TOURING CONTINUED: A break-out session on co-productions and co-commissions 

Convener(s): Simon Pittman and Vicky Graham

Participants: Simon Pittman, Vicky Graham, Ros Philips, Annie Fitzmaurice, Claire Saddleton, Will Glenn, Jules Munns, Dan Woods, Nick Brucerman, Sarah Corbett, Ellis Kerkhaven, Tid, Jo Crowley, Ana Brothers, James Hadley, Holly Hardy, Jen Lunn, Kristin Fredricksson, Kas Darley, Shakera Ahad, Leo Wood, Emma Callander, Mary Swan, Poppy Burton-Morgan, Angela Clerkin, Alyson McKechnie, Jamie Zubairi, Ellie Griffiths, Alyn Gwyndaf, Rachel Parish, Nicola Stanhope, Ellie Stamp, Monica Nappo Kelly, Kelly Golding, Hannah Myers, Dan Copeland


Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Opening question: “When creating new work which could tour, HOW and WHEN should we talk to venues?”

  • Do your research into each venue, and know exactly what you offer. Venues are often interested in an exchange, and in long-term relationships – not just in a project / product.
  • Only begin the conversation when you’re sure your work is a match
  • “Dream big, ask big”
  • Talk about a long-term relationship from the start
  • Companies and venues can build an audience following together
  • A company can give an immobile venue both mobility and increased exposure
  • It’s not about the pitch and package you put together (although they’re helpful). You just need a great project.
  • Co-productions aren’t always about cash. Be creative in what you ask for.

Contracts & clarity

  • Be absolutely clear on the terms of the partnership: who contributes what at the beginning, and who takes what at the end?
  • What is the difference between a co-production and a co-commission? A co-commission tends to be agreed earlier, and require support to make an idea a reality. A co-production tends to be agreed when the support needed is less about the idea, and more about the production. Is there more to it than just timing?
  • There are further complications to consider, especially regarding billing and ownership. Some companies feel their co-producers “own” them. An “in association with” partnership often reflects more creative autonomy.
  • The more producers are involved, the more complicated the artistic conversation could be
  • Get into the habit of re-affirming the roles of the different parties at the beginning of each meeting. You cannot be too clear.
  • There’s an increasing amount of venue- / festival-commissioned work in the current climate. Some commissioning contracts can stifle the work.

Recommended reading: Gemma’s Action Hero blog.


Difficult relationships, and how to prevent them / improve them

  • What should a small company do if its bigger partner isn’t delivering their side of the bargain? Step up and tell them – it’s your responsibility to protect your work.
  • Take your time to ensure that relationships with partners are real and honest
  • If you’ve been burned by an experience, no matter how high the partner’s profile, don’t be afraid to stay away, and to warn others to do the same.
  • It’s never too late to say you’re dissatisfied, or that you want to withdraw
  • There’s no need for first-timers to learn by trial and error. Suggested action: let’s put information in the public domain, share contracts, and talk about them. If you’re unsure about something, pick up the phone to others who have worked with that producer. If you’re not sure, don’t sign.
  • There’s a tension between building a creative relationship and agreeing a contract. Make sure that creative and contractual meetings are separate. Even if you just take a coffee break between or move rooms.
  • Always ask for definitions of terms, and restate those terms regularly. Words mean different things to different people.
  • Your first point of contact may not be the only / best person to speak with. Assistants and PAs are often the gatekeepers, or will become them. Don’t be afraid to ask others (within the organisation / external mediators) to join the conversation.

On smaller companies, expectations, and failure

  • The best relationships allow artists to experiment and risk failure. Venues / producers should see beyond this, and see the potential in the failure.
  • Venues / festivals should be writing a nurturing contract with companies if they’re interested in their work in the long-term
  • Be open about when a show will be finished. It’s okay to ask for more time, or to shift deadlines. See session “It’ll take years”
  • Even if a show isn’t as artistically excellent as the co-producer / commissioner hoped, it’s not a failure if the relationship remains honest and intact. 

What venues want (in no particular order, and in the opinion of one Artistic Director):

  • A good, enjoyable relationship
  • Artists to keep their promises
  • Honesty
  • Brilliant artistic product with the venue’s name on it, which delivers the venue’s artistic aims
  • Work that’s exportable, mobile
  • Something their audience will see and enjoy
  • The company to have the wherewithal and drive to do their own publicity and promote their own work 

Good advice:

  • The best partnerships happen when both partners could make something great independently of each other, but make something doubly great together
  • It’s a myth that larger venues can give greater support. The bigger the venue, the more they’ll expect you to bring.