Production manager Hailey Kingston
Hailey Kingston, production manager for Cape Town Opera obtained an Honour Degree in Dramatic Arts from the University of Witwatersrand. For the past 12 years she has gained significant work experience in the entertainment sector, coordinating special events and international productions with local and international companies. With Cape Town Opera she has worked on numerous productions, including Showboat, Otello, Madama Butterfly, Dead Man Walking, Porgy and Bess, Lost in the Stars, La traviata, etc. She toured with Cape Town Opera to Sweden, the UK, France and Israel. In this interview she demystifies the job of a production manager.
You are Cape Town Opera’s production manager. Please explain what this job entails.
HK: Production managers run the operations, facilitating the process of getting from the set design model to what the audience sees on stage, ensuring the artistic vision is met timeously and within budget. This encompasses everything from staff, performers, orchestra and backstage crew, sets, costumes and props, sound and lighting and transport logistics.
From the moment a production starts until opening night, give us a brief description of the processes you are involved in during this period.
HK: Each production takes months of planning and preparation. The creative team (director and set designer), will meet to discuss concepts and Ideas and determine a budget. From there I will provide schedules and deadlines for set designers, manufacturers and the technical team on stage. We go through a series of phases: firstly set construction and painting, lighting design and coordination with the venue management ,and then the physical setting up of the set on stage, rigging of lights and sound and rehearsals by backstage crews.
At the same time the production manager must manage the budget, prepare and manage rehearsal facilities for the director and performers, and their eventual transfer to the venue once the set is up and rigged. During rehearsal on stage the production manager must be on hand to record any changes that may affect the movement of the set and the lighting, and performers’ cues and act as the liaison between the various elements until it’s time to hand over to the stage manager on opening night.
You work for an opera company, but are you actually an opera lover?
HK: Hahaha, trick question! Before I joined Cape Town Opera, I had never seen an opera. Madama Butterfly in 2009 was the first. Since then I have come to appreciate the art form. I respect the amount of hours of training and discipline that is required. There is a lot of effort and passion that goes into every opera, you do fall in love with it, but I still feel that I am in a learning process about opera.
Before you started working for CTO as production manager, you also worked with dance and theatre companies. Is it different working on an opera as production manager and in what way?
HK: Yes, the opera sets are bigger, the schedules are tight and there are many more departments and people involved in producing an Opera.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
HK: Although each production has its own challenges, the biggest difficulty would be that no matter what the budget is, it never enough. The bigger the budget the bigger the expectation, juggling the creative ambitions and the money is sometimes really tough, but somehow we always get the set on stage.
Who are your closest (work) allies when working on a production?
HK: Well, there are so many -but working with the set and costume designer to begin with,closely followed by the wardrobe, workshops and painting and also the lighting designer.
Compared to 20 years ago, stage technology has developed tremendously. How has this influenced your job?
HK: With the massive improvement in lights and lighting equipment, sound and mechanisms we are able to stage productions that were once quite challenging technically. The finished product is made more appealing to the audience. It is important though to not become bound to the idea that new technology is everything, as it is still very expensive - especially in SA. We find that we are able to achieve excellent results with the old methods as well. When we tour we find that the new systems help us to integrate into the international theatres with far fewer hiccups.
Do you prefer working on high-tech/modern productions or period/classic productions and why?
HK: It’s not a question of preference, but rather going with what will fit the budget and production requirements. We recently collaborated with a Swedish production as part of the TWO:30 production and it was fascinating to see how their computer based piece was both very compact from a practical perspective, but also how necessary and complimentary it was for the performance itself. The CTO piece was less of a high tech presentation, but this served to support the setting for the story.
Which production that you have managed during your career has been the most difficult and why?
HK: I would have to say it would have to be the recent production of Otello. This production was a collaboration between CTO and five Australian and New Zealand opera houses. They pooled together the design and production resources. It was therefore quite a challenge to manage and co-ordinate the production with set and lighting designers in different parts of the world, often separate from one another and in different time zones. CTO and my production team had to learn a lot and very quickly about the different approaches and methodologies of our counterparts
Which production that you have managed during your career was the most enjoyable to work on?
HK: There are so many! Richard Loring’s, African Footprint was a great show to work on. It took me around the world and I had the opportunity to experience so many different cultures and ways of working. It was tough back then, but it made me a better production manager today. Growing up, I was inspired by Janice Honeyman. I never missed her annual Pantomime. I joined Cape Town Opera in 2009 and it was a dream come true when I got the opportunity to work with Janice on her production of Showboat in 2009. We toured the production from Cape Town to Malmo Opera in Sweden and to Le Chatelet in Paris in 2010.
Which production that you have worked on are you the proudest of?
HK: Working on one production at a time is not difficult. Working on several at a time is something to be proud of. In the last 5 years I have done more than 25 shows, ranging from opera to small events. I am proud of all of them. Maybe because of all the difficulties we encountered and the obstacles the team managed to overcome, Otello would have to stand out. Seeing how wonderfully our home-grown opera Mandela Trilogy was received by audiences both here and overseas would make that a very happy highlight.
Was there ever a moment during your career that you felt you could not manage to do the job?
HK: Well, we all have these bad days and when a shipment is stuck at customs overseas, the truck drivers go on strike and the internet crashes all at the same time, you do tend to get frustrated. That is when one’s experience kicks in and the team gets together and we find other ways to solve the problems. In my experience no matter how difficult the show, or the pressure - the SHOW ALWAYS GOES ON!
Which productions would you still like to work on – any dreams?
HK: I would love to work on a pantomime, or War Horse or Cirque du Soleil.
Which qualities do you think are most important to have if you want to be a production manager?
HK: Patience, a combination of artistic and technical thinking, good people skills, the ability to stay calm under pressure and the hide of a rhinoceros.
If someone wants to be become a production manager, what route would you advise them to follow?
HK: I feel that some formal studies are an excellent foundation and there are several good courses on offer at both the universities and technikons. However, it is a career that you will grow into with each experience. You should grab every opportunity you get to gain practical knowledge as well – by volunteering or doing an internship you will be able to learn from others and do some valuable networking along the way.
Cape Town Opera will present Madama Butterly at the Artscape Opera House from 19-27 September 2013.
Interview by Christien Coetzee Klingler
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