Edinburgh Fringe People

The Producer: Kate Taylor

Published on Wednesday 22 August 2018

We’re talking to people who perform or work at the Edinburgh Festival each year to get their perspectives on what performing or producing at the world’s biggest cultural event involves, and top tips on how to get the most out of the experience. This time producer Kate Taylor.

Kate studied music and started her career working with classical music organisations, before moving into theatre via a nine year stint producing shows for Youth Music Theatre.

There she met Scottish folk singer and musician Mairi Campbell. Since opting to go freelance three years ago, Kate has been producing Mairi’s theatre projects, including ‘Auld Lang Syne’ which is being presented at the Scottish Storytelling Centre this Fringe.

We spoke to Kate about her career in theatre production and her role on Mairi’s projects.

TW: What is your role on ‘Auld Lang Syne’?
KT: I am the producer for Mairi Campbell’s current show and other theatre work. My role involves everything from making funding applications to booking tours, coordinating marketing and PR, liaising with the box office, networking and putting together a team to realise her artistic ambitions.

TW: Tell us a bit about your background, how did you get into theatre production?
KT: I studied music at university but realised that I didn’t want to teach or perform. I did an admin internship at Symphony Hall in Birmingham and worked for classical music organisations including The Royal Scottish National Orchestra. I then spent nine years producing shows for Youth Music Theatre UK before going freelance three years ago.

TW: How did you start working with Mairi?
KT: Mairi and I first met in 2010 when she wrote the music for a show I produced for YMT, and we worked on a couple of others together too. When I went freelance she was making her first theatre piece ‘Pulse’ and we started working together. My background in music and theatre makes us a good fit.

TW: How does working on projects with a performer like Mairi compare to producing more conventional ensemble theatre pieces?
KT: Fundamentally, I don’t think it is that different. Ultimately producing anything involves the same nuts and bolts – for a show to work, all the pieces of the jigsaw have to be in place.

I have a background in music and I enjoy working with an artist for whom that is a starting point. Her theatre work is devised from her own experiences and having spent a number of years producing new and devised musical theatre I have a good understanding of her process.

But, ultimately, her aim is the same as any other performer in any other artform – to create pieces of work that are artistically satisfying for audiences.

TW: How does producing theatre at the Fringe compare to producing theatre elsewhere?
KT: The scale of the competition. The market is huge so, to make an impact in it, really you have to have done all the early preparation. I regularly go back to the Fringe guidelines for performers just to check I have covered everything! Also, the majority of us are creating work on a small scale with small teams, so don’t have the luxury of marketing or press teams. You have to be prepared to take on things you might not normally do and may not feel skilled at.

TW: Do you think you have an advantage at the Edinburgh Festival if you are based in Scotland?
KT: Definitely. It makes a huge difference financially as all the team working on Mairi’s show are based in Edinburgh or pretty locally and don’t need accommodating in the city for three or four weeks, which makes a massive difference to the budget. Also, Mairi is an established Scotland-based artist, so we have a very supportive local audience who want to see and hear her. As a producer it is lovely to know that we have that to build on before we even open a show.

TW: What are the hardest things about producing theatre at the Fringe?
KT: The competitive market is the most daunting thing and keeping other shows success stories in perspective when it seems that all around you people maybe doing better. I always have to remember that all the stories around other shows are the ones that the producers, PRs or venues want you to hear! Also, maintaining the energy and momentum of the beginning of a run for three weeks and keeping healthy while doing so is hard.

TW: What tips would you have for performers or theatre companies bringing their first show to the Festival?
KT: Really know your reason for coming – ie is it about raising press profile, connecting with promoters, building audiences, and so on. Obviously it will probably be a combination of these things, but if you have a main outcome for your time on the Fringe clearly in mind, your work around the show will be more focused.

Know that, as a producer, your role really will be all things to all people. If you are bringing your first show with very tight finances, stress levels will be high and part of your job will be keeping everyone on an even keel and calm about all the money they could lose, all the press they might not get, all the people who aren’t coming. You have to hold lots of hands.

TW: How should a performer or company go about picking and pitching to a venue?
KT: Look at a variety of things when you are identifying where your show might sit both logistically and artistically. For example: is there a focus on new writing or a specific artform? Is it a curated or non-curated programme? Look at previous years to see how your show might fit. Think about the audience capacity of the spaces you are considering and if you can realistically get a good number of folk in. I also like to look at how a venue’s programme is marketed – is it an appealing brochure or website that you can find your way around and is it appealing to read or look at.

When it comes to pitching the show, think about the work you want to bring and find the elements that are unique, sellable and align with other aspects of a venue’s programme; highlight your previous artistic track record; if you have had good press in the past incorporate that into you pitch. If you know who your audience is or is likely to be, let venues know this – it will be reassuring for them to know you have thought about your offer from all aspects.

TW: What do you need to be aware of logistically speaking when producing shows at the Fringe?
KT: Practically speaking, know the geography of the city and where you are staying in relation to your performance space – late night taxis are very expensive! The traffic can be awful and roads that were previously open might now be closed when you need to do a load in, plus parking is a nightmare and Edinburgh traffic wardens are FIERCE! Access into a venue can be tricky too and can involve many steps; understand what a ten-to-fifteen minute get in and get out really means in relation to your cast and set and so on.

TW: And how can you make your show stand out for all the others?
KT: Bring the best work you can – so that press and word of mouth reviews really work for you. Spend time on the image for your show – don’t underestimate the power of a strong visual. Embrace promotional opportunities that might result in spreading the word. Get to know your audience so you can target your flyering.

TW: Finally, what advice would you have for anyone pursuing a career in theatre production?
KT: Producing theatre is fun, there is nothing more satisfying that sitting at the back of an auditorium knowing that you were instrumental in making a show happen. Find out what you like artistically, see lots of work, build your network and remember that admin roles will be giving you great transferrable skills that you can apply to producing theatre. And don’t be afraid to ask what might seem like daft questions!

‘Mairi Campbell: Auld Lang Syne’ is on at the Scottish Storytelling Centre until 27 Aug.