile performances The Trial and Tartuffe. The show ran every other day and admitted an audience of only 25 people. Compton, who juggles his role as The Boy in the show with his responsibilities as both Producer and Lighting Designer, notes, “It’s weird that two years later we’re still doing it.”

It has become something of a flagship production for Belt Up. Returning to London for a three-week run in association with Southwark Playhouse (where Belt Up have been performing since 2009), the show will then journey to Australia to represent the company at the Adelaide Festival. But how will a new, international crowd take to Belt Up’s mischievous ways? The company is known for its unconventional staging and audience interaction and this show is no exception. (Read Lois Jeary’s review of Belt Up’s The Beggar’s Opera here and Editor Jake Orr’s review of Belt Up’s Macbeth here)

“Basically, the audience are invited into a study, where they prepare to go on an adventure,” explains Compton. “Whether that adventure does or doesn’t happen is not clear.” The Boy James is inspired by Peter Pan and the life of J.M. Barrie. The dialogue between the characters and the audience centres around the idea of growing up – or rather of not wanting to grow up. The character of James struggles throughout the play to bid farewell to his childhood self and put The Boy to rest. “It’s not a narrative show,” explains Compton. “It’s really bizarre in that way. It’s not storytelling in the way we usually tell stories. It’s all about the relationship that the audience has with the character of The Boy and how that starts and ends.”

Compton is quick to admit that this unconventional approach has divided critics. The Boy James has received criticism from some individuals. “I think that’s because it’s not the kind of show you can sit behind a notepad and write about,” says Compton. “You need to be feeling it.” In stark contrast to the negative responses, one of the best endorsements The Boy James could have received came from Stephen Fry on Twitter. He was one of many who left the show at the end of an evening in floods of tears. According to Compton, it can be anything from one audience member with a tear in their eye to the whole lot sobbing. With Fry, (“Just been knocked out by The Boy James – still drying my eyes”) the company struck gold. (Read Editor Jake Orr’s own take on The Boy James here)

“To have the Stephen Fry thing – that gave the show a boost and allowed us to continue doing the show,” remembers Compton. “It’s quite an amazing thing to have the Fry quote because people read The Guardian or whatever paper they read and when they read a bad review they will trust it. When Stephen Fry comes out with a positive quote, people think ‘Well I like him and he likes that so therefore maybe I will like that’.”

It’s easy to consider the mounting pressure on a young company such as Belt Up. Two 5-star sell-out runs at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and some high profile admirers must make for high expectations. “We try not to think about that too much,” says Compton. “We started making the work that we wanted to make, telling the stories that we wanted to tell. We’ve always tried to keep that at the centre of it.”

The question of how a production translates from a Fringe stage to a London one is also crucial. When Belt Up made the transition, it found its work didn’t impress quite so effortlessly as it had done before. “When we came to London for the first time, we weren’t just a fringe company that people quite liked,” explains Compton. “There was an expectation of our work. People were like ‘Well there are  loads of young companies – what’s different about you?’ and so when people were blindfolded and thrown into a space, they were a bit like ‘Oh no, not this again’.”

Returning to Edinburgh in 2010 brought its own daunting level of expectation from audiences. Coming back after a prior season peppered with glowing reviews, the company were met with an attitude that Compton describes as “Go on then – impress us.” But the company is still young, still learning and still prone to making mistakes – and so it should be. If, as Compton points out, an audience enters a space with ridiculous expectations, viewers are unlikely to drop their guard even with the ten minutes of participatory childhood games that start the show.

Adopting the role of producer for a young company, as Compton has, adds another dimension of pressure. “I never wanted to be a producer,” Compton recalls. “It just kind of happened. I did the lighting which led to doing all the technical side of things which led to being a production manager and doing budgets, and I then ended up realising that the thing I enjoy doing is producing. The more I did it, the more I realised it’s actually what I want to do.” Being taken seriously is still the challenge with which Compton most identifies. He clearly believes that producing is not a skill you can learn on a course – you learn through doing. And there is support available to young producers.  The office from which he works is provided by Stage One, a trust set up to help the next generation of commercial producers. So why aren’t more young people getting into production right now?

“Some people see producers as facilitators, which is not what I do,” says Compton, engaging with the common misconception that producers deal only with logistics. “I have an interest in taking a show that I like or coming up with an idea and then putting it together. And the great thing about being a producer is that I don’t have to wait for someone to give me a job. I know so many young people out there who are unable to get work and I don’t have to worry about that because I’m the one making the work happen. It’s a great feeling, especially if the work is successful.”

The Boy James is being performed in association with the Southwark Playhouse from 25 January – 11 February. It is a site-specific piece being performed at The Goldsmith, 96 Southwark Bridge Road. Tickets are on sale now, available here.

Image credit: Belt Up Theatre

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