Writers ‘play’ producers (or what Mel Brooks got right…)
Jeremy and I are first and foremost, a couple of writers. There is a necessary seclusion needed and elected isolation that comes with writing. Sounds miserable, but it is what it is. Producing – putting on a show – is the polar opposite: you are making connections, reaching out, meeting people, talking, cajoling, annoying, calling, zooming, teams-ing. You get the drift. Many aspects of the role do not come naturally. You do, however, have to make them look like they come naturally. As a very clever producer, Amy Danis, once said: 'A producer is a banker, a cheerleader and a fireman.' Be prepared to be all three at once. Which is tricky.
Luckily, we are both good old Essex boys as well as writers and academics and somewhere, somehow, lurking deep in our DNA are the same nucleotides (yeah, I looked it up) that powered those wheeler-dealers, street traders on the hustle, the barrow boys, raconteurs, and hawkers looking to talk you out of or into something - to their advantage, of course.
We are also English, so apologies. This play explores some of that.
Anyway: in order for us writers to get a play off the ground, we have to run the whole show - from the funding bids to organising the tech – with the top-class assistance of, initially, the late great Robbie Humphries, to whom the play is dedicated, and then the equally great Dave Turner. I personally get a thrill from pulling and shoving projects together and working with talented people. My advice to anyone who wants to get a project off the ground like this is to get the right people to work with. No one is perfect, but they can all bring something to the table and help it tick. Make connections early, be nice to everyone possible but know too that you cannot please all the people all the time.
You also need to love your project because it will take up all of your time and you have to convince others in turn to give up their time. Learn from others and be open to all suggestions. Listen, learn and then make decisions, knowing that not everything will go smoothly. Be interested and enthusiastic about every aspect of the art of theatre. And tell everyone on board they are great as much as possible. Jeremy tells me I’m great all the time, which is nice. Gain trust and the rest follows.
Hopefully, anyway. As I said, I’m still learning the trade.
Funding is a matrix-mind-field and luckily, Jeremy is a seasoned filler of forms. So, Jeremy, what would you say has been the hardest part of producing this work?
‘Seasoned filler of forms? I sound fascinating, don’t I. The hardest bit for me has been, in no particular order, keeping so many plates spinning (unfamiliar types of plates, as you’ve pointed out). I’m just a writer. I hate phone calls. There are so many different bits to fit together in a complex project like this. It’s like trying to pin an octopus under a duvet. I think the key lesson I’ve learned for next time: give everyone in the team a clearly defined role or portfolio (if that doesn’t sound too pompous). Ideally, once the writing’s done, I’d like to step right back, but of course that isn’t possible with a small team like ours. I've learned a lot. Steep learning curve. Get stuck in. Etc.’
We have also turned our to have been the luckiest boys in the sweet shop, getting to work with the ultra- organised and talented director Dave Turner. Dave, how do you find the producing side of this world?
‘Producing is a strange beast and a difficult one to explain. The main reason? As a theatre maker I have not had the luxury of producers in the past and have done it all myself. With this project, it is so unusual for me not to be worrying about the purse strings and getting the show out there through marketing. I can focus on directing and shaping the piece. However, a good producer is more than just holding the money and selling the piece, they are more like a parent - nurturing, guiding, comforting the production. On the other hand parents can also be frustrating, stubborn, and tight with money.
‘As a director you can either fight against this, throwing your toys out of your pram because they will not give you more money for that additional costume and have a vile time. Or you can work with the producer (key word here, negotiation) and have the greatest time. We all want the production to be the best and for the audience to have a great experience.
‘As James Seabright tells us in his insightful book, So you want to be a theatre producer? (2010), producing gives you both amazing opportunities - and then terrible disasters, which present themselves at regular intervals. If you can deal with both and still enjoy it, then you are probably cut out to be a producer.
‘With this project I am lucky to have been there from the beginning and have seen The Plant grow (see what I did there?). I have seen Greg and Jeremy deal with both the light and dark of production - COVID-19 and the delights of receiving funding. From death to life. But they always remain true to the most important aspect of any production: the bigger picture.’
There's a really good article on producing theatre here if you want to find out more. So far, it's been...real.