For fans of the theatre the more you consume, the more you start to wonder what goes into making a show great? Just like a good meal will leave you considering the ingredients and complimenting the chef, a good piece of theatre will leave you applauding the cast and complimenting the director.
With a meal it's rare to thank the owner and with theatre it is easy to forget the role of the producer, the person who actually makes it all happen. However after reading Julius Green's new book 'How to Produce A West End Show' I've discovered not only a new affinity with the trials and tribulations of producing a show, but also a desire to go and do it myself.
'How To Produce A West End Show' is an extremely readable romp through all it takes to get a show on the stage, from budgeting and casting, to theatre booking and advertising right up to how to close your show when it's time to cut your losses. It's an eye opening insight to the glamorous and secretive world of live theatre, written in an accessible page turning manner making it a compelling read for anyone who works or is even interested in theatre.
I met up with author and theatre producer Julius Green who has over 150 plays and musicals to his credit and is currently a senior producer for Bill Kenwright Limited to have a bit of a chat.
"Well yes and no, it is an industry story but from a perspective that people aren't used to getting. Statically there are far fewer producers than directors or actors."
"I hoped to give the book a narrative, I wanted it to be a book you read through, you accumulate the knowledge as you go on and by the time you get to the end you'll be able to produce your own West End show."
"Producing is probably the only area of the theatre industry that could do with more people working in it. With respect, we're not short of great writers, great directors, great actors, but everything bottlenecks at the producers' desk because all of those people are reliant on a producer making this work. I know plenty of theatre practitioners that are out of work but I don't know a single producer who isn't over worked."
"What I'm hoping it does is offer an enjoyable read for people who don't necessarily want to be a producer; it's a bit like a backstage tour. I hope that people who like going to the theatre or watch those television audition shows will find out how it's all put together though this book. The great thing is that it is very interesting; it's totally un-feasible that by 8 o'clock every night 45 West End theatres have all the right people in all the right places at all the right times to do exactly what they did the night before. It's crazy when you think about the logic of it, it shouldn't work at all, but it does. It works more through will power than the fact that everyone has signed a piece of paper that says they need to do it."
Is being a producer worth all the hassle?
"Yes of course, you wouldn't do it otherwise. There are so many different moments when it all comes together, when you get the actor your want, or do a deal for the director. The first night is always a huge anti-climax as the job is always done by then, and it's really rather addictive as you're normally on to thinking about the next project. It's always nice to stand at the back of a theatre and know you somehow managed to get all those people, both on stage and watching in the same place at the same time."
"You have to numb yourself to a look of grief and be quite calm about things, which means when you dull your senses in that respect you also dull your ability to enjoy the outcome. When you avoid the lows sometimes you miss the highs."
"For those who really want to go out and do it then the clues are there in a book as to how to do it. It's about knowledge, knowing what's going on and what's out there. Producers are not financiers who are out to make money, nobody who has set out to make money from theatre has done that, it's a lucky extra if it happens."
So is the producer the unsung hero in the world of theatre?
"I don't think anyone would ever see the producer as the hero. The thing about theatre is that everyone involved thinks it's all down to him or her, directors, actors, producers, stage managers, everyone. In fact it's down to everybody working together. To an extent it's the producer that gets all those people together but theatre is collaboration."
How do you see the current state of theatre in the UK?
"It is constantly changing, regional theatre is in great health, and we tour a lot of shows. It's hugely important touring theatre, we can have up to 12 major productions on the road at the same time, and it's a lot of peoples only contact with theatre. The West End is the wild-west, it's hit or miss and it's unregulated anyone can hire a venue and put on a show, which is what's so great about it. Shows close, shows open it's cyclical there is always a queue of shows waiting to come in."
Julius hit the nail on the head there working out why theatre is something that will continue to excite, entertain and interest people. It's an ever-changing landscape and the insights from the book allow you to see quite how much work goes into creating work that will draw out laughter, tears and applause from audiences night after night. Long may it continue.
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