How do we make touring pay?

Convener(s): Christina Elliot, Fuel 

Participants: Eek, I forgot to take a record. They included:Hannah Ashwell, Tassos Stevens, Phillipa Wittenoom, Mark, Lyn Gardner, Action Hero

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations: 

This group was convened to discuss the difficulties of making touring on the small scale sustainable.

We started by discussing the different models for financing tours. These included fees, ACE subsidy, box office splits and a mixture of all three. What is the minimum fee that a one man show with low production costs can tour on? £400 a show? £750 a show? It seemed to depend on a number of factors including level of overheads, whether performers are on weekly fees or per show fees, and so on. Whereas some participants argued that small scale companies should aspire to pay personnel regularly whilst on tour, even when there are gaps in the schedule, and be honest about the hidden costs of making the work, others suggested that costs should be minimized to represent best value to the venue.

There was some discussion of the rural touring model. Hannah from Beaford Arts described her role as a broker for artists and venues, curating a programme which was ambitious but tailored to the communities her organization serves. 

This led to a discussion about whether brokers could have a role more widely. Should the model of rural touring networks be expanded to the small scale touring circuit? A related question: should venues form consortiums to make it easier for companies to book joined up tours, and develop their audience over a number of years touring to the same venues.

We talked about other ways of financing tours: a number of participants had experience of offering workshops alongside performances to raise additional funds. Others suggested sponsorship or going to trusts with a record of funding touring e.g. Wellcome Trust, or bartering for support in kind on top of splits or fees e.g. rehearsal space.

Tassos Stevens prompted us to challenge some of the fundamentals of touring: what about making work remotely, or touring work in places where you find yourself already?

Much of the discussion centred on audiences. Clearly one answer to the question about how touring can pay is getting enough people to see it. However, it was clear that small companies find it hard to market their work in places which are unfamiliar – how do you market a show in Liverpool when you are based in London? Again, the role of brokers seemed valuable. We were encouraged to talk to local arts development officers whose job it is to link up organizations and audiences. We also discussed how touring companies could share resources, e.g. clubbing together to pay for a PR company, or reciprocal advertising on print and websites.

It seemed that everyone wanted a greater degree of sharing and collaboration and Theatre Bristol was held up as a good example of a community of theatre makers. 

We discussed London touring. Is it possible to do a regional tour entirely within Greater London? Participants were excited about the perceived easing of venue exclusion zones, partly as a result of the Audiences London survey which suggests that audiences are significantly venue loyal.

More joined up thinking seemed to be the answer to the original question. Companies working together to promote their work, venues forming consortiums, councils or local arts centres acting as brokers or middlemen between venues and companies.