Discussion began with a question around whether the session being called was on what producer support for artists/team to access; and how the natural way of thinking is how a producer is there to support others and this is one of the reasons why a producer might need support themselves. Clarification that the session was framed on looking at how a producer can access support and what that support might need to be.

(Note: in this report the term 'artist' will be used to describe any artform or role within an artistic team, who the producer is working with/for/representing, unless otherwise specified, which reflects the shorthand used during this discussion.)

Kate McStraw (KM) called the session and explained this is from feeling overstretched at times, and the responsibility the role requires to support and hold space for others, but as an independent/freelancer producer it doesn't feel like there is an obvious support mechanism.

A general overview of the group (by show of hands) is that approx 2/3 of the people at this session identified as a producer, with the remaining 1/3 identifying as an artist in some context.

One producer described their experience as having 'cut their teeth' as a producer within an organisation, and gradually moved in to freelancing, and feels they are able to utilise their relationships made with that organisation to gain support now.

KM: But what does that support look/feel like?

A conversation followed about the balance of independent producing of autonomy and trust required to do their best work. One producer explained that feeling of being trusted by, and having a strong relationship with, the artists they worked with provided a basis of support for them as well as a producer.

KM: However are the issue arising from a sense of duties and responsibilities which the producer role inherently carries?

Wider discussion about finding the balance when working, especially when working with multiple projects/artists simultaneously (a necessity that most of the group recognised). Perhaps it is about setting up work boundaries and considering self-care.

Chris Grady shared that in London there are monthly 'Producer Pools' (link: https://en-gb.facebook.com/ProducersPool/). These are now also happening elsewhere in the UK - it is not a 'copyrighted idea, so anyone could set one up where they are too.
Another producer commented that they had seen these shared on Facebook and had thought they were aimed at 'commercial producers' - Chris confirmed that a range of producers attended, at all career levels/experience and different show types, commercial and non-commercial.

(KM post-discussion reflection: it feels like we group here are suggesting it is also the producer's responsibility to also create the framework in which they are supported too, even if we are recognising it is an industry wide issue?)

A further discussion about producers being 'like unicorns' - everyone wants one because they hold all the answers. A comment that in one artist's experience 'producers I've worked with are much kinder than the stereotype made them imagine'. This furthers the sense of responsibility and weight of having to 'know it all' and 'solve all the problems' that comes with the role, and why support would be useful.

A wider discussion continued on what a producer's role is - which varied a lot between experiences and how producers believed their skillset and identity to be - but a lot of agreement on problem solving, making connections, having answers, holding space, supporting others and facilitation.

KM: are producers allowed to be vulnerable then?

One producer commented that producing can be considered as having 'management qualities' within the team, and whilst there are different management styles, it is a role of leading and professionalism, and visioning. An artist commented that they would want anyone they worked with to be able to feel like trust was two-way, and authentic conversations/communications would be key to best working for both artist and producer.

A longer discussion then continued around collaboration, sharing responsibility and setting expectations. Some practical suggestions;
- at the beginning of the project make sure the artist knows what they want
- be clear about your areas of expertise, but also where you may have gaps in knowledge or are less confident in skillset
- transparency/honest conversations around a single producer having to be all things
- often the artists have self-produced a number of projects (some times many) before working with a producer, and therefore there is likely to be many areas the artist will be happy to use their expertise and experience in, and the producer focus their energy in certain areas; complimenting skillsets and sharing the load
- have a full spec list / roles & responsibilities agreed at the start to be clear with eachother before the work together begins is a good investment
- the producer may need to guide this conversation, but setting expectations at the start will be the groundwork from which best relationship grows from and this may begin the support mechanism

A large part of this conversation is about finding the right people to work with, which is two-way. Being honest with yourself about whether you are the right fit for this project/job/artist. The above suggestions are about setting yourself (and the relationship) up to succeed.

KM: A lot of the conversation so far has been about getting relationships between artists and producers set up effectively from the start in order to create a framework of mutual support. But what happens when you've done this, and you're still struggling? Because that happens still. Who can I call when I'm having a shit time?

Thea from ITC Arts (link: https://www.itc-arts.org/) noted that there has been a lot of conversation about producer support, which is being noticed and listened to. There was a conversation about producer's role and risk they are taking, especially when it comes to contracting / HR etc on behalf of an artist.

There is no union for producers. Do producers need a union? (more on this below*)

A discussion began about an observation on power and status, and the value people place on different jobs in the arts. Someone commented that there seems to be a confused attitude towards producers in the independent sector especially. This led to discussion about different types of producers (ie commercial, non-commercial, creative producer, general manager...) and the question whether this was part of the issue? Would a classification system help? Should producers be better at identifying and listed their skillsets? Agreed that this would be very broad ranging and often evolving/changing. Is there a 'shop window' for your work? What would that look like? (Instant #bornindandd moment from Ellis Kerkhoven to create an online Shop Window Theatre Exchange as an action to this question available at: https://theshopwindowtheatreexchange.weebly.com/)

KM: cited only recently learning that producer's are eligible to apply for Arts Council England's (ACE) 'Developing Your Creative Practice' grant, having wrongly interpreted that this was for 'other creatives' and didn't include producers. ACE are keen to have more applications from producers because there are very few at present, and a general feeling that ACE value producers and that their development is equally important as other creatives.

A Welsh producer noted that they will check whether this is also on the Arts Council Wales agenda too. They also cited Producer's Place (link: https://producersplace.wixsite.com/producersplacecdf) (like Producer's Pool mentioned above) as a regular peer support group for artists held in Cardiff.

Another practical note from an artist in the discussion was that ACE provide 3 days access support for artists with access needs to have producer/access support for supporting the writing of ACE grant applications, which might help to provide some fee towards the producer's time in fundraising which can sometimes go unpaid in independent sector. (Further reading on ACE and access support available via: https://www.artscouncil.org.uk/funding/access-support).

*A director mentioned that similar conversations about support, unions and directing 4-5 years ago and how Stage Directors UK set up since in response to that need, which is a support organisation. (Link: https://stagedirectorsuk.com/)
Also cited was:
- SOLT - Society of London Theatre, which is a support network run by its membership, for London theatre industry. (Link: https://solt.co.uk/)
- League of Independent Producers (link: https://leagueofindependentproducers.com/) was also cited, which is a membership for independent producers, where you apply to be a member.
- Arts Admin; theatre makers not just producers (link: https://www.artsadmin.co.uk/artist-development/advice-info-training)
- Theatre Bristol, for those living and/or working in Bristol (link: https://theatrebristol.net/)
- Emerging Producers from National Theatre Wales includes support as well as training and experience for producers living and/or working in Wales (link: https://www.nationaltheatrewales.org/opportunities/emerging-producers-2019/)

The conversation led on to self-organised peer-support groups, which could be 'micro level'. Can we just start a group?

Someone cited that support could be gained from outside the arts sector, such as programmed for entrepreneurs and startups. In a conversation with a startup consultancy they asked what are the main factors for a high proportion of startups 'failing' within the first 5 years, to which they were told the 'people being on their own'.

Conversation about establishing a peer support network. The Facebook group 'UK Theatre Producers' (link: https://www.facebook.com/groups/1517106068571142/) does help a bit with this, but more personal contacts would be useful too. Kate from Fuel highlighted an annual producer residency 'Producer Farm', which will open for 2020 applications soon (Link for info: https://fueltheatre.com/events/producer-farm-2019/)

In an attempt to summarise this rich discussion:
What do we want producer support to look/feel like?
- a sense of community
- someone to call
- without judgement / confidential
- to be able to risk vulnerability
- hot desking / co-working
- a code word to be able to use when something goes wrong to call for help from the community
- a peer support network, which isn't only online
- safe

Final thoughts from KM:
- Acknowledgement that 'everyone is busy' but that ultimately people like to help one another and it is mutually beneficial.
- Often our own fears of judgement and assumption that others won't want to help is the biggest barrier to accessing support
- There is strength in being able to communicate/express your need for help/support from others
- Funded organisations (ie NPOs) you have relationships with, or who are in your area/region, might be a good place to reach out to for support, as they will often have a remit to incubate talent, which includes producer talent

Above all, calling the session and having such a warm and receptive response in a great example of what happens when you ask for support. What does producer support look/feel like? Perhaps an ongoing version of what we experienced in this session - honest, open, non-judgemental discussion with peers.

Action/offer: members of the discussion shared email addresses based on areas they live/work. KM will circulate these to those who joined this email list; if you are reading this report and would like to join, please email me via [email protected] with your name, email and location and I will add this to the circulation.