Since helping to bring Fleabag to Edinburgh in 2013, producer Francesca Moody has had a series of hits on the fringe and beyond. She tells Giverny Masso that the key to success is turning problems into opportunities
With Fleabag as her breakthrough production, seven Fringe First awards and an upcoming project with Emilia playwright Morgan Lloyd Malcolm, Francesca Moody is one of the rising stars of UK theatre’s producing scene.
After training as an actor, Moody “fell into producing by accident”. She describes her career as a “series of happy coincidences”, one of which was teaming up with Phoebe Waller-Bridge and director Vicky Jones to take Fleabag to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2013.
Moody has since toured the play across the UK and internationally and produced award-winning shows at the fringe, including Clara Brennan’s Spine in 2014 and Penelope Skinner’s Angry Alan last year.
This year, she has taken three shows to Edinburgh, but will be rushing back early to open Fleabag in the West End for its final performances by Waller-Bridge.
The fringe has been instrumental in Moody’s development as a producer, she says: “I went when I was 17 to do work experience with Scamp Theatre and was so amazed by it that I went back every year in some capacity between the ages of 17 and 23, before I started producing work there. That’s what formed this idea that you can make your own work – because Edinburgh is such a great leveller, it gives artists and producers the opportunity to really leverage themselves in a way I think is unique.”
What was your first non-theatre job?
Making massive pots of coffee and terrible Bloody Marys at the local village pub.
What was your first professional theatre job?
Assistant producer with Look Left Look Right.
What’s your next job?
Getting Square Go out on tour and Baby Reindeer into London’s Bush Theatre.
What do you wish someone had told you when you were starting out?
It’s okay to make mistakes. In fact, making mistakes is really the only way to get better.
Who or what was your biggest influence?
My parents – hardworking, self-made and generous to the end.
What’s your best advice for auditions?
Relax and be authentic you in the room and make sure you’ve read the whole play.
If you hadn’t been a producer, what would you have been?
I’d have opened a cheese shop.
Do you have any theatrical superstitions or rituals?
I’m not very superstitious but I buy a drink for everyone after the first preview and give them opening-night cards without fail.
Moody’s first foray into producing was after graduating from a postgraduate diploma in acting at the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, when an actor friend asked for help applying for funding for a project. Things snowballed from there, after she started networking with directors and taking on other projects. However it was working with Waller-Bridge and Jones’ company DryWrite that propelled Moody on to a different level.
She says: “That was beautiful, pure chance, in that Vicky had directed me when I was at drama school in a final-year show, and I was emailing people to work on different projects. She and Phoebe were trying to move away from what DryWrite originally did – short play nights – into making plays.”
They had commissioned Jack Thorne, who would go on to write Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, to write Mydidae in 2012. Jones rang up Moody, looking for an assistant producer. “Subsequently the other producer wasn’t able to do the job, so I ended up producing it for them,” she says. “There was a certain amount of chance and luck, and beyond that what I found was that we had a really amazing working relationship.”
Fleabag, which Moody describes as her “game-changer”, came a few months later. “What I think is so special about it, beyond it being incredible to watch two of your friends rise to the level they should be working at because they’re so talented, is that it’s an important marker for other artists and producers making work to go: ‘Actually, it’s very unusual how far the show has come, but it is totally possible.’ ”
She continues: “If you want to make your own work or you want to make your mark in the world, then just go out and do it. That’s obviously tempered with the knowledge that some people have more privilege than others and that allows them to seek out those opportunities in a much easier way. Certainly we may have had more privilege than some, but that doesn’t mean we didn’t work incredibly hard to make that show a success as well.”
Moody says she learned how to do things properly during the four years she worked at Paines Plough after Fleabag, initially as an assistant producer and later taking on the role of producer.
‘If we’re not making theatre that’s accessible on all levels, we shouldn’t be making theatre at all’
The experience also instilled the importance of touring: “I think all levels of touring are relevant and important, so I don’t think independent producers should shy away from small and mid-scale tours, because if we’re not making theatre that’s accessible on all levels, and that includes geographically, then we shouldn’t be making theatre at all.”
Moody has maintained her relationship with the company, with two out of her three 2019 Edinburgh shows running at Paines Plough’s Roundabout venue. These are comedian Richard Gadd’s play about harassment, Baby Reindeer, which transfers to the Bush later this year, and Kieran Hurley and Gary McNair’s Square Go, which explores male violence. It is returning to the fringe for a second year running, after playing in New York in June, and will then tour the UK.
Do Our Best, the debut play from actor Remy Beasley, who attended drama school with Moody, is the producer’s third show at this year’s fringe. “I’ve always had the inkling she’d write a great play, so I’ve mentioned it to her a few times and she said: ‘Maybe I should do it.’ ”
Moody says it is essential for producers to consider carefully where they premiere a show, and explains why she chose the 60-seat Iron Belly for Do Our Best. “There’s something really important about putting on a play in its first iteration somewhere like the Underbelly, because there’s something about packing out a house of 60 and making it the go-to show so actually you can really give it a life afterwards and make it something people discover. Fleabag started its life at the Underbelly, and that was the perfect home for it.”
Beyond Fleabag in the West End, a UK tour of Square Go and the Bush run for Baby Reindeer, Moody is developing a play with Lloyd Malcolm for next year, though she is unable to reveal further details at this stage.
As for longer-term career ambitions, she is keen to bring more work to the West End. “I would love to be in a place where I have the ability to serve all scales of work in different ways,” she says. “I would love to continue to tour and to take more work overseas. There’s something really important about the cultural capital of work that we make here in the UK and making sure that has more currency internationally, particularly when we’re going through difficult times like we are now.”
Asked about her role models in theatre, Moody says: “I think we all secretly aspire to be like Sonia Friedman, because the work is always so amazing, and because she’s a woman and she’s right at the top of her game and people really know who she is.
“From afar I would say I aspire to be like that. On a more personal level, Hanna Streeter was the producer at Paines Plough and I’ve learned a lot from working with her, and someone that I haven’t worked with but I really respect and admire is Vicky Graham, who is always there to help answer a question.”
‘If stuff is going wrong on a show, the producer needs to be a problem-solver’
Moody advises emerging producers is to understand that it’s “okay to fail” and, when something doesn’t go to plan, to remember they are theatremakers, not doctors.
“If stuff is going wrong on a show, one of the most important roles of a producer is to be a problem-solver,” she says. “When things are going wrong, you should see those things as opportunities. And when it comes down to it, if a show doesn’t work, it doesn’t work. We cannot always be making the best work in the world. We work in an industry that’s inherently risky, because ultimately we’re at the feet of our audiences and no matter how good work is, audiences can be massively dictated by things that we have absolutely no control over – like what’s happening in the world right now politically or the fact that there’s a traffic jam and no one turns up.”
Ultimately, being a producer is “an amazing job”, Moody says: “You get to work with so many different people, it’s so varied, and you can have a creative voice in the room if that’s what you want.”
Born: 1987, London
Training: BA in drama, University of Exeter (2006-09); postgraduate acting diploma, Royal Welsh College of Speech and Drama (2009-10)
• Mydidae, Soho Theatre, London (2012)
• Fleabag, Edinburgh Fringe, Soho Theatre, UK and international tour, New York, Wyndham’s Theatre (2013-19)
• Spine, Edinburgh Fringe and Soho Theatre (2014)
• Square Go, Edinburgh Fringe (2018); 59E59, New York (2019)
• Baby Reindeer, Edinburgh Fringe, Bush Theatre (2019)
• Do Our Best, Edinburgh Fringe (2019)
• Whitewash, Soho Theatre (2019)
• Fringe Firsts for Fleabag and Gardening for the Unfulfilled and Alienated (2013); Spine (2014); Angry Alan, Square Go (2018)
• Herald Angel for Spine (2014)
See Francesca Moody’s website for further details of upcoming productions