Spot On, Lancashire's Touring Network, celebrate 20 years of rural touring this year - happy birthday from all of us here at the NRTF! Sue Robinson, Spot On Director, looks back on the past 20 years:
Spot On Lancashire will be 20 this autumn. I can’t take the credit for starting it up, but I have been running it for a very long time. That’s the thing about rural touring. The sector nationally is full of people who find out how wonderful it is, and then stay put. Artists, managers and volunteer promoters.
Rural touring in England has been around for nearly three decades, and across England there are 36 networks and 2,000 village venues who are part of what we could now call a ‘movement’. Yet sometimes we struggle to be seen. It’s the little roads, I think, you have to look hard for them. Rural touring is not as visible as a traditional arts venue. We only exist when a show ‘pops up’ in a community.
This was just at the beginning of email, facebook didn’t exist, you had a long wait whilst lines formed for your webpage, and a time before the lottery. You would wait three months to hear about your £1,000 application to the regional arts board. Arts for Everyone transformed Spot On in 1998 when we joined a successful NRTF national bid. This set us on our journey to being regularly funded by North West Arts Board in 2002, and now part of the national portfolio. That investment, partnered with local authority support, has transformed the UK rural arts landscape and raised ambitions and expectations.
Plenty of North West and UK artists have sustained a living, touring into rural areas across the country. We must be well over 1,500 Spot On events.
Spot On's first Autumn season brochure from 1995 and their 10th Anniversary brochure from 2015
It’s not just about halls. We’ve placed work in churches, parks, campervans, storage cupboards, and even a metal whale on wheels. If we can fit an artist and an audience in it, it’s a venue.
The events wouldn’t happen without volunteers. They are the backbone of the network and about 40% of our service is delivered by people willing to give their time for free.
We became part of the new Northern Consortium, set up in 1999 following a successful bid to the Millennium Commission. In partnership with five other northern networks, we continue to support artists new to rural touring to develop work for the sector .This isn’t just about introducing artists to new audiences, it’s about nurturing talent, and assisting artists in sustaining a career in rural England.
Bringing international artists to the county is important. We’ve also connected the Centre of the UK with Middle Earth, hosting New Zealand musicians in Dunsop Bridge. It keeps us connected to the wider world, puts us on the map, and encourages tourism (they all go exploring when they are here). It gives people an idea that no hall is too small, or audience too remote.
Spot On's 20th anniversary tour publicity
How will we look in 20 years time? It’s impossible to say. Two years ahead is daunting. Digital technology moves so fast, we have satellite broadcasting, and new ideas and new companies will develop and emerge.Funding will change, and priorities will shift. Communities will change too. But if we are still around, it’s due to artists, communities and investors all sticking together like glue; because time has shown that rural touring is an all round good thing.
In October artists, companies and touring schemes involved in the Rural Touring Dance Initiative were brought together for 3 days in Somerset to explore the practicalities of rural touring, spend time with local voluntary promoters in village halls and exchange ideas. Karen Kidman of Creative Arts East reflects on the experience:
I was very grateful to have been given the opportunity to attend the Lab for the Rural Touring Dance Initiative for several reasons:
• Creative Arts East have historically found it incredibly difficult to programme dance on our scheme, for various reasons including cost, space requirements and our promoter’s view that it is ‘difficult to sell’.
• As a programmer, my experience, knowledge and understanding of dance is also very limited.
• Finding the right work and the right artists to work with these and other constraints has been very difficult.
It felt very important for Creative Arts East and me personally that we were not only part of this scheme to take advantage of some of these historical issues being addressed, but also that we became very involved in the process and were able to feed into the conversations and development with artists, even if at times I may have been a bit of a provocateur in the room.
Participating artists exploring Dulverton Town Hall
The schedule for the Lab was intensive and very thorough. I felt every aspect of rural touring was covered in detail and artists were given the chance to respond, question and challenge throughout. It was great to see these practitioners exploring a village hall and all of its quirks in a really positive way.
It was clear by the end of the second day that the reality was setting in and some were starting to feel a little overwhelmed with what they might have to consider. However, this was balanced by some excellent presentations from Pretty Good Girl Dance Theatre and Spilt Milk who also portrayed the many benefits and positives that this work can offer.
I was filled with confidence and really impressed with how the enthusiasm and commitment from the dance companies to the project did not waver. Instead, by the final day, the questions became more specific and ideas and potential solutions seemed more prevalent.
In conclusion, the Lab was a very positive and progressive experience. I found myself far more enthused to go and see more dance productions myself and with an increased confidence in programming and communicating dance to promoters.
We are delighted to announce that the newly selected dance companies taking part in our Rural Touring Dance Initiative are:
Lost Dog, Protein, Joan Clevillé Dance and Lîla Dance selected from 155 companies and artists applying to an open call out. These companies will join Panta Rei, Phoenix Dance, Spilt Milk and Sonia Sabri Company (selected as part of New Directions 2014) touring to rural communities across the UK.
A further five companies; James Wilton Dance, Sarah Blanc’s Moxie Brawl, Tom Dale Company, Greg Wohead and Ben Wright’s bgroup, have been shortlisted to receive a potential commission of £45K to create a new show. As part of the initiative these five companies will take part in a week long residency ‘The Darkroom’ where their ideas will be developed and explored further.
All companies will attend ‘The Lab’ a three-day specially designed course to be held at national folk arts centre, Halsway Manor in Somerset 19-21 October. The course will focus on addressing the challenges of re-working a production so that it can adapt to the variety of spaces that make up the rural touring network.
For more information on the project and to download the press release attached to this announcement go to http://www.ruraltouring.org/work/rural-touring-dance-initiative
For more information about the companies:
James Wilton Dance - www.jameswiltondance.org.uk
Sarah Blanc – www.sarahblanc.com
Tom Dale Company – www.tomdale.org.uk
Greg Wohead – www.gregwohead.com
bgroup - www.bgroup.org.uk
Lost Dog - www.lostdogdance.co.uk
Protein - www.proteindance.co.uk
Joan Clevillé Dance - www.joanclevilledance.com
Lîla Dance - www.liladance.co.uk
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We'd like to wish Artsreach a very happy 25th birthday from all of here at the NRTF!
Throughout 2015 Dorset’s rural touring scheme marks its 25th birthday.
When Artsreach first launched in March 1990, just nine rural villages were signed up to host a live, professional performance in their community venue. Over the last 25 years, the scheme has grown gradually and now counts some sixty rural communities on its circuit, right across Dorset, with each venue run by a team of voluntary promoters. To date, Artsreach has brought a total of at least 3,300 professional live performances to the County, including international, national and local artists and spanning the genres of music, theatre, dance, children’s shows, comedy, cabaret and more.
Ian Scott, who is soon to retire as Director, reflected on the qualities of small scale and wide horizons that he hopes have always kept the scheme’s programming fresh and ‘hand made’ in feel.
‘You can see from the recent summer programme how unexpected elements of the programme can be. It was not that long ago that we received a call to say that the Landmark Trust had a special idea to celebrate its 50th anniversary – the installation of an Antony Gormley sculpture near the Clavell tower at Kimmeridge in Purbeck this May. The Trust had obtained funding to commission a celebratory choral piece to mark the occasion and we were lucky enough to be able to approach a local choir leader and her musicians and singers to work on this, alongside other musical contributions on the day from our friends associated with the South Dorset Ridgeway choir. We are, I suppose, mostly known for our winter indoor shows, usually in village halls, but have also recently enjoyed bringing outdoor theatre to the County, which provides an incredible range of atmospheric settings for live performance.”
Artsreach plans to celebrate with a special birthday event at The Exchange, Sturminster Newton on 24th September. Compered by poet Matt Harvey, audiences can expect appearances from members of klezmer band She’Koyokh, acclaimed Turkish vocalist Cigdem Aslan, singers from London based Bulgarian Voices and the agile string quartet Bowjangles. The event will unite friends and supporters of the scheme, both old and new, and will officially launch the new Artsreach Autumn Programme.
The collective achievement of volunteer promoters and top quality artists over the last twenty-five years has been extraordinary. As leading cultural analyst, Francois Matarasso recently said of rural touring:
“audience and artists share a joyous experience, life enhancing and even, sometimes, life changing: regular marvels, indeed” Francois Matarasso, A Wider Horizon’