Welcome to another instalment of Backstage and Beyond, a series of interviews in which we talk to theatre professionals about their job roles. We all know what an actor does, but it takes a lot more than just the people on stage to make a show. Please join us as we quiz people in all sorts of cool theatre jobs on their work, what it involves, and how you could do the same. In this instalment, we talk to Monique Foulger, Senior Production Assistant at Investec Opera Holland Park.
Opera Holland Park presents an annual festival of opera in Holland Park in West London. Typically we produce 4 new productions, with shows running from the end of May to the beginning of August each summer. I work in the Production team – we are a team of 4 who oversee everything, from planning what operas we will perform, approving the designs and concepts from the Director and Designer, through to ensuring all the necessary seasonal staff is booked, we have suitable places to rehearse in, and the shows run smoothly.
As we are such a small team, my job involves many elements of the planning and artistic process and it would be tricky to list everything I do, but here are some of my key roles:
Creating contracts for the 200+ freelance individuals who work with us over the season, including singers, designers, pianists, costume supervisors, stage technicians, etc.
Arranging auditions. We run auditions from September and throughout the autumn and winter, often still hearing people in the new year. I book the room for the auditions, and a pianist, and then access the suitability of candidates and arrange auditions for those we want to hear. On the day I greet the singers as they arrive.
Making offers to artists and agents and negotiating on fee and time.
I studied Drama & Theatre Studies followed by a Masters in Creative Producing at the University of Kent. I met my current boss whilst on my Masters and wrote into Opera Holland Park asking for a work placement. In 2013, I did three weeks of work experience there and was asked back to work over the summer season. At the end of that season, the Production Assistant at the time left and I got that job. I became the Senior Production Assistant in 2015 when we expanded to take on another Production Assistant, who I would be training and managing.
No two days are completely the same, and I don’t have a routine structure to my days. Out of season, I am based at our office 10.30am-6pm, responding to emails and completing administrative tasks as necessary. When rehearsals start, in April, I try to get down to the rehearsal room for an hour or two about twice a week. Once rehearsals on stage and performances start, I am based at the theatre quite a lot. Over the season, I am working most evenings and weekends, so there’s not much time for a social life!
I love overseeing every aspect of a production and watching it come together, as that is something you don’t get the chance to do when you are involved in only one element of it. And because my role is so varied, it keeps me engaged and interested.
The worst part of my job is probably dealing with difficult situations – as one of the first ports of call for the seasonal staff, issues sometimes arise that I have to deal with, including personality clashes and inappropriate behaviour. It can be difficult to know the right thing to do when faced with a complaint especially when time is tight to get a production to the stage.
Get as much experience, and see as much theatre as you possibly can. Working for free and volunteering your time can be difficult, especially if you are balancing it with a job to make some money, but it is really important to show that you are passionate about a career in the arts and are keen to learn as much as you can. I receive hundreds of CVs from people looking to work with us, and a CV with no relevant work experience on it is unlikely to be considered.
Keeping up to date with theatre news, and seeing as much live performance as possible is really important too. An employer won’t believe you’re passionate about theatre if you haven’t seen anything in a long time. And it’s only after exploring the whole spectrum of what is on offer that you know what it is you like and don’t like, and all that influences you as a potential theatre-maker.
We are so lucky in the UK, and particularly in London, to have such a high standard and wide range of theatre available to us, and I hope that this continues. I’m worried when I read about creative subjects being cut back from the curriculum, and I think it is a very blinkered approach to not see how culture and the arts benefit us all. I hope that those attitudes change over time and young people continue to be encouraged to express themselves creatively and forge careers in the arts.
Photo Credit: Bob Workman