Stage One 2020: Producer Profile with Joseph Smith
Those of you who are new to us may not know Joe, who has been heading up Stage One for almost 10 years. Fitting with Stage One’s ethos, we believe that the person to lead on the charity's programmes should be an active member of the producing industry and Joe is no exception.
Alongside Stage One, Joe is the co-owner of Smith & Brant, the producers behind the multi-awarding winning production Come From Away, here in the West End, on Broadway, in Toronto, across the USA and now Australia. He juggles this alongside his role as Producer for Rocket Stage which we hear more about later.
Joe has always been a part of the theatre and would dip in and out of roles on and off stage before finding his feet as a producer. Moving to Norfolk in his childhood, his mum went on to take over a disused Methodist chapel and turn it into a theatre in the rural village of Westacre in Norfolk. Joe remains inspired by what this small, local and rural theatre has had in shaping and guiding his theatre career.
He started his career at the National Theatre after graduating university - first in the education department but eventually as a key part of their in-house producing team. The connection to Rocket Stage also began in the earlier part of Joe's career when he met Elton John when working on the Broadway transfer of Billy Elliot in 2008. This production also led Joe to Old Vic Productions (now Greene Light Stage), leading the team in producing a wealth of productions including the Olivier Award-winning Jerusalem and Clybourne Park.
Joe has been an integral part of a shift in Stage One, as our development programmes have doubled in number during his time here. He was also instrumental in developing the One Stage season in 2014, mentoring the three producers as they took on their projects at The Other Palace (then, the St James Theatre). In the Q&A below we speak to Joe about his plans for Stage One this year...
Before we dive into plans for this decade, do you have any personal highlights from 2019?
Come From Away winning 4 Olivier's and being so proud of recognition. Also, later in the year, it was a pleasure to work with John Malkovich who lead the company of Bitter Wheat faultlessly.
Come From Away has been a resounding success. Can you pick out one moment developing that show which is a highlight for you?
The first previews of the London production. It was packed and we had to all watch standing in the circle. The show finished, lights came up for the curtain call and there was a roar like I've never heard before in a theatre. Everyone jumped to their feet and have done at the end of the show for every performance we've done in the West End so far.
2019 was a busy year for Smith & Brant with rounding up True West & Abigail's Partyas well as the West End premieres of Come From Away, Bitter Wheat & Ghost Stories. But can you explain a little more about your day-to-day role at Rocket Stage?
Rocket Stage is the theatrical arm of Elton John and David Furnish's production company; Rocket Entertainment. We are currently in development for two musicals; one to open in London next year and one that's further off in terms of debut. As producer, I am developing both scripts with the writers, working to put the creative teams together and working on all contractual matters. Also, Elton is composing for one of the projects this Spring so I hope to be in the studio to see that creative process which feels really exciting.
We launched two new schemes last year and were heavily invested in the first full year of our Bridge The Gap programme... and we're not slowing down. What are you looking forward to for Stage One this year?
A few things: Welcoming the Exchange participants to London and immersing them in how we work in West End. The 3 day producer's workshops are always a highlight - I learn so much from the participants each time. I also think the latest Bridge The Gap producers are a cracking bunch so I'm looking forward to being a part of their development this year.
You started toying with the idea of formalising a US/UK Producer exchange a few years ago and it has finally come together as Stage One's latest development programme. Why do you think the exchange is important for the industry?
We have to share knowledge to be better producers. We are in uncertain times and who knows what the next year will hold in terms of change. It's important we keep looking outward to collaborate and learn.
When would you say is the right time for a producer to start exploring Broadway?
It's never too early but you must seek guidance and advice from other producers and key US professionals first. The financial rewards can be much greater but so can the risks.
Any new years resolutions?
My resolution is to remain passionate in what I do and to always be open to learning. If either of those things falter, it's time to stop!
How do you feel we should approach 2020 as an industry?
I want Stage One to aspire to make larger shifts in increasing diversity in the producing industry. We’re continuing to develop our Bridge The Gap programme to address this challenge and offer solutions to the barriers emerging producers face in accessing the commercial sector. Through tailored masterclasses, training and mentoring as well as the vital financial support for expenses, our 10 producers on the programme are developing their projects and we’re already seeing some come to fruition this year. And all this is not only to support these (and all) producers in initially navigating the commercial world but also, to champion their journey in becoming potential leaders of this industry in the years and decades to come. It’s hopefully about legacy, yes, individually but also what are we giving back to leave the industry in a better, more welcoming and more accessible place? That's something we should all be thinking about alongside the successes we hope to have as commercial producers.