Fiona Popplewell, the Producers’ Representative at the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club Committee.Benjamin Nicholson with permission for Varsity

Application season is upon us, and Cambridge theatre finds itself asking once again: where are all the producers? With at least four ADC shows happening per week and countless college venues, there are almost too many shows to count. Yet while actors are in great supply, and even directors fight to get a spot, producers are in high demand. With producers in the theatre, film and TV industries being one of the highest-paid members of a production team, it makes very little sense why gaining producing experience is so unpopular. Sitting down with some of the most experienced producers in Cambridge theatre, I sought to identify the root of the shortage.

“Producers are the type of people who gain satisfaction from reaching deadlines and having goals met”

It quickly became apparent that producing attracts a certain type of individual, something I suspected from my own experience in minor producing roles. Zach Lonberg, who has helped produce everything from the Footlights Panto to the Fringe, identifies that producers are the type of people who gain satisfaction from reaching deadlines and having goals met; a feeling of completion and a smooth production is on the top of the list. Nadia Hussein, who has also produced her fair share of ADC mainshows, points out that producing comes across primarily as an admin job, with paperwork and a notable distance between the producer and the creative aspects of the show. The Producers’ Representative at the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club Committee, who runs workshops and is a point of contact for questions about the role, seems to have been an effective form of outreach for Eva Lemmy. Now producer of nine shows and counting, she recalls her conversation with the previous CUADC Producers’ Rep and subsequent production role in the 2022 Freshers’ play after realising the compatibility of producing with many of her other interests. Now chatting with the current Producers’ Rep, Fiona Popplewell’s refreshing passion for the projects she takes on is evident to me, with her commitment to making producing accessible clearly a positive step for the role.

However, with a current shortage in spite of such brilliant outreach, one has to wonder what the fundamental problem with the position of a producer is in Cambridge theatre. The role is necessarily an organisational one, and Cambridge is swarming with organisationally sound individuals – the application process itself is testament to this. So what’s the issue?

“There is something essentially unpopular in taking on a producing role in the current scene”

It’s clear to me that there is something essentially unpopular in taking on a producing role in the current scene. Zach identifies that producers are often brought in after the director has pitched a show, so are appointed later in the process. This can create a power dynamic where the production teams refer to the director as the “top dog” while the producer emerges as the “money-grabbing sidekick” at the directors’ heel, proving particularly unpopular if the production runs into financial difficulties.

It also seems the case that, while producing does require organisational skills, the role can often turn into primarily an admin role with little personal contact with the cast and crew. It’s clear from Fiona’s directing credits that she has much creative input to offer, and she eagerly tells me how much she loves being in the rehearsal room as a producer to offer an extra pair of eyes. However, Nadia notes that producers can often feel like they’ve done a lot, yet have had little impact on the product which ends up on the stage.

So what’s the difference between the Cambridge scene and the actual industry? It’s worth noting that, outside the ADC, it’s quite commonly the company producer who chooses a director and subsequently the production team. Zach notes that professional producers usually commission the show based on sales and the programme for the year, while Fiona asserts that there is a greater emphasis on contract negotiation and securing funding for productions. As funding in Cambridge is secured through student societies whose applications are often a series of Google Forms rather than meetings with the Arts Council, all this only points me to the conclusion that there is even more scope for creative input in student theatre.


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Producing is a role which includes a vast range of tasks and is often burdened with much of a show’s organisational process. However, it’s clear that it does not need to be a thankless task. Cambridge theatre requires a reconsideration of what a producer does, and how their role could function within a wider production team. Perhaps we could be looking at a future where producers at the ADC pitch shows based on their own creative vision, and employ a whole team of budding assistants. But until then – say thank you to your producer!