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An endless stream of good ideas – the life of an independent theatre producer by Callum Smith

Callum Smith moved back to Glasgow to return to freelance producing. Now, he runs one of Scotland’s most exciting production companies.

In 2015, I returned home to Glasgow to re-start my work as a freelance Producer, having been working in London at the Royal Court Theatre. I wanted to make a change in how I worked. At one stage, I was looking after three different company bank accounts as well as working with independent artists who had large sums of money being sent straight to their personal bank accounts when they were award funding — many of them were nervous that they’d accidentally spend it on rent or beer! So, I set up Showroom, to provide independent theatre makers with a company structure and reduce their administrative burden.

Over the past few years I’ve tried to establish Showroom as a company known for supporting Scotland’s wealth of amazing independent artists. When I’m looking for new projects I’m often drawn towards personal stories and work which has some sort of socio-political issue at its heart. That said, I don’t ever pigeon-hole what I do. I’m as happy watching a “classic” done well as I am some out-there Live Art – so long as I feel the show has something to say and is doing so in an interesting way. Whilst not everything I do is documentary, there’s definitely a theme of people taking their own lived experiences and making them theatrical – from Jenna Watt’s Faslane which used her experiences of having family who lived and worked on the nuclear naval base to talk about Trident, to Blackout which paired writer Mark Jeary’s experience as a recovering alcoholic with the testimony of others in recovery to create a powerful piece of verbatim drama. Blackout is back at the Fringe this year as part of the Made in Scotland showcase. While I’m not involved in this remount it’s great to see the show having a further life.

(Showroom's Tetra-Decathlon featuring Lauren Hendry. Image by Mihaela Bodlovic)

I’m at my best when I get involved in a project at an early stage and can have an influence in shaping not only the practical elements but also the artistic side from the start. I see my role as Producer not as a bean counter (though someone has to count those beans…) but as a collaborator. The most frustrating projects I’ve worked on have been ones when my voice hasn’t been heard in the room and I’m only seen as the one who gets the posters printed and books the hotels for the tour. I make it clear with artists I start work with that I expect to be collaborative with them, though only ever as one of many voices in the room. With Tetra-Decathlon, Lauren Hendry knew she wanted to make a show from her experience from an early stage. I was invited to see a sharing of some work they had done on the idea as part of a Tron Lab residency, and was immediately struck by the potential in Lauren’s story. From having never even been for a jog around the park, to taking on a challenge as immense as a Tetra-Decathlon – a gruelling 14-event track and field competition – in less than 2 years.

I’ve also always had a fascination with the way sport and theatre might intertwine – great shows like Beautiful Burnout always struck me in the way that we could bring the theatre of sport to an actual theatre. The performative nature of physical competition, and the way that athletes move seemed ripe for exploration. And of course, the piece was being directed by my friend and frequent collaborator Jenna Watt.

(Showroom's Tetra-Decathlon featuring Lauren Hendry. Image by Mihaela Bodlovic)

We were fortunate that the idea for Tetra-Decathlon came around at the same time as the cultural programme for the Glasgow 2018 European Championships was announced. This is a brand new multi-sport event happening this August, which brings together the previously separate European championships in Athletics, Cycling, Aquatics, Gymnastics, Rowing and Triathlon, with a new Golf event. Alongside world-class sport there is a whole host of cultural activity across the city and across Scotland, and our show feels like it fits perfectly with the sports events happening around the country. I’m incredibly proud of what the team have achieved with this piece, which is touring all over Scotland as well as taking up a two-week run at Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

The future for Showroom looks bright – we have a number of projects in development and others ready to get out on the road again. We’ve also been commissioned by Eastwood Park Theatre – a 300 seat venue in the southern suburbs of Glasgow – to make a new Christmas show for them this year. This will be our first “sit down” production, with a chunky three-week run. I can’t wait to be involved in making a show that will have houses full of excited children and families, even more so because a Christmas show the one and only trip to the theatre each year for many people. This kind of show is very different from previous Showroom productions in many ways, but I’m teaming up with a previous collaborator Andy McGregor as writer and composer to make something that’s brilliantly theatrical and joyously daft, with Julie Brown from brilliant Scottish company Random Accomplice directing.

(Showroom's Tetra-Decathlon featuring Lauren Hendry. Image by Mihaela Bodlovic)

I’ve managed to find the money in Showroom’s budget to employ a new production assistant on a part time basis, which is freeing me up to do more of what I love – developing new ideas for projects with some of Scotland’s most exciting artists. I’m always looking for new collaborators and exciting projects. I don’t only make work under the Showroom banner, and still take on projects with other companies – at the moment I’m deep into a major new multi-lingual production with Gaelic company Theatre Gu Leòr called Scotties, and also working with the Royal Court and 14-18 Now on a series of events marking 100 years of the Representation of the People’s Act, which gave some women the right to vote. It takes so much headspace to deliver each project that it’s impossible to take on every brilliant idea that comes your way, but the joy of this job is that there are a seemingly endless stream of new ideas and artists you haven’t met yet, just on the horizon.

Tetra-Decathlon is supported by Festival 2018, the cultural programme of the Glasgow 2018 European Championships, and Tron Theatre.

Directed by multi Fringe First award winning theatre-maker Jenna Watt (Faslane, Flâneurs).

Designed by Sue Mayes.

Sound design and composition by Scott Twynholm.

Tetra-Decathlon by Lauren Hendry presented by Showroom in Association with Macrobert Arts Centre.

Tetra-Decathlon at Cairns Lecture Theatre, Summerhall
14 – 19 & 21 - 26 August 2018, 11:50am (60 mins)
£12 / £10 / £36 family 

Tickets: (Tel: 0131 560 1580)  or (Tel: 0131 226 0026)
Twitter: @summerhallery / @edfringe

For more information, images and interview requests, please contact Harry Harris at  (07449348314)

Tetra-Decathlon Tour 2018
27th & 28th July - Macrobert Arts Centre, Stirling 
2nd – 4th August – Tron Theatre, Glasgow
7th August – Strathearn Community Campus, Crieff
8th August – Denny Civic Theatre, Dumbarton
9th August – Motherwell Theatre
14th – 26th August – Summerhall, Edinburgh Festival Fringe