Category Archive: The Future Of Small-Scale Touring

The Future of Small-Scale Touring

Two weeks ago, in partnership with ITC, PANDA and Manchester Royal Exchange, we hosted a symposium to explore the future of small scale touring. The responses to a survey we conducted in 2013 highlighted a uniformity of issues amongst companies, artists and venues throughout the sector, including audiences taking less risk on new work, an unsustainable financial model and challenges in maintaining consistently high production values.

We invited producers, artists, venue programmers and touring companies to discuss the ways in which we can meet these challenges head on with inventive and strategic solutions.The day was split into three sections; New Touring Models and Approaches to Tourbooking, Data and Audiences, and Working in Partnership; and each section was delivered through a series of TED style talks, which shared practical and applicable ideas.

Opening the event, Louise Blackwell and Kate McGrath from Fuel, presented New Theatre In Your Neighbourhood and highlighted their use of local “Theatre Adventurers” as a way to start conversations with local audiences. Their speech concluded with a call to arms: “when you get back to your towns and cities invite three new key members of your community to see a show in your favourite venue and meet them for a drink before or after the show and ask them what they thought”.

‘Conversation’ was a recurring theme throughout the day, instigated by key note speaker Vikki Heywood. She asked: “how much are we talking to our audiences about what they want?”

The need for local ambassadors to encourage and broker these conversations with audiences was then echoed by BAC‘s Katie Roberts and Fevered Sleep‘s Sophie Eustace, both of whom create touring work to reach new and young audiences. Sophie said “we’re making meaningful touring partnerships rather than just asking venues to present the work. So there is a shared ownership of the project and an excitement and belief in the work.”

Paines Plough joint Artistic Director George Perrin discussed similar consultative relationships with venues through Paines Plough’s small-scale network and the development of a portable small-scale in-the-round auditorium, which will embed itself in local communities and lend its space to local artists, as well as playing a repertory of new plays on tour.

On taking work out of traditional theatre spaces, Chris O’Connell from the Shop Front Theatre said “being at the shop has helped us make a point of having conversations with our audiences and understanding what they can afford, what they like, and what they can pay. We’re not retailers like other shop keepers, but we welcome people at the door, we trade experiences, build relationships with our audiences and have conversations.”

On touring in rural Scotland, Neil Murray of NTS asked “how can we change the demographic of audiences?” and introduced Five Minute Theatre – plays by anyone, for anyone – as their means to bridge an ever widening social gap.

Contact Theatre‘s Artistic Director Mat Fenton presented the need for internal collaboration through multiple programmers and artistic visions, to enable a socially diverse programme of work.

Sam Eccles introduced the The Touring Network, an on-line tool to enable more efficient rural tour booking in Scotland. A similar database to that of partnership touring network HOUSE, which Mark Makin presented while emphasising a fundamental need for shared risk between venues and touring companies.

This financial sharing of risk was later reaffirmed by ITC‘s Charlotte Jones, who in reference the #illshowyoumine campaign said “we cannot keep pretending it’s acceptable to work for nothing,” and suggested that the Arts Council help level the playing field, calling for re-distribution of funding across the UK.

But it wasn’t all about money. Warwick Arts Centre‘s Matt Burnham and Marine Theatre‘s Tim Bell and Harry Long spoke passionately about artist collaboration and development through their offerings of space and time resource. As well as their R&D by the Sea, Tim and Harry celebrated breaking down exclusion zones by working with neighbouring venues on programming.

Throughout the day, we were reminded of Arts Council England’s recent announcement to enforce the sharing of audience data amongst NPOs. As explained by Nick Bareham from Au Insights, to use this data effectively we must provide a value exchange which calls for transparency with our audiences and again, conversation. Jo Taylor of Morris Hargreaves McIntyre also said “if we understand what someone wants to get out of the experiences we offer, we are best placed to fulfill them.”

Speakers from the wider industry also offered interesting provocations. Sholeh Johnston from Julie’s Bicycle noted that rural touring is 30% more sustainable than bringing a theatre full of people into a city, and likewise, the emissions from a theatre production are less than if the audience were to stay at home and watch TV.

As the day drew to an end and delegates descended on the Royal Exchange bar to continue their discussions, we at Paines Plough left Manchester abuzz with ideas on how we can implement this sharing into our own touring models, and in particular how we can create more meaningful relationships with our audiences and partners. For all the challenges we face as a touring theatre sector, the reasons for collaboratively finding a way of securing its future feel more urgent than ever.

We’ve collected all available online material on The Future of Small-Scale Touring, which you can access here. To view some of the speeches and presentations from the event, click here.

As we move forward and continue discussions on the development of touring, we’ll be adding all interesting contributions, so if you have anything you think might add to the discussion then, please tweet @futuretouring with #fsst and a link to the material.

Symposium speakers announced

We’re very excited to announce the line-up of speakers for The Future of Small Scale Touring symposium that we’re co-hosting later this month with the Royal Exchange Theatre, ITC and PANDA.

The keynote speech will be given by Vikki Heywood CBE. Previously Executive Director of both the RSC and the Royal Court Theatre, Vikki is now Chair of the RSA, having also been a board member of the Society of London Theatre, The London 2012 Cultural Olympiad and the Coventry and Warwickshire Local Enterprise Partnership.

Talking about their new approaches to small scale touring models will be: Louise Blackwell and Kate McGrath of Fuel on neighbourhood touring; Sam Eccles from The Touring Network on innovation in rural touring; Fevered Sleep’s Sophie Eustace on touring ambitious work for the very young; Katie Roberts from Battersea Arts Centre on their ‘Take Out’ programme; The National Theatre of Scotland; and our own ADs George and James on Roundabout and revitalising the small scale touring network.

Speaking on ‘Audiences and Data’ will be: Nick Bareham from Event.ly and Au Insights on new approaches to data collection; Theatre Absolute’s Chris O’Connell on shop front theatre; Anne Torreggiani from The Audience Agency on good uses of data; Jo Taylor from Morris Hargreaves McIntyre on audience demographics; and Jonathan Waddingham from JustGiving on growing audiences.

Matt Burman from Warwick Arts Centre, Sholeh Johnston of Julie’s Bicycle, Charlotte Jones of ITC and Makin Projects’ Mark Makin will all present on different approaches to working in partnership.

The symposium is on Thursday 30th January in Manchester and tickets are still available. For more information visit the Eventbrite page.

The future of small-scale touring

An Independent Touring Symposium
The Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester
30 January 2014, 11am-6pm

We’ve hooked up with our friends The Royal Exchange, Manchester, ITC and PANDA to announce a TED-style symposium on 30 January in Manchester to explore the future of small-scale touring.

Open to everyone across the UK working in small scale touring – from artists to producers, directors to venue managers – the day will provide a forum to discuss and debate the key challenges and share experiences in a practically applicable way.

Small-scale touring is full of challenges, not least in this time of threats to arts funding. We conducted a survey earlier this year that showed companies and venues were experiencing the same issues and facing the same obstacles to making touring work.

But the survey also showed people were undeterred; companies and theatres alike are working together to meet these challenges head on with inventive and strategic approaches.

So we thought we’d stage the inaugural Future Of Small-Scale Touring symposium to discuss how we shape the future together.

Based on advice from senior industry professionals, as well as the results of the survey, the day will be structured in three parts.

Each will be themed and feature a series of guest speakers who will each give a presentation on an area of small scale touring that they are evolving. After each session there will be a small break out opportunity for delegates to discuss the presentation, seek further information and present the chance to form partnerships and collaborations to tackle issues moving forward.

From the research, the areas which were highlighted for discussion are:

•    new touring models and approaches to tour booking

•    data and audiences

•    working in partnership

A full line up of speakers to include industry leaders, practitioners and journalists will be announced shortly.

Meantime, you can find out more and buy tickets here.

For updates, follow The Future Of Small Scale Touring on Twitter, or join the event page on Facebook.