The day in the life of a Theatre Programmer

To kick off our series of ‘A Day in the Life of’ we hear from Katy Snelling, Programmer of Oxford Playhouse, about what she does and why she loves it.


When people ask me what I do, I usually tell them I have the BEST job.  I’m the Programmer for Oxford Playhouse which means that, with Michelle Dickson the Director, I select the productions we show on our main stage, in the Burton Taylor studio and through Playhouse Plays Out, our off site stream of work.

No two days are ever the same in this job.  Sometimes I spend from morning until night watching plays, other days are spent back to back in meetings or in front of a computer screen but very few days pass by without some inspiring work or idea crossing my path.  Here’s a regular-ish Thursday in my world.

I get to the office around 10am and first job, over a coffee, is to check in on the show reports and audience feedback from Wednesday night’s performances and the sales figures from the previous day.  If there’s anything that needs urgent attention then making sure that’s getting sorted is my priority.  I do this every morning and on Mondays I’ll also run the box office report for the previous week and send out the final sales figures.

Next up is checking my emails – it’s not unusual to get over 100 a day and many of these are approaches about potential shows.  We try to respond to everyone even if we’re not going to make a booking. Many are either simply too big for our 50 seat studio or too small for our 600 seat main house.  As well as considering the scale of the work we also have to consider the artistic content, style and quality of the show itself, whether it’d appeal to our audiences, how it would sit within the rest of our programme, whether the dates work and if we can afford it.  At the moment I’m also putting together my Edinburgh festival schedule and trying to squeeze as many shows and meetings as possible into just 7 days.  This requires multiple spreadsheets and an awful lot of emails but Edinburgh is an absolute highlight of my year and I always come back buzzing.

Michelle’s on holiday next week so we have a catch up on the diary for 2014 and discuss the possible shows.  Together with the marketing and finance managers we make some educated predictions about likely sales which means that I can then contact company producers and discuss the terms of the deals.  I’ll also talk about technical provision, marketing ideas, access performances and education programmes and each department here will later carry on these conversations in more detail.

Then it’s over the road to the Museum of Natural History to look at and photograph a bit of the building we may use for an off site show.  It already has seating, heating, fire exits and toilets which makes things very much easier to manage but it might be a bit too small so I’ll send the dimensions and photographs to the company for them to have a look at as they know their set up needs best.

On the way back I stick my head in at stage door to check in on this week’s visiting company before their matinee.  I’ll also listen in on the audience reaction in the interval and bits of the show.  I watched the show on Tuesday night when it was first with us and usually stay after that and get the company a drink to congratulate them. It’s really important to us that the company feel relaxed and welcome when they’re with us and it’s equally important, although we may have seen the show already elsewhere, that we have the same experience as our audiences do.  A member of our box office and marketing staff will always watch the first performance too.

Back upstairs and I meet with our Outreach and Learning team.  We know roughly what the Spring mainhouse programme will be so we’re bouncing around ideas about extra activities to engage with audiences.  We’ll also look at which shows are most suited to access provision – we run captioned, audio described, signed and relaxed performances throughout the year but not every week so we like to get a good balance across the season.

Then it’s time to hop on the bus to London (we get free travel as part of a sponsorship deal which really helps us to be able to afford to go out and see new work).  I’m going to see a piece that we might present in Spring 2014 and to meet the producers but while I’m cruising along the M40 I’ll read through the latest proof of the studio brochure – checking that the copy reflects the show and appeals to our audience as well as that dates, times and prices are correct and there’s no spelling mistakes.

I’ll get home after 11pm this evening both very tired and exhilarated about the people I’ve met, the places I’ve been and the productions that are in the pipeline.  I really do have the BEST job.