How to become a theatre producer: job role and training options explained

A theatre producer at work
Learn about the role of a theatre producer – do you have the skills to bring in a show on time and in budget, and how do you get started?

Theatre producers need a wide range of skills, from thinking commercially about how a show can make money to communicating clearly with the creative team so their choices don’t break the bank or cause delays. Discover what’s involved and whether this role is right for you, then explore theatre producer training options.

What does a theatre producer do?

Theatre producers are in charge of the practicalities of making theatre productions happen. Their work can include:

  • planning budgets and timetables and making sure these are stuck to
  • making sure that spending is recorded and that salaries, expenses and tax are paid
  • working to make sure that as many tickets are sold as possible
  • seeking out funding, such as money from investors, sponsorship or grants (money from government or charities that doesn’t have to be paid back)
  • ensuring that all the different teams are working towards their goals and communicating with each other
  • overseeing legal matters such as employment contracts, insurance cover and copyright
  • finding and hiring venues and rehearsal spaces (if working for a theatre company that doesn’t have its own)
  • managing the admin related to tours, such as booking transport and accommodation for the cast and crew
  • helping plan what productions to stage in future and when these will be, in collaboration with other key team members.

A producer on a small-scale production may do most or all of the above themselves. On bigger productions there will be others to help – for example marketing and PR teams to promote the show, a finance team to look after the accounts and a production assistant to delegate tasks to.

Who employs theatre producers?

Theatre producers can work for:

  • Theatres. That is, venues that have their own performance spaces. Producers are hired by theatres that produce their own shows at least some of the time (known as producing houses), as opposed to just hiring out the venue for other people’s shows (known as receiving houses).
  • Theatre companies. That is, organisations that put on shows but don’t necessarily have their own venue.
  • Themselves. Some producers are effectively self-employed business people who will have an idea for a show, hire a team to make it happen, seek out investors or fund it themselves, and take the risk that it will make money. This is known as being an independent theatre producer. If you do well you could expand, employ staff and become an independent production company.

How much say producers have in a production – for example what show to put on and which actors to cast in it – depends on who they work for. If you work for yourself as an independent theatre producer, or head up your own independent theatre production company, you’re the boss. If you’re employed by a theatre or theatre company you’ll be able to input ideas but won’t always get the final say.

Terminology – subsidised theatre and commercial theatre, and what it means for your career

The theatre industry is broadly divided into the subsidised theatre sector and the commercial theatre sector.

  • The subsidised theatre sector receives money from government (or another supporter) but in return the people running it can’t keep the profits for themselves. If a show makes money it has to be ploughed back into the theatre or theatre company, which will have obligations to work for the public good – for example running educational and community activities and keeping ticket prices affordable.
  • The commercial theatre sector doesn’t receive government money. It needs to raise all the funding it needs itself – for example seeking private investors for a new show. However, any profits made can be kept.

If you become an independent theatre producer, or found an independent production company, you’ll be working in the commercial theatre sector; you’ll take financial risks but keep any profits. If you’re hired by a producing house or a theatre company, this will usually be in the subsidised theatre sector; you won’t need to risk your own money and will be paid a regular wage but are unlikely to receive anything extra if a show does really well.

How to become a theatre producer

There isn’t a simple, clear route to becoming a theatre producer – you’ll need to be very proactive, seeking out any opportunities to get relevant experience and also creating your own.

Getting theatre experience while you’re still in education

Get as much unpaid theatre experience as you can as you progress through school and beyond. For example you can get involved with:

  • school productions
  • youth theatre productions
  • amateur theatre productions
  • student productions if you go to university
  • community theatre projects (eg those run by local theatres)
  • any independent productions that your friends decide to put on by themselves
  • work experience with professional theatres and theatre companies.

If you can’t initially get experience that relates to being a producer, don’t worry. Producers need to know a bit about all the different jobs in theatre, so take what you can get, whether it’s helping out in the box office or assisting the technical team.

What to study at university if you want to be a theatre producer

You don’t have to go to university to become a producer, but you might find that it’s a good way to develop skills and experience and meet other would-be theatre makers. If you go, seek out a university with a thriving student theatre scene and get involved in it, whatever subject you study.

In terms of undergraduate degrees (that is, degrees for students going to university for the first time):

  • There aren’t degrees at this level that focus only on being a theatre producer (though there are at masters degree level – see below.) However, there are degrees such as theatre production or technical theatre, which tend to cover a range of off-stage job roles (such as sound, lighting and stage management). The role of the producer is sometimes covered – check individual course details carefully.
  • Subjects such as drama or English literature can deepen your understanding of theatre.
  • Business studies can teach you about useful areas such as finance and marketing.
  • Or you could study something unrelated to the theatre for your undergraduate degree (just make even more effort to get involved in student drama).

Masters degrees offering theatre producer training

There are several masters degrees available that focus specifically on the job of being a producer. (Masters degrees are normally for people who already have an undergraduate degree, as they are at a higher level.) They tend to have titles such as ‘creative producing’ or ‘production management’ and are often run by drama schools (organisations that run university-level courses and specialise in practical subjects related to theatre). Entry requirements for these courses vary. Most courses ask for an undergraduate degree but will consider you if you’ve already worked professionally in theatre (that is, had paid jobs).

In terms of undergraduate degree subject:

  • Some courses don’t ask for a particular degree subject at undergraduate level.
  • Bristol Old Vic Theatre School asks for an undergraduate degree in technical theatre.
  • The University of Kent says that it usually likes a ‘relevant humanities subject’.
  • Guildford School of Acting likes a degree in a ‘relevant field’, but doesn’t specify what this has to be and will also consider you if you have ‘exceptional talent’.
  • The Royal Central School of Speech and Drama says that it normally likes a relevant degree and lists as examples drama, theatre, performance studies, economics, politics and business studies. However, it will also consider your application if you’ve studied something different.

First steps into a theatre production career after school or university

Production assistant jobs are a good first step into becoming a producer. These are available with theatres and theatre companies, and involve assisting a producer. You’ll usually need some sort of experience working in theatre to get these jobs, though it could be voluntary work or something in a different theatre role (eg working front of house or in the box office).

Putting on your own production and raising the money yourself is another relevant first step. If you want to work for yourself as an independent theatre producer you’ll need to take the plunge eventually, though of course it is financially risky.

Alternatively (or as well) you could volunteer to produce a show for a friend or a contact you’ve made. For example, you might know someone who wants to direct a show and doesn’t expect you to risk your own money but does want help trying to raise funds and keeping on top of all the admin. Be aware that they probably won’t be able to afford to pay you.

The charity Stage One provides various forms of support to producers in the early stages of their careers. These include:

  • A paid placements scheme that offers a small number of trainee producer placements lasting up to 12 months with different theatre organisations. You need at least one to two years’ experience producing small-scale theatre productions in order to apply.
  • A bursary scheme that provides a sum of money (up to £15,000 in 2018) and practical support (such as office space and a mentor to give advice) to producers with some experience to get a production up and running as an independent theatre producer.

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