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About Stage One…  
In the first of a series of interviews, we spoke to the team behind Stage One, a charity dedicated to supporting new commercial theatre producers.

Stage One is a charity dedicated to supporting new producers and productions in commercial theatre, which it does by offering funding and industry support to a number of young producers who apply for Stage One’s bursary and apprenticeship schemes. Established theatre production companies, including the Really Useful Group, help support Stage One’s activities through funding and offering industry support to young and upcoming producers.

We spoke to Stage One’s administrator Katie Harper; the organisation’s Fundraiser Zoe Davies; and Peter Huntley, who is currently doing his Stage One traineeship at Sonia Friedman productions and working on the West End productions of Legally Blonde and Jerusalem. In the first part of our interview, we found out a bit more about how the organisation works.

Can you tell us what Stage One does?

Katie Harper
: There’s several different strands – we have three development programs for new producers that we run at the moment. One is an annual intensive three-day workshop called ‘So You Want To Be A Producer’ which has about 30 participants.  This is a really intensive course which shows how to produce your first production. So that acts as an introduction to Stage One. The second strand we offer is the apprentice scheme, which is a placement scheme for a year within a production office…

Zoe Davies
: These are paid internships and the apprentice will receive £15,000 for a year. That may not appear to be a lot of money for a year’s salary, it is actually a work placement and a lot of placements are unsalaried so it’s not a bad deal… and it is a very structured learning process they will not just be photocopying and making tea. It’s about learning all the tricks of the trade – opening their files so that people can read about contracting and budgeting and how to capitalise a production. It’s about trying to fill the gaps so that once they finish their apprenticeship they can hopefully actually start their career as a commercial producer.

One of our apprentices was Jamie Hendry, who worked at Sonia Friedman Productions for a year and ended up co-producing various projects when he was there. He is now one of the co-producers on La Cage aux Folles and Legally Blonde with an office of his own! He’s very much someone who has come out of the apprentice programme and is now actively out there producing work.

Katie: The third development programme is  the bursaries, which have been running since 2000. They are basically for new producers with quite a lot of experience of commercial producing. We give bursaries up to £15,000 to put towards production costs or living expenses to get them through that period. We do two rounds a year now and we give up to 10 bursaries a year. There is an interview process to go through for the bursaries and they also get a mentor to work with them – someone who will give them advice and support to help the production be a success.

Zoe: In April we’re also launching a fourth strand – a new scheme called the Start-Up fund. The idea of it is that we want to invest £25,000 each in 4 of the very best producers that have come out of our programmes. So you have to have been on a workshop, you have to have received a bursary, or you have been an apprentice to be able to apply for the start-up fund. We’ll be piloting the new scheme over the next three years to see how successful it is.

So the people who go into the apprentice program and apply for funding are not generally complete beginners?

Zoe: No – they have to have had some experience.  There are lots of graduate training courses out there for producing, but our apprentices need to have been out there, working in the theatre, or some have been working setting up their own production companies, working on the Edinburgh fringe, that sort of thing…

Katie: Often it’s that they’ve been working in theatre for at least a year, usually in a production or administration position.  We don’t generally take graduates straight from university as we prefer them to illustrate their ambitions to be a producer.

Can you tell us a bit more about your respective backgrounds?

Katie: I’m Stage One’s Administrator. I’m still relatively new to the organisation, having started about four months ago. I have a degree and an MA in production, and after graduating I did 18 months at the Shaw Theatre as a production assistant and co-ordinator. I then went to Edinburgh and general-managed 10 shows, before starting here.

Zoe: I’ve been working for Stage One for nearly a year now and I came onboard to help with fundraising. Previously I’ve worked in marketing and fundraising for various organisations and I also used to general manage a commercial production company, MJE Productions. I went on the ‘So You Want To Be A Producer’ course and met Paul Elliot (Stage One’s Vice Chairman) and got involved by helping out Stage One with writing applications, and then became more officially involved.

Peter Huntley: I have a degree as a dramaturg from the University of Leeds and I did that with the intention of retraining as an actor, so after graduating I then went to Mountview and did an MA in musical theatre – which makes my traineeship in musical theatre really great.

After I left university I acted for a bit, but I didn’t really get the work I wanted to, so I started to temp at the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Museum. I very quickly got moved over to their branch museum, the Theatre Museum, which was in Covent Garden at the time, and started to produce events for them. That’s when I got the idea  to move  into producing. Then sadly the museum closed, and I project-managed the move back to South Kensington and worked on the new galleries at the V&A and had the chance to talk to all sorts of members of the profession. At the same time as working in the new galleries, I also produced a musical at the Landor Theatre in March 2009 – and now I’m here!

Katie: That’s quite a normal story of how people get involved with Stage One traineeships!

When was Stage One created?

Zoe: Stage One has been in operation for a long time – I believe the levy was first set up in the 70s.

What is the levy?

Zoe: The levy is something that companies like The Really Useful Group support. It’s where each theatre and producer donates the income of a certain amount of tickets sold for each performance – if it’s a large theatre it will be up to 8 tickets. The proceeds from the levy go into an endowment fund, and the interest on the endowment fund then gets spent on the investment scheme. The current investment scheme was initially set up to try and get new work off the ground… not necessarily just new plays, we’re also talking about new works or new versions of established works.

Katie: It’s all about getting new productions on the stage, which most of the West End is now. We invest up to £15,000k.

Zoe: It’s capped at 10% capitalisation. The investment scheme has been around for a long time, and you can be a new producer and apply for that, but also a lot of the established producers regularly apply for it.

How has Stage One developed since the levy was first introduced?

Zoe: After the levy was introduced, there was something called the Acorn Scheme, which received some Arts Council funding – and that became the very beginning of the bursary scheme. From there they started to become more active, although until I came onboard last year, the fundraising had really been done by the members of the Stage One council.

Katie: Stage One was originally called the Theatre Investment Fund. We were developed through the support of the Society of London Theatre (SOLT).

Check back next week for the next instalment of our interview – and if you’re a young producer, find out how apply for Stage One’s internships.

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Posted on: 18th February 2010

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