On the 17th March, it will be exactly one year since UK theatre came to an overnight standstill. Every day as we approach the anniversary, Theatre Bubble will be releasing personal accounts from theatre makers across all areas of the industry, telling us what this unexpected and unprecedented year has been like for them. See the full series here: Hands Face & Empty Space
Emily Beecher: Writer, Performer, Podcaster and Producer
I was in my bedroom, standing by the window last April when I got a message telling me that our Arts Council England Project Grants application, which we were due to hear about two weeks later, had been cancelled. It was early in the first lockdown, back before we were broken by homeschooling and false claims that it would all be over soon. It took a moment before I realised that this cancelled funding meant all my work for months ahead was about to vanish too. I’m not going to lie, I cried that morning, clutching my phone to my chest.
When it came to theatre I had always been a reluctant producer. I had cut my teeth as a commercials, promo and content producer but being on set for 12 – 14 hour days is impossible as a single parent so I knew that wasn’t a sustainable career. After my daughter was born, I ended up writing The Good Enough Mums Club in response to my devastating postnatal depression & postpartum psychosis. It was hard trying to get producers on board for a musical about motherhood, created entirely by a group of women so I took up the mantel myself and joined forces with Sarah Shead and Jade Samuels, three working-class single mums running the show. In 2019 we’d completed a successful re-write to ensure race, sexuality and class were embedded in the script. 2020 was going to be the year we expanded the music and get ready to take the show into production.
As reluctant I was as a producer I was even more reluctant as a leader. I preferred to lead (if you could call it that!) by consensus, hiding behind other people’s experience and confidence. With all future planning erased, when ACE announced emergency funding I instinctively knew we needed to apply for the emergency funding but had never written a bid on my own. With the rest of the team swamped with their own work/unwork/homeschool/parenting situations I reached out to a fellow producer I had met as part of China Plate’s fantastic The Optimists producing course – Reece McMahon. Reece and I hadn’t met prior to the first optimistic (and completely blind to what was coming down the road) session in February but I knew we’d be friends the day we accidentally walked into traffic and were almost hit by a bus together. But mostly I knew from our sessions that Reece knew his way around an ACE application and I needed help. We pulled the application together and thankfully were successful in raising not just what we would have needed to do the activity we wanted to do but to also do more outreach to mums who were struggling like we all were in this strange new world.
Having worked so well together on the bid Reece came on board as Associate Producer and we were off. Over the next few months, working with Jade, Sarah and our amazing director Hannah Chissick we pulled together an incredible team – Verity Quade joined us as MD and arranger, working with Chris Passey and myself on music and lyrics, Heather Davina Campbell came on board as social media producer and in no time Jade and I found ourselves launching and hosting The Good Enough Mums Club podcast where we spoke to different mums every week about their experiences of motherhood. We hadn’t even finished our first season before we were recognised as the most diverse podcast about motherhood out there. I’m immensely proud of the podcast and how we shined a light on everything from baby loss to body image to rascism and ableism and I can’t wait to bring you Season 2 later this year.
Chris, Verity and I wrote new songs and Verity brought existing ones back to life. Verity and I then had the pleasure of working with none other than rising Brummie grime star Lady Sanity on a Grime/Musical Theatre mashup for Jade’s character Chantel. Tony award-winning orchestrator Sarah Travis came on board to do our orchestrations and we pulled together a kick ass cast including Maisey Bawden, Louise Dearman, Gemma Knight Jones, Dianne Pilkington and Jade.
After several weeks of will we/won’t we it was a gorgeous sunny day in September when the whole team descended on London to read/sing through the whole show. It was the first time a lot of us had been back in town since March. To say it was a joyous experience is an understatement.
Throughout this experience Reece and I, both independent producers, found that we worked exceptionally well with someone else to bounce ideas off. When we were allowed, we formed a bubble and Reece would join me, and my daughter, at my kitchen table,where we’d all work. We’re quite different producers (Reece is far more diplomatic than me!) and have very different backgrounds (me coming up in corporate environments and him being a venue based producer) but we realised early on that one of the difficulties of being an independent producer is that it can be lonely and isolating, no one necessarily has your back but working side by side we were able to brainstorm and help each other navigate the struggles of producing and pandemics. We’ve never seen a show together or grabbed a drink in a theatre bar but working together to help each other out we raised over £144k in the last year. We’re now looking at ways of how we can work together in the future, supporting even more artists between us but also how we can help other independent producers connect and benefit from working as we do.
It was Reece’s encouragement that led to me submitting a successful project grant for my own one-woman show called Summer Camp For Broken People which goes into R&D later next month looking at mental health and sexual assault. We’re also supporting five other artists in R&Ds between now and October.
The last year has seen as much time spent ‘unproducing’ as it has producing but it’s also been a year of breakthroughs, amazing work and finding the joy in not constantly working alone. As much as I’ve been reluctant as a producer and as a leader 2020 was the year I stepped up, found my own strength, embraced leading and finally fell in love with producing all over again.