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

How can venues support producers to grow?

Claire Symonds - 14 January 2017

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Over the last five to ten years there has been a huge proliferation of artist development schemes. However, there are far fewer opportunities for producers to benefit from the same kind of support as they're developing their career or cutting their teeth. At The Lowry (where I lead artist development), we've started thinking about how we might support artists and producers side by side in the same programme. So I called this session to ask - what would good support for producers look like? What can a venue offer? Should there be a similar approach to the way we support artists or is it a completely different bag of frogs?

There are some great examples of support for producers already out there in the industry:

Venue-led support:
- Bristol Ferment have offered some producer attachments with the support of Jerwood, including a no-strings stiped, desk space and the opportunity to connect with the Ferment team
- The Producer Farm (offered in partnership with Bristol Old Vic, IBT, Fuel, Dance Umbrella and others) creates space for mid-career producers to network, receive peer support, relax and consider their future development
- Contact's ReCon scheme provides valuable insight into programming, producing and marketing for young people
- While not a venue, the “house” network's online resources have been useful for many

Peer-led support:
- The UK Producers Facebook Group is a godsend for many, acting as a space to pose questions to the hive mind
- Making Room are developing a mentoring scheme for producers at the momeent
- The Producer School in Leeds (run by Emma Beverley) looks very promising too
- SOUP was mentioned as a strong source of support by many of the participants in the conversation

But there are many things that were suggested that aren't being widely offered…

- opportunities for indie producers to observe programming meetings, board meetings and shadow venue producers so both give them a skills development opportunity and preparing them for venue-based roles in future if that's something they want
- desk space in venues to combat isolation and allow indie producers to ask questions or get ad hoc support from venue teams
- funding that covers the gap producers to do a bit of work for artists on spec
- opportunities for indie producers to shadow venues producing mid and large scale projects to skill up as they begin to work on larger scale projects
- a relationship with more senior industry people who can give the kind of annual appraisal / PDP review / career planning support employees benefit from
- a database of projects / productions and their producer, searchable by artform / genre / scale / geography / etc., so early career producers know who to go to for advice

We also talked about the fact that the most useful source of support for independent producers is OTHER INDEPENDENT PRODUCERS who understand the pressures and challenges of the job. Venues could play a more active role in providing opportunities for producers to come together, network and learn from each other.

We finished by thinking about things that aren't so useful:
- unneccesary “come in for a coffee” meetings that take valuable time up for no reason
- schemes that are only available to people under the age of 25
- tokenistic or fleeting bits of support that don't recognise the need to build up trusting relationships over a period of time

It might be helpful to also review the notes from last year's session at D&D 11 asking what producers would do if they had the time, and to remember that the best way venues and producers can work together is to keep trying to communicate honestly and openly about what we're all looking for, what we need, what doesn't work for our needs and to respect the challenges, pressures and joys that each other experiences in our different parts of the sector.
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