Dear West End Producer: How does one become a producer without cash or rich people’s backing?
— exedore (@exedore_de) May 10, 2015
“Acting is problem-solving. Directing is helping with the problem. And producing is paying to make the problem look good.” – West End Producer. Being a producer is not just about having lots of money or knowing lots of rich people (although, of course, this helps) – it’s about a whole lot more than that.
Many times producers are ignored, or it is presumed that their part in putting on a show is not creative – which is entirely false. It is often the producer who comes up with the initial idea and concept of a show – and plays a huge part in creating it. Many recent hits have only happened due to the persistence and stamina of their producers – for example, when Kenny Wax was putting on Top Hat, he not only had to persuade the rights holders that it was a good idea, he also co-wrote the book and, in fact, formed the whole show. Which leads me to my next point – you have to be incredibly passionate and persistent to be a producer.
Like everything in entertainment, there are no specific rules on how to produce. But the most important thing is to get as much experience as you can. Do it all – work backstage, front of house, get marketing experience, even assist casting directors. It’s all about getting a fully formed and honest understanding of everything. It’s also important to see as much theatre as you can – this way, you will learn what works and what doesn’t. So see it all. If there’s a show with awful reviews, watch it to understand why; and if there’s another with excellent reviews, watch it to discover why it’s so successful. Is it the story, casting, title, marketing, venue?
And it’s not about taking on everyone else’s opinions either – it’s about forming your own. As a producer, you are required to make a lot of choices in terms of financial, creative, casting and touring – so being a good decision maker is key. I would recommend getting in touch with existing producers and asking them for advice – you’d be surprised at how supportive people are. Check producing companies’ websites for job vacancies – or simply email asking if you could assist and get some work experience. It would be invaluable, and would also help grow your list of contacts. Which, again, is essential.
Meet as many people as you can – as they will one day help (or hinder) your career. One useful way of meeting and mingling with the right people is to buy a cheap upper circle ticket for a press night, and then go down to the stalls bar at the interval. All of the important people will be there getting savagely sloshed, dear.
Of course, part of the job is trying to find investors and co-producers. But more than that, it’s about doing everything and anything to get the show on. It’s an all-consuming job, but one that’s immensely rewarding. You will sometimes have to make very risky choices. It is well known that Judy Craymer took a huge gamble on Mamma Mia! and remortgaged her house to finance it. But I think you’ll agree that gamble paid off, dear.
Send questions to your dear agony aunt via Twitter @westendproducer
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