PAULA VARJACK & BETH SITEKIn Conversation
Paula Varjack: Producing can encompass so many kinds of work and roles, how do you personally define your work as a producer? How do you explain to those who don't have any idea what a producer does?
Beth Sitek: To me, a producer is someone who brings the whole team together. Producers bridge all departments; artistic, production, outreach (amongst others) ensuring that all work in beautiful, holistic harmony resulting in kick ass projects. I define my work as a producer by ensuring that all members of a team feel supported and well equipped for what needs to happen. As a producer, I feel it’s massively important to be transparent with everyone involved, particularly about finances as money can be something we feel icky talking about as Brits. It’s striking a balance between being realistic whilst also remaining hopeful; trying to predict the future whilst also preparing for the worse. I think it’s really important to think of producers as ‘creatives’, just like all the other members of a team.
Some people like to call themselves ‘creative producers’, I just think producers being creatives goes without saying. It’s just about championing different forms of creativity. We are exactly what Lyn Gardener says we are; young and independent producers are “rare and magical beasts and, not surprisingly, everyone wants one”.
PV: Are there any particular venues, producers and artists that you find particularly inspiring to your practice right now? If so who are they and why do you find them an inspiration?
BS: Yes! I am literally still living from my trip to Edinburgh Fringe in 2016. That year, I saw 2 shows which literally changed my life. The first being ‘Pollyanna’ at Paradise Palms which is a free, sweaty cabaret show which is full of tropical décor, low bunting and neon lights. The stage is absolutely tiny but always full of dancers and the odd crowd-surfer. In 2018, I became the Assistant Producer and worked alongside Annlouise Butt and Adam Castle who sparked my passion for producing queer cabaret shows. That same year, I saw a show called ‘Cuncrete’ which can only be described as a housing crisis ‘musical’ by The Great White Males who are a drag-king punk band created by Rachael Clerke. Watching them badly bash instruments together and scream down mics inspired me to do the same and create my own work as a drag king. I’ve now been performing as my drag-king persona, C.E.O. Peter Stokes: The King of Climate Breakdown, for the last 2 years in Leeds and London. In terms of venues, one theatre I really admire is York Theatre Royal. I went to Uni in York so I have a massive soft spot for the theatre as it’s one of the first places I began making work in. I’ve honestly never seen a community like it. Everyone is lovely and the whole building is very nurturing; one that invests in people as opposed to anything else.
PV: What kind of work are you driven to want to produce and support?
BS: Everything I produce is gay af – surprise! And also womxn-led, womxn focused and celebratory. I’m passionate about producing original work and amplifying voices of new artists. Stuff that is interdisciplinary and cross-genre, work that’s in your face, absurdist, and colourful. All of the work I produce centres queer and femxle experiences across theatre, cabaret and live events. I love working with all kinds of artists and strive for strong collaborative bonds which champion co-creation and teamwork. I’m particularly passionate about supporting early career artists and lobbying for space in an industry that is very difficult to ‘break into’ and sustain. The kind of work I make is bright and bold with super weird at the centre; I like making work that transforms spaces, immerses audiences’ and celebrates one another, particularly womxn and queer folk.
PV:What aspects of being an early career artist do you feel are most misunderstood by the sector?
BS: That all early career artists are under the age of 25! Some development schemes and venues require you to be under a certain age to apply for opportunities or access resources (in-kind space, equipment etc.) I find this problematic. You can be in the early stages of your career whatever age you are! This links to the wider understanding of needing to have some form of further education to ‘make it’ as an artist e.g. all actors go to drama school, you must go to university to train in your discipline etc. Opportunities across the sector need to reflect what early career artists actually look like. Not all artists in the early stages of their career are of a similar age, nor is there only one way of getting into the industry e.g. via formal training. Age does not determine whether or not someone is in the early stages of their career. This needs to be reflected in the opportunities available to early career artists across the sector. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.
PV: Is there anything you wanted to ask me?
BS: Looking back, have you ever felt that you’ve lost your integrity working on a project with a creative team / venue or partner?
I had to think long and hard on this. First to decide for myself what losing integrity working on a project is. I wanted to make sure I didn’t confuse it with compromise. I also thought- is there anything I have worked on that I am ashamed of? I haven’t had an experience working with a person or team or venue that left me feeling that the work I was making, was damaged by the process of making. That’s not to say I haven't had creative breakups, where I was left feeling that the working relationship wasn’t healthy, or just not nourishing enough for all parties involved. But even in that , what I gained is a much clearer sense of how I work, and a much more developed way of talking about and sounding out what everyone’s needs are at the start, and most importantly, being open to this evolving.
BS: How do you measure the success of your projects? Has this changed over time? Does this differ from project to project? What do you deem as ‘successful’?
PV: This definitely means something very different to me on each project. I often have aims, conscious or not, right from the start of the project, that are tied into how I make them, and how I get them into the world. Sometimes the aims are quite modest. Sometimes they are quite ambitious. Often there is both a creative aim and a social aim. With my project “Show Me The Money” I wanted to restart a nationwide conversation (that Bryony Kimmings had kicked off with #illshowyoumine ) about money in the Arts. It was a success because the 44 interviews I made, the way I shared my research as I went along, the subsequent show, tour and talks, did exactly that.
If I think about critical success, which is how I think about both Show Me The Money and The Cult of K*NZO, that is specific to reviews. Both shows were well reviewed and had a fair amount of media exposure, through features, reviews and interviews. If I think about successful reach, The Cult of K*NZO I think of as critically successful , as it was an extensive tour and many of the shows on the tour sold out. With TheBabyQuestion, all of the work in progresss performances we had felt successful in terms of impact , because all the feedback we have had from audience and peers , suggests people were very engaged and came out feeling both moved and entertained. Most recently with “Coming out to My Father” the work feels successful because I made it not knowing who the audience was, and in releasing it, it found its audience.
BS: Would you rather have feet for hands or hands for feet?
PV: I am delighted by and genuinely have no idea how to respond to this question. I’m not even going to to try. I will let it hang there like a tongue in cheek conceptual art piece.
Location: Leeds and London
Beth Sitek is a theatre producer, performer and events organiser based in Leeds and London who specialises in making queer and feminist work. She is currently the company producer of London-based interdisciplinary arts collective, FRISKY Arts, which is a newly selected New Diorama Emerging Company, and organises cabaret events and parties for London based theatre company, Bait Theatre.