The work with PANDA was developed by Cheshire Rural Touring Arts seven years ago and in 2013, with support from NRTF, Cockermouth hosted the first event outside Cheshire, where companies new to rural touring (but not necessarily new companies) went through a rigorous selection process, managed by PANDA and the network. A shortlist of eight pitched their ideas, emerging or tour ready, to the networks.
IN 2013/14 PANDA, NRTF and the Northern schemes worked together to develop the pitching and mentoring project and extend its reach beyond the touring schemes in the North West to cover the whole of the Northern region.
In 2014, 28 companies submitted applications to be considered for pitching. All the Northern Touring Schemes were invited to take part in the project.
Eight companies were selected to pitch at an event on the 12th and 13th March 2014.
Chanje Kunda, Amsterdam - one of the artists selected to pitch
For those not selected to pitch, follow up meetings or telephone calls or decisions to see the work (if already touring) are also agreed by the group and all the shortlisted companies are contacted and possible ways forward discussed with them. Where the companies are touring in other parts of the country but as yet unknown in the North, one of the group agrees to get feedback from a rural touring colleague in the relevant area.
The project has a number of aims which the report submitted by this year's organisers, Highlights Rural Touring Scheme, felt were achieved.
To raise awareness amongst the community of PANDA companies of the existence of rural touring; and to highlight the creative opportunities that exist for artists and companies to make work for rural touring.
To make transparent the process and procedures used by rural touring schemes and to mentor companies through this unfamiliar territory.
To enable relationships to be formed between the Northern Rural Touring schemes and a regional cohort of companies and producers.
To allow new relationships to flourish amongst Northern Rural Touring schemes.
To allow schemes to be informed by the experience of the companies and adapt their practices to become more user friendly.
To adapt to the needs of particular companies within the practical parameters of rural touring and negotiate a mentoring package with selected companies.
To provide opportunities for the companies to get feedback from scheme managers and promoters, giving them a chance to hone their product, content and practices for a rural touring context.
To encourage companies a) to see multiple examples of other companies’ work in a rural touring context and b) to make contact with and be introduced to other scheme managers.
To build in quality assurance, so that high quality performances are offered to promoters.
To provide training and experience for volunteer promoters.
Is pitching the right word?
"We questioned whether the word ‘Pitching’ is the best word. This implies that there is a “winner” - which isn’t the case. PANDA are constantly reminding companies that all short-listed companies are “winners”, since they all receive mentoring/advice. Perhaps ‘Creative Conversation’ is a better way of putting it." Highlights Rural Touring Scheme
So how was the experience for the artists?
‘Thank you so very much for your email, and to the panel for their feedback. We’ve learnt a lot, and we’re very encouraged. Very happy to have Claire as our point of contact and will drop her an email to start the ball rolling.’
"Thank you very much for this very detailed and quite positive feedback from the panel, I am positively overwhelmed! first it looked as if they are not really interested in programming my work as it is tricky to fit in an evening-filling event but I am very excited about the possibility to create new work for the rural touring scheme. I am currently talking to a producer about doing an R&D for a new piece. maybe this is something we could develop into a bigger idea with the help of the promoters."
‘"Thanks for this comprehensive feedback, it's extraordinarily useful - I can tell just how much thought has been put into it by the level of detail; it gives me so many positive ways to move forward."
"Geli from Lingua Franca has stated that the Rural Touring opportunity and support you have given her has been the best thing that has happened for her for almost 2 years!"
Voluntary promoters also took part in the event - how was it for them?
"As a promoter, I found the invitation to participate in the PANDA pitching day extremely valuable. It gave promoters to chance to communicate some of the practical challenges we face 'on-the-ground' to both artists and rural touring scheme staff, as well as providing us with insight into how shows are chosen and developed for schemes. It also provided a forum to discuss collectively ways in which new and different kinds of performances for rural audiences could be developed."
“It was fascinating having the chance to see shows that need development but all had promise. I can't get over the number who'd never seen a rural touring production before they decided to pitch, and it might be worth pushing the value of this in the pre-application paperwork!”
Were there any problems around involving more people in the pitching sessions?
"The project has extended from initially involving only Cheshire to now including 4 more northern schemes. Artists commented that they were delighted to have so many schemes represented and the group felt that it would easily accommodate more touring scheme representatives." Highlights Rural Touring Scheme
This year Highlights rural touring scheme took the lead in organising the event how did they feel it went?
"We were very pleased with the whole project and the outcomes. It has given us a lot to consider for the future."
What might you change if you do this again?
PANDA's Anne Marie:
"Eight companies in the day was possibly too many. Six might be better. This would mean more opportunity to chat, and will make match-making easier. Make it possible for artists to stay and watch all the other companies.
Include a previous pitching company in the selection panel. Suggest going to see Rural Touring shows to companies who don’t make it to short-list stage. Provide more practical information on rural touring at the application and shortlisting stages."
WIll the project continue?
Touring Schemes: " We need to find out more from PANDA of how it fits in to their remit for the future. The creative dialogue between PANDA and the touring schemes in the North will continue. We all value the process/project."
NRTF contributed just over £11,500 towards this project and were pleased that the partners felt that in addition their involvement raised the profile of the project. NRTF is delighted to see work by companies mentored as part of this project beginning to appear on rural touring programmes. It was particularly pleased to be able to welcome Artizani Avanti and The Edge to its 2013 conference and Chanje Kunda to the showcase event in 2014.
The PANDA / Northern Touring Schemes pitching and mentoring project is one of a raft of opportunities NRTF supports to enable high quality, diverse and innovative work to tour the rural network and to provide development opportunities for voluntary rural promoters, professional scheme workers and artists and performers. Other work and partnership projects undertaken by NRTF can be found in the Our Work section of the website.
We are delighted to announce that the NRTF has been successful in its application to remain an Arts Council National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) for 2015-2018.
This continued support from Arts Council England means that the NRTF will be able to continue our work in strengthening and supporting the rural touring sector and promoting a better understanding of the value of rural and community touring. We carry out this role through the provision of networking, training and information services to members and through initiatives including:
- An annual conference and showcase event. This year’s New Directions showcase in York saw 37 innovative companies and artists present work to an audience of over 120 touring scheme representatives, promoters, venues and funders. Some of those showcasing are new to rural touring, all of them are taking their work in new directions.;
- - Our Edinburgh Village Hall project provides bursaries for touring schemes and voluntary promoters to attend the Edinburgh Fringe. The NRTF also hosts a popular Introduction to Rural Touring event, where artists and companies can meet promoters and representatives from touring schemes and find out more about developing work for rural touring;
- - Professional development opportunities and bursaries for members, enabling them to attend showcase events and visit other touring schemes and promoters to share practice and develop new projects;
- - Working with producers, artists and touring schemes to commission and develop work specifically for rural and community venues. Our partnership with Contact Theatre is now focusing on the third national tour, working with young promoters. NRTF are also working with touring schemes in the North and South East, the Royal Court and House on a rural tour of The Wolf from The Door, a new play by Rory Mullarkey. Its premiere at the Royal Court studio in Autumn 2014 will be followed by a rural tour the following year.
- - We are about to see the third group of Jazz artists touring thanks to our on-going partnership with Jazz Services. Fumi Okiji, Heads South and Sue Richardson follow on from high quality jazz musicians Stu Brown, Christine Tobin and Michael Janisch, touring to small village and community venues throughout the country from Autumn of this year.
NRTF membership is open to Rural Touring Schemes, venues, artistic companies and performers and voluntary promoters from across the UK. Several of our Touring Scheme members have also been included in the Arts Council England NPO portfolio for 2015-2018, meaning that the NRTF is at the heart of a strong strategic network of organisations focused on the development of the rural touring sector in England. For more information on Rural Touring Schemes, please visit our Members pages.
The NRTF is absorbing the NPO decisions and their effect on rural touring nationally and is also tracking changes in local authority funding. Our membership of the Arts Council convened Rural Stakeholder Group enables the NRTF to table pressing issues faced by its members.
Looking to the future, there will be a new LEADER programme running from 2015 to 2020. Funded by the EU, there has been an expansion of rural areas nationally that fall within the orbit of the programme, which will be delivered by Local Action Groups. Local Development Plans are due to be signed off by November and funds will be available from January 2015. Culture and heritage are one of the 6 priorities of the forthcoming programme. ACE have produced a briefing paper for Local Action Groups, outlining ways in which the arts may address some of the objectives of the programme and this is being circulated to NRTF members.
- - An annual conference and showcase event. This year’s New Directions showcase in York saw 37 innovative companies and artists present work to an audience of over 120 touring scheme representatives, promoters, venues and funders. Some of those showcasing are new to rural touring, all of them are taking their work in new directions.;
Many thanks to Cate Latchford, a voluntary promoter on the Arts Alive Touring Scheme in the West Midlands, who's written the following blog on her experience of the New Directions Showcase:
Choose bravely this season. I mean, it’s understandable when we browse through the menu, we worry if we’ll sell the tickets, fill the seats, please our audience and win them back. A light-hearted drama, some gentle music, a bit of comedy or occasional exotic dance. Give our audience a pleasant evening, choose something that won’t rattle them too much, that they can bring a friend to, have a cup of tea to or tap their feet. It’s a bit nerve-wracking, choosing, deliberating, will they, won’t they? And the angst, the image of empty seats, the wasted cakes, the tumble weed down the village street and the looks, ooh they got it wrong this year didn’t they...let’s just go with the play about the sheep and the blow-ins from Kent, dance never sells and that jazz can be so impenetrable.
So this year, what will you choose? Because you need not be afraid. At this year’s National Rural Touring Forum in York, curated by the wonderful China Plate company, the brilliance and professionalism of touring companies shone through. Over 35 companies and artists showcased their work, at York Theatre Royal in July. Promoters, touring schemes, performers and funders gathered to talk, discuss and network, fed and watered at regular intervals, and enthuse over artists new and old. We were given jazz, film, drama and dance, and such variety. I’ll give you a taster.
EveryDay’s The Love Project, gave us sixteen short stories, created from interviews, and Francesca Millican-Slater’s My Dearest Girls drew on letters written between Shropshire women in WW1, both creating heart-warming pieces on the unique lives we all lead. Pentabus and Camden People’s Theatre raised contemporary issues, fracking and HS2.We were treated to the wonderful poetry and wit of Clod Ensemble’s The Red Chair, written and performed by Sarah Cameron, quite spell-binding and magical. In contrast was the energy and movement of Wardrobe Ensemble’s Riot, nine young actors, exploding onto the stage to recreate the battle and furore of buying a cheap sofa in our favourite Swedish furniture store. Exhausting!
Tuesday evening created a mini festival in the Fauconberg Arms, comedy, poetry and music, intimate settings in the bar, on the decking, in a caravan (we could do that, we whispered, in The Yew Tree!). The second night it was jazz, three bands delighting us with the music of Chet Baker, Latin and Cuban rhythms and New Orleans blues. As we staggered up for a third day, we were given dance, wonderful, physical dance; vintage, bright social dance from Spilt Milk, playful and fresh and connecting with their audience, giving everyone the chance to dance in their second half. The energy and power of Phoenix dance, athletes on stage, was breathtaking. The beauty and emotive choreography of Norwegian dance group, Panta Rei, brought many of us close to tears.
But what struck me most throughout was the desire and determination of the artists to bring these brilliant performances to our little village halls, to fit into the awkward spaces, to connect with our communities. Companies are designing their sets and shows to fit around us, they are realising the benefits of rural touring, of getting up close and personal with small audiences. And for us the rural audience, what do we get? Closer than any National Theatre goer, we experience professional performance in our own intimate setting; they might as well be in our sitting rooms, as for some of us our venues are a vital part of our community, a stone’s throw from our door. Here in our small spaces, the dancer stares into our eyes, their physical presence full in our faces, they eat our cake and talk into the night about the inspiration, the lighting, the tour. We own them for a night, they come into our community, they may drink in our pub, sleep in your neighbour’s house, inspire your child. What privilege it is to share in our space, such professional theatre, leading musicians and performers, delighting us, challenging us, giving us our own personal experience to mull over as we walk home that evening, discuss the next day in the shop.
I‘m really appreciative of the chance I had to enjoy such a variety of productions (thank you, Sian!) and the opportunity to talk to and discuss issues with other promoters and schemes from across the UK. NRTF confirmed just how professional and inspiring small companies and performers can be and how we can trust our rural touring schemes to offer us great value and quality. So be brave next time you sit and browse through that menu. The sheep and the blow-ins from Kent will be great but give those dance groups a look too. Awe-inspiring!
Many thanks to Philip Holyman from Little Earthquake for sharing his theatre-maker's perspective on our New Directions showcase:
As part of their Developing Artists in Rural Touring programme, Live & Local enabled representatives from Little Earthquake and Spiltmilk Dance to attend this year’s National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) New Directions 2014 Showcase in York. Here's a blog post I wrote for them in response to my experiences at the showcase, which can also be found on Live & Local's blog here:
“I’ve come back from York a bit hooked on the whole rural touring showcase thing. Not just because of York Theatre Royal’s amazing brownies, or the belly-busting barbecue at the Fauconberg Arms. I’m hooked because, in the space of three days, I was made to feel like a worthwhile member of a proper creative community, a valuable part of an extended group of people who WANT to talk and who WANT to hear what others have to say. Having battled to do the same thing in the mainstream touring world for almost a decade, with not masses of success, I have to say that that’s a very precious thing. And I’m not even sure most of the rural touring community realise that they are streets ahead of the mainstream in this respect.
The showcase could so easily be a grim, competitive place — a trade fair for hawking shows or a horrendous speed date for pushy producers and cash-strapped commissioners. In fact, it’s very far removed from that. It’s a place where real relationships build and grow — and that is what makes the touring wheels turn: sharing experiences, building trust, getting to know one another as people, not as job titles.
I also realised that it’s probably the only time in the year when the entire nationwide rural touring family (and that’s exactly what it feels like to me) is able to get together. I met up with people I already know well, including our magnificent friends at Live & Local and at Black Country Touring. I’ve put faces to the names of people I’ve only been having email or phone relationships with for a year or more. And I met some people who had no idea who I was or what I did, but who do now.
I saw some shows I liked and saw some shows I didn’t, just like everyone else there. This wasn’t a covert industrial espionage trip, but all the same, you can’t help learning a thing or two about what sells and what doesn’t when you’re surrounded by 150 people who are at the sharp end of the sector. We’d hoped to showcase some of The Tell-Tale Heart, our first and current rural touring piece, but it wasn’t to be. I couldn’t help but wonder what the delegates would have made of us miming the murder and dismemberment of an old man to the accompanying sound of slashed lettuces and splintering celery…
I want to do it all again. I want to go every year now, if we can. I want to show some of our work and I want to be able to have chats with people after they’ve seen it. I want to be braver at talking to people I don’t know. I want to stay out later at night with the delegates because I reckon that’s when the REALLY interesting conversations start happening. And I want to do a talk entitled “Why Artists Sometimes Get It Wrong But Honestly Don’t Mean To” in which I gently encourage schemes, promoters and artists to help each other in some important simple ways that can easily be overlooked.
And… Just in case anyone’s interested… While we were in York, we all had to think of a dream project or vision for rural touring which we shared in breakout groups. My “If I could do one thing” project idea was far and away the barmiest one at my table… But if anyone is interested in discussing a 36-hour immersive B-movie weekend village takeover project, part alien invasion and part wartime resistance thriller, with a massive explosion to round things off on the Sunday night… Well, let’s have a conversation about it, in person. Because when the right people talk about the right thing at the right time… You just never know what might happen.”