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Spotlight on the Estuary’s Emerging Producers: Ashleigh Burr

Our Emerging Producer Placements Scheme has provided transformational opportunities for over 20 new and emerging producers in fields such as theatre, live performance, film, and digital media in South Essex and North Kent. Working with local arts organisations, Emerging Producer Placements facilitated paid placements and commissioning opportunities designed to benefit both producers and host organisations alike.

Ashleigh undertook her placement with Ideas Test, who delivered community-focused projects in collaboration with Cohesion Plus for the Medway Light Nights festival. She told us how the placement helped to boost her confidence after graduating in a pandemic and furthered her passion for creative producing.

Why producing?

I studied Collaborative Theatre Making at Rose Bruford. The course was very open, and we tried our hands at acting, writing, and directing. But there wasn’t anyone on the producing side to pull everything together. That’s my personality, so I took on that coordinating role whenever we had a show. I made sure costumes, sets, and lighting were arranged. It wasn’t until the course ended that my tutor said: “You realise you’ve been producing this whole time?” After looking into the role, I realised it was what I wanted to do but had never been able to pinpoint.

How would you describe your experience as an emerging producer in the Estuary region?

Honestly, I was shocked when I saw this placement, to learn that this kind of opportunity existed in Maidstone. I’d always assumed I’d have to move to London but there’s been more happening in the Medway and Maidstone area over the past few years. I was apprehensive about working with schools on this project and was unsure what engagement we’d get or whether we’d be taken seriously. Growing up here, the arts were always seen as extra-curricular. I expected it to be a challenge but was wrong. The placement showed me there’s a real appetite for the arts out there, but it isn’t always tapped into.

Why did you apply for this Emerging Producer placement?

It seemed like an exciting and creative producing opportunity, which is something I look for. When I met Ideas Test, we immediately clicked. The interview became a conversation about the area and improving things for young people and vulnerable groups. From that interaction, I could tell they wouldn’t treat producing as a way of getting from A to B as efficiently as possible. They cared about the impact and results of their work, but also cared about the journey taken to get there.

Tell me a bit more about your placement. What did you work on?

It fell into two parts. Firstly, we worked with 14 schools, and helped children make lanterns to carry in the Lantern Parade. Then, we interviewed local community groups and businesses about their experiences living and working in Medway. This was made into a 15-minute film and projected onto a building along the parade route. A big part of the role was scheduling, liaising with different groups, and ensuring all paperwork was completed. But I also got to embed myself within those communities, to be part of their conversations, and to help capture their stories.

What was it like working for Ideas Test?

It was amazing! They’ve become a bit of an institution in the region. They already had so many contacts within the community. It’s a real testament to them that these groups want to work with them again and again. I also worked with people from Cohesion Plus and Josh from Cybersaur Arts. Everyone was so friendly and supportive that it made the whole experience.

What did you learn?

The main thing was how to talk to people and get the most out of them. For the film especially, we didn’t want to parachute in, take what we wanted, and leave. We scheduled enough time to be present and be led by the interviewees. Sometimes that meant sticking around for a cup of tea, other times we were watching dance performances. Scheduling was hard as we had so many groups, but we refused to go anywhere for just 20 minutes. My placement mentors helped me to find a balance so that all the formalities were taking care of, but people felt comfortable talking to us.

Was the placement transformational for your career?

Yes, it was. My biggest takeaway, aside from practical skills, has been confidence. Graduating in a pandemic, my confidence had plummeted. Working with people who believed in me, and who recognised and celebrated my achievements, was a turning point. It’s changed how I handle myself in the workplace and empowered me to be my own advocate. Because producing happens behind the scenes, it often goes unappreciated. Ideas Test showed me that a workplace should make me feel comfortable to say, “I don’t know how to do this”, or “I did this and deserve recognition for it.”

What’s next for you?

I’m working as Production Assistant and PA at Labyrinth Productions. It’s a great place for me to be for development and I’ve already learnt so much. It’s my first time working on something of this scale, as we’re launching an immersive show as well as a restaurant and bar! The long-term goal is to work in Kent again. A colleague has asked me to work on a show with him at the Hazlitt Theatre in Maidstone, so that’s a step in that direction. I’d also love to work with Ideas Test and Cohesion Plus again, and to work with other communities that don’t get arts input. I think Creative Estuary is doing an amazing job of this, but of course there could always be more!

What advice would you share with others looking to get into producing?

There are a lot of opportunities out there. Once you spend time looking for one, you discover more. If you aren’t sure where to look, follow arts organisations like Creative Estuary on social media. You don’t need to know everything or tick every box to apply for a job. If you get a rejection, keep trying and the right opportunity will come up. And if it’s still not working, have a coffee with someone who can give you some feedback. Just talk to people and companies whenever you can. Remember, people are nice and want you to succeed!