Production meetings are an important part of the production process, as they keep everyone focused on the goal, which is to present a cohesive, engaging, entertaining story to the audience. But they can also be long, boring, and unproductive. In my experience, the most useful production meetings have had three things in common:
1. They are scheduled on a regular basis
By setting up your meeting schedule at the beginning of the production period, everyone on the team can plan ahead for them. Whether the meetings occur every week, every two weeks, or less often, they will become part of the regular routine.
I have often seen these schedules set up at the first production meeting: “Can we all meet every Tuesday at 1:00? No? You can’t? Okay, let’s see here… how about every Wednesday at 3:00?” and so forth. There will always someone who can’t make a meeting or two, but these will be minimized.
2. There is a standard agenda
By writing down the agenda and distributing it to everyone at each meeting (or emailing it ahead of time), you will be in a better position to keep the meeting on track and productive. The printed agenda is also a handy place to jot down notes and highlight important dates or issues. Also, if the agenda follows the same format every time, people will get used to the routine and plan to use their allotted time effectively.
Here’s a simple, sample agenda:
- Producer’s update (schedule, budget, other issues)
- Director’s update (auditions, callbacks, casting, rehearsals, similar issues)
- Technical director’s update
- Set design (progress of design, presentation of research material, sketches, schedule, other issues)
- Lighting design (same as above)
- Costume design (same as above)
- Props (same as above)
- Sound (same as above)
- Stage manager (rehearsals, schedule, other issues)
- Publicity (progress, ideas, deadlines, other issues)
- Concessions (new products, ideas, other issues)
- Anything else
- Confirm date & time of next meeting
Meetings like this, with six or eight people at the table, can easily be kept to an hour or even less, as long as somebody (generally the producer or technical director) is chairing them and keeping them on track. In many cases, there will be nothing new to discuss or report in one or more categories, but at least this way nothing falls between the cracks.
3. They are short and to the point
People do fall asleep at meetings; it’s not just a cartoon joke. One way of keeping meetings short and to the point is to use them to discuss only those items that apply to, or involve, everyone (or almost everyone) present.
For instance, a production meeting would not be a good time for the set designer and technical director to have a lengthy conversation about how to cantilever a platform or whether to use lumber or metal to build a tower. It would also not be a good time for the lighting designer and director to discuss each of ninety-six lighting cues, or for the prop master to go into detail about sixteen props.
What does work is for these parties to bring up the subject and then set up a time to discuss them separately. I have been at many production meetings which have been immediately followed by ad-hoc discussions to go over detailed technical matters: the set designer and technical director head off to the shop, the director and publicist head off to the office, and so forth.
Production meetings, however, should not take the place of ongoing communication on specific issues or even routine matters, whether it be by phone, email, texting, or in person. Since opening night isn’t going to move, you don’t want to wait for a production meeting (often a week or more) to bring up a question or issue.
Regular production meetings can be a very useful way to keep everyone on track and focused on the same goal. They just need a little pre-planning if they are to be effective.