Being a GENERATOR.
Smock Alley’s Creative Producers training programme, or GENERATOR Programme as it is also know, was launched in September 2016. We had just come back from producing Tomatoes at the Edinburgh Fringe and I knew that producing was an area that really interested me and that I wanted to learn more about so I applied, interviewed and was accepted in October.
The programme was co-created and is coordinated by Clíona Dukes and Caoimhe Connolly, who also curate and produce Smock Alley’s festival of new work Scene + Heard.
Following the Scene + Heard festival in 2016, Clíona and Caoimhe noticed a dearth of producers working with the companies that were bringing new work to the festival. As is common with so many emerging companies, the responsibilities of producer are often assumed by the director, writer, one of the actors, or an uncoordinated hodgepodge of all of the above, often with similarly uncoordinated results!
The reasons for the role of producer being omitted or overlooked are varied. Often, it is a budgetary consideration, but in my experience, the most common explanation is that many artists and theatre makers are not entirely sure what a producer does. Or perhaps they know what they do but they don’t think it’s necessary to have a person on the team solely dedicated to these tasks, in which case, they don’t really know what they do!
The GENERATOR programme consisted of six training days spread out over the five months leading up to the Scene + Heard festival, by which time we had been matched up with companies in need of a director and were helping them with their preparations for the festival.
Our training days were full on. We had an array of highly experienced industry professionals join us in the banquet hall in Smock Alley, twenty four in all, from producers and directors, to graphic designers, dramaturgs, programmers and production managers. Essentially anyone that you are likely to come into contact with as a producer and develop a working relationship with, we had an opportunity to meet. We were given master classes in effective communication, dramaturgy and audience engagement. We had workshops, discussions, Q&As and presentations, all of which gave us new information and a different perspective on the role of the creative producer.
In early November we were each paired with two, three or possibly even four projects which had been programmed in Scene + Heard. We had all expressed interest in a few shows each (of the seventy-odd that applied without producers) based on their short pitches, and then through some exceedingly complicated Tetris exercise, Caoimhe managed to match us up with the most suitable options. I was working on three shows with three different companies; By All Accounts Two Normal Girls by Stiff & Kitsch, At Odds by Kepler Theatre Co. and Play on Words by Tiger’s Eye Theatre Co.
The process was very different with each company. It was an unusual set up, given the small scale of the productions and the fact that we were joining companies at a certain stage in their process, rather than being involved in a project from its conception. Some projects required a more hands on approach than others but I was lucky in that each project needed something different of me and provided a different learning experience, whether it was drafting contracts, creating marketing content for social media, leading production meetings or keeping track of budgets. I also got the opportunity to work on some really exciting new projects and create relationships with some fantastic theatre makers.
It’s impossible to encapsulate everything that I learned from the GENERATOR programme. The experience was educational, insightful, overwhelming, exhausting and empowering, to list but a few. One of the key things that I took away regarding my own approach to projects is the idea of the producer as a facilitator. I do believe that the producer can have creative input on a project but I think that their main responsibility is to facilitate the process for everyone involved. That doesn’t necessarily mean letting the artist have their way all the time (in fact it almost never means that!), often facilitation can be the implementation of clear boundaries or the ability to distinguish between what the project needs and what the artist needs.
Another idea which came up again and again with so many of the professionals who came in to talk to us was the importance of mentorship. So many of us as ‘emerging’ producers are feeling our way as we go and taking manys a wrong turn before we eventually end up back on track. Having a more experienced mentor whose brain we can pick can be invaluable to kickstart our careers.
And finally, the support network, one of the greatest things to come out of the programme. I’m fairly certain that very few of us would have made it through Scene + Heard with our sanity intact if it hadn’t been for the fact that we had sixteen other people in similar situations with whom we could share our griefs and frustrations. Having a group of peers that you can chat through new ideas with or even just meet for a glass of wine and a rant about scatterbrained artists that are making your life more complicated than it should be, can be a life-saver!