In the first of a series of meet the team posts, here’s new Boundless Producer Kirsten Peters Roebuck sharing how she ended up producing, what being boundless means to her and the youth culture that mattered when she was growing up.
What has been your route in to becoming Producer at Boundless Theatre?
My journey into producing started at 17, mostly by accident. Two of my friends got a small council grant to run arts activity for young people in our area, which ended up becoming a youth theatre company that’s still running to this day. I started off performing in the shows, but when money began to run out I came up with a plan to generate some income for the company that ended up with me directing (and, without knowing, producing) summer schools and shows in the summers of 2010 and 2011.
I left Manchester to study Drama and French at the University of Birmingham and spent a year in Nantes, France. With the theatre programme cancelled at the Université de Nantes that year, I ended up studying allsorts – psychology, politics, sociology, literature and media. Although it was a challenge at points (the quality of my French was and remains a mixed bag…), that year set me up with an international outlook and fanned a curiosity about the world that hasn’t gone away.
In my final year of university, I realised that when I’d been directing shows I’d also been taking on the role of Producer by accident. Once I’d discovered that’s where my skills and interest aligned, I did a producing placement at a local theatre and as I was finishing my studies I took up a short-term post as Assistant Producer of 24:7, a new writing festival in Manchester. I also spent a few summers at the Edinburgh Fringe, supporting productions and working box office and front of house. The Fringe has its faults but I love it with all my heart.
My first big job was at Birmingham REP as Assistant Producer of ON THE EDGE: The World Festival of Theatre for Young Audiences. I learnt so much in that year and it set me up to take on huge challenges with self-belief and a bit more know-how. After the REP, I spent six months in the West End at a commercial entertainment company booking national tours which taught me a lot about commercial approaches to producing. From there, my interest in blending theatre and music took me to Mahogany Opera, who create new opera and music theatre in new and experimental ways, and do amazing work in making opera accessible, exciting and engaging for a much broader audience. I knew nothing about opera when I arrived (apparently a selling point) but as Projects Producer there I learnt about touring, collaborating with young people, pushing boundaries and doing things a bit differently.
Around all of this I was also freelancing – producing new writing, dance & physical theatre pieces, new opera and a political arts night called Taking Back Control [TBC]. I definitely learnt to produce on the job and my freelance work was a big part of that learning curve.
Which brings me to here and now – Day 4 at Boundless! I’m so excited to be part of the Boundless team and to get started on the brilliant productions and projects that are in the works!
What makes a successful Producer?
A successful Producer is unflappable, positive, able to think (far) outside the box, and has the determination to get the job done, and done well. Kindness, good humour and understanding also go a long way as a Producer (and as a person).
What does being Boundless mean to you?
Being Boundless to me means not being constrained by ‘the way things are’ or ‘the way things have always been’. Being Boundless means always questioning the status quo. Being Boundless means taking the future in your hands and shaping it into something bolder and more exciting for everyone.
When you were 15 what did youth culture mean to you and what about now?
When I was 15 I was doing my GCSEs, working part time in a chippy, going to drama class on a Sunday and hanging out on parks. I think 15 was the year MySpace became Facebook so Top 8’s were (thankfully) dwindling into irrelevance. Youth culture as I knew it centred around the Mighty Boosh, Leeds Festival, indie bands and trawling the Northern Quarter for second-hand bargains. I didn’t get political until I was about 17, when some of my friends took Politics for A Level and through them I got informed and indignant.
Youth culture today is a lot more aware – politically and socially. Young people are much more aware of the wider world, and of their power and the value of their opinions. The evolution of the internet has done something brilliant to communication, with social media allowing young people to seize the means of cultural production rather than needing to wait for someone else’s permission. I don’t think we’d quite clocked that about the internet when I was 15… The content young people are producing has also forced the established players to step up and be bolder, more interesting and more intelligent – from magazines to film studios to publishers and theatremakers.
What’s that one thing that you’d love to pass on to someone thinking about a career in theatre?
Don’t let yourself be put off before you’ve got started. The hurdles involved in building a career in theatre are very real, but your voice is important, no one else can bring your vision to the table and if no one’s giving you a break, it might be time to make your own.