MY STORY Producers: changing the world one show at a time

Written on .

Chris Grady is a facilitator and trainer who has done most jobs in theatre over a 40 year career except act and direct. He and his CGO Institute have established a unique Diploma for Creative Producing, with the first cohort graduating in February at the end of a 16-week course and the second starting on April 12, the third in November.

What is the CGO Institute and when was it founded?

When lockdown hit in March 2020 everything in my diary vanished, and two years’ work creating an MA for creative producing in Scotland also fell over.  I woke up on 25th March 2020 with an almost fully formed idea - invent an institute, write a course, keep it on Zoom, make it accessible in price, and get some amazing teachers to inspire a small classroom of UK and international producers of the future.  I wrote a quick 2 page intro for myself and reached out to my first faculty members. No-one I asked said no. Everyone got excited.  I was already booked to run a workshop on producing on 5th April at the National Student Drama Festival and so decided to launch the idea there - along with talking about all the usual pathways into the business.   I had my first application enquiry the next day.

Many may not be clear precisely what a producer does. How would you sum it up?

One of our faculty, the international dance and theatre producer Mohamad Shaifulbahri from Singapore, has an eloquent way of describing it:  "Producers are needed to foster stronger ties, especially international collaborations – to seek opportunities to find what connects us as human beings. Producers also support artists in charting journeys and pathways to realise stories that are yet to be told and to offer reflection to the world – from climate change, to protest, to injustice to political upheaval, etc.”   Another faculty member, UK-based mid-scale company producer Ellie Claughton of Lung, Breach and Barrel Organ, says "I make shit happen".

For me the producer is the person who can help realise the dream of an artistic director or artist. They may indeed have the dream in the first place.  They can help to work with a creative team or company to make sense of the dream - with budgets, marketing, development/fundraising, team creation and management, and ensuring there are some custard creams in the rehearsal room when needed. 

What convinced you that we needed a diploma for creative producing, and is it endorsed by a university?

The course I've created is not affiliated/endorsed by a university. Having created the Mountview course affiliated by UEA and spent two years trying to write the documents that were needed for a Scottish MA, I thought there might be a simpler way - and a much cheaper option for the applicants.  

I took all that I knew about the training programmes I've worked with and kept the best bits (I hope) - the core skill sharing by practicing professionals, the opportunity for peer-to-peer learning and collaboration, a chance to meet a shed load of inspiring people who expand your horizon and maybe make your head spin at times, and the chance to be mentored by someone who will help guide you on your path.  

I wanted the course to be accessible to people who could not spare a year of their lives to be in London or New York to study, for those who could not afford the costs of a masters, and for those who did not want to have too heavy an academic load.  And being based in Scotland I wanted to ensure this course would be of interest/available to the next generation of Scottish producers as well.

Is there a critical shortage of producers, and if so why?

The jury is out on that question as we see how the world will reawaken. There are many many creative artists out there who need help realising their vision. Sadly some of them want to find a free/cheap person to write grant applications for them and raise enough money to make their project happen.... but a good creative producer wants to work in partnership with the creative artist and together make a budget plan and raise funds which will make economic sense for everyone. They can help an artist look wider, further, more clearly, and deeper. They can find other collaborators and partners to bring a project to potentially international life.

When I talk with Arts Council England and Creative Scotland the answer is YES, there is a critical shortage of producers.  When I look at the producers I have helped through their masters and now those who have got their DipCP, they are all working on projects and working towards making a living in this industry. When I do surgeries for small companies and creative artists they are all looking for the perfect producer to help carry them and their dream forward.

Is the diploma strictly for theatre producing or does it extend to other art forms?

The DipCP uses theatre as a base, but we have people on the course who produce opera, children's work, cabaret, dance, musical theatre and we love that broadening of the discussions. They may want to work within a small geographic community, or be planning to produce across a country or trans-nationally. Some of those on the course also work in film, but we don't focus on teaching film producing.

What does the diploma entail and who teaches it?

Every teacher is a working professional - from visionaries like David Glass (David Glass Ensemble) and Alice McGrath (Red Bridge Arts) through to practical festival/venue programmers such as Tanya Agarwal, Kris Stewart and Nick Williams, to Broadway and the West End producers Guy Chapman and Martin Platt.  We have specialists in individual and corporate giving, those working at the forefront of jazz dance and queer cabaret.  There are 24 on the faculty from Scotland, England, New York, Singapore and Australia.

How much does it cost to go on the course, where is it, are the participants sponsored (like on the Clore Leadership Programme) and is that the only funding you have for it?

The 16 week intensive course costs £2,800 whether you come from the UK, Europe or anywhere in the world. What I have found is that some producers have managed to get grants from their government systems to cover this. Both Arts Council England and Creative Scotland have welcomed applications to support the producers, and we now have a producer on the course who is funded by their employer as part of their professional development programme.

I have also established a bursary fund in conjunction with the charity Production Exchange which will grow over the next few years from donations and grants. This will hopefully ensure that no aspiring producer will be turned away because they cannot afford the fee.  

How many were on the first course, will there be the same number on the second and third?

We had nine on the first course. There are eight joining us on April 12th for the 2nd course and we will grow this to a maximum of 12 for the third course which starts on November 12th. We want to have a small Zoom classroom so that everyone gets personal attention in every class.

Are the participants already producers looking to enhance what they do or are they learning a new discipline the arts?

We have a great mix - some are direct from university where they were president of dramsoc or whatever; others have been performers or designers for some years and are now re-tooling for the future. Some are, as you say, already producing work on the small scale and want to have an intense time exploring all aspects of the craft so that they are ready to move up to the bigger scale.  It is glorious seeing the different backgrounds of each cohort, coming together and learning from each other - and from us.

How do you measure the success of the first course?

It is difficult to have a scientific measure. My gauge of success is twofold - are most of the producers now working in the business and making stuff happen in a way which I sense they would not have been, say, a year ago? And are they talking about the course in a positive way within the industry? When you get quotes from the first cohort like "this course will live with me forever" and I watch them setting up a collective for early career producers, The Fifth Producer, inspired by a provocation from one lecture, then I know I am on the right track.

I am not the future of producing, I am an old white, cis, privileged male. But I am inspired by being able to bring together a diverse cohort of younger, wiser, challenging mentors and lecturers, and facilitating difficult conversations about how the industry can and must change in the future. The first cohort will go forward and change the world one show at a time. I am pretty sure the second cohort will do the same in different ways. And now I start to look for the next 12 producers to join us in November.

Posted in Features