Gemma Pepper is a producer with Side Pony Productions, a company that supports the productions of director Zoe Pepper creating predominantly devised theatre. All Side Pony’s work is laced with a deep sense of irony and the use of comedy to create empathy is pivotal and their acclaimed work The Confidence Man, which is due to open at The Street on Sunday 20th September.
Producer Gemma Pepper works across a diverse spectrum of creative projects; including community cultural development, theatre and festivals, policy and program development. Gemma was Creative Producer for Canberra’s Enlighten Festival 2012-2014 and is currently Producer for Erth – Visual and Physical. Gemma has an ongoing producing relationship with Side Pony Productions.
She talks to The Street ahead of The Confidence Man season.
How did you get into producing?
I’ve always been pretty good at organising things; I have 3 sisters so it was always good to have a clear plan to get everyone in the right place at the right time. I’ve also been involved in the arts since I was a kid, doing circus and theatre all through school meant it was a fairly attractive line of work to step into. When I left school I was lucky enough to score a traineeship with Southern Edge Arts, which is a youth theatre organisation that really got me started in the arts.
How did your work get noticed?
Ideally in producing it’s not your work that gets noticed but the artists you work with, and I guess you just give it all you’ve got to make the work the best it possibly can be, connecting to the widest possible audience. I guess ultimately you need to solve problems, get things done and generally be reliable and level headed to start to have your work noticed by others in the industry.
What have been the big moments of your career?
Working in the arts means you often find yourself in the most bizarre and fabulous scenarios – on the boardwalk of the Sydney Opera House with 2000 dancers at 7am for instance. I must say that I was really proud of the work I did on the Enlighten festival, which was the first festival I programmed and produced, it was a mega undertaking but I did work with some fabulous people in Canberra.
Can you tell us a bit more about the confidence man and your journey from the initial idea to national tour?
The confidence man was really a big bold experiment into how you can create performance that connects with people at an emotional level but is totally democratic – driven by the audience themselves – using technology in a whole new way. Zoe worked front of house on the Rotozaza show Etiquette at the Perth festival a few years ago and we were intrigued about how they had created the work. This was the seed that led to several years of development and play, exploring how an audience member can be supported to step onto the floor and play whilst still creating a performance that is fun and engaging for a wider audience. We had a fabulous response from audiences in Perth and Melbourne so we were chuffed when performing lines offered to work with us to get this tour on the road.
Is there a piece of producing advice you couldn’t live without?
Excel is your friend! So much of this work is about tracking a ridiculously huge number of tiny tiny details, that you pull together to make the show a success. So it’s important that you set up ways to keep on top of all those details to be confident it’s all going to be fine on the night.
What’s inspiring you creatively at the moment?
Zoe and I are pretty excited about using technology in new ways. We have seen a lot of work that leaves you feeling kinda hollow but if you can incorporate the most effective elements of theatre and live performance it feels like there are real opportunities to create something new that moves people. So we are constantly trawling tech sites and magazines checking out how people are building new apps, testing new hardware and sharing stories in new ways. I’m embracing my inner geek in a big way!
What are you reading and watching currently?
I’ve just got NetFlix and I’m a little bit obsessed with House Of Cards at the moment, which is keeping me awake with late night binge watching!
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