23 July 2021

Producer Profile: Tanya Agarwal

This week we're talking to the producer for Burnt Lemon Theatre, Tanya Agarwal, about their upcoming show Tokyo Rose, on tour this Autumn with a 3 week run at Southwark Playhouse. Burnt Lemon Theatre, formed in 2018, makes award-winning female-led musicals winning the Les Enfants Terribles ‘Stepladder Award’ as well as New Diorama and Underbelly’s ‘UNTAPPED’ award for Tokyo Rose itself. Tanya is also the Programme Coordinator at Assembly Festival.

Tanya participated in our Bridge the Gap Producer Programme 2019/20 and received a Bursary Award in Spring 2020.

Could you explain a bit about your route to producing and forming Burnt Lemon Theatre? What experience did you gather and what are some key skills learnt along the way?

I never really thought of theatre as a career until the third year of the history degree I was doing at the time. I did a bit of technical and production management alongside my studies and didn't really know anything about what a producer was or what they did! I heard about the MA in Creative Producing at Mountview, decided to give that a shot, and the rest is history! I was approached by Hannah and Cara, the co-ADs of Burnt Lemon after meeting at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and we've been working together ever since. Alongside freelancing I've also been fortunate to work for LIFT, New Diorama Theatre, King's Head Theatre, and currently Assembly Festival.
I've learnt a lot about being diplomatic, communication, time management, and how to make a banging spreadsheet along the way.

How did you run off the momentum of Tokyo Rose from Edinburgh Fringe and have you had to change tactics due to lockdowns?

It was hard not to feel total despair when lockdown happened and cancelled our tour that we had planned for Autumn 2020. This was my first small to mid-scale tour so it felt like a particular blow to my career and to the momentum that Tokyo Rose had picked up the previous year. However, having that year ended up being really helpful - we were able to develop strong relationships with Birmingham Hippodrome, MAST Mayflower Southampton, Curve Leicester and so on which has significantly helped the development of the show and the company as a whole. We have also just recorded a cast album in an effort to create different ways to engage with the show - watch this space!

What do you love most about Tokyo Rose? Why should we come and see it?

Tokyo Rose combines lots of things that I love; electrifying catchy music, a historical marginalised true story, and an incredibly talented cast and creative team. Iva Toguri's story is one that remains relevant today. The persecution, prejudice, and racism she faced is unfortunately still prevalent today. As an American-Japanese woman she was constantly torn between the two countries, being too American to be Japanase and too Japanese to be American. This is a feeling that I personally identify with and don't think is talked about enough. I would love for everyone to see the show to learn more about Iva and her extraordinary life.

What has this experience taught you as a producer?

Developing this show from a small 1 hour long fringe show to a 2-act mid-scale touring show has been a real learning curve! I've learnt a lot about how to talk to venues, other producers, and programmers, as well as how not to balk at budgets that are a lot bigger than I would like them to be!

How have you utilised Stage One and the bursary award to support this show and your progression as a producer?

Stage One has been a lifeline during this time. Aside from the financial support that the bursary provides which has obviously helped in making the large scary numbers in my budget a little bit less scary, the amount of advice and support I've been given has made the whole process more manageable. This has really helped my trajectory as a producer in learning how to ask for help, and how to implement the advice I've been given. My mentor, Aidan Grounds, has been particularly helpful and his ability to put my panicked thoughts into coherent sentences is a real gift!

What advice do you have for anyone looking to apply for a bursary?

To just go for it! I really did not think I would be successful with my application, but decided to apply with the view that the process would be a good way to practice talking about my work, and Tokyo Rose in particular, to funders.

Tokyo Rose, UK Tour

Click each venue to get your tickets:

MAST Mayflower Southampton (16 - 18 Sept) 

Southwark Playhouse (23 Sept - 16 Oct) 

Curve, Leicester - (18 - 20 Oct)

North Wall Arts Centre - (21 - 23 Oct)

Corn Exchange, Newbury- (26 - 27 Oct)

Birmingham Hippodrome - (28 - 30 Oct) - tickets on sale soon!

Turn back the dial to 1949.

Iva Toguri stands trial accused of being the notorious ‘Tokyo Rose’, a Japanese wartime disc jockey who broadcast Axis propaganda to the Allied Forces in the Pacific. But was Iva the villain she was made out to be?

Winner of The Edinburgh Untapped Award & the Les Enfants Terribles Stepladder Award, this electrifying new musical tells the true story of how one strong, American-born woman battled through a journey of self acceptance, only to return home to a dangerously divided nation.

Going live in 5, 4, 3…

★★★★★ “Book as soon as you can. A must-see.” Musical Theatre Review