Stephen Makin names those who inspire him most.
Ben Martin and Phil Tong
I was very lucky to have two thoroughly inspirational drama teachers during my school days. This pair of pedagogues were brilliant in their own different ways and were my guides and gurus during my formative school days. Ben Martin saw something in me in primary school and cast me as a lead role in our school leavers’ play when I was 13. When you think about eureka moments in life, after doing that show I actually thought for the first time theatre was something I wanted to be a major part of my life, and not just something that I did for a giggle. Phil Tong, who taught me at secondary school showed me that theatre was an art as much as an entertainment. And he also is responsible for two school trips to appear at the Edinburgh Fringe, a festival which I fell head-over-heels in love with, and has been an awesome and constant presence in my career.
I never actually read the book, but this excerpt from Richard Findlater's The Unholy Trade came up in one of my first lectures studying at Birmingham. My student self fell in love with its idealism and I printed it out in large font and stuck it on my bedroom wall, where it remained throughout my student days. When I left university, having set up my own theatre company there, I proudly read this out as my speech as outgoing president. Now it seems to me unabashedly, embarrassingly idealistic, which is perhaps why I like it, and it still reminds me why I'm doing this:
“There is no one kind of theatre, and no one solution to all its problems…The theatre exists by compromise, and feeds on contradiction. It exists to explain life, and to deny it, to decorate it and to strip it bare…The theatre is a weapon, a magic, a science; a sedative, an aphrodisiac, a communication service; a holiday and an assize, a dress rehearsal of the here and now and a dream in action…It is the most conservative and the most ephemeral, the most opaque and most transparent, the strongest and weakest of arts. It is everything and nothing, all or none of these things. The theatre is what you make it.”
His excellent book The Writer's Journey is a constant touch stone to me when it comes to structure, which is so often at the core of the success (or failure) of a piece, weather you're working in theatre, circus, musicals or stand-up comedy. For me, having an understanding of the rules of structure, when to follow them and when to break them is hugely valuable, and lets you get right down into the basics of what is going right or wrong when a piece or moment in a show isn't working. That and also to always ask the question of writers, directors, designers and creators: "Is this the most interesting thing that can happen?"
My first job in commercial theatre was as Howard Panter's production assistant at ATG. Working for him, and playing a very small role in his producing work, taught me incredibly valuable lessons about how the commercial theatre business actually works in the real world. From raising investment 101, to getting the most out of your marketing agency, seeing him at work changed everything for me in terms of my perception of what was possible when it came to getting work made.
Henry Filloux Bennett
Henry studied law before going on to work for Bill Kenwright (twice), the Make A Difference Trust, High Tide and used to run the Old Red Lion in Islington too. In between all of that we ran our own theatre company together and produced a huge range of work. We produced our first West End show together - a rite of passage never to be forgotten - Lisa Kron's brilliant comedy Well which starred Sarah Miles, Natalie Casey and Oliver Chris, and a huge range of other work too - from number one touring, to a whole glut of shows at the Old Red Lion. We even used to manage a Ukulele band. Henry and I make a great team, and even at time like this when we're not working together on anything (he's at the RSC right now) I find myself continually wanting for his ruthless analytical eye, lateral creativity and uncanny efficiency. For me it demonstrates the importance of finding working partners who know how you think and who have personality traits and working philosophies that counterbalance and compliment your own. He's also a fabulous cook.
Stephen Makin is Productions Producer at Underbelly. His latest production – Pirates of the Carabina’s FLOWN - is at the Udderbelly on the Southbank, London SE1 from 2 to 22 June before transferring to Edinburgh Festival Fringe.