What should a Producer study? A Producer’s curriculum in detail.

I got an email from a college student this week who knows she wants to be a Producer.  There’s no question about it. She’d declare it as a major . . . if she could.

Her school has a theater major and a business major but it doesn’t have a “producer’s track” . . . and not many do.  Even my alma mater only has a minor (and until we can turn Producing theater into a more stable and viable career choice, I’m not sure many will).

Since her school hasn’t spec’d out a plan for producers-to-be, she asked me what I thought she should study on her way through school.

As I’m sure you can imagine, I’m a big pusher for producers to take standard business courses as they’re coming up, from accounting to marketing to contract law (and there are still times I wish I had taken a few more myself).

But mostly I advised this focused young woman to take theater classes.  I told her to take a directing class, with people that want to be directors.  Take an acting class with actors.  Take a writing class with writers.  Take a design class with you-know-who and so on.

These are the people that are going to be on your team in the future.  Learn their language.  Learn what makes them tick.  Learn what they want out of a show.  And by doing so, you’ll learn how to help solve their problems.

Theater is one of the most collaborative art forms there is, and part of a Producer’s job is to make sure those collaborators are working at their absolute best with each other throughout the long process of developing and putting on a show.  By making an effort to learn their craft, and by understanding more of what they go through on a day-by-day basis, you’ll be able to earn more of their respect . . . and you’ll be able to help them do their best work.

Oh, and another part of a Producer’s job is to be able to spot talent.  By sitting in these classes, you’ll have the inside scoop on tomorrow’s superstars.

That’s right . . . the next Tony Kushner, Joe Mantello and Al Pacino are sitting in a class somewhere this very second.

By sitting among them, you’ll be able to spot that talent, and snatch them up for yourself . . . before I do.

(And for those of you out of school?  All of this still applies.  There are umpteen classes for theater artists all over the country, and even online.  And great business classes, too.  There’s no excuse to not know anything anymore. It’s all in front of the screen you are staring at right now.)

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  • Nathan C. says:

    I think it would actually be a great opportunity for a school somewhere to create a producing program. After all, NYU has a (very expensive) musical theater writing program, and that certainly wouldn’t be considered a stable and viable career choice. And they get plenty of applicants because they’re the only program of its kind.
    Maybe the lack of a producing program stems from the traditional Business School mind-set or preparing students to succeed in the corporate world. A producing program would have to be a entrepreneurial/arts hybrid. But maybe a new generation of producers with specialized training could discover new theater-business opportunities not yet explored.

  • So true – we should never stop learning……

  • Just FYI – we have a producing program at CalArts 🙂

  • CL Jahn says:

    Insightful. I know a dozen or so producers who would benefit from this kind of education.
    Part of the problem of creating a “producer training program” is that there’s no model to follow. Ken, you may have more insight on this than I, but I can’t think of any two producers who got there the same way. Well, maybe they are all a little obsessive…
    That said, the concept of a business major taking all the classes you’ve suggested feels right, somehow. It’s like Ford encouraging their executives to work on cars a couple of times a week (they have a service garage in the executive building for this purpose).

  • Alaina says:

    Really great article. I’m still unsure of what I want to do after college, but right now, it’s a tie between acting/directing/producing/writing. So, I guess I should just take all of these classes. Very helpful in prioritizing the classes to take next semester! Thanks!

  • Sabrina says:

    There are a few Theatre Management programs for undergrads that are perfect for the aspiring producer.

  • Melinda O'Brien says:

    Your advice was excellent. MBA’s are valuable for Producers. But, also, and many don’t seem to actually do this though it seems a no-brainer, see plays. Seeing plays as often as possible of every level, should be the homework of all theatre people, producers, directors, actors. I try and see two a week.

  • Ben says:

    As a young(er) theater producer, I often meditate on this one:
    “This profession which I embraced,” answered Don Quixote, “requires a knowledge of everything.”
    I bet you can guess the book.

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