As the Unlimited commissions selected in 2015 are swinging into full production, it’s clear that the artist/producer tandems that lead them are key to a smooth creative process. Katherine Araniello, commissioned for The Dinner Party (Revisited) in 2014, shares some thoughts and learning about working with a producer for the first time.
Working with a producer
Katherine had never worked with a producer before and this process showed her how invaluable they can be to a project such as this, involving a range of partners and with such high stakes – it was the first time Southbank Centre had programmed such a piece of live art work for one of their main stages. As Katherine said, “the Unlimited commission made me realise that one needs to have on board a producer who is experienced with the workload of producing on such a scale and understands the work… to find someone who will work with me to put in place an infrastructure of the right people with adequate skills and commitment to the work; so that the burden of the many tasks involved in creating and managing such a complex piece of performance would be shared and delegated to the appropriate people.”
Balancing work between artists and producers is complex – sometimes it’s hard for artists to ‘step back’ and relinquish control, especially if they’ve not worked with a producer before. Equally, it can be easy to assume that the producer will do all aspects of the work, when some might be best suited to the artist themselves. Clear communication is key: “At one point in the creative process, the work division between myself (as the lead artist), the producer, and other team members, became unclear, leading to complications in the delivery of the project. While there were written agreements in place, the tasks were sometimes not clear enough and we had to re-negotiate responsibilities. This taught me the necessity to lay out the terms of the working relationship in the most comprehensive way possible so that there is no room for misunderstanding.”
At Unlimited we recommend artists take this one step further and ensure that a written contract between artists and producers laying out exactly who is responsible for delivering what by when. Might sound dull but can be useful when tensions emerge.
Scale and ambition versus realisation of an idea
In the process of Katherine’s Unlimited commission, she realised how beneficial it was to remain committed to her original idea – and not to be overly ambitious to the point of potential failure. “I learned that I should trust in my original convictions for the work and not necessarily expand on them too much, especially on the same budget as was constructed for the original concept. Many of the issues that arose with managing the budget were as a result of expansion of the work beyond the means.”
Careful consideration around the potential for development is important, balancing ambition and escalation against editing and refining. Both the artist and the producer’s perspective here can be key.
Working with a production manager
Works across all artforms can benefit from the involvement of a producer, and sometimes, depending on scale and complexity, a production manager is also useful. This was the case for Katherine: “Logistically, the production was very complicated and required a lot of management of the technical/production elements, including a lot of innovative technology (which was therefore prone to problems) and complex communications between two venues. These complications highlighted the importance of myself and the producer working closely with technical/production/ stage manager in order to adequately plan, manage and deliver the complexity of the events and the work at hand, including overseeing the larger team working on the ground.”
The same rules apply about choosing wisely, building trust and ensuing good communication – in writing when required. It’s not always easy expanding the scale that artists are used to and finding the right people to work with can be a challenge. But when it works – as in Katherine’s case – it can be extremely worthwhile.
Many thanks to Katherine Araniello for letting us share her tips on working with a producer, gathered from her evaluation report. You can access The Dinner Party Revisited Publication with colour photos throughout plus 2 PAL DVD (Audio Description option and subtitles) published by LADA here: [link]