For some time, probably before I was ready to, I’ve been working with emerging producers and artists through workshops, lectures and training sessions. Through a tendency to talk too much and enjoy giving advice these teaching sessions have formed organically and changed as my own career and focus have done over the years. Early on in delivering sessions I battled somewhat with imposter syndrome, but as this gradually faded I’ve come to embrace an openness to meet new professionals, share knowledge and importantly learn new things myself about producing. In this blog I touch on some of the things I’ve learned through my time with those interested in producing, and other things my peers in the sector continue to teach me as a producer.
I feel as if producers have become more open to sharing in the last couple of years. Through things like the Facebook page created by Jake Orr, the database started by Emily Williams and the free GFA resource created by Laura Sweeney it’s feeling like we all know how hard our job is, so let’s ease the burden and share some knowledge. There’s a list pointing to these helpful things (as well as others) at the end of this blog as a continuation of this generosity and recognition of all our great peers keeping this profession generous and kind.
Don’t be a know it all
Early on in my career I felt a pressure to have all of the answers, to know what the latest bit of arts policy was or which venue had a new director at the helm. I would find myself grasping to keep on top of sector knowledge, to understand it and have it ready at any given moment to answer a question. I also felt like I needed to have all the skills at my fingertips; marketing, fundraising, press, contracting, finance… all of these are undoubtedly important but it’s ok to not be great at them all. You can let someone else do it who is more skilled in that area and find joy in managing a smoother and efficient process which doesn’t see you holding onto everything. On the other hand, if you find yourself required to produce all areas take a moment to ask some questions of others more adept in that field, prioritise accordingly and forgive yourself when you make a mistake.
Care a little bit less
This blog was prompted by a student asking me how my work/life balance was outside of teaching. As if knowing that there must be a tumultuous relationship between my personal and professional priorities because I’m a producer, I’ve been asked this question by many other students before today and answer it differently each time. Catch me on a good day and I’ll brush it off with humour and celebration about my upcoming holiday. On a bad day I may have a little rant that it’s always complicated to balance these things and that they’ll soon see (said not as threatening as it sounds). Today however I found myself scratching the surface of something bigger I’m starting to tackle – choosing what impacts my work/life balance and trying to care less about the smaller things that often tip the scales. That is to say, not getting stressed if my email inbox continues to have 20 unread messages, or if I don’t go to the theatre for the third time that week because I want to sleep instead. I’m trying to start caring less about those things and put more energy into the bigger, more interesting personal and professional activities which return reward and fulfilment and purpose.
Never stop learning
Producing has a morphing and constantly changing job specification depending on the artist, project, context and funding you’re working with. There isn’t a set way of doing it which sometimes makes striving for best practice tricky, but also makes the job interesting and exciting as we can all shape what it looks like to suit our strengths. When teaching others about my interpretation of the job it's the changing nature of it which regularly reminds me that I want to continue to learn about it too. Without learning and developing the role of producer as change-maker and stuff-enabler it could become dull, stagnant and irrelevant.
So instead of staying set in your producing ways, opt for learning, sharing, listening to your peers, to those starting out, and stay open to be thrown by the questions that you wish you asked yourself when you were emerging. Here are some places you might look for some learning inspiration to get you started, no matter what stage of career you may be.
- Producer Database and bookshelf from Emily Williams
- UK Theatre Producers Facebook page
- Jake Orr's blog
- Producers Gatherings and Network by Xavier de Sousa & Sally Rose
- Laura Sweeney's blog with Grants for the Arts template
- The Producers: Alchemists of the Impossible (book)
- The Producer School lead by Emma Beverley (recently closed as an opportunity but one to watch)
- Stage One
- The Producer’s Pool