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Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?

How can producers connect with artists/companies?

Bara Norden - 27 January 2017

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D&D Sunday 15th January
How can producers connect with artists/companies?
Called by Kate, Bara and Nikki (three different sessions combined!)
There were two strands to the session. A number of artists spoke of not knowing how to work with producers or not knowing how to find them or what they could expect from them. Some artists who had worked with independent producers shared their experiences. And some independent producers asked how they could support artists wanting to produce work when they couldn’t necessarily take on the projects.
Kate McGrath from Fuel which produces independent artists said as a NPO (Arts Council funded) organisation it wanted to help artists though was also very busy. Kate was looking for suggestions from artists for ways of helping.
Nina from Hackney Showroom suggested a market place similar to the Emporium in Scotland where artists and producers could meet each other. There was debate as to how much such an event could be a level playing field and include smaller players as well as NPOs.
Tom, another producer, said independent producers could hold a space for artists or projects they can’t produce and could offer curatorial expertise. Some artists may not need a producer but capacity support. They may need an administrator rather than a producer.
Another producer said she spends a lot of time having cups of tea and giving advice but that can prevent her working.
There was a discussion about who is responsible for raising funding, the producer or the artist. One artist said if he applies for the funding he is effectively the producer. The producers said they are more likely to raise the funding if they are involved in a project from the outset. Tom said he discovered an artist’s work at a scratch night. But work at scratch nights can be embryonic and not ready to be exposed in this way.
There was discussion about producer artist relationships and who is taking the risk. A producer said she finds herself giving a lot of support on a project only to find the artist she is producing ‘nicked’ by a venue.
An artist said a production relationship is like a marriage and he wouldn’t jump into bed with someone on the basis of a first meeting. Seed funding could be equally split between artist and producer as each is taking a risk by meeting.
Another producer talked about supporting the context for the work, getting a part time job while the project is being developed or advising the artist to.
There was discussion about ways of artists and independent producers linking up. ITC has details of its producer members. Databases were suggested. Also self-organising websites. And advice packs for artists seeking producers or what an artist can expect from a producer. Several producers mentioned they have equipment which they lend for projects but they can’t advertise it for insurance reasons.
A company who produced a show about early onset dementia said they spent £10k of their £33k production grant paying a freelance producer £220 a day. They found this worthwhile. They advertised for the producer on Arts News.
Some additional notes added by Kate McGrath:
The idea of an event:
Someone felt producers can seem like gatekeepers to the next level. An event sprung from freelancers might be better. Someone else felt experience brought curatorial expertise: perhaps Fuel could host a conversation with artists and producers about work we’re excited by but can’t support.
Is matchmaking a dirty word or could it be a curatorial skill? Experienced producers could help less experienced people work out what artists need, or at least hold a space for that conversation.
There was talk of finding the right producer, which might not be the nearest producer to you geographically. Later there was a comment that lots of artists are transcending regional boundaries so a more national networking process might be most useful.
Transparency seemed to be a key theme.
Also the idea of creating a space to share journeys; a gathering for knowledge sharing.
Someone suggested a producers D&D; someone else said it would be better to create a loose or open space in which to knock around ideas; giving things a chance to evolve.
In response to the feeling that venues come along and ‘nick’ artists who producers have been carefully developing, there was a sense that producers might need a space to support each other too. And to work out how to find the right relationship with venues.
Later there was more talk about producers and artists sharing experiences: how did you make it happen? Maybe sharing the story of getting another job while developing the idea / fundraising, in order to make it possible. Sharing examples of subsidy models. How do we take care of people so they can live while they collaborate?
Newsletters:
Reference was made to ArtsAdmin and Theatre Bristol newsletters. There seems to be a missing list of places where things might be being tested: scratch nights across the country where producers can go to see work in development. A lonely hearts column. There was an idea that if Fuel, ITC, ArtsAdmin, Stage One etc worked together we might b e able to create a broader church, a more even-handed list of opportunities. There was also some talk about the role of venues in contacting producers to invite them to scratch nights. It was felt there was a beat missing at the end of scratch development proceses – framing the invitation to producers who could take the projects forwards.
Capacity:
Maybe NPOs need to build capacity into their model to offer support to the wider sector. A conversation with ACE around this could be helpful.
Language:
There was an interesting strand of conversation about language. Is ‘pitching’, ‘matchmaking’, ‘speed-dating’, really the right language.
Someone talked about how sometimes the emphasis is on first connections, but the real challenge is what connecting means and how to make the relationship really work. There was a feeling that sometimes producers have more ‘weight’ in the relationship. Redress the balance of equality, recognise the investment of artists. Artists spend lots of time meeting producers too. Artists own their work and it can be tricky to work out how to share that. Collaborating is about letting go of something and sharing it. Maybe people need to live together before marriage, not jump straight into bed together.
There was a plea for equality in producer and artist support: if there’s a £1,500 grant, give them £750 each. Maybe start the relationship at the beginning of a project, with something small, starting together.
Someone raised the systematic issue of the inability of GFA to fund things retrospectively. There was talk of seed funding for developing a project including fundraising.
Other suggestions:
Someone suggested an advice pack on how to approach a producer and what you can ask your producer to do would be useful. Some producers felt this would be hard to write as everyone is different. Could there be a code of conduct? What can you ask? At what stage do you approach people? If you need to talk about money, there’s a tendency from artists to go low, ask for less than you want, a feeling that you don’t know where you stand.
Producers could perhaps share model budgets e.g. how much to put in for a producer. Could ACE do that? Anyone can request GFA applications through a Freedom of Information request. Cold there be space for a resource like this e.g. 5 really clear examples of different types of small scale touring – the budget and the story. Documentation and evaluation sharing would be really useful. More of a focus on ‘aftercare’.
Producers could combine lists of available kit or storage pace.
Someone described neeing a database of opportunitieis presented by producers but there was a sense that IdeasTap tried to do that and couldn’t make it work long term, ITC do some of this for members, as do Hive, and it’s worth looking at Venues North, the House Network and Tourfinder. Maybe there could be a self-managed Wikipedia model.
Someone made the point that we need to advertise jobs and opportunities more widely – smaller organisations often don’t do this but reach to people they know somehow.

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