Theatre production manager

 3 February 2011

Katrina Gilroy is Production Manager at the National Theatre. She describes the theatre production process and the role of production manager.

The job of a production manager

"Once a design comes together with the director and a designer, we go through various stages. I would normally phone a designer is saying, 'Can I come and listen to your ideas?' and they might start to say things like 'It's going to be modern, it's in the moment' or they might say it's period, which just gives you the indicators of where you might be going.

"My role is to oversee productions coming through and putting them onto stage at the National, or take them on tour."

"My next thing is normally a white card. The white card is shaping maybe what the materials are. You can't see them, but you can start to discuss it.

"So in terms of 'Phedre', I had some fantastic photographs with the designer. We were starting to talk about what the materials might be, where they are in relationship to the building and whether we were going to be able to do it.

"Then I very quickly involve the heads of department. That journey goes on from the time we call 'design finish' right the way through construction, painting and then moving it onto the stage.

"So the designer I work with is probably as close as anybody in the entire project: listening to what they want, making sure we can afford it, and that we can do it in the time we're allowing ourselves to do it in."

The changing role of a production manager

"When I started out, you didn't train to be a production manager. In the last four to five years, that's actually changed, in many ways because of legislation and health and safety.

"You need a sense of what everybody does when you're a production manager. Understanding goes a long way."

"Also our construction has become increasingly more sophisticated and more demanding. Our designers are more demanding of us and I would say that scenery has moved on in a huge way.

"That needs to be supported, we're looking after our performers and company. That role is also taken on by the production manager."

Getting into theatre production

"When I started, I genuinely didn't know what the role of production manager was. Those were the days when each city and town had a theatre, and there were more opportunities for people just to go into the theatre without having to train.

"I was very fortunate, I went to the National Youth Theatre. Then I studied at the London Academy of Dramatic Art as a stage manager with technical training. Over a period of time I've been in repertory theatre, I've worked in the West End. Seven years ago I came to the National Theatre as a production manager.

"If you are going to be a production manager, what are your strengths going to be? Because a production manager can have strengths in putting shows in which are high-tech, with lots of video, lots of lighting.

"Or you can be a production manager that makes sure the aspects of the show and company are taken on board. So your skills can, and do vary. So production managers have different strengths.

"You need to have a sense of what everybody does when you're a production manager. So you can have an understanding when they're saying, 'This is a very tight, silly deadline' or 'It's impossible for us to do this'. Understanding goes a long way."

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