The Stage Awards shortlist: Producer of the Year
Any producer or production company – of any scale, subsidised or commercial – is eligible for this award. Judged on criteria including (but not limited to) artistic quality, business success and innovation
Award sponsored by PRG XL Video
Behind Sonia, Nica, Cameron and Andrew, a new generation of commercial producers is emerging. At the vanguard is Michael Harrison, not yet 40, who already has a string of hits to his name.
He is undisputed king of the commercial panto as managing director of Qdos Entertainment, and is also a seasoned West End and touring producer. Standout projects in 2017 included working with Mel Brooks on the musical adaptation of Young Frankenstein, which opened in the West End this October.
Also going strong in Theatreland is Harrison’s revival of Annie. Earlier in the year, Miranda Hart made her West End debut as Miss Hannigan, a role that would also be performed by Craig Revel Horwood and Meera Syal.
His shows are not just making a splash at home. His production of The Bodyguard is touring Germany, Australia, the US and China.
Harrison once said he has no time for hobbies: he goes to bed thinking about producing, wakes up thinking about it, “and I dream about it too”.
He has overseen more than 100 pantomimes over the years – more than 30 in 2017/18 – and directed three. For the second year running, he’s bringing pantomime back to the London Palladium after a 30-year absence.
This year he received the freedom of the city of Newcastle upon Tyne – his home city – for his services to theatre in the region, a worthy accolade for an increasingly established leading light of the new guard.
Hull City of Culture
Four years ago, the announcement that Hull was to be UK City of Culture in 2017 was met with titters in some quarters. They’re not laughing now. The arts programming has revitalised the city, and will continue to do so.
Hull City Council set up an independent company to deliver a year of transformational cultural activity, overseen by chief executive and director Martin Green and executive director Fran Hegyi.
As well as the Turner Prize, street parades, giant art installations and light shows, Hull hosted a series of groundbreaking performance pieces: Blast Theory’s interactive art project, Curious Directive’s virtual-reality work and Slung Low’s Flood, which was broadcast on television, online and performed live on a floating stage.
Hull New Theatre reopened after a £16 million refurbishment with a performance from the Royal Ballet, while Hull Truck Theatre’s season included Richard Bean’s The Hypocrite about Hull governor John Hotham. Of those who saw it, 38% had never been to the theatre before.
The city’s museums and galleries have welcomed more than a million visitors, with 90% of local residents experiencing at least one City of Culture event in the first three months.
Theatremakers have hailed 2017 as the start of something special: pieces by Middle Child Theatre, Bellow Theatre, Silent Uproar and Pub Corner Poets were among the most raved-about shows at the Edinburgh Fringe.
The East Yorkshire city won the bid by pitching to “coming out of the shadows”. After a successful year of arts programming – and a £60 million boost from visitors – it has more than lived up to that promise.
Sadler’s Wells, London
In another strong year, Sadler’s Wells has worked closely with innovative artists on pieces that push the boundaries of contemporary dance. Since 2016, it has co-commissioned and co-produced 16 new dance works, many of which had audiences and critics in raptures.
Among this year’s extraordinary work, Betroffenheit, drawn from personal trauma, was electric. The co-production, created by associate artists Crystal Pite with writer and actor Jonathon Young, won the best new dance production Olivier award.
The London venue staged two well-received pieces by associate artist Wayne McGregor. Tree of Codes, acclaimed at the Manchester International Festival, was called “exhilarating” by The Stage when the collaboration with musician Jamie xx and artist Olafur Eliasson finally arrived in the capital this year.
McGregor was back later in the year for another co-production, Autobiography, for which he worked with geneticists to sequence his genome. He led his own Sadler’s Wells resident company for the show: Company Wayne McGregor.
A sought-after co-production was with Carlos Acosta, for the first show of the former Royal Ballet star’s new dance company Acosta Danza.
The co-production of Akram Khan’s new version of Giselle won associate company English National Ballet the outstanding achievement in dance at the Olivier Awards and the South Bank Sky Arts award for dance.
Since 2005, Sadler’s Wells has brought more than 130 new dance works to the stage. It sets out to be a world-leading company dedicated to dance in all its forms, conjuring up work that fires the imagination. This year, it has surely succeeded.