Katy Lipson, the Manchester-born producer and company director, spoke to JLife’s Laura Sefton about her love of the stage and what’s next.
Can you tell us a little about being brought up in Manchester?
I was brought up in Broughton Park and was educated at King David Jewish primary school. I went on to Manchester High School for Girls to do my GCSEs and A-levels, then studied classical music at the University of London. I still have lots of family living in Manchester, though – the Lipson family is huge!
I started pursuing a university degree in genetics until a fellow student and I decided to write a musical together, which we then produced on the stage. This led to a change in direction and I left the genetics course in favour of studying classical music at the University of London.
Have you always wanted to be a producer?
Performing has always been part of my life. I had singing, dancing, cello and piano lessons, and was part of the school choir. I also appeared in lots of school productions.
Before becoming a full-time producer, I worked in all aspects of the theatre including vocal coaching and musical direction. While at university, I became increasingly interested in the role of a producer and looked into what they do.
Can you give us a snapshot of what’s involved?
There is so much involved in producing a musical. First, I have to find a show that I love and gauge its commercial appeal. That then defines where the production will be staged and how ambitious we can be with it. I have to create a financial model, as well as organise the budget and marketing for the show, find a good director, cast the actors and crew, sort out contracts, write biographies – there’s so much to do!
Sometimes it’s easier working on a large-scale production and you have a team behind you who you can delegate to but when you’re working on a smaller production, you end up project managing most of it yourself. I love producing though because it allows me to combine my business acumen with musicality and enables me to create some uniquely creative and individual productions.
What else are you involved in?
I formed my own a theatrical production company, Aria Entertainment, in 2012 as I wanted to specialise in producing shows and build up my name. Each year, it produces at least one musical revival, a new British musical, new American musical, a play and a new cabaret show.
In 2013, I created From Page to Stage, a festival where we launch a season of new musicals. I have done three seasons so far, showcasing over eight new musicals in each. Last year I spotted a gap in the market for a consultancy to help others produce shows so I set up Theatrical Management Solutions, which provides bespoke theatre development and management services to productions.
Over the past three years I have produced three shows: The Jewish American Songbook, That’s Jewish Entertainment, and The Jewish Legends, a celebration of some of the greatest Jewish performers in entertainment history. I’d love to bring them to Manchester, they would be very popular.
You have led two productions at the recently-launched Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester so far.
I knew the owners, Joseph Houston and William Welton, and went to see the Hope Mill Theatre when they first opened it in 2015. I thought “wow, what a beautiful space” – I adore it.
I had been following the director James Baker for some time and was really impressed with the shows he’s worked on in Manchester. Our joint passion for musical theatre was clear from the outset and we joined forces in January 2016 to spearhead the arts venue as a platform to showcase, revive and bring new musical theatre to the north. Together we brought the Tony award-winning musical Parade and cult classic Hair to Manchester. Now we’re collaborating on Yank!
Can you tell us a little about Yank?
It is based on the off-Broadway production from 2010 and this new version is being performed for the first time ever in Manchester. It’s a moving gay love story set during the Second World War and focuses on the life of Stu, a scared Mid-Western youngster who is called up to serve in the forces in 1943. He becomes a photographer for Yank magazine, the journal ‘for and by the servicemen’. The musical explores what it means to be a man, and what it is to fall in love and struggle.
What’s next for you? And when will you be back in Manchester?
2017 is a very exciting year for me. Andrew Lloyd Webber has invited me to produce From Page to Stage – a festival of new musical theatre running from 14th August to 3rd September – at his theatre The Other Place in London. It will be a lot of hard work but an amazing opportunity to showcase new musicals in varying stages of development.
I am also looking forward to coming back to Manchester this autumn to co-produce the northern premiere of Pippin at the Hope Mill Theatre.