Admin producer at The Barbican

 8 February 2011

Malin Forbes works for Barbican International Theatre Events (BITE). When first trying to break into theatre, she spent two years living hand-to-mouth.

Wind Shadow performed by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan. Photo by LIU Chen-hsiang.
Wind Shadow performed by Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan. Photo by LIU Chen-hsiang.

Working as an administrative producer

Malin is one of three people in an administrative producer role, all working for the Barbican’s Head of Theatre.

“I didn't enjoy being a freelancer. So when I saw an ad for the Barbican stage crew, I thought ‘it’s a foot in the door’."

“I have anything from three to ten projects on the go each season. I’m always working on different stages of planning, from a show that will be staged next month, to something we’re looking at for two to three years from now.

“Very far out, you’re looking at scheduling and rough budgets. A lot of the details are worked out the negotiation of the contracts. Closer in, I ask questions like ‘can the technicians arrive two days earlier than the original start date? Can the actors come two days later?’

“Internally there are a number of departments that need to work together to make a piece of theatre happen: the technical department, box office, press, marketing, front of house and so on.

"As Admin Producer I need to make sure everyone is up-to-date, as well as solve any potential problems. Budgeting is always very important. And once a company is performing, there’s also a lot of effort in making sure they are happy and looked after.”

Marketing for theatre events

Marketing is a big part of Malin’s role. “We’re doing the catalogue for the next season at the moment. I coordinate between press, marketing and my companies. The amount of work is varied.

"Some touring companies, especially the more established, already have their imagery, their copy, their technical specs – it’s all ready to go. Newer ones don’t usually have that level of organization, and sometimes we need to organise photoshoots for the shows.

“Negotiating the imagery and branding can be tricky. The Barbican has a house style, as do the companies. But I’m the central contact for the company with The Barbican, so it’s my job to negotiate a compromise.”

Nearly every year, the BITE team develop a project from scratch. “It definitely adds to the workload. But it’s exciting work and we all feel passionate about doing it. Everyone pitches in. Typically we start with a director, or a writer and the creative team and cast and everything else follows on from that.”

How does BITE decide which shows to work on? “I’m part of the programming team and we are sent heaps of DVDs in the post. Between us, we watch all of them. We travel to see work, and trawl the festivals. Or we’ll invite a company to pitch based on an ongoing relationship. And other shows are recommended by colleagues in the industry.”

Getting into theatre

“I’m always working on different stages of planning, from a show that will be staged next month, to something we’re looking at for two to three years from now."

“I always thought I wanted to a theatre designer. But my first step was an access course as a mature student at Hoxton Hall, London. Then I applied to university via community theatre, doing theatre studies – technical arts.

“My first theatre job out of university was as a stage manager for two shows at the Edinburgh Festival. It was a pretty hand-to-mouth couple of years. At one point I was running the site office at Glastonbury and Ministry of Sound at Knebworth, or making £100 a week from working for theatre companies. Most of my rent was paid by working in bars, or I was working at a sandwich shop or a café at a health club.

“I don’t think I enjoyed being a freelancer. It was such a constant fight to make the rent. So when I saw an ad for the Barbican stage crew, I thought ‘screw it, it’s a foot in the door’. From there, a job came up for a theatre assistant. I got that. And then I left the Barbican to go to Brussels with my then-husband – I became an accountant for the British Embassy.”

That marriage ended, she says. “And the Barbican let me come back as an assistant. Then the job titles changed: we were all semi-promoted. One of the administrative producers left, I applied for his job and got it. Now I’m one of three administrative producers reporting to the Head of Theatre. There are also three administrators and an assistant in the team.

“It’s not a 9 to 5 job. The official hours are 10am to 6pm but I work more time than that. When there’s a production on, I do a lot at night and weekends. I’ll meet the company at their hotel when they first arrive. I’ll see the previews, a few shows in the run itself, the press performance, the aftershow talks. But of course, this is the whole reason I work in theatre, so the main thing is to manage work time around that.”

Advice for working in theatre

Satisfaction is important. “Your driving force has to be a wish to do interesting work. The Barbican is good at growing people, and I’d be happy to stay here a long time.

“It’s because the projects are so interesting. For me, that’s a huge part of why I do what I do. It can take a long while to break into theatre, but knowing your stuff and determination goes a long way.”


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