So you think you can Produce – Are you that special kind of crazy?

Producing… it’s where the fine line between passion and crazy gets crossed regularly, and our limits are tested, stretched, broken and mended. I got into producing seven years ago and over 60 productions ago originally for the simple purpose of creating a show I could perform in. When I started there wasn’t much around to be honest. Producing fueled my desire to perform, to learn more about my art, it melded my love of business with burlesque, and on the occasion provided finance for my performing aspirations. It has also contributed to my financial, mental and emotional deterioration at times and yet I still do it. I can’t help it. I am that special kind of crazy.

Recently I have seen newbie producers struggling and there seems to be an extreme shortage of mentors in producing (because heaven forbid you ”help the competition”). It’s made me wonder how I can help other learn from the mistakes I have made without having to make the same ones and what skills and personality you need to produce. This week I’m covering my insights into what attributes you need to have to produce and will follow up with a skills blog as well. But for now, I put it to you… So you think you can produce?…. Are you sure about that?

A place for everything and everything in its place
Are you organised? This is a personality trait you will need to have and a skill that will grow as you produce more. If you are not an organised person, then I suggest maybe, producing is not for you. You have to juggle performers, techs, crew, venues, sponsors, finances, marketing, sales and more, and each require a different finesse and approach to them. If you are not organised it’ll be rare that you put on a regular and successful show.

Failing to plan is planning to fail
So yeah, you’re organised, but remember too: No matter how organised you are, you’re going to have to be quick on your feet and problem-solve. Problems come up regularly and seemingly out of nowhere. I like to think of them as “challenges” rather than problems. After all it’s just a hurdle, right? You can try and pre-empt possible challenges by thinking about all the bad things that could happen before, at and after your show and work out the worse-case scenarios so you have an idea of how you are going to react does in fact eventuate. That way you will go into fight mode instead of freeze or worse… flight, when shit goes wrong. It’s important to tackle challenges head on, take a moment to regroup, think it through and find the solution. After all YOU’RE A GODDAM PROFESSIONAL!

At the end of the day regardless if you are a newbie or experienced producer, you have to be prepared to make mistakes. You have to be prepared to learn from them and continually improve on what you are doing. It’s how we handle the things when it doesn’t run smoothly that determines how long you’re going to last and continuous improvement is important to encourage industry growth.

Fall in love with research
You’re going to have to understand your burlesque market, other entertainment markets and other event markets, be it at a local, national and international level, and how each of those markets may or may not have an effect on your production. Even the small local show can be affected by national events and events that are completely unrelated to burlesque so it’s important to get a widespread understanding. In a small market like NZ burlesque, you may have to research other shows that are on and actually liaise with other producers to avoid dates and crossing over too much into the dame audiences. Wellington is an excellent example of this done well as each show there has a different audience market and a different niche, but spread them out so not to suffocate the regulars that cross over all of them either.

Nationally we have a Show Production Date calendar too… unsurprisingly it is not available outside of producer circles so as a newbie, you’ll never know it exists until someone yells at you that you should have checked the calendar. But even when you do check it, keep it in perspective. For example a South Island burlesque show is not going to be affected by or have effect on a show in Auckland. The exception to that of course is the New Zealand Burlesque Festival…. No point putting on a show that weekend because most of the countries performers are going to it! (total biased point I know…. but then again there is some truth in it too!).

Patience is a virtue
You’re going to be dealing with people that are not as motivated or as enthusiastic as you. There will be Diva’s. There will be rookies who don’t know any better and you are going to have to educate them gently. You will hear more no’s than yes’s. There will be venue managers on power trips; Sponsors who want everything for nothing or worse, don’t deliver at their end and then there will be the frustration of your neglected love ones (blog coming on that later!). The only way you are ever going to deal with all this is to have patience, professionalism and compassion. You;re also going to need some of that for yourself.

If you’re a hot head who wants shit done and wants it done now and then flies off the handle if it’s not done right then and correctly (although there is a time and place sometimes for that by the way), then producing is a virtue you do not have time for.

In saying that you also need a sense of urgency too; get things done early and well in advanced to make things easier for you in the long run (see being organised above).

Are you a natural political?
If you are, great? If you are not, get better. Diplomacy is an attribute you can learn and you will need. You’re going to have to become a master negotiator, cockblocker and sometimes plain old asshole, but you need to do it in a diplomatic, objective and professional way. Yes, some people will take things personally, but you need to keep it business focused not make it personal for them or for you. Try not to burn bridges as you never know when you might need them.

Unlike politicians though, you need to do what you say and say what you do. Have some morals, and follow through. Even if it takes time, for goodness sake follow through. And as I have learned the hard way, regardless of intention, if you don’t communicate it, it doesn’t mean a thing. So be diplomatic and professional.

Side note: I’ve lit some bridges on fire a couple of times now. And in those cases, I have to say, it was totally worth it.

How thick is your skin?
Do you have a tanty at every facebook comment? How about taking everything out of context or assuming it’s all directed at you? Yeah, Nah. Producing is not for you. Shit flies. Gossip is slung. Competitors talk smack. Everybody takes everything personally. Nepotism in the arts is alive and well and heaven forbid you don’t grant it liberally. Rejection is life. The more successful you get, the thicker your skin is going to need to be because Tall Poppy is a prolific syndrome, especially in NZ.

You’re not only going to need to grow a thick skin, but you’d going to have to stubborn as fuck too. You’re going to want to quit many times, when mud’s being slung, before the show even gets off the ground, when you can no longer back out and the day after a flop. It’s a goddamn roller coaster. You better dig in, persevere and resolve to see it through. And when the stress is gone, and the dust has settled, the crazy sets back in and you say “hey…. let’s put on another show”.

Wine and Whine
Okay not the best example of a stress management technique but hey works for me! What I’m getting at here is that you need to have stress management techniques. You need to be able to deal with the pressure, the demands on your time from both the professional side of the producing coming from a dozen different directions, and also from where that time is being taken from in your personal life. Balance is important and finding ways to wind down, reset and refresh is critical. You also need to remind your loved ones why they are putting up with that special kind of crazy that you are for being a producer and give them your love and appreciation in return. If you get too task focused too much of the time, then find a way to break it up. Otherwise you will suffer. And yes, I think we can all recognise that I am speaking from some pretty harsh personal experience here. On that note: don’t go into business with your partner in life if you’re both Alpha dominant personalities. Trust me. It won’t work no matter the strategies you put in place especially if you have other problems in life.

TLDR Summary. Producing is bloody hard. It has massive rewards though and for a lot of the time, like any business it’s not always financial. It does takes a special kind of personality to produce. Passionate, motivated, organised, professional, and someone who is not afraid to fail. Failure is just one step closer to succeeding after all.

Next blog I will cover some of the more tangible skills for producing (also useful for performers) that you may pick up on as part of the ride. These skills are great for your other skills section of your CV… you know… the area of your CV that that you don’t explain fully “how” you got them to your day-job boss 😉


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