Production Manager Grace Duff, who is working with our Young Company, shares her top tips about starting out as a production manager for theatre.
TARA THEATRE: How would you describe the role of the production manager?
GRACE: I started my journey into theatre as a performer. I’ve played musical instruments since a young age and always loved being on stage. When I was at high school I started to get involved with the backstage roles and decided to apply for drama school. I ended up attending Guildhall School of Music and Drama where I completed my degree in Theatre Technology. Whilst at Guildhall I had the opportunity to production manage multiple shows and I really loved the role! I enjoy how varied the role can be and how each production presents me with a new set of challenges to test my problem-solving skills. Since graduating I have worked in theatre and live events, including festivals, corporate launches and live music concerts.
TARA THEATRE: How did you first get into production management? What has been your personal journey into becoming a production manager?
GRACE: My journey into sound design actually started in film and performance! I’ve always wanted to write music for film and began my theatre career as a performer, and hence my sound design/composition career sort of met in the middle. I started in small pub/fringe theatre shows and gradually worked my way to where I am now.
TARA THEATRE: Who does the production manager work most closely with during a production?
GRACE: The nature of the role means that PMs tend to work quite closely with the whole production team, as it’s important for them to have a good understanding of what each department is doing and what progress they are making. Production managers and stage managers work very closely together as a lot of their responsibilities overlap; for example, the SM and PM will need to discuss schedules and ensure that everyone is on the same page about what progress needs to be made, especially during tech rehearsals. It’s also important for the PM to work closely with the director and designer so that they have accurate knowledge of what the show needs to look like and what it is trying to achieve.
TARA THEATRE: What are the top 3 skills that a good production manager should have?
GRACE: Firstly, a production manager should be well-organised. There can be a lot happening to keep on top of and being able to organise your paperwork and time well will make the job much easier! Good communication is also an important skill to have. The production manager is the central point of contact between all of the departments, so being able to communicate clearly and effectively is essential. The third top skill I’d say is to have a good balance of realism and creativity. As a PM, you need to be able to think creatively to help solve problems/challenges however you also need to know when a concept would be too expensive or take too much time to justify.
TARA THEATRE: What are some steps early career production managers can take to improve their skills?
GRACE: My top tip for developing your production management skills (or skills in any department for that matter!) is to observe and ask questions. Watching the process of the people you are working with can give you a great insight into how to handle the role in different situations. You can learn so much by simply asking “why did you make that decision?” or “what are the benefits of doing it this way?”. Doing assistant roles is also a great way to develop your skills. My skills and confidence improved dramatically after completing my first few production assistant jobs as I got first-hand experience of the process a production manager goes through.
TARA THEATRE: What are some of the ways you can get into production management in the theatre industry?
GRACE: Like I said before, working as a production assistant is a great way to learn about the process and to get yourself out there. Getting involved in theatre in any way you can is a great place to start. Even if you are not working in production management directly, simply being present in the room will present plenty of opportunities to meet and talk to people who may help advance your career. Networking really is key!
TARA THEATRE: Where do you find inspiration?
GRACE: I try to go to as many events and theatre shows as I can to see what’s going on in our industry at the moment, and I’m constantly taking inspiration from the people I work with!
TARA THEATRE: In what ways are you making your practice more sustainable?
GRACE: A great first step to take that I have been trying to implement into my practice for a few years now is to really consider the where you are sourcing set materials and props from and what their afterlife is once the show has finished. Productions far too commonly buy brand new materials, only to throw them away once the show is over! I’ve been trying to source as much second hand as possible; sites like set exchange are a great place to start finding these materials. Considering where your materials go after the production is something I encourage people to do as well. Whether it’s donating the materials to friends, selling them on or using them again on your next production.
TARA THEATRE: What is one thing you wish you knew when you were making your first steps into a production management career?
GRACE: Your technical skills and knowledge are great and very important but your people skills and how you present yourself makes all the difference. Having a sense of humour, being approachable and being able to stay calm under pressure will make you stand out as a manager. As a PM, you play a massive part in setting the tone of the working environment. A smile goes a long way!
Grace Duff is a freelance production manager and video technician working in theatre and live events. After graduating from Guildhall School of Music & Drama with a BA(Hons) degree in Production Arts: Theatre Technology, she has worked on a variety of productions including Download Festival (production assistant), Latitude Festival (stage manager), Artists Make Space with Tara Theatre (assistant production manager), Ennio Morricone at the O2 Arena (production assistant) and Soft Cell USA tour (video engineer). She is also a casual at the Barbican and Young Vic theatres. Production managing large scale music events and theatre shows is the long-term ambition for her career, however for the time being she happy experiencing a range of roles and continually developing her confidence, skill base and network.
The Tara Theatre Young Company will perform their original devised show on 18-22 April. Find out more and book below.