Notes from Producer Discussions and Forums during First Bite

Growing Our Own Producers

During the First Bite Festival, which took place at mac, birmingham on the 24th September 2011, China Plate hosted a number of events aimed at both Producers and Artists from the West Midlands and beyond. These discussions/forums were a response to an Open Space session, held by the mid*point steering group in June 2011, entitled ‘Growing Our Own Producers’ – a session which posed a number of questions addressing what it means to be a Producer, and the relationship between Producers and Artists.  It also suggested the creation of a West Midlands based Producers Network, based on an On-Call model aimed at promoting conversations between Producers and Artists.  China Plate’s additional events were designed to address the questions raised in the session and to open up further discussions. A link to the Open Space notes can be found here

These notes are simply intended as a record of the conversations had during those three sessions and as a prompt to further debate around the regional producing question.

A morning session was held specifically for Producers with the intention of finding out how many working/budding Producers were in the region.  We posed the following questions in 3 separate groups before coming together and sharing thoughts:

  1. How do we define Producers and where are the Producers?
  2. How do Producers start off and how can we open up conversations with Producers and Artists?
  3. How do Producers start networks and how can we link regional producers?

The second session was an informal exchange between Producers and Artists.  This was a relaxed opportunity for artists and producers to open up conversations and share contacts.

In the afternoon we programmed an Artists/Producer forum aimed to open up a wider discussion between Artists and Producers regarding what had been raised in the morning sessions and the questions posed at the Open Space session.  We invited 3 industry professionals to speak at the beginning of the session, and then opened up the discussion to all other attendees.

These speakers were:

Katie Keeler (Theatre Bristol).  Katie is an established and well-respected Producer working in Bristol and nationally.  She outlined what she saw were the 10 most important aspects of being a successful Producer.

Lucy Moore (Independent Producer/Arts Agenda).  Lucy is a Producer working out of Brighton – she works with Stillpoint, Inspector Sands and Hydrocracker Theatre Company and is an Associate Producer for Arts Agenda.  She spoke about the Producer network ‘Soup’, which she has created with a small number of Producers in Brighton.

Katie Day (The Other Way Works).  Katie is an artist and director and Artistic Director of The Other Way Works.  She was a self-produced artist for a number of years before working with Producers including Katie Keeler and Ric Watts. She spoke about making the move from self-producing work to working in collaboration with Producers and Venues.

General notes from Session 1

An Open Meeting for Producers and Budding Producers

 The majority of people who attended this session were attached to regional venues or already well embedded in the region’s theatre making ecology. This may be a reflection on the number of people interested in producing as a career in the West Midlands, or on early career arts professionals’ reluctance to define themselves in this way – see below.

How do we define a ‘Producer’?

Do we need sub titles?

  • Creative Producer
  • Project Manager
  • Decision maker – relationship to artistic side of things?

What is the difference between these types of producer – if any?

At what point does the Producer hand over to the project manager?

What are the expectations relating to the producer’s artistic input?

Kate McGrath (producer with Fuel) recently conducted a small straw poll that suggested Artist’s dreaded receiving “feedback” from their Producers (although they understood the value) whilst Producers felt it was the most exciting part of their job.

Where are the Producers?

Is it possible/desirable to set up a Producing hub in the West Midlands?

First we need to know where the producers are. Is the perceived dearth of producers in the West Midlands accurate? The group felt that people who might be thought of as producers (although they might not currently call themselves that) could be found:

–          In venues

–          Working with NPO companies

–          Working with non NPO companies

–          Working with communities

–          Working outside of the arts?

–          At festivals

–          In education – universities

Other colleges

Vocational training

–          Outside of region

–          Running their own company

–          In outreach and education departments.

How do you help people realise they are producers?  Are they also artists?

How do Producers and Artists start to make connections?

–          Trust

–          Through audiences

–          By seeing each others work

–          By defining their areas of passion

–          By understanding your strengths

–          By knowing what/who you like and finding ways of making introductions

–          By creating meeting spaces around festivals and events

–          Speed dating!

–          Orchestration and design

–          Doing your homework

–          By putting yourself in a position to make something happen that couldn’t otherwise happen.

–          Through drinking tea/beer/wine (networking)

–          Online forums

–          Through venues

How do Producers start off?

By wanting to provide a platform and support for creation but not to make work themselves.

Coming to Producing from different places, not always from a theatre background.

By not being restricted by funding – as in funded through an initiative set up by a third party

Beginning as performers and then becoming producers.

How do Producers create networks?

What are people involved in already?

How might they operate across genre boundaries (dance, art, live art, theatre, etc)

Not fast process – it’s more organic

It might be interesting to look at other models such as…

PANDA (in Manchester)

FST (Federation for Scottish Theatres) – this is a fee-paying network but they have been set a mandate to act as a lobbying group for their members.

Do we try and create a Producer network and if so what are the rules?


Do we try and support something that may emerge more organically?

Where is the support coming from?

Is there a different buy-in for freelancers?  If the support is coming from venues and their staff, there are clear-cut boundaries.  However, if it is coming from freelancers, their offer is potentially less altruistic – individuals receiving support maybe potential future collaborators or competitors.

Theatre Bristol successfully held a space with no agenda attached to it – they were the glue that held things together without being based in a building. Should the new midpoint model try and do something similar?

General notes from Session 2

An Informal Exchange between Artists and Producers


With approximately 40 people in the room, China Plate introduced the session, using some principals of Open Space as a guideline; take the iniative to speak to those people you want to speak to; the law of two feet; the people in the room are the right people.

Individuals then were asked to very briefly introduce themselves. After the introductions were made individuals then had an opportunity to connect with each other, making new relationships and gaining better understanding of each-others working practice.

General notes from Session 3

Artists / Producer forum


Notes from Katie Keeler:

Katie Keeler works for Theatre Bristol as part of a collective of Producers whose driver is to make better theatre in Bristol.

She ran through her top 10 things that make a good producer:

  1. Make Networks (Friends)
    This will encourage you to take risks and expand your horizons. Understanding competition will help producers raise their game.
    Networks help to breakdown hierarchies
  2. Know what you serve
    Take responsibility, but don’t overplay your role
  3. Trust your instincts
  4. Be Idea Led
    Be flexible and focused on ‘making stuff happen’
  5. Spot the Gaps and Potential
    Make your own opportunities
  6. Share your knowledge and skills
    This helps to raise everyone’s game
  7. Be Open
    Good ideas can come from unexpected places
  8. Advocate
    For the work, and the region, and the art form
  9. Challenge and Provoke
    Be impartial yet opinionated
  10. Leadership
    Acknowledge the role of Producers as leaders

Notes from Lucy Moore

Lucy is an independent Producer with a particular interest in outdoor and site-specific work. She has links with BAC and Arts Agenda and feels producing is something she still figures out as she goes along.

Working with Inspector Sands involved bringing experienced and emerging practitioners together to create work. Her role of Producer was supported by an Executive Producer on this project. The Executive Producer in this context operated as a kind of mentor for Lucy.

Lucy raised the issue that producing can often feel isolating. Independent Producers often work from home, on a project by project basis, which can also feel financially scary. She developed a way of working to encourage peer support – ‘Soup’. Soup involves 3 producers working from each others houses once a week. The 3 producers would start the day together, discussing the work they were focusing on before working independently on different projects. This allows them to share skills, knowledge and ideas, bounce ideas off each other and gain valuable advice.

In addition they also hold ‘Soup Drinks’, where they invite other producers to meet for drinks, networking and to give and get advice.

Notes from Katie Day

Katie is an Artist who has both self-produced and worked with producers.

Katie started her company after leaving university in 2004, and learnt the nuts and bolts in how to run a company. She was self-taught and retained control so she could devise and direct her own work.

Even when later in her career, when Katie began working with Producers, she still remained heavily involved.

Katie also spent time running Theatre Sandbox. This involved producing 6 new commissions of other people’s work, facilitating artists to make ideas happen. She found it useful to work with her peers in this way.

When Katie began working with Producers she found it refreshing and really useful. They supported fundraising, administration, marketing, tour-booking and other areas. This allowed Katie to be artistically focused, which was particularly useful in the run up to shows.

She recognises as an artist who has self-produced in the past the process of handing work / control over to a producer could be challenging. She is particularly interested in working with Producers who hold a portfolio of work, and have the ability to tour book, having a strong network of contacts and reputation.

Further Discussion

After each speaker had address the audience the session was opened up for questions and comments. Key things that came up included:

  • The need for people to tour book work vs the need for a producer to have deep enough understanding of work to be able to tour book
  • Producers needs to identify and work in the gaps in between
  • When moving from self-producing to working with a producer it can be challenging to know how to decide what the Producer does.
  • Producers should be helping artists think strategically, locating the places their work could / should fit
  • The value of self-producing first – understanding the jobs and control you’re handing over properly
  • The idea of emerging producers working with emerging artists – and maybe getting support / mentoring for established producers and artists
  • That artists shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions of possible producers – to interrogate potential relationships before entering into them
  • Working within organisations can offer key experience and develop skills before working independently
  • Producers need a good understanding and skillset in press and marketing. Understanding and relationships with the audience are very important
  • Producers should always be asking who, what, where and why in relation to a piece of work being made.

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