Joe Aveline’s book is an in-depth guide to the role of the Production Manager, and includes real-life practical examples and ‘Aveline’s Fables’ – anecdotes of his experiences with real messages behind them.
Joe Aveline commenced his career in theatre at the Bristol Hippodrome in 1957, moving to the National Theatre season at Chichester Festival Theatre in 1964 by way of the Bristol Old Vic Theatre School and the Bristol Old Vic Theatre Company. He rejoined the National after a spell at the Theatre Royal E15 and later moved to the ICA where he became general manager. Large scale project management followed prior to his involvement in technical theatre training “to escape from behind a desk”. He has played a leading role in the development of national qualifications for stage technicians and is currently working on an inter-partner recognition project with colleagues in the European Union.
Chapters in Production Management include the Role of the Production Manager, Relating to Designers, Production Managers and Technical Crew, Production Managers and Contractors, Production Managers and Performance, Money, and Critical Path Analysis.
Simon Corder states in his Prologue: “In this book Joe shares nearly half a century of experience and teaching, and draws the conclusion that Production Management is a proper job. The Production Manager has a responsibility to his employer, to deliver product on time and on budget; to his staff and crew, to provide a safe and well organized workplace; to suppliers, to make realistic deals and fair contracts; and to the artists, to proactively work with them to relate visions and dreams, while keeping a tight grasp on all the forgoing.”
Production Management provides an essential insight into this linchpin position for anyone considering a career as a theatrical Production Manager.
In most areas of theatre production there is at least a basic understanding of the job of those who practice in the area, but that is not always true of production management. Although several books on stage management and theatre management mention the role of the production manager, there has been a lack of specific information on the position. Thomas Kelly, author of The Backstage Guide to Stage Management, who moved from stage management into production management remarked: “It is a little like Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when they jump off the cliff. That is exactly what going into production management is at first. There are no books. There is no path.” (Stage Managers’ Association Forum 3/13/99)
Joe Aveline, a former production manager at the Old Vic in London, has provided at least the book. He acknowledges the difficulty of defining the job of the production manager since it varies depending upon the type of theatre company. He also notes that the title of production manager is already being superseded by other titles. This is also true in the United States, where in various organizations an individual with a title such as technical director, production supervisor, or even an executive producer might perform some or all of the duties of a production manager.
veline notes that the production manager is one of the more recent positions in a theatre organization and defines the role of the Aproduction manager as: “The person who gathers all the work of the various disciplines together in order that they arrive on stage at the correct time and in the right order. He acts as a liaison between all the different manufacturing processes, and the design personnel.”
The book approaches theatre production as ‘a project’ in industrial terms and Aveline believes that “there is ample evidence that people in the theatre are amongst the finest project managers to be found anywhere.” His belief that managing is a “combination of skill, budgeting, organizing and time scheduling” is the basis of the book’s organization. He describes a wide variety of working relationships between management and various designers, crews and contractors. The book also discusses budget management and the technique of scheduling called Critical Path Analysis. “Critical path analysis in my view leads to separating the tasks and objectives up into controllable chunks and ordering the work so that at no time is anybody prevented from progress by competing activity or preparatory work not having been done.”
The book is easy to read and often entertaining. There are a number of sidebars that provide examples of the some of the major points he makes in the book. Many of the anecdotes could have happened in the United States as well as in the United Kingdom. At times a glossary of British/American terminology would be helpful. Although most words and phrases can be figured out from the context such as the discussion of “rigging-focusing-plotting” (hanging-focusing-cueing), one reference in a sidebar left me looking for a British dictionary: “Many years ago while fielding at a mid off, I collected a wild throw-in from fine leg and the batsman set off from the bowler’s end for a second run”!
In his discussion of the production manager’s relationship with designers, he deals mainly with set, lighting and sound designers. Sometimes the costume area is included such as in the discussion of the technical rehearsals, but sometimes it is not, for example in his checklist of budget headings. The relationship between the production manager and the stage manager is not always clear, but this is understandable since that relationship varies greatly from one type of theatre to another.
Although some of his advice is similar to that found in good stage management books, the “Production Managers and Contractors” chapter is especially useful. Aveline provides a list of questions to be asked when entering into a contract. Although some of the considerations are more useful in Europe than the United States, such as which countries’ laws should apply and the potential language problems, the chapter covers material not found elsewhere.
A lot of the book is general and may be applied to a variety of situations, but Aveline also includes information about specific concerns such as “Questions for yourself upon seeing a [scenic] model for the first time.” The book is also valuable as a source for a production manager to use in compiling a checklist of duties and responsibilities that could serve as the basis of discussions with a managing director to determine a production manager’s duties for a specific theatre organization.
Aveline’s Production Management would be a valuable addition to one’s theatre library. It provides good advice in an area that is not always clearly understood. Although some of the discussion is specific to practice in the UK and to specific types of theatre organizations, most of it can be useful in a wide variety of theatrical situations.
Reviewed by Frank Mohler, Professor, Appalachian State University