Backstage with Dan Colman
With over 25 years of experience working in the live events industry, Dan Colman of Dan Colman Creative knows all too well about what it takes to put on a spectacular show.
Starting as a 14-year-old schoolboy at the National Youth Music Theatre and becoming the established leading producer in STEM live experiences he is today; Dan has turned a lifelong passion for live shows into a full-time career. In our latest ‘Backstage with’ Q&A, we find out from Dan how he got his big break, his advice for the budding producers out there, tips on putting on a showstopper, and so much more!
What inspired you to get into live events? And more specifically, how did you come to specialise in STEM live experiences?
I’ve been very fortunate to be able to turn a lifelong passion for live shows into a full-time career. I started as a 14-year-old schoolboy with the National Youth Music Theatre and spent my school holidays first as a follow spot operator, and eventually working my way up to a Stage Manager.
After school, I went on to study at Oxford Polytechnic, now Oxford Brookes, and took a year out to run the Student’s Union. Having had an extraordinary opportunity to learn about people, politics, running an organisation, putting on events and the importance of trying your best to deliver what the audience wants, I finished off my studies and in that final summer in 1991, I produced a student production of ‘Oh What a Lovely War’ at the Edinburgh Fringe.
The show was well received and after Edinburgh, I was offered an internship by West End Producers, PW Productions. A year later they gave me one of the biggest breaks of my career by supporting me in setting up my own business. They became my first client and asked me to take on General Managing for one of their shows.
I’ve always said that after that Edinburgh show 30 years ago, I started producing and no one has ever told me to stop!
My passion for STEM shows came about 15 years ago. I returned to Edinburgh one summer and with an hour or so spare, took a trip down memory lane by visiting the theatre, where I had been that schoolboy follow spot operator. Coincidentally there was a show running presented by a Scientist, Dr Bunhead. I had never been to a STEM show, but I realised that there were 400 people, in a packed-out theatre on the Fringe having the time off their life. They were laughing and learning and having a great shared family experience.
The following year we produced Dr Bunhead for a summer run at the Garrick Theatre in London and the world or ‘Edutainment’ suddenly opened up.
You’ve worked with some brilliant productions, including Bristol-based Aardman Animations on ‘Animate it Live’. What would you say was one of your most rewarding productions to date/ a particular “pinch me!” career moment?
There have been many memorable moments – can I mention more than one? Opening the original Slava’s Snowshow on the Edinburgh Fringe, the week after I got married and with only £500 in the box-office. Word of mouth sold out its four weeks run in three days, and a year later we took it to the Old Vic and won the Olivier Award for Best Entertainment. Producing my first kids Arena tour, Tweenies Live and selling 93,000 seats at Wembley Arena over a week. Taking our best-known STEM Show, Brainiac Live for a two-week run to the Sydney Opera House, and producing Aardman Animations’ Shaun the Sheep live show with an international company that we rehearsed for a month in Belgrade and opened in Cairo.
How would you describe the feeling on the opening night of a show after months of hard work and dedication?
I get an immense sense of pride, satisfaction and camaraderie in the shared experience of seeing and being part of the creative, production and performance teams coming together. I think delivering a great experience to an audience is a real privilege for all of us in the industry and always make the journey worthwhile. I’m still usually too nervous to enjoy opening nights and rarely take a seat. A gin and tonic helps!
What would you say are the key ingredients to putting on an unforgettable live show?
Number one is to put the right creative and production team together and then allow them to get on with their jobs. Two is to remember to treat people well – we all share the same goal of delivering the best possible audience experience and although we may not ultimately be in control of the end result, we can at least control how we behave and the journey to get there. Number three – sell enough tickets!
What advice would you give to somebody looking to break into the industry? What key skills would you say are needed as a producer?
You need to be resilient as it’s hard to get started but persevere. Try and get as much experience as you can across different sectors of the live industry as it’s all valuable. Be organised, reliable and pleasant to work with – invaluable when under pressure in a production week. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice and help, we’ve all been there and we’re all still learning. Don’t be afraid of making mistakes but don’t make the same mistake twice!
As a producer, my key rules are work hard to find good people and empower them to take key decisions ‘to make the call’. At the end of the day, if you want to build a business you can’t be across every production week and every show. Ultimately, it’s your team that have to make sure that a show can be delivered on the night
The other key skill is very simple: make more money than you lose and accept you will do both.
Can you name a song that can instantly boost your mood?
Don’t You (Forget About Me) Simple Minds
Which artist/band/performer/ show would you like to see at YTL Arena Bristol and why?
Anything that my 15-year-old daughter says she won’t be embarrassed to go to with me. We live in Bath so hope to be going to YTL Arena a lot!
And finally, can you share a song that means a lot to you so we can add it to our YTL Arena Backstage Pass playlist?
Sweet Dream, Eurythmics. I was travelling in ’87 and saw Annie Lennox perform at Sultans Pool, Jerusalem. Unforgettable.
For more information about Dan Colman Creative and related projects, please visit https://www.dancolmancreative.com.