Our interview series leads us to the gorgeous and multi-talented Laura Hamilton, the Artistic Producer for VocalAlchemy an educational performance based website.
Over the past 30 years Laura has navigated an outstanding professional career in the Performing Arts Industry and has covered a range of different positions and skills including Directing, Deputy General Management, Company Management, Resident Directing, Choreographing, Principle Artist both in Australia and London’s West End, Dance Captain, Swinging (both vocal and dance) and lecturing at Performing Arts Universities and establishments throughout Australia
I am so excited to present this exciting and inspiring interview with the generous, inspiring powerhouse that is Laura Hamilton.
How and why did you make the step from performer to producer? How can our readers sitting there thinking “I want to do that too” do the same?
I can honestly say that it wasn’t a conscious decision on my part. I suspect my first steps toward the producing experience began when I accepted the position of Dance Captain for Cameron Macintosh’s first production of Oliver back in 1983, starring Garry McDonald as Fagin and Geraldine Turner as Nancy. I was 21 and had been working professionally in Music Theatre for 3 years. Oliver had two groups of children and I spent my days in the theatre working closely with the Resident Director, Musical Director and Stage Manager. Together we worked with understudies, swings and the children, teaching the score, blocking, choreography and spacing.
I have a passion for learning and am naturally curious so I just loved it. I wasn’t aware at the time of the responsibility of this position. Working across both performing and production arenas, I was exposed to the myriad of decisions that affect the production on a daily basis and beyond this about the collaboration required on a daily basis to produce a music theatre production.
Music Theatre is a volatile industry both emotionally and financially. I believe it is possible for performers to become producers, as producers and performers demonstrate and share the same prerequisite; the passionate courage required to risk it all win or lose. In the words of Irving Berlin “There’s No Business Like Show Business”
What do you know now about what goes on behind the scenes that you wish you had known as a performer?
I know more about the business side of our industry and the financial requirements essential to take the first step – the seed funding or venture capital required to be in place before a producer can even begin to animate the concepts the creatives are proposing.
Finance is an essential element, it is the river of life for a production and a producer oftentimes requires abundant creativity in the generation of this fuel on which the production depends. The composer, lyricist, orchestrator, director, choreographer, set designer, lighting designer, costume designer and sound designer all require finance to furnish their creative ideas and then engage the artisans and technicians required to accomplish this. There are many factors to be considered when casting a production, and considering the myriad of reasons why one person is cast and another is not, I think it could benefit performers to understand this, and therefore be a little gentler with themselves in regard to their artistry and level of craft when not called back.
Was there a time period where you weren’t taken ‘seriously’ because of your performing background and if so, what did you do to combat that to stay in the game?
I don’t believe there was ever a time where I wasn’t taken seriously. I was completely supported by those who chose to mentor me and share their knowledge and skills.
Producer/writer/director Garry Ginivan employed me to choreograph, direct and perform in his productions for a period of 20 years. These are treasured moments in my history.
Garry Ginivan created and produced original children’s theatre and toured nationally, delivering 12 shows a week to children all around Australia. I believe Garry and his work, nurtures the audiences of our future. In the past 10 years, I have found myself engaged on a daily basis more in the production arena than the performing arena and this transition is largely due to the mentoring of Executive Producer for West Side Story, Legally Blonde and Moonshadow, Sue Farrelly. I have been very fortunate indeed to learn from masters in their field.
If there was ever any doubt, or a “not been taking seriously”, I was the one responsible for this. My biggest struggle was my own self-doubt. Their support and encouragement was often times the wind beneath my wings. You need a team and masses of adaptability.
Your Partner Tim Smith and yourself have created an innovative online singing course (Vocal Alchemy) for people who might not necessarily live in locations to receive one-on-one tuition. What has been the biggest learning curve in making an e-commerce business thrive in a industry that generally holds traditional one on one singing lessons?
Convincing people to try something new! We are by nature creatures of habit. We have always taken ourselves off to a class be that; acting, singing, dancing, music etc… rather than have the class come to us. So apart from learning and implementing the technical processes involved in creating an online product, the next biggest hurdle for me was and continues to be the introduction and integration of online education as a practical tool. Technological advancements occur at break neck speed and my challenge has been to keep up and apply these advancements with equal rapidity, but often I feel like a slow motion movie. We fragile human beings have to run leaps and bounds in order to keep up with the innovative new platforms and applications being created every day. I believe that adaptability is the key to using these to our advantage. Technology is here to stay and daily I hear my Mum’s words of wisdom echoing loudly in my ears “the only thing constant in life is change”. We need to embrace it.
How has it added to your producing role from seeing what’s possible to achieve on the Internet?
The Internet is global, so in the past when I would have considered only the Australian market, my considerations now for any production are instantly on a global scale.
"I make it a practice in my life to always have a mentor"
These days there tend to be a lot of ‘slashys’ (actor/writer/producer) which is great. Do you have any advice for artists who want to do it all?
Yes… get a mentor and ask great questions… I make it a practice in my life to always have a mentor, whilst at the same time continue teaching those with less experience. I believe that at any given stage of our journey we should endeavour to be beginner, student and teacher. It keeps us balanced and stable. I don’t believe we are ever done with learning. I am passionate about teaching and I love nothing more than when a student provides me with the answer to a problem I have been trying to solve! No matter where we are on our artistic journey there is always someone somewhere who has experienced it or is accomplished in our chosen endeavor, be that actor/writer/producer/performer etc…
Producers and performers wear different ‘hats’ in the industry. What information do you encourage performers to become aware of when they want to make the foray into the ‘other side’?
I would encourage an awareness and knowledge of finance and negotiation. Tucked neatly under the producer’s hat sits the financial responsibility for all facets of the production and under the performer’s hat lies an awareness and responsibility to maintain their artistry and skill level equivalent to that of an Olympic athlete or professional sportsman and be ready willing an able to deliver 8 shows a week.
"I would encourage an awareness and knowledge of finance and negotiation"
The myth that ‘the Agent does it all and I sit back and wait’ is still so large here in Australia, How important do you think it is for performers these days to promote themselves and not relay fully on their agent?
This is different for every individual but personally I’m an action person. When I was performing, my agent and I worked together – your agent is effectively your business partner. You are in it together. When you set your sights on a role the work required to secure this commences well before your agent submits you to the casting director. This partnership includes an awareness of networking and promotion.
Do you have any online or other innovative marketing advice that would capture the interest of a producer/casting director?
Yes… Implement Social Network Marketing and Internet Marketing when ever possible. This is the new word of mouth with viral potential!
You’re certainly forging a path of innovation and action that inspires other young ladies in the industry, with producing roles, motherhood, Vocal Alchemy and wife time. How do you stay on top of things? Do you use time management systems eg?
Yes I do. It’s a prioritized ‘To Do’ list. I make a habit of clearing my head every night before I go to sleep. This began when I was Company Manager/ Resident Director on The Lion, the Witch and The Wardrobe as I found it impossible to keep everything in check in my head. This helped me sleep better and be more efficient the next day. With the tasks clearly listed in order of priority, I free up space for creativity and flexibility. I begin my day by imagining how I want be it in advance, making sure to dedicate precious time and energy to the and people and activities I treasure. I wasn’t always like this and through some life changing and challenging experiences have come to realize that where we chose to focus our energy grows and vise versa.
What are the 3 main characteristics you believe you need to make the switch from Performer to Producer?
Passion– for finance, the project and the people involved.
Vision– for the future of the production and it’s contribution to the entertainment industry.
Leadership – to captain the project and steer the course of its destiny.