This week, Fiona Lindsay talks about the role of a producer in the staging of a show...
Running down one side of architect Elizabeth Scott’s 1932 version of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s main house building were two long, narrow corridors; one ground level and the other directly above. On one side of each there was a row of offices with lead-lined windows to the front and on the other side a wall adorned with old production posters that offered a glimpse into the company’s illustrious past. The corridors were known throughout the organisation as the corridors of power – I don’t think that it’s just me who thought of them in that way.
The ground floor offices, slightly darker and smaller, were home to the theatre manager and their front of house team and the corridor was directly linked to the prompt side of the stage via a pass door. Each evening the duty manager would walk through the pass door, give clearance with a thumbs-up to the stage team sat in the dark in the prompt corner, before switching on the tanoy and listening to the show play out from the comfort of their office.
At either end of the corridor was a staircase linking one to the other and in many ways, as we all saw it, connecting the ministers to the cabinet.
The second floor corridor was lighter and brighter and the offices slightly bigger. Dark wood desks had been replaced by pastel-coloured, linen covered, squidgy sofas with scatter cushions and glass-topped coffee tables were strategically placed to separate the sofa from the bentwood chair that was usually reserved for anyone attending a meeting in one of the salons of the company’s cabinet – its senior management team.
This corridor housed the top team made up of the artistic director, the executive director, the finance director and the producers. It was the inner sanctum and where the grown-ups were. The producers were regarded as particularly grown-up.
Back in my early days with the company there were only two producers and they covered the entire output of seasons in Stratford-upon-Avon, London, Newcastle, and regional touring as well as international. Yet despite this enormous responsibility and workload, so many people would say "But what do the producers actually do?"
I was lucky enough to grow through the company and graduate into the producing team (I even had a squidgy sofa in my office) and having now emerged from an almost 24/7 schedule of RSC producing activity I can confidently say that a producer's work is never done and they are always too busy to talk about what they actually do. Here’s my two cents' worth on a tiny area of the role and what it requires.
The craft of producing theatre is unseen and silent, with most of the work going on behind the scenes before, during, and after rehearsals of a show. A producer is a parent to the show. They often assemble the creative family, look after the budget, and ensure that the production process is kept on track as it heads towards being presented on stage. In the commercial sector a producer also has to find backers for the production in order to get it to the stage.
Whether you’re working in the subsidised or commercial sector, the job requires a fine balance of tenacity, attention to detail, patience, understanding, and chutzpah, with an ability to understand a financial spreadsheet as well as a the language of theatre-makers. It’s a fusion of logistics, statistics, and creativity.
Today on Digital Theatre Plus we release the transcripts of three interviews with four producers who work in the West End. They offer a range of experience and skill but are united by their passion for the job, creative ambition and impressive work ethic.
Q: What does a producer actually do?
Answers on the back of a postcard please.