Want my job? with Christina Poulton, arts project manager and theatre producer

"Most arts jobs aren’t advertised and your way in will often be through a last minute, short term role offered as a result of you volunteering or being in the right place at the right time. Make sure you are in that place!"

Want my job? with Christina Poulton, arts project manager and theatre producer

Could you first introduce yourself to the reader?

My name is Christina and I’m a freelance (self employed) arts project manager and theatre producer. I work with individual artists and theatre companies to support the process of making a new show and get the show out on tour. I also work with arts organisations to help them develop their work, focusing on fundraising, finance and setting up new projects. I’m based in Gloucestershire but because of the wonders of the internet, I work with people all over the country. 

What does your job involve? Give us the typical outline of a day?

If I’m working on a tour then I usually spend a lot of time on email or on the ‘phone with venues to confirm our technical requirements and working on the plan for marketing the shows. It’s a combination of working directly with the artists – which includes planning the show, applying for funding, supporting rehearsals or opening nights – and working with the other partners involved such as the venues, funders and rest of the creative team (director, designer etc).

I work at home so I tend to get up and start work early, still in my pyjamas and get tasks done and then do something like go for a run later on to break up the day. I have made an office space at home which I love and I get lots done working like that, but I do sometimes arrange to work in a coffee shop with other freelance friends for company. If I’m working with an arts organisation on a project then I usually work in their offices or have meetings for that. I often work on six or seven projects at a time so I use an app to track the work I have done on each.

What’s great about your job?

I have a very short attention span, so working on lots of different things and each day being different is perfect for me. I enjoy the flexibility of being freelance – the other day I was working with a colleague on a project and it was really hot so we decided to have a planning meeting whilst going swimming! I’ve found most people in the arts are great to work with, I think because the arts encourages creativity and looking at things differently. The other important aspect though is that I work on projects I really believe in. Theatre and the arts have the power to bring joy, change perspectives and make the world a better place and it’s a complete privilege to work with such passionate people and amazing artists to make that happen. 

What are the bits you don’t like or find challenging?

It’s very easy to end up working very long hours and for your job to take over your life. If a show is happening on a certain date then tasks have to be done by then and it’s a big responsibility to be the one making sure that everything happens as it should. Often a show will be very important to that artist and you’re the one making sure that this project they have put their heart and soul into happens as they want it to, so it can get quite stressful. 

What are the highlights of your career to date?

I recently produced Vinnie Heaven’s show, She’s A Good Boy, about their experiences of being non-binary trans. It meant so much to the audience members who were seeing themselves represented on stage for the first time and for people who had never met anyone else who shared their experiences. We also livestreamed the show on Facebook for people who weren’t able to make it and the response was amazing. The whole project reminded me of the power of theatre to speak to people and create a shared experience, and how important diversity in theatre is. I was so proud to work on it.

What was your career path into this job?  Have you also worked outside the arts?

I did a lot of voluntary work while I was at University and just after graduating to build up experience, and then my first job was a part time community education role. Since then I have worked as a venue manager, programme manager, youth theatre leader, production coordinator, university lecturer and festival manager before focusing on theatre producing. I have done lots of different jobs, including some outside of the arts such as working on a web directory and running a children’s library. I have learned something different from every job and this helps the work I do now because the producer’s role combines so many things – practical, creative and financial. I worked for about 10 years in full time arts jobs before I went freelance so I built up a good network, and the bonus of this is that I’m now in a position to be able to choose the projects I work on.

Can you describe your biggest challenge so far in your career? How did you overcome it?

I’ve had challenges where someone has dropped out last minute and I’ve had to come up with quick backup plans or cover tasks myself but the main challenge for me is balancing life and work. When you’re really dedicated to what you do and when you have email and social media on your phone, it can be really hard not to let work take over. Last year I was stressed most of the time and kept getting ill and I think it was my body saying “you need to slow down!” So I’ve reduced the amount I do and said no to projects where there isn’t sufficient budget or timeframe. I also have an app on my ‘phone which switches off my access to email and social media at 9pm each evening. It’s made a huge difference. 

Have you noticed any changes in the industry? If so, what?

There’s some really good work being done to increase the diversity of the workforce in the arts and also on offering more paid training and internship opportunities. We have a long way to go and the industry is still weighted towards people who are white, middle class, and for certain roles, male. I am optimistic though that it’s moving in the right direction and if privilege and subconscious bias, the importance of representation and the value of diversity are recognised, openly discussed and acted upon by everyone involved, the creative industries will be better for it.

You’ve been granted the ability to send a message to 16-year-old you. What do you say?

“Arts management is a career”. I always loved theatre and since I was very young I thought I wanted to be an actress because that was the only job I knew that you could do in the theatre. It wasn’t until I was at University that I found out that managing theatre and festivals was a job in itself and combined my love of organising, working as a team under time pressure and being in amazing creative environments with brilliant people. 

Do you have any advice for young people interested in doing your kind of job?

Volunteer and take all the opportunities you can- training courses, workshops, networking events etc. Most arts jobs aren’t advertised and your way in will often be through a last minute, short term role offered as a result of you volunteering or being in the right place at the right time. Make sure you are in that place! 

Apply for things even if you aren’t sure if you will get them. I have previously interviewed people for a role that they weren’t right for yet, but then offered them something else instead. 

Go to networking events and tell people what you’re interested in and follow up with an email saying it was great to meet them and ask them if you can help out with anything. If you’re at a talk with someone whose job you’re interested in, thank them in person at the end and ask if they’d be up for going for a coffee to chat about what they do and how they got into it. 

Producer courses and workshops aren’t just about learning how to do it, they’re also an ideal way to make yourself known at the organisation who runs them and often include brokering work placements or mentoring. 

Volunteering allows you to build up a network, a track record and an understanding of how the industry works and also allows you to see what type of tasks and environments you enjoy the most. I’m not advocating for endless unpaid work and I know volunteering can be challenging if you have work or caring responsibilities. If that’s the case, shadowing someone for a day, ad hoc volunteering on shows at a theatre to fit around your availability or working on a weekend festival can all be as effective if you combine it with getting to know the people at the organisation you’re volunteering with and follow up with a thank you email and a request to meet for a chat to find out more about the type of work you’re interested in.


Christina has written a number of great resources for on funding your projects and theatre production. You can find them all on her Voice profile

Author

Tom Inniss

Tom Inniss Voice Team

Tom is the Editor of Voice. He is a politics graduate and holds a masters in journalism, with particular interest in youth political engagement and technology. He is also a mentor to our Voice Contributors, and champions our festivals programme, including the reporter team at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe..

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