Monthly archives:

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.

Go Bush – Reflections on LONDON

There’s an old Australian saying ‘to go bush’ which means to leave the city and all your cares behind.

What made me think of that wasn’t a trip to the outback but a train ride through the rolling landscape of Northern England. During the past few weeks Paines Plough have been travelling round the country with our newest show LONDON by Simon Stephens and although all the theatres we have visited have been city based, it has meant some wonderful journeys through the British countryside. And LONDON has got me thinking – the city is such a busy place that it can be difficult to pause and reflect or find the time to deal with your problems.

Don’t get me wrong here, I love living and working in the city – I grew up in the countryside but have always been more of a London-girl at heart. Everything you need is only a short walk from your house and you can go from the bustling Southbank, to Borough market, to a club on Bricklane in less than 40 minutes (allowing for no problems with TFL of course).  But as Alex (one of the characters in the play) remarks “the noise of the place and the dirt and the colour and the roar of it” can be so constant it’s stifling.

What I find fascinating about LONDON is that it is a play about London but not set there, indeed there is no specific location indicated by the script. Instead the play’s setting is within the stories and lives of its two characters. London isn’t the over-riding theme of the play, but rather a backdrop and stimulus to its narratives. And it is the people who live in a city that give it its character.

LONDON tells two different stories of city life – one of escape and the other return. A woman finds herself on a train to Heathrow in a desperate attempt to leave all her problems behind. Alex comes back to his home in London and is unable to find the peace and quiet to heal.  Sitting on the early morning train back from Glasgow one of the lines from the play popped into my head: “I can see the world with a clarity I’ve never even dreamed of before”.  It is very true that living in a city it can be hard to find the time to think. Maybe we all need to escape to the country every now and again, even if only for a few hours, to keep us sane.

LONDON isn’t actually coming to London but is touring to other major UK cities, and you can still catch it in Glasgow this week at the Tron Theatre and next week at the Royal Exchange in Manchester.

And let us know what you love most about living in the city…


Production photos: LONDON

Photos from our production of LONDON by Simon Stephens are now up on our Flickr Stream. Check ‘em.

And check the show, running until 30 October at Salisbury Playhouse before travelling to Brighton, Newcastle, Glasgow and Manchester. All the details are here.

Abby Ford in LONDON. Photo by Elyse Marks.

Cary Crankson in LONDON. Photo by Elyse Marks.

30 seconds with…Richard Wilson

With The Roundabout Season London only 7 weeks away, we’re all getting very excited. If like us you can’t wait that long, we have a treat for you.

Theatrical legend Richard Wilson, who is directing LUNGS by Duncan Macmillan for the Roundabout Season, shares his thoughts about directing in the round…

Q:  Have you worked in the round before?

A: Yes I have directed in the round before at the Royal Exchange  and the Royal Court Theatres.

Q: What surprised you the most about working in and creating work for the ROUNDABOUT auditorium?

A: ROUNDABOUT is a very special space once you see it it creates its own boundaries, and once you start to apply them the process becomes very exciting. Having decided on a “ no set, no props” format also added to the production’s style and feeling.

Q: What do you think makes ROUNDABOUT auditorium a different audience experience?

A: What makes the ROUNDABOUT auditorium unique is the way the audience embraces it and enters in to the very marrow of the play with the actors.


If you would like to find out more about The Roundabout Season London or book tickets click here

You Cannot Go Forward From Where You Are Right Now impresses in Edinburgh

It’s been a busy week for A Play, A Pie and A Pint. On Monday we introduced Leo Butler’s JUICY FRUITS to the audience at Oran Mor in Glasgow, Tuesday saw YOU CANNOT GO FORWARD FROM WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW‘s first performance at the Traverse in Edinburgh, and on Wednesday, DIG rolled into the Manchester Royal Exchange.

Katie Douglas’s DIG goes from strength to strength, with each city it visits falling for it. It’s been particularly great today to see people tweeting comments to the Royal Exchange, saying how much they loved the show and encouraging others to go and experience the laughter and tears that the play provokes too. Brenda, Tommy and Dean will be at the Belgrade Theatre next week – Coventry, you’re in for a treat.

With the traffic so bad she was worried she wouldn't get to the Traverse in time to get her Scotch pie...

Meanwhile, YOU CANNOT GO FORWARD FROM WHERE YOU ARE RIGHT NOW has also made rather a good impression on its Edinburgh audiences. Here’s what they’re saying:

‘a clever and imaginative piece of short theatre…well worth setting the satnav for the Traverse Theatre and catching it’ Edinburgh Spotlight

‘funny, intelligent and observant’ Edinburgh Guide

‘You might expect the writers of the successful A Play A Pie and A Pint lunchtime offerings to have rather modest ambitions… Not so David Watson…Watson’s handling of the fragmentary structure is sure and confident, and his writing is remarkably idiomatic.’ Edinburgh Reporter

We were also delighted to see another 2 minute youtube review, as blogger Eve Nicol filed her report on YOU CANNOT GO FORWARD. We can’t wait to see what she makes of JUICY FRUITS!

If you’ve seen one of the plays, we’d love to know what you thought. You can leave a comment here, tweet us @painesplough or drop us a line on our facebook page.

And if you haven’t seen any of them yet – what are you waiting for?!

DIG racks up the stars

Stuart Porter (Tommy), Louise Ludgate (Brenda) and Simon Macallum (Dean)

The reviews are rolling in for DIG and the critics are suitably wowed by Katie Douglas’s sizzling drama, currently at Edinburgh’s Traverse before touring to Manchester Royal Exchange and The Belgrade, Coventry.

Here’s a snapshot:

“Politicians talk about the need to “get Britain back to work”, but it takes a small masterpiece like this latest play by Katie Douglas to dig below the surface of the words, into the infinite layers of pain that ripple outward from a man abruptly bereft, by forces far beyond his control, of his key role as family provider..this rich and shattering slice of lunchtime drama.”
The Scotsman ★★★★

“Gripping, funny and extremely moving…A thoroughly affecting piece of theatre”
Edinburgh Guide ★★★★

“Tight and emotionally-charged…builds to its powerful conclusion, Dig deftly uncovers the emotions which lie hidden beneath the surface of our everyday lives; and the hope which can often be found growing there.”
Edinburgh Spotlight

“Moving, very incisive…For a 45 minute long play “Dig” packs a lot of punch. The pies are good, too.”
Lothian Life ★★★★

“Devastatingly effective. From hilarity to chilling suspense, Katie Douglas’s script controls the atmosphere in the room precisely.”
Edinburgh Evening News ★★★★

Catch it while you can…

PP Around the UK in 81 days

As we are in rehearsals for 4 plays, with two set to tech and open next week, plus a 5th play to start rehearsals and a 6th to join in four weeks time – it can be difficult to keep track of who is where!

Enter the joy that is the EXCEL spreadsheet.  This paired with our brilliant intern, Amy, results in the glorious schedule below.

Take a peak to see who is rehearsing what, where and when…

Colour coded and everything!

Of course there is also Claire, Hanna and Amy who are our rocks at number 43 Aldwych during these busy periods.

A Play, A Pie and A Pint: Week 1

Our rehearsal flat: not a bad place to go to work.

I’ve learnt a new word this week.

DREICH: Scottish word, meaning miserable cold gloomy weather.

To be fair, it’s only dreich about three quarters of the time, occasionally there’s some beautiful sunshine bouncing off the autumnal leaves of the Botanical Gardens across from Òran Mór. But more often, it’s dreich.

So inside, at 5 Sanda Street, where it’s warmer and considerably drier than the streets of the West End of Glasgow, we’re cracking on with the serious business of rehearsing DIG.

I say serious business – there’s been an awful lot of laughter coming out of that rehearsal room this week. There have also been some raised voices during particularly intense sections of dialogue; the hurried tapping of writer Katie’s laptop as she tweaks and re-writes scenes; voices discussing the back stories of three characters who are waiting to be fully realised; all interspersed with guffaws and giggles as our wonderful cast get to know the play and the family they’ll be sharing with audiences in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Manchester and Coventry.

Over the weekend they’ll be learning the script and preparing for what promises to be a very busy second week of rehearsals. It’s strange to think that this time next week we’ll be only a couple of days away from the first performance of this year’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint.

I can’t wait.

Step Changing from NT to Play, Pie, Pint

please note: pint pictured is not actual size

As this is the end of my third week working with Paines Plough I thought it was about time I wrote a blog. I’m Rachel, and I’m here due to a frankly brilliant scheme called Step Change.

The idea behind the programme is to try and counteract the fact that the theatre industry can be haphazard in terms of spotting and nurturing people who have management and producing potential. My experience, working at the National Theatre as the Technical and Production Administrator, has been great in terms of teaching me about the theatrical process on a large scale; but when it comes to the next step in my career, I’m going to need specific experience that my role at the NT as a little cog in a big old machine doesn’t afford me.

Participants on Step Change get a week of masterclasses from industry experts and several follow-up sessions; a mentor to give advice/drink with/be talked down by (mine, Ros, is General Manager at the Old Vic); and a secondment of around 40 days in another organisation. And this is where my path meets Paines Plough’s.

Paines Plough had put together two secondment proposals, and when I first met with Tara and Claire I told them I was interested in working as Assistant Producer on what turned out to be the upcoming Roundabout project. I’m a Sheffield girl, and the concept – a portable theatre space, initially within the Crucible, a company in rep, three brand new plays – sounded very exciting whilst still allowing me to cling on to my comfort zone (read: opportunity to jump on the 82 to my Mum’s for a cuppa if it all got too much). I still think the Roundabout project is going to be brilliant and I’m really enjoying being in the office watching it all coming together.

But when Tara called and said they thought I’d be better served by being given even MORE responsibility, and would I be up for being the Trainee Producer on this year’s A Play, A Pie and A Pint, I was thrilled. Then terrified. Then thrilled again.

So I’m spending two days a week south of the river with the NT, and three on the north bank with Paines Plough, until mid-September when we hit Òran Mór in Glasgow with our three brilliant plays. We will then be touring to the Traverse in Edinburgh, the Royal Exchange in Manchester, and the Belgrade in Coventry. So far I have been meeting with the writers, putting together our teams (Stage Management, Lighting and Sound design), drafting ideas for marketing material and next week I’m travelling up to Edinburgh to continue casting one of the plays – at the National, there are whole departments to do each of those things.

I can see that our three plays are going to present me with completely different challenges, and I’m sure that that will mean a lot of thinking on my feet – particularly when I take the lead once we’re in Scotland. But that’s what I’m after – a buzz, a challenge and above all, the opportunity to get properly hands-on and help create some excellent theatre. I’ll keep you updated.

In the mean time, if you’d like to know more about Step Change, let me know by posting a comment here, or check out

Hasta la vista Manchester


2 weeks have flown by, and tomorrow sees the last of our Manchester Residency events. In the last two weeks we have had great fun holding our Manchester Open Auditions at MMU, have closed our 2010 Come To Where I’m From season on a high with 6 beautiful pieces from Joy Wilkinson, Sarah McDonald Hughes, Phil Davies, Chris Thorpe, Lucinda Cardey and Rory Mullarkey and met some wonderfully talented and driven people at the Come To Where I’m From workshops over the weekend at The Royal Exchange. I also had the great pleasure of meeting members from PANDA at a Creative Conversation session hosted by The Lowry in Salford, including people from Blue Masque, 24:7 Theatre Festival, Manchester International Festival, The Latecomers Theatre, Rocket Theatre Company, North West Playwrights, Monkeywood Theatre and freelance creatives Connor McKee and JonThm. We spent the morning talking about new writing and touring and how Paines Plough are striving to lead the way in both areas even in our current economic climate.

We close our Residency with IN RESPONSE TO… LOVE, LOVE, LOVE. More information on the event is below.

It has been a great 2 weeks – thank you to everyone who has made the effort to come and meet us. Do stay in touch and hopefully see you tomorrow night at The Royal Exchange…




3 writers. 3 responses. 3 brand new short plays.

Friday 5 November, 5:45pm

The Studio, Royal Exchange, Manchester

Mike Barlett’s “bang-on-the-money new play”, LOVE, LOVE, LOVE, has been both amusing and provoking audiences in Plymouth and Manchester.

Now it’s time to see how three local writers respond to the text. Having seen the show on opening night in Manchester, Reuben Johnson, Andy Sheridan & Danielle Sibley have written pieces inspired by Bartlett’s show.

Please join us at these staged readings before the evening performance of LOVE, LOVE, LOVE in The Studio at The Royal Exchange on Friday 5 November to see where this journey has taken the writers and their work…

‘In Response’ is a free, non-ticketed event. Seats will be allocated on a first-come-first-served basis

Only 80 seats available

Running time: 35 minutes

There will be a 75 minute break between IN RESPONSE and LOVE, LOVE, LOVE