Spotlight On: Neale Birch (Associate Producer)

Spotlight On: Neale Birch (Associate Producer)

Friday, 3 October 2014

Neale Birch trained as an actor and now works for the Touring Consortium Theatre Company as Associate Producer. Young Reporter Laura Jane Bateman gets the insight on his role.

Q1: Please describe your job and what it entails.

A: I am the associate producer for Regeneration, so the title gives me the authority to make creative decisions when necessary and to influence the way the production operates. I am very much the eyes and ears of the lead producer when he isn’t around. I liaise with the creative team, with theatres, with agents if necessary, and generally assist in the mounting of the production. I am also staff director, so I assist Simon [Godwin, the director] in rehearsals, which allows me, when rehearsing the understudies and giving notes to the company, to preserve his creative vision as the production evolves. I am also the educational director for Touring Consortium, but my main job is to maintain the standards of the production throughout the tour.

Q2: What was it about Northampton and Royal & Derngate that attracted you and Touring Consortium?

A: As Touring Consortium does not own rehearsal or performance spaces, it is important that we form working relationships with producing houses to ensure that our productions are mounted and able to tour. Royal & Derngate is a remarkably skilled and experienced producing house that puts on very high-quality shows, which is the advantage for us, and the advantage for Royal & Derngate is that the theatre and its work are advertised around the country throughout the tour of Regeneration.

Q3: What are the advantages and challenges of touring a new production?

A: It’s very exciting from an audience’s perspective to see a new play brought to the stage. Artistically, it’s wonderful to work on new writing, both individually and as a company; being the very first people to bring a piece to life has its own thrill. But there are a number of challenges: everything we do is a discovery, much more so than with a play that has been produced before, as the play inevitably develops and evolves during the rehearsal period. We also have to work many months in advance. We first began to think about Regeneration at the end of 2011, so it’s been three years in coming to the stage, which have included negotiations with the author, selecting a playwright, choosing a director and assembling a creative team and cast.

Q4: What challenges have you faced personally in your roles as associate producer and staff director on this production?

A: There haven’t been any challenges unique to this production; the challenges always lie in the practicalities of touring a show. One of my responsibilities is to work with the creative team and production manager on a design that is capable of touring to theatres of varying sizes within a certain budget. The production needs to look and sound as good in every single venue that we visit as it does in Northampton.

Q5: What responsibilities do you have once the production is up and running?

A: My duties are ongoing once we are out on tour. They include weekly understudy rehearsals to ensure that, should they have to go on, the understudies are as prepared as they can be. I am involved in the education work here in Northampton, but once we are out on tour, that will be handed over to the understudies, who will lead Page to Stage workshops with the local people at each venue. As staff director, I see the production into each new theatre, so it is my responsibility to ensure that the preparatory work is done and that the theatres are expecting what we bring to them. I also need to ensure that the actors aren’t too tired or overwhelmed so that they are in a position to produce their best work at each performance.

Q6: What sort of life do you think that Regeneration will have once the tour has finished?

A: There is the possibility of a West End transfer if the response to the production, particularly in Northampton, is overwhelmingly positive. There won’t be a London theatre available for us to go straight into; the earliest transfer date would be summer 2015. This would give us time to publicise the production and re-rehearse the actors (as, if possible, we would like to keep the same cast). If the production does not transfer, it will not tour again for quite some time, but the play itself will be available for other theatres to stage, although another theatre’s interpretation would obviously be entirely different to this production. So watch this space to see what happens!

Q7: Aside from this year’s centenary commemorations, why is it important for the story of Regeneration to be told now, in 2014?

A: Regeneration offers a different perspective of the First World War; it focuses on the effects and consequences of trench warfare, rather than simply trench warfare itself. Craiglockhart [War Hospital in Edinburgh, where the play is set] and Dr Rivers were very much pioneers of psychological treatment, and so it is important to educate our audiences about their work, which is not particularly well-known outside of medical circles. Also, one of the play’s strengths is its historical truth: there are fictional characters present, but the play mostly comprises of real-life characters and consequently the real-life meeting between Sassoon and Owen, arguably one of the most important meetings in the history of English literature.

Q8: And the final question… if you could work on any show, what would it be?

A: I adore Shakespeare’s work and one of my favourite plays is Othello, but well-written texts in general appeal to me. I’m excited about Touring Consortium’s upcoming production of A View from the Bridge; Arthur Miller’s work is tremendous. And although I love directing, I love producing too, so I’m very happy where I am.

Spotlight On is a series of interviews with people in the world of theatre touring. To read more interviews like this click here.