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The Producers – Jenifer Leys

Jul 16, 2014

Image: Jenni Large and Rhiannon Newtown in Aimee Smith’s Wintering at the State Theatre Centre of WA (June 2013). Credit: Mia Holton. Video: Jenni Large and Rhiannon Newton in an excerpt from Aimee Smith’s Wintering at the State Theatre Centre of WA (June

To recognise the invaluable role of producers, Program Officer for Dance Kristian Pellissier asked three producers – Kath Papas, Jenifer Leys and Britt Guy – to talk about their role and the artists and projects they represent.  In this, the second instalment, we talk to Independent Performing Arts Producer Jenifer Leys. Jenifer is currently working with three artists including Aimee Smith, who recently received support for the final stage creative development and presentation of Borderline through the Australia Council’s Western Australian Contemporary Dance Initiative.

What is the role of a producer?

The tasks performed by a producer can vary greatly depending on the context of the position, but in my case the role requires that I represent independent contemporary performance artists with whom I have established a partnership to act alongside and on their behalf to seek and secure creative development, presentation and touring opportunities. I then support the artist with the logistics and project management of those applications and opportunities that come to fruition. I’m keen to support socially motivated independent artists throughout the creative life cycle of their works (from concept development through to presentation and touring) as well as their careers. In addition I provide artist management services including strategic career guidance and creative pragmatic feedback where appropriate. The 3 artists I support are contemporary dance choreographers Aimee Smith and Bianca Martin, and live art/children’s theatre practitioner Alex Desebrock. I also work freelance, taking on short term producing, touring and project management contracts that I can do from home whilst caring for my 2 small sons.

To be a successful producer requires…

Belief in the artists/work you represent. An enthusiasm for networking or ability to overcome your apprehensions of networking! Gift of the gab. An approach whereby you always throw your hat in the ring, always make use of opportunities that come your way. And then work as hard as you can to make it happen to the best level you can achieve.

How did you first meet the artists?

Aimee is a very good friend whom I have known since she graduated from WAAPA. When I returned to Perth from London and worked at Strut Dance, we realised how well we could work together. I saw the Australia Council’s Independent Producers Initiative and asked Aimee if she would be willing to partner with me. She said yes, as did Bianca Martin. I was very keen to develop an ongoing partnership style relationship with several artists, whereby we navigate the winding paths of independent contemporary performance practice together.

Wintering from Aimee Smith on Vimeo.

What is your creative/logistical input for the project?

For Aimee’s upcoming final stage of creative development and presentation of Borderline, I will oversee the budget, contracts, promotion, venue and event management tasks and correspondence so that the creative and production team can concentrate on completing and presenting the work within a 5 week time period. I will also be seeking future connections, presentation and touring opportunities for Borderline, intending for this new work to have a life beyond its premiere.

Where do you find the (non-state, federal) support for a project?

Predominantly state and federal funds supplemented by local government/council backing, sometimes foundations and always in kind support from partner arts organisations and suppliers. I have also found crowdfunding to be a really useful way of filling those persisting small gaps in budgets or to fund a sideline initiative for up to $5,000. I haven’t crowdfunded for more than this and think it best to minimise how often you make use of this avenue so as to not over extend on your network of supporters.

If there is one piece of advice that you could give to independent dance artists, it would be…

Try your very best to be true to what you’re endeavouring to say, do. Be daring. Think about what makes a work exceptional, the steps to get there, and then do your utmost to achieve it. Push the boat out, at least a little, on yourself and your audience. Make work that asks a question but don’t forget to include a little beauty, somewhere and somehow, even if it is a dark and terrible beauty.