Spotlight On...John Manning (Producer)

Spotlight On...John Manning (Producer)

Friday, 19 September 2014

John Manning at Northampton Royal and Derngate talks to Theatre Cloud about the challenges of being a regional producer.

What is a producer?

The term “producer” can mean a few different things depending on the organisation at which you work, but, in terms of the Producer role at Royal & Derngate, Northampton, I work very closely with our Artistic Director to programme, plan and produce the work which forms part of our Made in Northampton seasons, of which Regeneration is one such show. I oversee every aspect of getting the production onto the stage; negotiating the rights with the writer’s agent, or in the case of new plays, commissioning a writer to write the work, to drawing up budgets for each show and keeping control of spend, contracting all the creative team (director, designer, lighting designer etc), overseeing casting and rehearsals, working with the Production Manager who is responsible for the physical aspects of the show (set, props and costumes), working with our marketing and press teams to generate show images  and copy and manage press nights and negotiating co-production deals. It’s a very varied role and the variety is something that I love about it. If you work in the commercial world, a Producer is also the person who has to find the money to fund productions. As we receive subsidy from the Arts Council, Northamptonshire County and Borough Councils, I’m lucky that that’s not part of the job.

John Manning (far right) at Regeneration press night
How did you become a producer?

My path into producing was gradual but I like to think all the better for it. I feel I’ve picked up lots of different skills along the way which are all cemented in a Producer role. I didn’t leave university thinking “I want to be a producer” in the way that some people do. I wasn’t even 100% sure what one did. Instead, I knew I wanted to work in theatre but wasn’t quite sure exactly in which area. I applied for a lot of theatre jobs when I graduated and did bits and pieces of work experience before I eventually got my first job as Admin/Marketing Assistant at Salisbury Playhouse. They were looking for someone with a little knowledge and a little experience who was willing to start at the bottom and get stuck in. I was at Salisbury for four years and my job grew so I ended up becoming their in-house Casting and Literary Co-ordinator, working to develop a new writing strand to our work. I then made the move into casting full-time and worked as a freelance Casting Director and then in the Casting Department at the RSC.  The move into producing came when I started working for a commercial producer in London as Production Co-ordinator, then Assistant Producer. It was a fantastic introduction into the world of producing; having to do budgets and tour booking alongside the other things I was more familiar with like casting, negotiating contracts and script development. By the time the job in Northampton came up I knew I wanted to be a Producer in my own right.


What are the challenges of being a producer at the R&D?

I think most of the challenges we face at R&D and faced by theatres across the country. In a time when funding is being cut or frozen, the central challenge is how can we afford continue to produce exciting and interesting work? What shows we programme is essential to this challenge. Getting a balance between work which will our audience will flock to see and work which might not necessarily have big appeal but which pushes boundaries and moves the artform forward.


How many shows have you produced? Which were your favourite?

We do between 8 and 10 of our own productions here at Royal & Derngate, so, in my three and a half years here, I’ve done around thirty. Some of them are our own productions but a lot of them are co-productions, like Regeneration, working with other producers and theatres to mount the shows together. I don’t really have a favourite because each show presents a different challenge so they all mean something different to me.


If you weren’t a producer, what would you be?

I haven’t a clue. I think I’ve really only ever wanted to work in theatre so something else but in the same field.


What are the most important skills needed to be a successful producer?

Every week that goes by, with every show I work on, I learn something new or develop a new skill. You need passion for what you do without being too passionate that you can’t be objective. You need initiative to make important decisions quickly and to find new ways to tackle problems. Multi-tasking is essential when working on a number of shows at once, all at different stages of development. Diplomacy and tenacity are useful when negotiating deals with agents. Being a clear communicator, a good organiser, having great attention to detail etc etc. The list is endless!

Regeneration premiered on 2 September 2014 (previews from 29 August) at Royal & Derngate, Northampton, where it continues until 20 September 2014. It then tours to York, Edinburgh, Bradford, Nottingham, Cheltenham, Richmond, Wolverhampton, Darlington and Blackpool where it concludes on 29 November.