Interview - David Edmunds: Revealed – the dark arts of the producer

With art companies facing tough times, producer David Edmunds might have the answer. Nick Ahad on a new way of working.

During his training David Edmunds was surrounded by an eclectic bunch.

Central School of Speech and Drama is best known as an acting school, but it also trains stage hands and speech therapists.

"You'd have these people training to be stage managers, so they would be working late, doing technical work on shows in the West End and trying to stay awake through lectures with endless cups of coffee. Then the musical theatre lot would be singing and dancing around the corridors like the kids from Fame and in another corner would be the speech therapists who were very academic. I think the speech therapists thought the rest of us were a bit crazy," says Edmunds.

Not too crazy though – Edmunds went on to marry one of the speech therapy students. He also went on to have a spectacular rise through his career in the arts and now runs his own company, with an office in the Leeds base of Yorkshire Dance. It is from this small office in the city's burgeoning cultural quarter that he is slowly changing the Yorkshire dance world.

While at Central, Edmunds, who is originally from Leicester, worked part-time at London's Lyric Hammersmith theatre.

"I worked as a stage hand for tuppence ha'penny and was one of those people on the course that would be finishing at 3am and then getting to lectures the following morning, but it meant that when I graduated I was able to get a job there working on production," says Edmunds.

It was a heady time for the theatre and for Edmunds, giving him the opportunity to work on famed productions including Shockheaded Peter and with Robert Lepage.

A stint at the RSC followed, again in production management and Edmunds was the producer of the RSC Fringe Festival.

He says: "A lot of people don't fully understand what a producer does – it's considered something of a dark art – but the job is to pull things together and make sure that an artist or a company has what they need to make the piece of work they are creating a success."

Edmunds himself was making a success of allowing artists to be successful – in 2000, he was appointed production co-ordinator during the building and opening of the Lowry Centre in Salford Quays and it was there he first met an inspirational artistic leader in Darshan Singh Bhuller.

The choreographer was at the time artistic director of the Phoenix Dance Theatre.

"Darshan liked what I had been doing and he asked me to come over to Leeds for a meeting," says Edmunds.

While he joined the company in an administrative role, it became quickly obvious that Edmunds' skill in producing could help the company. He went on to produce international tours for Phoenix Dance, taking not just the name of the company, but also his own, around the world. He also worked with some of the world's leading choreographers. "I was first introduced to contemporary dance when a teacher took the class to the theatre to see Rambert when I was 13. My parents had taken me to see ballet but it was so boring. The first time I saw contemporary dance I was blown away by the physicality and intensity of this art form – I've been hooked ever since."

When Singh Bhuller left Phoenix, Edmunds had a choice. Find another company or establish his own, which he did and Dep Arts has been producing work since 2006.

"Although I've worked in all kinds of theatre, dance has always been my passion. When I started the company it was me in a room at home on my own and Balbir Singh was the first person I worked with," says Edmunds.

"Since then we've grown and there are two trainee producers and a full-time administrator working from our offices in Leeds.

"With companies having to find different ways to fund and run themselves, they can use our company as producers.

"It means they don't have to worry about the cost of having to employ their own producer at a time when funding is becoming harder to find.

"Because of the contacts we have, it means we can help some brilliant companies here in Yorkshire make the best of opportunities that might be available to make work that they might not know about.

"It means we can help them and I get to play a part in creating what I would love to see – a really strong and healthy dance scene in Yorkshire."

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