Pamela Banks is an actor, singer & co-founder of Vital Signs Theatre. They recently toured a production of Laura Wade’s play ‘Other Hands’.
“If I could just act, and play the parts that excited me, then I would”. Like many actors, Pamela Banks has occasionally felt frustrated with the range of opportunities the industry throws her way, ‘I’ve done a lot of comedies…farces, which are great fun but the female characters in them can often be quite one-dimensional’. Taking on more meaty roles often involved working for little pay, for small and sometimes rather disorganised set-ups. Whilst appearing in one such production, Pamela got chatting to fellow cast member and friend, Lucy Lill, and they decided to have a go at producing a show. ‘The idea was born out of frustration really…we felt we might be able to do a little better ourselves’.
The girls found themselves a play with two strong female characters, and booked a week at a London fringe venue to stage their experiment. They raised the money through singing at fundraising concerts in Pam’s native Oxfordshire and the production went down a storm, selling out every night. With one under their belt, the pair decided to keep the company alive and have since gone on to produce several more plays, each more ambitious than the last.
Pam describes her feelings towards producing as ‘mixed’, enjoying the challenge and satisfaction of the end result, but not the ‘endless fundraising and funding application forms’. Luckily for her, whilst she looks after the company books, her collaborator Lucy is a natural at that sort of thing, so the division of labour seems pretty harmonious.
Since their formation in 2010, the company have already encountered some difficult scenarios; the panic when one of their directors fell sick the day before rehearsals started, the disappointment of failing to secure Arts Council Funding for their latest project, having to forfeit their own payment when a show ran over-budget (they paid everyone but themselves), but the plucky pair have always risen to the challenge. Despite the hard work, Pam beams as she describes the added confidence and career satisfaction that producing has given her; no more waiting for the phone to ring, or wondering what to talk about when you’ve been out of work for a while, ‘I’ve always got something to do now…I’m never out of work’.
The aspect of producing that really makes Pam’s eyes light up, is the ‘power’. She is not at all egotistical, but enjoys the opportunity to take control, which acting rarely provides. Quite an academic by nature, she gets frustrated by the fact that as an actor, ‘you don’t necessarily get out what you put in’, whereas being involved in the creative process as a producer, the results of her hard work are a lot more tangible. She describes being involved in the audition process as ‘fascinating…it’s really useful to see it from the other side’, and admits to getting a little thrill when the tables are turned and directors and agents approach her, rather than the other way around.
It’s been a steep learning curve, and the girls are keen to share what they’ve learned with other start-up companies. They recently hosted a seminar at The Young Vic on touring theatre, chaired by Pam and featuring a panel of artistic directors from some of the country’s most successful regional touring venues. Reassuringly, everyone had similar problems and questions, “I wish we’d had access to all that information when we started!”, and moving forward they’d like to host similar workshops, to act as a platform for new companies to share ideas and experiences.
So having started on this journey, would she give it up and go back to just performing if the opportunity arose? “Probably not actually….I think if I went back to just acting now , I would really miss it. I enjoy being busy too much”.
Visit the Vital Signs Theatre Website