Katy Lipson is a one-woman theatrical whirlwind who has become one of the UK’s leading fringe and Off West End musical theatre producers. It would appear that every musical she is involved in turns into theatrical gold.
Having recently opened her latest show, Aspects of Love at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre to a stunning set of 5-star reviews, Lipson’s extraordinary rise is even more impressive given that she has only been a professional theatre producer for six years.
A recipient of the Stage One Bursary, Lipson has produced a remarkable list of home-grown and rediscovered musicals; Bar Mitzvah Boy, Marry Me A Little, Parade, Spring Awakening, Return Of The Solider, Little Women and Yank. More recently she has enjoyed success with a Number 1 tour of The Adams Family, starring Les Dennis and Samantha Womak, The Toxic Avenger at the Arts Theatre and the London transfer of Hope Mill’s 50th-anniversary production of Hair, winner of the 2018 Whatsonstage award for Best Off West End production.
Aspects Of Love, is the eighth show that her company, Aria Entertainment has co-produced with Hope Mill Theatre, with which she has enjoyed enormous critical success and with whom she was jointly named in this year’s Stage’s 100 power list. In this interview, Lipson talks about how she became a producer, her passion for musical theatre and why she is hopeful that Andrew Lloyd Webber might see Aspects Of Love in Manchester.
You began your career as a musician what made you switch to become a producer?
In my early years, I did a degree in classical music at Goldsmith’s and then worked as an actress and musical director. It became very clear to me that I was interested in business and that there was a world that I could combine my passion for theatre and my entrapurnial spirit into one job and that happened to be producing. I discovered this by going on a workshop for producing and also falling in love with a show that I wanted to develop, I decided to form a company and develop a career as a producer.
What was the first show you produced and what lessons did you learn from doing this?
The first show I produced was The Mystery of Edwin Drood at the Landor Theatre in 2012, it transferred to the Arts very quickly after. I ran a little bit before I could walk with that show; I raised commercial money for the transfer but didn’t have enough to market it. I didn’t really have an understanding of how things really worked. I relied on good faith and some assumptions that were not true. It taught me a good lesson and also to wait a bit lot longer before launching into something with the same financial pressure again. It was a great show and had fantastic reviews.
You set up Aria Entertainment six years ago. What have been the highlights during this time?
2016 and 2017 have been great years in Aria’s journey transferring three shows from the Fringe to London – Hair, Yank and Pippin – launching the tour of The Adams Family, bringing back The Toxic Avenger, producing The Other Palace season at Andrew Lloyd Webber’s theatre. It’s all really taking off and I feel like I have a good sense of where my future is going and how I will devote my time to developing new musicals and supporting interesting revivals.
You now regularly produce in New York, London and Manchester. What are the challenges of producing multiple shows at the same time and in different cities?
I’ve only produced one show in New York, Unexpected Joy which I’m bringing to London in September. My association with Hope Mill and transferring shows to London is quite a common model and we’ve done three now. Ultimately we want to find more commercial futures for our shows as we’re finding it more challenging to do shows at this level. You really have to have a plan for the future of a show before you begin producing it. I’m really interested to find as many ways as possible to make theatre happen that can financially work, rather than only consider producing work in the West End or on proscenium arch stages. This means that you have to be more creative, think outside of the box and find venues away from the West End and out of London that can sustain long runs.
How did you get involved producing at Hope Mill and have you been surprised by the spectacular success that both you and the venue have enjoyed?
I knew Joe, one of the director’s of Hope Mill as an actor. He contacted me on Facebook to let me know that he and his partner, Will, had set up a theatre in Manchester. As I’m originally from Manchester I popped in to see the theatre and immediately fell in love with it. I could see how much the boys had invested in it both emotionally and financially and launched into doing a co-production of Parade with director, James Baker. The show was really successful and I couldn’t have imagined it would receive such a great response. I had such a good time working on the show that I decided to do Hair and another show Yank. It’s been great to discover a venue where I can produce shows that I really love and it’s all grown from there.
You have built up a reputation for rediscovering and producing small-scale/cult musicals, what inspired you to produce a show so well-known as Aspects of Love?
I’m a bit of a musical theatre geek and have a good knowledge of musicals from all genres and I continue to listen to new work. I’ve loved Aspects for many years and am a huge fan of Lloyd Webber. It’s very hard to get the rights for his work as it’s either still running or they’re with another producer. This was a great opportunity to re-imagine the show with a smaller orchestra and cast. I also wanted the show to be site responsive and be relevant for today. I’m very pleased that the reviews have picked up on this and don’t want this run to be the end.
In his recent autobiography, Andrew Lloyd Webber wrote that Aspects of Love is one of his own favourite musicals. Whilst working on the revival have you been in touch with him or any other members of the original creative team?
Andrew, Charles Hart and Don Black have all been invited to see the show. They’re all intending to see the show during its run in Manchester. So watch this space!
Last year you toured The Adams Family musical to great acclaim. Have you any plans to tour it again and maybe bring it into the West End?
I have every intention to take The Adams Family back out on tour and possibly abroad. We’re just putting a lot of final touches together to make this all happen. It would be a dream to bring the show into London, so again watch this space!
Earlier this year you returned to the stage as a performer, what was the experience like and have you any plans to do anything similar again?
I adored performing at the Hope mill Theatre fundraiser earlier this year with Jo and Will. It was very daunting but hugely rewarding. We had great audience reaction and will probably do another one, we just need to find the time and the headspace to organise it. It reminded me why I love musicals so much and where my roots are as a performer and creative and I don’t want to lose those skills as I’ve invested so much in them.
And finally, what other shows are you currently working on?
I’m still working on Aspects, the Return Of The Soldier which opens at Hope Mill in September, the Off-Broadway London production of Unexpected Joy and the Page To Stage Festival, which is showcasing seven new musicals. I’m also working on another production at Hope Mill at Christmas and will be announcing another one for February as well as some very big plans for 2019, which I can’t yet reveal but will be one of my biggest years yet!
Aspects of Love is playing at Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester until Thursday 9 August.
Richard Hall | Image: Contributed