Impressing a Producer in the performing arts industry is a difficult balance between friendliness and professionalism. It is different to the way one approaches agents and Casting Directors. Creating a lasting impression with a Producer can really impact your performing career and its longevity.
We asked Producer James Milton (of Milton Morrissey Productions for some answers to your most popular questions).
1. Despite most thinking they know the role of a producer, please could you explain your role in a production from the ideas stage to the actual public performances?
It’s a deceptively difficult question this as the answer varies so much from producer to producer and production to production.
It’s often said that the producer’s job is “putting it together” — and that’s probably the most accurate description. We would describe ourselves as Creative Producers, so tend to be fairly actively involved in the whole process. Generally speaking we have an idea of a show we’d like to do or a story we’d like to tell (or, more accurately, to be told) — and then we either commission a writer or go about securing the rights to do it. We then have to assemble a team, explain our vision for the piece to them and get on with “lining up the ducks” to make it happen (whilst also raising the cash!)
Theatre’s obviously a very collaborative art form, so as directors and designers get involved, the vision starts to change — which is a fine and good thing.
Eventually after endless meetings, emails, conversations, budgets, auditions, rehearsals, late nights and “exchanges of opinion” we all sit down in the theatre to watch what has finally ended up on stage. What appears in front of us is rarely what was first in our head — but is usually all the better for that.
It’s a strange thing, but most of the time the producer is the only person involved in the entire life cycle of the production — from before it comes to life to after it’s been put to bed.
2. How much involvement does the Producer have in casting their productions?
Again this will vary from producer to producer. At the very least, most producers will retain final approval over casting decisions — even if this applies to productions across the world (though usually in that instance such approvals will be restricted to the casting of lead roles).
At Milton Morrissey, we have always maintained a very active role in casting — we’re usually present throughout the audition process from initial submissions to putting out offers. We tend to have quite strong feelings about what we want for each role, and so by necessity need to be engaged with the process — working with the creative team to make sure that we all get exactly what we’re looking for. We talk about producing theatre as being an attempt to master a strange form of alchemy — getting the right cast is obviously a huge part of this recondite magical process.
On a related note, I’ve always thought that it’s very unhelpful to think about casting as something that begins and ends in an audition room — it’s really useful when somebody comes into audition, if you’ve seen their work elsewhere; it helps to give a more complete picture of their energy on stage (as opposed to the audition room which can become quite detached). Most decent producers will make it their business to watch as much theatre as possible, which amongst other things, helps to keep tabs on performers and what they’re about and what they’re up to.
3. What sort of letters/submissions are appreciated by producers? In terms of content, style, approach etc…?
We’re always really happy to hear from actors — particularly when they’ve got something that we can go and see them in.
It’s a difficult line to tread in terms of self-promotion and self-aggrandisement — but as long as you stick to the facts and keep it brief, you shouldn’t go too far wrong. On a completely personal level, I’ve always warmed to actors who are happy to admit that they’ve had a fallow patch rather than actors who try and make a night singing in a bar sound like 6 months at the Palladium.
Concise, polite and honest is usually the best way forward in terms of content and style — and whilst a headshot and CV is important, obviously with the proliferation of high speed internet, showreels etc are worth investing a bit of time into too (having said that, personally I’d advise any actor to be discretionary — and ruthlessly so — about what they chose to use for this: better to have a very short reel in which you’re good, rather than unconditionally using material to bulk it out that makes you look crap).
The other thing to be aware of, is that there is nothing less attractive than desperation — and nothing more off-putting than relentless negativity!
4. If you were being invited to a production, what’s the best approach of doing this?
It’s a really good idea to invite producers to productions — and in doing so, it’s a good idea to make it as easy as possible for them to accept and attend (ultimately, most producers receive a lot of similar invitations, and there are only so many nights in the week — and so many things you can sit through). I would recommend a short e-mail with information, a short synopsis and dates — with an offer to arrange tickets by return of email. Any more lengthy information about the production should be left further down the message — so that it can be read if desired.
5. Do producers hold general auditions, or do they work solely through agents?
Generally these days, I would say that most auditions are through agents — but with social media etc there is probably more opportunity to hear about auditions than there has been previously. We have held general auditions in the past and may well do so again in the future — it really depends on the production and what we’re looking for.
I would say — though I probably shouldn’t — that if there is a production that you are absolutely and utterly convinced that you’re right for, but that your agent hasn’t been able to get you seen for, it may be worth dropping a note to the producer direct. Be warned though, this is a high risk strategy — and unless you are, indeed, perfect (or at least nearly perfect) for the role, you will ingratiate yourself to no one. I mention this purely because a similar thing happened on a show that we produced, with a particularly wonderful actress that, for whatever reason, slipped through the casting net: we saw her, she was perfect, she got the job (and has worked for us again since because she’s brilliant!)
6. Are producers constantly on the lookout for new talent, like Casting Directors?
Absolutely. It’s a brilliant thing to stumble across somebody and see something that nobody else has seen.
We try and go to as many drama school shows as possible to see the pick of the next generation and know what’s out there when it comes to casting our next production. I must mention, for example, an outstanding production of Merrily We Roll Along at GSA that I went to see last year — which featured some really phenomenal performances. We have already used one of the actors in a workshop that we were general managing — and will, I imagine, use other members of this cast in the future.
7. What do you least appreciate when people send you letters/emails?
Arrogance, conceitedness and logorrhea are all to be avoided.
It’s worth saying that, on the whole, the people who will get employed (or at least, re-employed) are those who have not just the ability, but the right attitude. Ultimately, theatre is a business — and no one wants to work with people that they don’t like. We have been blessed to have worked with some truly exceptional actors, but the ones that we’re most likely to remember when we’re casting a show, are the ones that we like having in the room. This process begins from the first contact that you make — ie from the first letter that you send: It takes a bit of effort to make a good impression, it takes far less effort to make a bad one.
Spearheaded by Creative Producers James Milton and Paul Morrissey, Milton Morrissey is a dynamic production company with a proven track record in developing and producing first class theatre.
Milton Morrissey is committed to producing and developing high quality theatre in the West End, regionally and internationally, as well as providing a high quality management service to national and international clients.