Lockdown interview -The producer/agent: David Ball

Welcome to the latest in a series of interviews with theatre professionals across a variety of roles.

In this installment, I chat to David Ball, a producer and agent who has had his own company for the past three years. He produced the concert version of The Clockmaker’s Daughter and represents a variety of clients.

David Ball Productions is “an independent theatre and bespoke live entertainment producer … passionate about creating engaging high quslity theatre that inspires, entertains and challenges audiences”.

You can find out more about David and his work at his company website.

How are you coping during the lockdown? 

I’ve been quite positive actually. At the very beginning of the lockdown a friend said to me that we have to look for the opportunity in all of the craziness. I have held onto that as much as possible. As an agent as well as a producer I feel that I have a sense of responsibility for the clients we look after so trying to keep things going for them is keeping me busy and proving to be a much needed distraction. Don’t get me wrong, I have spent a few days on the sofa eating chocolate but so far, I am ok.  

Tell me a bit about your role as producer/agent. How did you get into it, and how would you describe it to others?

I’ll try and give you the short version. I started off as an actor in Musical Theatre. Trained at Arts Ed under the brilliant Chris Hocking and performed in some lovely shows.

After years of touring and West End I decided I wanted to do something different. I heard about the brilliant Stage One producers workshop so applied and got a place. It was three days of bliss! I knew instantly that producing was where my future was heading.

I was fortunate enough to get an Apprentice Bursary from Stage One and spent 6 months as an intern working for Sonia Friedman Productions and then 6 months at Act Productions. This was an invaluable time for me. Sonia’s office was incredible. She has the most brilliant team there and I learnt so much from them all.

My time at Act was about General Management. Again invaluable and I worked under the brilliant Nick Salmon, Nia Janis and Matt Byam-Shaw, then later Amanda Murray who became not only a mentor but a great friend and a massive source of support and advice. I learnt so much in a short space of time. It was during my time at Act that I started to try and produce something of my own.

I purchased the rights to an adaptation of Stephen King’s Misery and also Mike Leigh’s Abigail’s Party. Unfortunately neither made it to production which is something that I now realise is a common occurrence when in the development stage.

I stayed on at ACT as an associate producer following my internship and produced Stepping Out at the Union Theatre and commissioned The Turn of the Screw by Rebecca Lenkiewicz which had a run at the Almeida.

After leaving Act I set up Irving Street Productions with a business investor which then became Irving Street Management. I had a brilliant four years working with the team at Irving Street but again I knew that I wanted to set up on my own and have real creative control over what I did so I eventually made the leap and set up David Ball Limited.

The company has two branches – the production company and the agency (under Scott James who has brought a new energy to the company). It has been a really crazy three years so far but I finally feel like the foundations are now set and some exciting things are starting to happen.

We look after both actors and creatives which allows for some interesting and exciting opportunities for all the clients.

Part of what I love about my set up is the fact that as a producer I can collaborate with the agency clients. The workload increases when we are in production so I always make sure I bring in people to work with me to keep the balance right!  

I adore what I do. I love working with creative minds. I am proud of the work I have done and hope that it may continue!

What has been your favourite project to work on? 

That is a really tough question!! I am hugely proud of all of the work I have done particularly in the last three years because it was all under my name!

I was proud of the work I produced at the Jack Studio theatre because we were nominated for Offie Awards which is always nice and the casts were delightful.

In 2019 I produced Enda Walsh’s Misterman for my brilliant client Warren Taylor. This was such an exciting production and I was so proud of Warren and what he achieved on that show and again we are currently looking for other opportunities for it for the end of this year.  

Misterman was an incredible experience because I had never produced anything like it. The director Alex Howarth is a genius and created something quite brilliant. I was super proud to put my name to that!!

Yes Prime Minister was a moment for me because it was perhaps the biggest thing I have ever produced. I worked with the wonderful Guy Unsworth on that. Such a gentle, intelligent director. I hope we work together many more times! I loved that show.

It is so hard to pick one!! I guess it must be The Clockmaker’s Daughter in album and concert form. I truly believe that there is a future for the show – in fact we are gunning for a Spring 2022 production! Dan (Daniel Finn) and Mike (Michael Webborn) have written something so wonderful.

Dan is not only one of the best lyricists around today but also has the ability to write poetic text and weave very intricate stories together. Mike is just a musical genius! Put that together and you have a very special partnership.

The album was a big deal for both the show and me as a producer. It could have gone so wrong. Thankfully it didn’t. We worked with the brilliant Joe and Nikki at Auburn Jam and assembled the most wonderful company of actors.

When I heard the final mix and held the CD in my hand I was so proud of what we had all achieved. To then top that off with the concert was literally the icing on the cake. The cherry will be the West End!  

What has been your greatest achievement? 

This is going to sound really trite but I don’t think like that. Each project has its own merits and failings and I try and learn from each one. I think my greatest achievement is that I am still here working in the business after graduating 20 years ago.  

What do you think will happen to the theatre space after this pause in physical production? 

While this is an horrific time for everyone I do think that a moment of pause and reflection can be a good thing.

There has been a lot of debate, particularly on social media about what will happen when this is all over. The truth of it is no one can know.

I hope that we now examine ticket pricing and how exclusive the West End in particular has become. I also think we as an industry need to look at the way we support artistes and staff on productions. I am hoping this crisis may lead to a dialogue about that.  

The theatre industry seems saturated with new companies, ideas, performance models, collaborations, and innovation. Is there enough time, space, talent and funding to support the direction of travel or do you think a complete rethink is due?

There is definitely the talent there. That is without doubt. I see that as an agent and producer. We  have received hundreds of showreels and tapes during the coronavirus lockdown from graduates who have been unable to perform showcases.

I am blown away by the talent that is coming through into the industry and I love the fact that there is so much opportunity available to people who want to create theatre and art. That is hugely important.

Is there enough funding? Absolutely not! If it wasn’t for the brilliant Stage One I certainly wouldn’t be where I am today and I wish there were more funds available for producers like me to work with writers, directors, choreographers and actors to create new theatre.

I do think we should be wary of the fact that we live in an age where anyone can call themselves a producer. We see lots of actors in particular getting taken advantage of. I have produced fringe work on a profit share basis but have never taken a penny for myself and in-fact often bankrolled the show using personal funds.

Unfortunately this isn’t always the case and I hear dreadful stories about money owed to people by companies who simply declare themselves bankrupt and then start a new company two weeks later. I do wish this could be monitored.

In terms of playing space I think this is an exciting time for the industry. There is wonderful theatre happening in the craziest and most inventive spaces at the moment.

The rise of immersive theatre is a wonderfully refreshing thing and the fact that audiences are going to see productions in non-conventional theatre spaces is, I believe the future of theatre. Long may it continue!

What has been your favourite theatre experience where you haven’t been directly involved? 

Without a doubt my top three would be Jerusalem with Mark Rylance, Judas Kiss with Rupert Everett, and The Crucible at the Old Vic with Richard Armitage and Anna Madeley.

Looking forward to when this is all over, what’s the next project on your agenda?

I am really focussing on the agency at the moment. We have just expanded and I really want to see that grow now. In terms of production, there are a few things in the pipeline.  I can’t say what but needless to say…. Watch this space!