What does a theatre producer do?

Whisper #169

Joe Kerry describes what's involved in the role of a theatre producer and the skills he needs to do the job.

Producers themselves often joke that they don’t actually know what a theatre producer does. It’s a broad role – one which requires the individual to wear many hats.

A producer needs to communicate. A producer needs to problem solve. A producer needs to be reactive. A producer needs to be creative.

Before working at the RSC, I worked as the Creative Producer for a wonderful company called Warts and All, who create extraordinary theatrical experiences all over Northamptonshire with young people and their communities. They gave me a book that changed my creative practice entirely - Radical Candor by Kim Scott (also a podcast). It’s an incredibly empowering book that enables you to care about the work you do and those within your team, which in turn allows you to challenge them directly and give your opinion. It’s an important tool for communication, management and mindset.

A woman in an orange cape talks to someone sat on a picnic blanket.
Emma, Young Producer at Warts and All, where Joe worked as a Creative Producer.
Photo by ABDDigitalUK © The Artist Browse and license our images

What did you work on at Warts and All?

I produced projects like #SpeakYourTruth, which brought 13 young people from global majority households together to create individual pieces of spoken word that respond to the Black Lives Matter movement, and their experiences of being people of colour.

My work was very much behind the scenes – giving the platform to the creative team and young people involved to achieve the highest quality of work, and ensuring everyone was on the same page with the project's mission. My biggest responsibility was to listen:

  1. To the challenges we were facing by engaging in a brand-new digital project and find solutions to those challenges
  2. To what the creative team needed to facilitate the project in the best possible way
  3. To the participants taking part to ensure their voices were heard throughout the entire process.

I handled administrative duties like drawing up contracts for creatives, developing a timeline for the project and working with the Project Officer to ensure the participants' experience was as accessible as possible.

I also led two groups called the Young Producers; young people who are committed to creating positive social change by responding to the needs of their communities. We’d devise projects and ideas as well as developing their skills as producers. One of the groups created a series of arts and culture activity for their community; including a magazine, a podcast and three individual event days. They came up with the ideas and together we made them happen.

Leading this group really opened up my own understanding of what a producer is, or what a producer COULD be. I prioritised the development of the young people’s communication skills – creating a safe space to share their own opinions and listen to the opinions of those around them, but also challenge each other’s perspectives and be open to having their opinion altered from these conversations.

It was never difficult for them to come up with creative ideas and projects, but the ideas needed to come from a place of action and response to the world around them. And if you have a clear aim and objective, you can create real change through your work.

Being a producer is taking an idea, developing an understanding of WHY you’re doing it, and making it happen. 

How do you make it happen?

It helps if you’re organised, but in my opinion it’s about being realistic and receptive. A producer is working to drive the project forward.

There are plenty of ways to make your project happen, and there’s a whole load of creative people out there who want to get stuck into making something incredible with you.

You most likely need some money to help you achieve your project and to pay everyone fairly. This sometimes seems like an impossible or arduous task, but start from a place of change, have a clear aim and objective that you can articulate to whoever is going to give you the resource you require, build a clear timeline and be able to show exactly how you’re going to spend the money you’re asking for.

Funding makes the world go round – and there’s lots of organisations that offer valuable funding for the arts. Here’s a few useful links to help you search for the funding you need:

Joe

"Being a producer is taking an idea, developing an understanding of WHY you’re doing it, and making it happen."

What skills do I need if to become a Producer?

  • Communication - the ability to listen and communicate with your team
  • IT – being familiar with commonly used apps to help you with budgets and admin
  • Confidence to give your opinion, to challenge others and have the confidence to get things wrong, to fail and learn from them
  • Creativity to offer creative ideas and solutions to your project and the challenges that arise
  • Calm in high pressure situations
  • Passion about the projects you're working on and their impact

What does a producer do at the RSC?

Being a producer at the RSC is a slightly different beast. There are around 800 members of staff working at the RSC who are all specialists in their respective fields – everything from Box Office to casting to wardrobe to HR to planning to development. It’s a HUGE organisation with a lot of moving parts, and the producers are in the middle of it all.

We’re also there to provide suggestions and help find solutions. The producer is the source of information, ensuring that the vision of the production is clear for everyone.

The Producers team work on a range of projects – right now we’re working on The Magicians Elephant, The Comedy Of Errors and so much more. Our job is to communicate with all of the different departments to ensure that the project is running smoothly and that nothing has been missed. The producer is present at all steps in the production’s lifespan. Sometimes your task list can vary massively, and can often feature tasks that you may have never thought you’d have to do before. Here's a fun example for you from our Assistant Producer Sarah-Katy:

"For our outdoor production of The Comedy of Errors in the new Lydia and Manfred Gorvy Garden Theatre (Grab a ticket here before it goes on tour!) we didn’t anticipate that there would be weekly bell ringers at the local church, who just so happened to start their ringing during a pivotal moment in the show. We reached out to them to ask if they could possibly move the time of their bell ringing, and they were more than happy to (phew!) – so we bought them a few bottles of wine to say thank you."

RSC Producer Ben Tyreman said: “Flexibility is key. There will always be challenges to face on any production and a producer has to manage these in a careful and timely fashion in order to keep the production on track.

"Communication – crucial.  Ensuring that every team is kept up to date with developments is really helpful to head off problems down the line.  And the producer is well placed, having an overview of every aspect of a production, to know who needs to know what information and when in order to keep doing their best work.

"Be creative and imaginative – miracles can be found in the most unlikely places and often the constraints of time, budget and resources mean that creative and innovative solutions have to be found.

"Always remember to value people and their contributions. In theatre, there are many people whose work is less visible than those performing on stage, though no less important to the success of a production. It’s important to remember that and ensure that people are appropriately acknowledged for their contribution. And  always have a Plan B.”

A quick update on Magicians Elephant

The weeks have flown by! Rehearsals are going well and the show is really coming to life. I’m so excited to see every element come together – the staging, the costumes, the set – it’s going to be a show to remember.

If you haven’t got your tickets yet, get them here!

Check out these incredible photos from inside the rehearsal room…

We’ve narrowed the elephant’s name down to a few options… as promised, I’ll let you know once she’s been given her name.

See you next time!

Joe Kerry smiling with his dog 

Joe Kerry

Joe is an Assistant Producer at the RSC and a Weston Jerwood Fellow. As a producer Joe is passionate about championing new writing and building platforms for creatives to develop their work and skills. He’s also a HUGE basketball fan! Find him on Twitter @joelikepoe or visit flengwin.com.

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