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Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?

Rural Touring

Crayg Ward - 14 January 2017

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Session 2, Saturday 14 Jan, 2017. 2:45 - 4pm
Discussion notes. If you would like to add anything / ask anything or amend anything, then let me know.

Rural Touring

Why are we in this session? What makes people interested in rural touring within the industry?

There is a romanticism about rural touring, the countryside, making work outside of cities…
To get a clearer understanding of what rural touring is.
To learn how I get involved as an artist - how I make work for rural touring.
To learn if I should take my work to rural locations.


Pentabus Theatre Company tour to villages, rural communities and areas that are lacking in theatre provision/access.

What are the limitations?

Not much income from taking shows - village halls have limited funds.
Certain limitations to bear in mind for show content.
Dance in rural touring: Promoter told someone that communities wouldn't go to see dance. (see notes later in discussion for other point of view). - what can dance offer to those audiences and how can that be communicated?

Does risky/challenging work have a home in rural touring?

The promoter* bears the responsibility. Visiting company has less responsibility for the show.
*promoter is in context of village halls - will be a volunteer from the community. A key player in the community, well known and respected who will organise events at the village hall…\
It is their neck on the line if there's a negative response to the show.
Village Hall touring is like going in to the audiences living room, the space is familiar to them, they have memories and love for the space, they know the rest of the audience, they're friends, it is a community night out. That must be respected.
Don't take a shit on their carpet - although, if artistically you want to make that challenge to the audience, then you need to justify it and help the audience to see that justification. Open yourself and your art up completely. Be as honest as possible with them, in marketing and within the art. Work closely with the promoter/village representative - they are a source of knowledge directly from within the community.
Be challenging, but do it in a way that matches your audience.

Who are the rural audience?

Demographics: they're an older audience who will attend village hall shows. 50's / 60's have consistently been the highest in attendance. 0-16, children at home are rarely in attendance and it's a challenge to speak to them directly.
Don't assume that countryside audiences are gentle, or not theatre-goers.

It's key to work with audiences to develop ideas/stories that they want to see - stories that impact and are relevant to them.


How does it work?
How far in advance do ‘they’ programme.

1 year / 18 months

Touring professional quality productions…
Big bulky sets, full lighting rig, work-heavy get-in and get-out - spaces can be transformed, but not a necessity - audiences can be moved with a very simple, light, set-up. Find that balance that suits the production,.

The actors and stage manager do the full tour, get-ins and get-outs. looking after costume and props etc along the way, and travelling far and wide.

Actor with 20 years experience of rural touring:
“It's hard work, really hard work… it's good, rewarding work”
You have to be a particular kind of person to do it.

It is key to get the right people involved.
People who are group minded, will muck-in, positive problem solvers who will also chat to the audience, deal with the problems that might arise in a friendly can-do way. Chat about issues from the show that may have affected audience members. Interpersonal skills required.

What makes it good and rewarding?

An actor has a direct connection with the audience, something that is rare in theatre venues. Working with a touring company regularly also enables the actor to build a long term relationship with audiences.

Audiences are very appreciative that companies go to their home, they see the hard work that goes into it. Audiences see their familiar space transformed and how much work it takes to do so, they often see the get-out process begin.


Ticket prices?
Promoter sells the tickets - could be £5 - £15. They know the audience and what prices they normally have or what the audience will be happy to pay in that particular location.


Touring schemes.

touring schemes / communities can feel closed off to new people/artists/companies.
'It's easier in Wales, because there is not a gatekeeper - individual venues on the Welsh circuit can book whatever they want.
Scottish rural touring - Highlands and Islands touring scheme - it doesn't have to be Scottish work to have a successful tour.

Digs.
Keep happy actors. Use nice digs. Pentabus book accommodation for the full tour and provide a tour book with all info of venues and digs - as much info as possible to make the tour as easy as possible. It's hard work, so Pentabus try to make it as easy as possible for the touring company.

What are the tricks?
Practical - don't make it too big/heavy. be aware of physical exhaustion.
Know where you're going - have maps
Have an interval. It is often key for village halls, it is a time to open the bar, do a raffle, have a chat - key income for a village hall.


Feedback from a touring scheme manager:
Have in mind that you're a guest in their space
Think about seating - sightlines can be shit - in the round is good.
Job as a scheme manager is to ensure equality in programming and diverse work.

Programming - comedy theatre / music is an easy sell. An ideal world would have this balanced with more diverse, challenging work, but this can be difficult if events are limited to 1 booking per year,.
More subsidy can go into tickets for theatre and dance - the audience will pay more for music shows if that is what they want..

Question to scheme manager…
If you could pick one piece of programming - what would it be?

'I love it all… but there was an amazing piece of dance - it rained in the village hall - the audience were blown away by it.'

It's always a challenge to get young promoters involved


Fundamentally - make work you're passionate about!
ACE employee : ‘the work that matters is the work that the company is passionate about’

The audiences will see that passion through the work.

Don't sensor yourself, but make sure you understand the audience and their motivations for buying tickets - respect them and their space.

R&D / rehearsal periods.
Pentabus usually have around 3 weeks rehearsal. The script is often fully formed by the time the rehearsals begin.
Funding/budgets/risk adverse audiences make ‘scratch’ performances/projects almost impossible. There is often so much riding on the one single booking that a village hall will take in a year, that it can't be a place for a scratch show. The art within rural communities is too limited for this purpose.


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These are notes from the session. If you would like to add anything or amend anything, just let me know.
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