How to be.... A Theatre Producer

Theatre and Cabaret

Brighton Dome & Brighton Festival’s Theatre Producer discusses her role for #LoveTheatreDay

Orla Flanagan has been the Theatre Producer at Brighton Dome and Brighton Festival since January 2012 and was previously General Manager at the Gate Theatre in Notting Hill. Before moving to the UK from Dublin, Orla was Producer & General Manager at Fishamble: The New Play Company, where she produced ten world premiere productions which toured Ireland and internationally. During this time, Orla participated in the ten month Fellowship program (2007-08) at the John F. Kennedy Centre in Washington D.C., for which she was awarded the Fulbright Award for the Performing and Visual Arts.

In a special Q&A to celebrate #LoveTheatreDay 2015, Orla discusses her career to date and shares some tips on how to work in the Arts.

What does your role entail?

My role as Theatre Producer is to programme the year-round offer of theatre in Brighton Dome venues and to programme the theatre within the Brighton Festival. That means that I am often sitting in dark rooms watching shows, or watching works that are still being developed, whilst also meeting with artists from the UK and internationally on a regular basis. It is sometimes a bit of a tug of war between the Festival and Dome camp in terms of how I allocate my time, but probably overall in a year, I would spend about 60% of my time on Festival and 40% on year round, but it is very fluid… sometimes having both the venues and the Festival to play with can create some really nice synergy for our audiences.

What does the Artistic Planning team at Brighton Dome and Festival do?

The Artistic Planning team includes all of the producers and programme co-ordinators. Between us we shape the programmes for the venues and the Festival, and deliver all of the events in conjunction with the production, front of house and marketing teams.

How did you get into theatre/music/Festival producing?

Since I started drama classes as a teenager I have always wanted to work in theatre. At college I was very involved in the drama society there and tried my hand at directing, some acting and ultimately realised I was most comfortable behind the scenes making it all happen.

How did you start out?

I actually originally started out in music. I worked within the fundraising team managing patrons’ events at the National Concert Hall in Dublin. But my proper breakthrough into theatre came when I became Literary Officer at the Abbey Theatre and was suddenly in the room with lots of incredible playwrights, including some of the giants of Irish playwriting such as Seamus Heaney, Mark O’Rowe, Sebastian Barry and Marina Carr. Exciting times!

Have you always worked in theatre/music/arts? Are your skills transferable?

Yes, I have always worked in the arts – I think our skills are really transferrable, mostly because we are required to social and dynamic, and the job is all about collaborating with people.

What qualities do you need to be a great producer?

I think you need to love working with artists, and have an appetite for making the implausible, sometimes seemingly impossible, happen. An ability to problem solve and view the glass half full also pays off, and a curiosity to be a sort of professional match maker. Being really organised really helps too.

What is the best bit about your job?

I love development initiatives for artists – that is very rewarding when you create an opportunity for artists to thrive in. My other favourite (and sometimes nerve wrecking) experience is observing the audience watching a show I have programmed – and I love hearing their thoughts in post-show discussions.

The best ever show you ever worked on was…?

I have lots of memorable experiences from Brighton Dome and the four Brighton Festivals I have worked on here. Hard to pinpoint them all, but I remember spine tingling moments watching the large circus show Cirkopolis as I hadn’t anticipated audiences would go quite so crazy for it. There was also a very special feeling watching Backstage in Biscuit Land by the fabulous Jess Thom on election night last year, plus the magic that happened during the Russian show Opus No.7 in 2014 was palpable.

Are there any challenging moments?

Yes certainly. It is always a challenging time trying to wrestle the wish list of work to present for Brighton Festival with the resources available. We generally need to part with some of our dream projects – and it can feel a bit like breaking up with somebody in terms of feeling a great loss.

Do you need formal qualifications to be a producer?

No, not necessarily. It is a very hands on job, which I think is best by doing rather than watching. All those slivers of experience and the contacts I made in college definitely helped me get my first rung on the ladder – so it all counts.

What training/volunteering would you recommend, or how would you recommend someone gets started?

My advice is to seek out opportunities to see shows, look at what funding is available here - and internationally - to travel and see work, go to festivals and network. Volunteering is hugely helpful – you never know where that may lead.

Something you might not know about working backstage at Brighton Dome is….?

A lot of people are surprised when I say that I am usually working on the theatre programme for the Brighton Festival at least 18 months in advance, sometimes two years! Not exclusively, of course, as at that stage I am usually in ‘deliver mode’ with the current Festival… but projects can take a long time to bake!