Claire Symonds, 26 January 2014

Some of the people attending were: Claire Symonds, Faith Dodkins, Alister Lowne,

Alex Rand, Fergus Evans, Irene Paganelli, Soniya Kapur, Debbie Kent, Kitty Martin,

Rick Warburton, Rachel Bristoe, Julia Yevnine, Hannah Lambert, Bethany Pitts,

Emma Beverley, Mhairi Grealis,

As a relatively new venue producer, I've been thinking a lot about what kind of support

we should be offering to theatremakers. How can we make sure that we're being

responsible in our approach to offering support? How can we make sure we're being

useful? How can we make sure that we're offering real support that makes a genuine

difference to the artists we're working with?

We started the conversation by saying upfront that this conversation was NOT about

the money - partly because there was a very heated discussion kicking off about “I'll

show you mine” not three feet away which people could join if they wanted to, and

partly because the money is only ever one part of the equation. So with that in place, I

posed the question of “what should we be doing as venue producers” to the group and

then sat back and took notes. Lots of notes.

Venue producers as facilitators

Venue producers have the ability to gain an overview that might not be available to

artists, particularly those at an early stage in their career. Therefore, they can and

should be committed to fostering horizontal relationships that can foster a sense of

community rather than competition between artists. However, the group recognised

there were some challenges to consider. Pulling a company out of their making

process for enforced socialising with other artists is not likely to be welcomed by said

company, who might be at a vulnerable point in their process and unready to talk

about work or on a total roll that is brought to a dead stop. So it's about finding the

right way or the right moment to bring people together.

We talked a little about the right way of making connections between artists through a

‘pay it forward’ kind of arrangement. There were strong feelings both ways. Some

thought artists should always look for opportunities to help other artists and venue

producers should be facilitating this; others said that every bit of time a freelancer

spends on anything has a cost implication and when a salaried venue producer asks a

company to give their time to others as a condition of support, you're giving with one

hand and taking away with the other. Gratitude, we agreed, should never become part

of a business model!

Venue producers as building hosts

Having a relationship with a venue producer is a great thing, particularly if said

producer is one of that rare breed who can provide astute artistic feedback as well as

business support. However the real strength of a venue producer is that they are able

to open up a relationship with a venue, its resources and its audiences. Therefore it is

important that a venue producer acts as a good host to theatremakers they are

bringing into the building, including:

- encouraging artists to engage with other work in the building

- making sure that other staff in the building know who the artists are and what they're

doing - possibly by bringing together all relevant staff to meet the artists on the first

morning they are in the building

- making sure box office staff can talk fluently about the show to audiences

- creating opportunities for artists to access other expertise in the building, for example

development teams, marketing teams, etc., though

- ensuring that all the aforementioned teams know how to talk to and give training to

theatre companies and artists! There are precious few examples of venues who really

think about this.

Venue producers as advocates

Venue producers often have strong relationships with each other and this, along with

the profile of their venue, can be a crucial source of support for artists looking to get

their name and their work out there. We talked about models like Venues North, in

which venues nominate artists they are supporting to pitch their work to a group of

venues right across the north (with this having had direct and immediate results in

terms of getting bookings or starting relationships with new venues). We also talked

about the potential for venue producers to bring together other cross-regional

partnerships that can help artists tour work out.

Outside of formalised structures like that, venue producers should also be looking for

opportunities to champion individual companies to partners or venues they think the

work would suit, and to encourage and support artists in developing multi-partner

projects. It is important to recognise that artists can't be monogamous to one venue

and that sometimes venues are good at supporting one bit of the process but not a

different stage. This is about making sure supporting artists is always about making

decisions that are in the best interests of the artists, rather than getting possessive

about a company or getting hung up on that coproducer credit. If it's time to let a show

go, do it with grace.

Building a relationship with artists

We talked about what the responsibilities are in building a strong relationship and we

thought these things were quite important:

- transparency. Let me write that again. TRANSPARENCY. Good communication and

clarity around intentions, expectations and resources are absolutely vital.

- clear exit planning so that companies and artists have appropriate tools to move on

when the package of support comes to an end. This might be building skills around

grant writing or tour booking for emerging artists or it might be about sitting down to do

some serious business planning with more established artists - either way, it's

important to avoid a situation where an artist is the centre of the universe one day and

no kind of friend the next.

- a good balance of a structured approach that means everyone knows what's going

on and a flexible approach to meeting the needs of each company as an individual


We also talked about the responsibilities of artists in developing their relationships with

producers. These include a responsibility to select the right partners for your needs

and work, and a responsibility to work out and ask for what you need.

Venue producers and the work

Should a venue producer get involved in the creative process? There were different

views on this. Most agreed that it was disheartening and frustrating when you spend a

week at a venue and nobody comes in to see you at all. Many felt that it was great

when a venue producer really got to know a show as it is being made, and was

prepared to ‘get their hands dirty’ with feedback or to collaborate in some way,

particularly as deep and meaningful relationships with artists are often borne from

having the courage to engage with them on an artistic leve.

However, we also noted that actually some venue producers just aren't skilled at this

and can end up doing more harm than good. It depends on the venue and the

producer's skill set as to how involved they get - but taking an interest is important.

We also talked about feeding back on unsuccessful work. We agreed that honest

dialogue around the work is very important but so is the timing!

Resources (and yes, ok, the money)

When it comes down to it, it's impossible to talk about support without talking about

money. But what should venue producers be offering? How should they be offering

this? What combination of support is the strongest? We thought the following things -

in no particular order - were important in starting to answer these questions:

- the status of the company (their relationship with the venue and their level of

development within the industry)

- honest dialogue around and realistic costing up of needs

- a flexible approach with some projects needing higher levels of support than others

- in kind support for grant applications though we recognised that actually cash income

will always be more important to funders given the level of competition out there

Examples of good practice

We talked about people who are getting it right. Kudos goes out to:

- ARC Stockton and Annabel Turpin on her own terms too

- Word of Warning

- The Point Eastleigh

- Apples and Snakes' Incubate scheme

- Salisbury Arts Centre

- Chester Performs

Finally, there was a quick chat about how much the work of venue producers is valued

by the artists they support. As one artist in the group said: “When a venue producer

believes in you and gives you that stamp of support, when they really get to know you

and care about you and the work you're making, that stamp of support can make all

the difference.”


artist development, buildings, Producer, money, Resources, r&d, Venues, R&D,

Buildings, talent development, venues, supporting artists, resources, producer, Money