Producing for student shows is a thankless task if its glory you’re after: audiences appreciate the acting, direction, set, costumes, lighting of a play but rarely remark on the superb co-ordination of a production. I’ve yet to hear anyone leaving a theatre comment on how well promoted a show was, what an informative program it offered, how thoroughly rehearsed the show was and what a lot of effort must have gone into working out a schedule that would suit seventeen actors and a director- all pursuing degrees in their spare time. The producer tries to make things as seamless as possible: when the seams begin to show – poor ticket sales, rickety sets, over-spent budget – that’s when the producer is noticed.
Producing makes you appreciate the level of organisation that goes into any large-scale event. Every detail has to be anticipated, thought through and seen to by someone and it is the producer’s job to coordinate this. Even something as apparently trivial as assigning dressing rooms demands Churchillian diplomacy. The actors who get stage fright must be put with those who are relaxed, the loud ones with the quiet, you try to make sure everyone is with at least one friend but under no circumstances should an actor be allowed to share a dressing room with someone they are attracted to – you don’t want a sudden drop in confidence by a non-reciprocated joke. Similarly the jazz band is a major feature of this particular show – and that requires getting a piano onstage. While this might not seem like much of a problem, on top of the rental cost, the cobbled road at the back of the Playhouse means that any piano will have to be re-tuned before it can be played.
It is such challenges that make the production process endlessly fascinating. And it is the people who solve these challenges that make it all such fun.
Jess Campbell is producing Mephisto which opens at the Oxford Playhouse in 6th week.