Have you ever asked yourself what the role of a theatre producer is? Caley Powell, company founder of Lights Down Productions, speaks openly about her journey into casting and theatre producing with tips and advice for those who are curious. She also shares the ethos behind Lights Down Productions and her brand new show Hear Me Howl. Now showing at the Red Lion Theatre, Caley describes the inspiration behind the female-led role and how drawing engagement from the audience and getting them to talk about it is part of the experience.   

When did you realise you wanted to work in theatre?

It’s odd because I’d never really imagined working in theatre. I’ve always loved theatre and was in drama groups growing up and enjoyed being on the stage but ever since I was young I wanted to work in film. I went to Uni to do a video production and film studies course and fell in love with casting. When I left Uni I set myself up as a freelance casting director and started casting for films and music videos. In 2012, I started producing and casting for web series. It wasn’t until Boxing Day 2011 randomly that a casting friend of mine rang me and asked me if I wanted to help her cast a play. This is where I got my first theatre job and fell in love with working in theatre. After nearly 2 years casting for theatre I realised I didn’t just want to cast and wanted to produce too, so in late 2014 I got my first role as an associate producer on Loaded at The Brockley Jack Theatre with Alter Ego Theatre and in May 2016 I produced my very first play ‘Might Never Happen’ at The Kings Head Theatre with Doll’s Eye Theatre.

Why did you set up Lights Down Productions, and what does it stand for?

After working as a freelance producer for a while, I realised I wanted to run a theatre company of my own. I chose the name Lights Down Productions because I love that rush of excitement you get when the lights go down just before a show starts and the adventures about to begin. I thought it was perfect since I primarily wanted to produce new writing, so as the lights go down before one of my shows the audience really don’t know what they’re going to get. Stepping into the unknown! – there’s something really exciting about that. The aim of my company is to produce female-led new writing since I realised that the majority of projects I most responded to emotionally and felt compelled to produce are written/created by women and with female stories at their centre.

Hear Me Howl focuses on Jess, our lead character, turning 30 and going on some sort of identity crisis: what she wants to do in life and how she wants to be perceived as a woman in the 21st century. Do you see more theatre about woman and feminism becoming a trend in the next coming years?

I don’t know about calling it a trend, a trend feels like it’ll disappear soon and I don’t think it will! It’s more like a movement! As proven by the success of so much female-led, and very feminist work in recent years there is clearly an audience appetite for plays that challenge female stereotypes. Representation within the industry, of stories and creatives, also matters so much and it’s hugely important to me to get women’s stories out into the world rather than our theatres just be populated with only men’s (and middle-class white men’s) stories. Feminism is all about equality – so equal representation on stage of female and male stories – is what we should be striving towards. I’m so happy to be a part of that mission – to get stories like Hear Me Howl out into the world. I know I’m not alone in that as there are so many amazing female-led companies and organisations doing brilliant work. With Hear Me Howl particularly it’s about getting another type of female story heard that isn’t often represented – that of a woman’s right to be childfree. It’s such a taboo subject and though there are loads of plays that show women struggling to conceive we noted a lack of plays about a woman *choosing* to be childfree, hence why we felt so passionate about getting it on!

Caley Powell’s show Hear Me Howl is currently being staged at the Red Lion Theatre until 29 September.

What kind of message do you want the audience to take home when they see Hear Me Howl?

After every performance so far it’s been great to have discussions with our audiences, of all ages and genders, and hear their thoughts. Everyone comes out feeling impassioned in some way or another – whether that’s to think about their own life-choices re having a family, or their career choice, or just to pick up an instrument for the first time and have a crack at it! I’m eager for audiences to fall in love with Jess as much as I and the creative team have. I want them to see themselves in her – your average woman who turns their life around by shaking off the shackles of socially prescribed, and limiting, expectations. I also want the play to raise awareness of women who choose to be childfree so people become more understanding of women’s rights to not want children, as well as for women in Jess’ position, faced with an unwanted pregnancy, to feel supported if they decide to abort & to talk openly, without judgement, about the decision to not want children. I also want audiences to be inspired by Jess learning to play the drums and enjoy seeing the freedom through music so audiences take up instruments themselves.

What’s the most gratifying part of what you do?

The most gratifying part for me is when we finally get to the put the show in front of an audience, as it’s the culmination of so much hard work by so many people. The first night of a show is always buzzing with excitement and nerves and it’s always a relief to see audiences responding to the play in the way we had hoped. and to hear audience feedback for the first time. After so many rehearsals you kind of forget which parts are funny and which parts are emotional so when you finally get to show it to an audience it’s exhilarating and a joy every night to see another new audience experiencing it for the first time. That’s why we make shows, for the moment we share it with audiences.

Any advice for aspiring theatre producers?

Ask for help, ask for advice, ask for what you want. There is no such thing as a stupid question or an email. Most people are more than happy to grab a coffee and pass on pearls of wisdom (remember they’ve all been where you are!). I wouldn’t be where I am now if I didn’t ask a director if I could help produce his show as well as cast it or ask a producer for work experience – you just have to ask! Also, check out the brilliant resources such as the UK Theatre Producers Facebook page and there are so many great courses out there, find what’s right for you, but I’d definitely recommend Stage One too.

HEAR ME HOWL is currently on at The Old Red Lion Theatre until Saturday 29th September. For more info and tickets. go to https://www.oldredliontheatre.co.uk/hear-me-howl.html

Follow Lights Down Productions on Twitter: @LightsDownProd and on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/LightsDownProductions/ @CaleyPowell and @Hear_Me_Howl #hearmehowl