The Place is 50 years old this year and one of our main ambitions to mark the new era is to grow and extend our producing and touring strand. We passionately believe that bringing dance experiences to communities far and wide across the country is one of our greatest and most rewarding duties. ‘Producers’ are essential to make any creative project a reality, but what exactly do they do?
We sat down with Reece McMahon, Assistant Producer at The Place, to find out what part producers play in creating a world with more dance.
“I see the producer as the nucleus of every creative project. You oversee everything from the artistic output right through to production, marketing and logistics” says Reece McMahon, while admitting that there is rarely a direct path into producing. Most of the time, a producer will have been involved in the arts in many different ways, and at a certain point can pull all the acquired skills and learned knowledge together. “A producer has the ability to do a little bit of everything. My job is to make sure everybody else is doing their job, but also that they have the right tools to deliver the project. Producing and creative process is very much about collaboration and team work. But the producer is the driving force, making sure everybody else is hitting their deadlines, making their decisions in time.”
The Place has a long history of artist development and our producing and touring model is born out of our artists’ need and desire to want to tour and create more work – along with The Place’s ambition to reach wider audiences and go into community to share dance. At The Place, the relationship between artist and producer is very much artist- lead. The producer listens to the artist and then turns their vision into a reality. “The Producer is detectives in a way”, says Reece, “they are investigative. Or a puzzle-solver. Our job is to solve problems. Creative projects are highly complex so it’s important to have somebody who can identify any problems quite early on.”
A producer is a strategist, always thinking two steps ahead like a chess player, knowing that sometimes taking one step back will propel you forward three steps.
It is important to have a shared vision with the artist and really believe in the work from the get-go. “We try to identify the projects we think are going to be exceptional artistically but also are going to have the widest possible reach. For example, with Hansel and Gretel, we felt that Vicki’s talent and ability as a choreographer and her unique ability to weave different dance styles together, mixed with her passion and desire to make a children’s show was a really potent mix. We could see the potential of reaching communities that The Place was not engaging with yet. The idea and the concept were already there, and it was strong, and we collaborated to develop it together.”
“For Dadderrs, the process was very different. Frauke and Daniel had an idea and we supported their experiment, if you will. For that project, it was really important to allow them time and space to explore, without too much interference from us as producers. Then when the time was right, we came in and started thinking about how we would shape their ideas into a show.”
What are the main skills then, that a producer needs? Is it all about one eye on the money and one on the art?
“Budgeting is a huge part, but I think it is a misconception that the producer is the one who says no. We never go into a situation wanting to say no.” Instead, the producer is the one finding a solution to a problem, balancing expenditure with ambition, and seeking out creative ways to make a piece artistically brilliant while making sure there is no overspending. Number crunching may not sound the most creative, but our producers have a different take on it: “Budget management is for me the most ever-changing, alive thing. How can I save costs and reduce rehearsal time now so later we have more in our pocket to play with? I quite enjoy that, it’s really fun and rewarding in a way, particularly when it works out.”
The other main skill a producer needs to have is undoubtedly communication. “As a producer you need to be at heart of all communication and really understand how each individual member of your team communicates. Maintaining relationships is fundamental to any project. Making sure everybody is on the same page, getting along and working well together. A break down of communication can really quickly derail a project.”
Another key factor is time management, knowing how to best use each day, week and month of the project. “Doing lots of things really early or leaving things to the very last minute isn’t great. A producer needs to identify what needs doing when, so that it maximises everybody’s time on the project. If someone doesn’t deliver something in the week they promised, it has a knockback effect on other people’s ability to deliver their job. And soon you can find yourself with a really big problem that needs solving. Which is fun but also stressful.”
There is no lack of audience, but the challenge is reaching them. “When people do come, they have a fantastic time and that’s really evident, but it can be difficult for emerging artists to attract an audience. From a venue’s perspective, it seems risky to programme dance. We’ve reached 8000 people with Hansel and Gretel who had no affinity to dance or to The Place. Hopefully the next time we go out some of those people will return.”
Touring is expensive, and London has an unbeatable readymade infrastructure for dance. However, touring to rural village halls through the Rural Touring Dance Initiative over the past few years really opened Reece’s eyes: “We are in such a London-centric bubble where we take for granted the number of theatres on our doorstep and that we can gorge ourselves on arts and culture. At least 95% of the children we’ve met on tour had never seen a piece of dance before. We took Hansel and Gretel to little village halls and for 15 children from the local village I hope it was a really life changing, eye opening experience. It might stay with them for a moment or for a year or for lifetime but for me that was a moment where I realised, we need to do more to make sure we are taking dance to the communities that want it. Where there is a need for it, we should be delivering.”