Useful Advice on Co-productions

There are many good reasons to collaborate with other theatres – however money is rarely one of them. It will often be more expensive than anticipated when two organizations decide to enter a co-production, and you have to be very clear from the outset, what motivates your collaboration. Below you find useful advice that we have collected from experienced sources that have learnt what to look out for when co-producing.

The Idea

The foundations of a co-production should be a great artistic idea. Doing it for the money or because politicians are in favour, is not feasible.

Most of the people that I’ve experienced to leave a collaboration in disappointment, are people who start off by saying: “We’ll share the expenses with such and such a venue – and that’s all there is to it”, only that’s not how it works at all (…) One must start off by reaching some agreement about the aims of the production, i.e. applying artistic and not quantitative measures, find something that makes all the hassle worthwhile.

Values

The partners must agree on transparency and honesty throughout the entire project.

Reach an agreement from the very beginning. What is your role as a collaborator? Are you all in, or are you more “Well, we have an available theatre space. That’s all. You run the project”?

Balancing Your Values

Make sure you identify your different criteria for considering the project a success. The sooner this is defined, the easier transparency and honesty becomes.

I believe that one can simply decide to have a meeting – and it must be between the heads of the respective organisations, where one must discuss: what are the project’s criteria for success for the individual partners. It can be on a financial, artistic and audience or staff levels – and therefore vary. Maybe you disagree upon the criteria.
 

Competences

It is very important that the projects are afforded the competences needed and that this is secured early on in the process, enabling the relevant people time to negotiate their own networks etc.

The first thing we do is to clarify responsibilities. Very clear divisions of responsibility. Who is responsible for PR, marketing, ticket sales, production, technical things, set design etc., thus we'll have clear divisions of responsibility and clear lines of communication. Without this too much doesn’t get done or people forget things. Additionally we have production meetings at least twice a month, where all the leaders of the various departments assemble and discuss things over. This is an important meeting point.
 

Taking Care Of Problems

Almost all projects have an Achilles’ heel, a vulnerable point where things are not working out and this needs to be handled properly.

It’s about learning to put yourself in someone else’s place, seeing it from their perspective, rather than thinking in terms of ‘them and us’. And you have to respect their perspective just like they have to respect your perspective.

You must set up some clear rules from the beginning. It’s clear that collaborations require many changes along the way.
 
One of my obsessions is that all work is about initially taking the conversation that you find the most difficult and this applies to co-productions too: If there is an area you feel you should avoid talking about to the other partners, than that’s what you should be talking about.

Community

You have to invest time and energy in the project to become part of it. It’s not only about finances and branding.

I will never work with anyone merely for convenience or if I don’t believe that the final product could be fantastic.(...) No one in the audience will thank us for having a "nice" process that has been extremely flexible. The same applies to collaborations. No audience members or politicians or whoever will consider it a hard or great process, if the final result isn’t amazing too. So it has to be both.
 

Time

There has to be enough time. Preferably a minimum of twelve months from starting a project until it’s on stage, especially when co-producing. Communication between the different parties is vital and it often takes longer than you would be used to within your own organization. Avoiding misunderstandings takes time.

The most important thing in a good collaboration is probably time. Because without time collaborating can be hard. It’s tough if things don’t work well just because everyone is too busy. People get upset and frustrated, when things don’t work out as planned.

Communication

Communication is vital when trying to establish the best possible understanding between all parties. Really make an effort to ensure that you communicate about all matters, big and small. This helps create piece of mind. Make sure you have production meetings etc. where everyone involved can voice their opinion, and remember to distribute minutes from the meetings afterwards.

Time. Openness. A high degree of planning. And actually plenty of dialogue on how to talk (...) How quickly can you answer each other? (...) And how quickly does the project require us to respond? Set up a communication forum.
 

Changes

If there’s a good reason to change something, it should be done. This also holds true for co-productions.

Well, we have never attempted to make a project by numbers. We imagine the project to be dynamic and a bit organic etc., so it’s a good thing if things change… But the most important thing is to have a shared understanding of why things change.

‘The Jesper Larsson Model’

Jesper Larsson is currently manager of Malmö Stadsteater. He has previously worked at The Royal Opera in Denmark, at Malmö Opera and Ensemleteatern in Malmö and he has extensive experience within all areas of co-producing. Larsson has among other things been active in the Opera-Europe network, where he created a model of collaboration, which has since become known as ‘The Jesper Larsson Model’ (together with a project manager from Amsterdam).

The most important thing in almost any collaboration, but especially when co-producing a show, is that it becomes a ‘win-win’ - that all involved parties feel that it is a success for their organization.

Jesper Larsson’s basic philosophy when co-producing is that all involved parties much come out a winner, in other words, they all have to feel that they get something – and preferably something really good – out of the project. Or to put it another way, ‘If it’s not a win-win situation, it’ll be a loose-loose’ situation.

The model simply includes thinking about the performance’s further development as an integral part of the co-production. You have to locate things within the production that ensure that all parties get the best possible production. For example, one theatre will host the opening night, which includes much publicity, exposure and VIP audiences. However, the premiere is often the least artistically satisfying performance, as the show is not yet ‘quite there’. So ‘The Jesper Larsson Model’ is all about allocating a sum of money to develop the piece after the premiere to ensure that the following shows will be of a higher quality, because they are more carefully worked through and thus, the other producer(s) will also gain from the project.

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