When Louis Hartshorn and Brian Hook first met, first started considering working together, they couldn’t have guessed that a simple introduction would turn into such a fruitful partnership. Now, with years of Edinburgh Festivals and successful shows under its belt, Hartshorn & Hook is as strong as ever and ready to take on new challenges.
Both partners started out acting, though Hartshorn quickly realised he wanted to be in a different facet of theatre. “I realised that I was getting a lot more creative satisfaction out of creating events than I was out of the performance… The very first show I produced was a Rat Pack tribute show – and it was also the show that Brian came to see when we were talking about starting to work together. I feel like it’s been absolutely essential to have a partnership. To share ideas, to share the highs and lows, to have somebody who can pick you up when you’re down – to be able to form a proper partnership has really meant the world to us.”
Hartshorn deals with the business and finance end of the production, what he self-depreciatingly describes as “the boring jobs”, but Brian Hook describes his role as “absolutely invaluable… I think we’re two halves of a very good producer. What I bring to the table in creativity and mad ideas and exciting partnerships, Louis brings in financial stability and control and a sensible business model. He’s a bloody good friend as well – you can’t ignore that. It’s really nice to go for a pint with someone who’s shared in the blood, sweat and tears of making something come together.”
A huge part of that making something has been tied up in Edinburgh Fringe, with the pair producing more than 50 shows for the festival over eight years. “The buzz of the Edinburgh Fringe is absolutely addictive,” explains Hook enthusiastically. “To challenge yourself and prove yourself, to prove new writing at that level… And the thrill of being able to walk from one street to another and see the most incredible theatre on the planet in the same stretch of a square mile, it’s amazing really!”
This year will be the last year that Hartshorn & Hook produces its musical Rat Pack and Blues Brothers shows at the Fringe, as it moves on to more new writing works, like the acclaimed show Away From Home that it’s taking to Edinburgh after its national tour all this year. With it will be work from two other companies; Melinda Hughes’s comedic Cocktails With The Diva (which doubles as a cocktail making lesson) and a rock musical version of A Midsummer’s Night Dream from a energetic and talented youth theatre group from New York.
“Edinburgh is a core part of who we are and what we do”, says Hartshorn. “We think it’s been really really important for us as a place to test out work, to meet new people and to build contacts and friendships. It’s a melting pot of brilliant people and brilliant ideas.” Hartshorn thinks that, after a while of working seriously in theatre, the struggle of being the young, untried and untested newcomers is wearing off. “About two years ago we found that our youth worked against us. One of the main difficult things is getting either a theatre or an investor to get on board and trust that the project is going to work, and when they see someone that’s 23 who’s trying to put together a project that has a six-figure budget they tend to be sceptical. In the last two years that seems to have fallen away a bit and I think that’s just based on track record.”
Both producers are a mix of pragmatic and incredibly excited when it comes to their work. “It is more exciting than it’s ever been”, says Hook. “The one thing that stands out with Hartshorn & Hook productions and with quite a few other young producers is that we’re true blood producers really, we don’t sit down and make our own work.” It’s a model that he enjoys, especially being able to take work like Away From Home, something that started out as a purely subsidised show and shaping it into a sustainable and ongoing entity that will hopefully keep going and take on a life of its own.
He warns about the changing future of theatre, worried about how long funding will last. “Start thinking immediately about the sustainability and longevity of your work. How is a six-person musical that you want to put on going to work in the real world, without eternal funding? We need to start working now to find sustainable models so that we can keep creating these incredible works.” Hartshorn adds that it’s always going to be a risk, always going to be challenging to make ends meet – but as long as you’re enjoying it, you’re in the right place. “It is going to take over your life so you need to make sure you’re happy with that.” But Hook thinks it’s worth the risk and the time. His advice it to keep at it “because it’s got some absolutely incredible highs – some pretty shit lows – but some incredible highs. There’s nothing like sitting at the launch of our big west end musical – opening night, absolutely rammed, with national press in there… that’s when you think, god this is where it’s at.”