Picking up the phone to theatrical charity Stage One was, according to actress-turned-producer Tracey Childs, “the most important and influential decision” she made in changing career.
Childs, now Producer at Mercury Theatre, Colchester, sang the praises of the charity, which has helped 3,000 aspiring producers since its creation, at a lunch to celebrate its 40th anniversary.
“I’m the proof of the pudding, I suppose,” she said. “I have taken advantage of just about everything Stage One has to offer. The moment you say I’m a Stage One new producer, people pick up the phone and they open doors and they are prepared to share their time and their wisdom, just about everything apart from their investors list. That’s invaluable.”
Stage One exists to offer new commercial producers the chance to learn and receive support as they start out in what can be a perilous business.
Since 2010 alone, the theatrical charity has awarded 276 bursaries totalling £617,866. Since 2011, 17 start-up funds have been awarded, totalling £400,000 of investment. In the past four years, 440 producers have attended the New Producers’ Workshop.
Yet despite the monetary assistance, the formal training and apprenticeships that the aspiring producers receive, to sit with this group of theatermakers and hear them talk about the opportunities they’ve been given and the assistance they’ve received, it is the sense of camaraderie that Stage One instils that is striking.
These are all commercial producers striving to bring their own shows to the stage. They have their own stresses and strains to deal with, their own problems to solve. Another producer on the block could, in theory, be a threat to their show’s success, pulling away audiences or, perhaps more importantly, investors.
Yet this charity exists that brings them all together to help the newest members of their tribe.
“Producers get a really quite rough deal,” said Matthew Byam Shaw, another recipient of Stage One’s help who has since become a director of Playful Productions, the company producing Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart’s No Man’s Land. “It’s a totally misunderstood role. We’re referred to very insultingly as the money men, which is deeply unfair as we all know what a stretch the whole job is, from creator to nurturer to being there when it all goes bang.”
It’s that sense of shared understanding and experience, of knowing the pitfalls a new producer could be tripped by and pointing it out to them, of taking the time to help new blood come through with new ideas that makes Stage One such an important organisation.
Without it, maybe 2016 Olivier Award winner In The Heights would not have made it to the London stage. Producer Paul Taylor-Mills was helped by Stage One. Maybe 2016 Olivier Award nominee Alice’s Adventures Underground would not have exploded into life at The Vaults. Producer Emma Brünjes is also Stage One alumni.
The list goes on: The Bodyguard producer Michael Harrison; Impossible and Let It Be producer Jamie Hendry; Love Story co-producer Ros Povey; Butley producer Eleanor Lloyd; Neville’s Island producer Gavin Kalin…
The impact Stage One has had on commercial theatre and the producers currently pushing the industry forward cannot be overestimated.
In its 40 years, it has worked, in one way or another, with more than 3,000 aspiring producers. Here’s to the next 3,000.