I am a theatre Producer, Director, Festival curator, and a children’s picture book writer. I work as a consultant producer for Vic Llewellyn, Bea Roberts, Laila Diallo, Katy Owen, Richard Crowe, Seamas Carey and Aga Blonska. I’m an associate producer for Kneehigh Theatre, an associate lecturer at Bath Spa University, on the Creative Producing Post Graduate course. I am a resident at the Pervasive Media Studio at the Watershed and I am also the chair of Wiveliscombe Town Hall Trust and an Artist Advisor for Jerwood Arts.
Prior to this I ran Bristol Old Vic Ferment for six years, Pulse festival at the New Wolsey Theatre for three years and was part of the curatorial group for Caravan2014 (Farnham Maltings/Brighton Festival). I was an associate reader for the Soho Theatre, a consultant for Escalator East to Edinburgh (ACE East initiative) and a peer reviewer for the Wellcome Trust from 2010-2013. In 2010 I managed Gecko‘s international tour of The Overcoat (China & UK), produced the national tour of My Name is Sue (Northern Stage, Queer Up North, Soho theatre) and worked on the NSDF festival in Scarborough. Between 2004 and 2009 I ran the Pleasance London and Edinburgh Programmes.
My passion lies in developing and commissioning new work. With a focus on creating and enabling artists to make the best work they can – employing time, space and breath to the process of a making a show. Examples of this type of process are demonstrated in Stillhouse’s Ours Was the Fen Country, The Bullet and the Bass Trombone (Sleepdogs), My Name is Sue (Dafydd James & Co) and The Castle Builder (Vic Llewellyn & Kid Carpet).
Longer version of my career:
It’s probably useful to expand what being part of Bristol Ferment could mean for an artist. It meant a number of things. Access to a cup of tea and a conversation. Rehearsal space to develop a new idea – on the proviso there was an informal sharing and an openness to my thoughts on their work in my role as producer (which as I say it, sounds more sinister than it really was. I promise. More that the strength of work coming through very much depended on our relationship: artist to producer and back again). I often named this being an interrogator – which would more typically be known as a dramaturg. The chats over tea could lead in a number of directions – the development time, a hand with organisational development and strategy or a place on one of the artist retreats we held (10 artists away in a big barn somewhere, cooking up ideas and having meals together. And sometimes there was a hot tub. Which is of course not essential but many of the projects which came through that avenue still cite the sodding hot tub) – I particularly enjoyed the retreats, not just because of the star gazing in the hot tub but because of the very nature and pace of such activity. Slow down, to speed up in-depth and quality thinking/breathing space. A funder of a retreat at lovely Hawkwood college in Stroud once said we all spend time expecting artists to breathe out, but when do they breathe in?
A particularly successful retreat for me was at the National Centre for Folk Art, Halsway Manor, over in the Quantock hills. I had a real mix of artists, with varying degrees of experience and style (Sleepdogs to Jack Dean), and the success I measured in the interactions between artists (support and generosity), the fact that every artist there left with what became a production further down the line (Dan Canham’s Ours Was the Fen Country/Greg Wohead’s The Ted Bundy project) and the fact that even now (and I mean this was back in 2014) those artists still talk about that windy night, in the little library when Greg talked us through the Ted Bundy Project and we were all completely immersed and very definitely terrified.
Another Ferment route would be sharing something as part of the Ferment Fortnight – two festivals a year, two weeks long (obviously) where artists are invited in to show something at an early stage. A vulnerable time (I was always sure to expressly check they were ready – most were, some were not) but also a great point for some to check they’re on the path they most want to follow with this particular project. Out of those Fortnights, a fair amount would be pushed through to production. This was usually in the offer of a week or two in the studio theatre, with full tech support, decent time to tech and get the show in, and a little commissioning support (which was almost exclusively used to lever Arts Council project money).
So as you can probably tell, this job was all about process. It’s something I’m really keen to share and also fight for. Because this stuff, this making, this trying and failing, takes time. Takes guts. Takes taking a punt and holding your nerve. But having the ability to build something up, try it out, step away for a month or two, and return refreshed has only, in my experience, made the work stronger. Of a fine quality, which makes it sustainable. There is work made through Ferment when it began in 2010, which is still touring now (check out Jo Bannon’s Exposure for example).
So out of the building and into the wilds…
I now work with theatre artists Vic Llewellyn (performer/writer), Bea Roberts (Writer), Laila Diallo (choreographer) Katy Owen (performer/writer), Richard Crowe (writer), Seamas Carey (musician/composer/performer) + Aga Blonska (director) and Rachael Clerke (live artist). This is in a strategic and consulting capacity as their producer – with a focus on scaling work up and also trying to think outside the usual routes. It’s a move on from all the work I did in artist development for the Old Vic and a role I feel positive about moving forward. Artist development is still an area which is hugely underfunded and not well understood.
Alongside this work I work for the Arts Council as an Artistic and Quality assessor. So I either assess a particular theatre and their artistic vision (by seeing three different shows over a couple of months) or I assess individual shows who are recipients of project funding. I’m looking at whether they hit the objectives they set out when they applied for the money. I’m about to work on a scheme with Jerwood Arts as an Artist advisor – looking at applications and helping to guide how they fund artists.
I head up a trust for an old town hall in Wiveliscombe, down near Exmoor where I live. I’m driving the journey which will reinstate this building as a venue for the town and the surrounding hills. This is a £500,000 capital building project run by volunteers. It’s taking on the potential to make the space a social enterprise building – making a profit which is ploughed back into the community – and bat surveys. I spend a lot of time talking about bat surveys.
This role demands a great deal of diplomacy and strategy. A building project is no helpfully linear, rather a honeycombe of things to do. Some of this is securing funding, local fundraising, choosing which parts of the overall build to focus on (electric vs another window) and selling the story. The trust is working with the Onion Collective down in Watchet – an excellent team of fundraisers who focus on empowering the community, with them we are applying to the Architectural Heritage Fund, The Heritage Lottery fund and the Arts Council. There are lots of politics and strategy involved (if we replace one of the decrepit windows will the hall not look as sad and run down, and will English Heritage not consider it such an emergency) and there is a lot of expectation from the community of Wiveliscombe and beyond – we really should do something with that hall. SUCH a shame. The Hall has been derelict for over 70 years.
Prior to all of this I’ve worked for organisations and independently. Out of university I worked for the Pleasance for 8 years – 6 years of this involved heading up their Edinburgh and London programmes as head of programming. I was responsible for putting on around 250 shows in a 3 week period. Across 25 venues which ranged from a shed, a shipping container, several shipping containers strapped together and a venue comprising 4 indoor basketball courts. The work ranged from new devised performance to transfers from the Royal Court. The whole site in Edinburgh took around 3 weeks to build – most of the spaces were not theatres (bar Pleasance One and Two).
From there I worked freelance for a couple of years- working at the NSDF festival, tour managed Gecko’s the Overcoat across China and ran Pulse Festival for the New Wolsey. Each of these roles had a degree of, dare I say it, winging and blagging it? The NSDF role was as ‘workshop coordinator’ which actually meant driving Jo Scanlan and Christopher Ecclestone around Scarborough in my fiat punto. So a strange job, but one which put me in front of a number of graduate theatre artists whose work I then went on to develop – namely Fellswoop Theatre.
The Gecko role came from a conversation in an office at the New Wolsey Theatre, where I was running Pulse festival. Gecko needed a tour manager for a 3 week tour of the UK and 3 weeks in China. Why not? Despite the terror, I did a good job. I had a great team around me and I was never shy of just double checking. When in doubt (every single day) I would check in with the exec producer in the UK. No shame here. I learnt a huge amount about how to work across technical teams and with artists, about how to work (and how to cope) with very different rules (once we had got into the theatres in China, we could only access from 4pm on each day of the show. Which, with a company like Gecko was extremely trying. Because it was so technical. And quite fragile really. Lots of special tech on stage and so on). So negotiating and communicating was key here. I also learnt not to try and move a working blue light without checking if the chain is on first. It wasn’t. And yes it fell on my arm and I still have the burn scar. And I learnt that single entry visas really do mean single entry, like the time half the cast tried to go to Hong Kong for the day. They didn’t. We just managed to call and stop them before they stepped foot on the boat. Hurrah!
So much of this learning comes from just doing it. Which is what I think a producer is, someone who gets up and gets on with just doing it.
It is important to me that I live in a place with real people – what do I mean by that? Sometimes there is a danger in only associating with our own kind (PRODUCERS AND ARTISTS) we lose sight of the world. This industry is fuelled by humans. Who all respond differently to the world and who have many different things to say about their experience in it. We can fall down a wormhole of making art about art. Which can become too self-reflective and then boring. More and more the drivers of cultural plans concern the communities within which the art is being made and who that art is for.
If you would like to talk about a future project, do give me a shout.