Offstage Insights: Head of Producing

Introducing Zoe Fox, Head of Producing here at Theatre Royal.


How long have you worked in the theatre industry?

I have worked in the arts for 17 years, and solely within theatre for the last 11 years.


How long have you worked at Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds?

Coming up to 2 years now. I started with the Cinderella auditions in July 2021.


What is your role in the theatre?

I am Head of Producing at the theatre.


What are your main responsibilities?

I produce the three in-house productions which fall in Spring (The Children, 2023), Summer (The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, 2023)  and Christmas (Snow White, 2023). I also produce Theatre Royal’s Christmas Cabin in Charter Square. I am also responsible for managing the Artist Network, an annual programme that supports and connects local theatre professionals for example organising bi-monthly meetups, or arranging masterclasses. On top of this, I am the Safeguarding Lead at the theatre and I also oversee anything that sits on our main stage and is run by Theatre Royal, so this could include fundraising events or Youth Theatre showcase events.

It is quite hard to define the role of a producer as it can be very varied. After 11 years in the job I am still not able to succinctly describe it I’ll defer to an industry definition, someone who is “responsible for making arrangements for every aspect of the production in order to prepare it for presentation to the public on stage, subsequently managing it during the course of its production run and finally making all necessary closure arrangements”.

In short, as the producer, I am involved from the very start, in the initial conversations about the choice of play or, if it is new writing, the subject matter. At this early stage I am considering whether it will work for our audiences, on our stage. The next consideration is the budget, what can we afford? Once we have agreed the title and the budget I can start to assemble the creative team. In the case of The Children this team consists of Sound Designer, Lighting Designer, Set & Costume Designer and crew. With the team in place, the first task is for us to agree the Set & Costume with the Designer, looking at what we want to achieve on stage. From here the Designer creates a model box (you can read about this process on the next page). As the producer I oversee the process from set design to sourcing a rehearsal venue right through to making sure the cast have digs close to the theatre and organising much-needed post show drinks for opening night! During rehearsals I act as an outside eye, dipping in and out; I make sure the cast are looked after; keep the production on budget; work with marketing team to maximise ticket sales and support the Director if he needs it.


How did you get into this role?

I studied Devising Theatre and Visual Arts at University, Dartington College of Arts. After this I did some unpaid work experience at a number of arts organisations. I then phoned (due to the confidence I had at 22!)  Marcus Davey, AD and CEO of The Roundhouse in Camden and asked him if I could come and do work experience. We both studied at the same small University and so I leant into this. In my naivety when he asked me what area I was interested in,  I said “events” and so this led me into a 6-month unpaid internship at The Roundhouse in the complete wrong department! I was working in the corporate events team supporting on large-scale, very high-end events. For context the Roundhouse cost £40k a night to hire at the time. After realising this wasn’t where I wanted to be… I cosied up to the Development (fundraising) team and landed my first paid role as Gala Administrator. I ran the first ever fundraising Gala for the Roundhouse, the tickets were £500 and so I had meetings with Guy Chambers, walked around the building with Antony Gormley deciding where to erect his £100k sculpture that he had donated to the auction, tastings with one of the UK’s 12 billionaires at the time – it was an eye-opening job! I continued wo work with this team for three years working in all areas of fundraising, particularly major giving and consistently within events. I then decided to leave and work as a Freelance Events and Arts Producer due to the number of offers I was receiving and my desire for change, I did this for three years working with clients including Artichoke, Shakespeare’s Globe, Young Vic. In 2011 I moved to Ireland for love and after freelancing for a few arts organisations including the Belfast International Festival I started working for one of Belfast’s leading independent theatre companies Kabosh. I was the General Manager and Producer and stayed there for 8 years, important to note as a woman if you want children you quite often have to factor this into your career which is why I stayed in this role for this period. I learnt a huge amount about both producing theatre, the fundraising that is involved, the logistics of touring work internationally, as well as how to run a £300k business essentially, the finances, HR and policies. After COVID we chose to move back to England (I now had two children), and I applied for the role of Producer at the Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. And here I am!


Do you remember what applying for your job felt like?

Quite often when you are applying to the right job it is a lot easier, and I remember feeling like this when I was applying for this role. When you are the right fit and have the right experience and passion for the organisation it makes the whole process a lot simpler. From the application to the interviews.


What’s your favourite part about your job?

Probably casting and the first day of rehearsals when the whole creative team, cast and staff team come together and read through the play for the first time. Often for me, I have read this script over and over, talked about the production for months on end, so to finally get everyone in the room and see the play come to life is a very rewarding moment.


How many people are in your team?

I am a team of one! Although I work very closely with our AD & CEO Owen Calvert-Lyons who directs our in-house productions so we feel like a team. I also work with a lot of other departments so often become honorary members of their teams at different points throughout the year.


What is your top tip/s for someone looking to get into your role?

If you feel you have enough understanding of what the role is you could look as Producing Assistant roles potentially. I got into this role when I quite quickly realised after graduating that I couldn’t cut it as a performer and I was much more interested in the producing side. So the great thing about the early stages of my career was that they gave me a great foundation in two of the essentials skills needed as a theatre producer – fundraising and finance. I had to do some manoeuvring to get where I wanted to be but through working in events I learnt how important detail is when both planning and budgeting, fundraising is incredibly important in theatre producing.


Do you need any qualifications to get into this role? If so, what would you suggest?

I think it depends on where you would like to work. For example, I have friends who are Producers who live in Scotland bringing joy to small audiences through shadow puppetry in village halls. You could start your own theatre company and gain a huge amount of experience that way. I gained this experience through studying at university where I essentially did exactly that, whilst also learning about other practitioners and honing my skills as a theatre maker and performer. I didn’t do very well in my A levels due to the death of my father, when I was in the privileged position of deciding whether to go to university or not my mum took the pressure off and told me that university was more of a stop gap between school and working and to go and enjoy the lifestyle, which I did! So I think if you have a basic understanding of maths and English and a passion for the arts I think you could probably look at other ways of becoming a theatre producer without a degree.


What has been your favourite production at Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds?

I was very proud of what Owen and I achieved on The Children by Lucy Kirkwood. I loved everything about the production we had a great creative team working on it and I was particularly proud of the incredible cast that we brought in. For me this wasn’t about the large audience that Imogen Stubbs, Gillian Bevan and Michael Higgs pulled into the theatre but I just loved to marvel at their ability as actors on the stage and throughout the rehearsal period.


What is your favourite theatre phrase/word? E.g. proscenium, upstage, rig…

Hmm, pub? Sold out? 5 stars? I do quite like the phrase fourth wall – “The fourth wall is a performance convention in which an invisible, imaginary wall separates actors from the audience.” I think that is quite a cool concept, both to play with as a theatre maker as well as the definition itself.

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