by Ethan Karetsky ‘14
What’s a Producer?
The producer is the head of the entire production team; while the director is concerned with the artistic vision of what goes on onstage, the producer’s job is to make sure that vision can actually happen. A producer is in charge of keeping people on budget and on schedule, but more importantly encourages a successful and happy production process. You need to be organized, efficient, enthusiastic, and a strong team leader.
I like to think of a producer as both a CEO and an intern. A producer is like a CEO in that he or she must think in broad strokes, looking out for the overall strategy and big initiatives of the show. They also need to know how every department is doing. But like an intern, the producer must simultaneously be at the bottom of the totem pole, asking designers and technicians how they can help out. No task is beneath you as a producer; your job is to make sure everything gets done that needs to, no matter what. You’re the one with the plan for how to put up the show in a smooth fashion and a timely manner. You want to keep the show moving forward, and you hopefully want to make sure everyone is having a good time doing it. Again, process is crucial, because a good process will lead to a good product.
The producer needs to be constantly present — you should be fully aware of all of the elements of the show, communicate well between all departments, and ensure those technicians are in communication with each other. You should stay on top of everyone’s deadlines and budgets. Keep receipts so you can get reimbursed. Make to do lists and stick to them. And always reach out to Undergraduate Production if you need help. They have incredible knowledge and are there to support you.
Idea: So a director has come to you with an idea for a show and asked you to produce. Great! You want to be open to their ideas at this point, but you also want to help guide them in shaping their vision. You should keep in mind the scale of your production (can you really do a musical on trapezes with costumes that disintegrate when it rains onstage in act two?). Ideally these conversations are beginning about 4—6 months (at least) before you plan to open the show. You should discuss the dreams and challenges you foresee. It’s also important to discuss the nature of your partnership and your relative working styles; you want to build a strong foundation with your director. At this stage, you should reach out to Undergraduate Production(henceforth UP) so they can help you as you embark on the exciting and wonderful process of putting up a show.
It’s really important you pursue licensing (if this is a copyrighted work) at this point before you get too deep. Find out what company manages the rights, and reach out to them through Undergraduate Production— for musicals especially, it’s important that UP (not you) contact the company (they refuse to deal with students).
Staffing: First thing you’ll want to do is find a stage manager. They complete the nuclear production team triangle of director—producer—stage manager. It’s essential that you help your director find a stage manager they can successfully collaborate with in rehearsal. You’ll also want to begin reaching out to designers, and then technicians. The director should come up with an enticing and exciting pitch for the show. Be sure to flatter people when emailing them to ask them to work on your show, but don’t bullshit them. Be honest about the scale of the production and what they’ll be able to do. You should allow designers and the director to meet on their own terms, to discuss creative things without your budget—conscious presence. With technicians, you want to make sure you find people with some prior experience. You may not need every tech position filled, but that should be a decision made with the designers in mind. It’s also great to ask people (particularly freshmen) to assist the many positions on your production staff. I like to have 2—4 assistant producers who can help with a variety of tasks.
Apply for a theater and funding. (You will want to consider some of these steps before staffing.)
Applying for theaters: The best advice I can give is to spend time on the UP website and look at their venue pages. Get a feel for the different theaters out there — see shows in them if you can. You, your director, and your set designer should come up with your short list of theaters, and then determine the process for applying. Most theaters have an application form due at the beginning of the semester to the master’s office of that college. Be honest about the scale of your show; don’t try to go up in the Off Broadway Theater with a two—person play, but also don’t try to do a musical with a 20—piece orchestra in the small JE Theater. Arrange visits to the theater spaces, and ask UP for advice. Your theater space application is tied to the Creative and Performing Arts Award application (see below). CPA applicants should include as many ranked options for theater venue and for dates on their application as possible.
Applying for funding: The Creative and Performing Arts Award (CPA) is the main funding source for theatrical productions. You apply through your residential college master’s office. It is best if you apply to the producer’s college rather than the director’s, as it makes the reimbursement process much less complicated — the producer should be the primary applicant and treasurer for the project. Applications are due at three different points during the year — talk to your Master’s Administrative Assistant and look at the CPA website for details. Do not panic on the application, it’s very straightforward. But be professional. There are also other places you can look for funding on campus including other extracurricular groups, cultural houses, academic departments, etc. Be creative in seeking out funding.
Notice of intent: At this point it is also important to fill out a notice of intent with UP. If you haven’t been in close contact with them already, this will allow them to offer their resources throughout the design process.
Design ideas: You want to ensure that designers and the director are communicating (both as a group and one—on—one), and that the technicians are looped in after sufficient first draft discussions have been had. It can be tough to balance creative and practical concerns; try to let the creative process flow before jumping in with budgetary and feasibility questions. Support your director and make sure they are excited about how their vision is being realized. If someone suggests an outlandish idea, you can always say you want to “research” it and get back to them, then say that after researching and talking to UP, it unfortunately won’t be possible. Even if you dislike some of the ideas being presented, you want to be encouraging. It’s all about making this a comfortable and enjoyable process.
Auditions: Keep in mind that in the end, the audition room is the stage manager’s room to run, and the cast is the director’s cast to work with. You want to support your director and stage manager in this incredibly stressful period. Be encouraging, tell them not to worry if things aren’t going as they’d hoped, and that no matter what happens you will have an amazing show on your hands.
PS If at this point you know you’ll want to have any staged violence or weapons in the show, you need to contact UP and fill out their fight/weapons form. It’s also a good idea in general to keep UP abreast of what’s going on with your production. They can provide great guidance and resources.
PPS This is the time to set a production calendar. Give your team (designers/technicians) strict deadlines for their parts of the process. It’s important that everyone agrees to these deadlines.
Rehearsal/Design, and Build: At this point, you’ll want to make sure the director and stage manager are comfortable with rehearsals. Don’t check in on them unless they ask you to — it’s their room. You’ll want to hold weekly (or nearly weekly) production meetings to keep all designers and technicians on the same page across departments, and so the director’s (and your) questions can be answered. The full staff (assistants included) should come and take notes and be involved. Have an agenda for the meeting so you are sure to cover everything while you have people in the room. Review the production calendar and approaching deadlines during these meetings.
Designers should move towards finalizing their designs so you can begin the “build” process — if you have a set that needs construction, make sure you have a team capable of building it and a space to do that in. For costumes and props, work on acquiring the pieces. And be sure your lighting team is prepared for load in and focus.
PS You’ll want to enable the YDC ticketing system sometime before tech week. It’s super easy and a great way for people to get tickets for your show.
Load in and Fire Inspection: You’ll want to have a load in planning meeting with your technical team to figure out how much time it will take (and how many people) to properly install everything. Set a schedule, and perhaps include UP in your planning — they can really help here. You’ll also want to be in communication with the show in the space before you and in the space after you. Sometimes it’s more helpful to do a changeover where both shows’ crews work together. Coordinate and collaborate — it’ll make tech easier for everyone.
Load in is an all hands on deck effort — you need everyone assembled to get everything into the theater and set up for tech week. Make sure your cast and crew are aware of the times of their shifts, and that they need to be dressed appropriately (closed—toe shoes, long pants, no jewelry). By load in, everything needs to have been figured out — there can’t be any more holes in your process or designs. Now is the time for implementation, not for new acquisitions.
Fire inspection happens during tech week — usually on Wednesdays. Be sure to fill out the forms from UP and be ready to walk the fire inspector through your space. UP can help you prepare for this if you have any concerns about the fire safety of your set or your seating setup.
Tech Week: During tech, you need to strive to be the calmest person in the room. Tech can be stressful, but if you maintain calm, others will follow your lead. Be sure to get sleep and take care of yourself. You want to be supporting the work of everyone else in the theater. Leadership of the tech schedule has transitioned to the stage manager, but you should be around checking in on everyone. Tech is the time for you to step back and let others do their jobs. You should be around for support (mental, emotional, and nutritional). Feeding people is important. Try to be positive and encouraging. Things may not always go according to plan, so you need to be adaptive and supportive.
You’ll want to hold midnight meetings every night (maybe not right at 12, but whatever time you finish that night) to go over what got done, and what outstanding issues there are. Then help plan the schedule for the next day so you know everything will be accomplished before the final dress rehearsal.
Performances: You did it! The show has opened! But you’re not entirely done. You should be working with UP House Managers to check people in through the YDC ticketing system. You want to free the director from any front—of—house responsibilities — it’s the producer’s job to worry about this.
Strike & Post—Show: Strike is pretty much load—in in reverse. It can be sad, so be sure to keep morale high and motivate everyone towards completing everything, especially cleanup. Everyone may feel a little depressed post—show, so maybe bring some snacks and try to keep everyone energized. It’s also a good idea to be in communication with the show that will be occupying the theater after you so you can coordinate things. Sometimes it’s useful to have a post—show wrap up meeting where everyone can reflect on the process, what went well, what could be better next time. Producing teaches you so much about how to manage teams and balance creative ideas with practical solutions. It’s an incredibly rewarding job, and you learn so much from the talented people on your staff. I’ve had some of my best theatrical experiences through serving as a producer, and I hope the same will be true for you. Good luck!