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  • New Directions showcase festival 2018 - Call out to artists is now OPEN

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    National Rural Touring Forum and China Plate seek artists to perform at New Directions 2018 showcase festival.

    The Bi-annual rural touring showcase will return in June at Worcester University

    Theatre and dance companies interested in introducing their work to the rural touring sector are invited to apply to participate in the New Directions showcase, taking place at Worcester University from 26-28 June 2018.

    New Directions 2018 will bring together rural touring schemes, venues, voluntary promoters and artists to sample shows, see work, share experiences with other promoters and broaden their knowledge of work available. It also offers theatre companies the opportunity to highlight the quality and style of their work by participating in the showcase festival, programmed by independent producing studio China Plate and hosted by the National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF), the membership organization for rural touring schemes, with Live & Local, a rural & community touring scheme covering parts of the East and West Midlands.

    For the showcase we are seeking entertaining, surprising and stimulating performance reflecting the best of contemporary theatre, performance and dance available for rural touring in 2019. All work featured at the showcase will be selected on the basis of quality and appropriateness for the rural market.

    Speaking about the showcase John Laidlaw, Executive Director of Live & Local and NRTF board member said “We are looking for bold and exciting work from a diverse range of artists – performances and people that reflect and celebrate the best of Britain and beyond and we welcome applications from all artists undertaking innovative work in disciplines such as theatre, physical theatre, digital art, dance, spoken word and circus arts. We are keen to hear from artists and companies who are not currently making work for rural touring, but who have a genuine desire to engage with rural audiences, and to change or adapt how they work to become suitable for rural touring.”

    The showcase programme will be selected by a working group of China Plate, Live & Local, Worcester University Drama Department and the NRTF. The working group are particularly looking for tour-ready work however a limited number of shows in development will also be considered. All participating artists/companies will be offered a small showcasing fee to cover expenses. Audiences for rural touring are growing in the UK with the NRTF’s most recent survey results indicating a 26% growth in audiences over the past decade. 

    Interested artists who fit the eligibility criteria outlined at are invited to complete the online application form.

    Applications will close at 5 pm on 16th February 2018.


  • RTDI Company Profile: Find out more about James Wilton Dance

    In the third of our Rural Touring Dance Initiative Company profiles, we find a little bit more out about how James Wilton is prepared for his Autumn rural tour of 'Last Man Standing.'

    What are you most looking forward to?
    New audiences in new areas, as well as testing our work in a completely new setting.

    What have you packed in readiness for rural locations ?
    Welly boots and our cocker spaniel Henry-thought we'd make the most of the lovely walks whilst in the country!

    How do you think it will be different from touring to towns?
    It will be nice to be really close to our audience, so often we perform to an auditorium in darkness, I suspect that this may not be the case which is an exciting new challenge as a performer.

    Can you sum up your show in 3 words?
    Grace, gravity and grit

    What would you say to anyone who has never seen dance /theatre?
    It can change your perspective on the world without even realising. You can visit other worlds and go inside other peoples minds, without even leaving your seat.

    James Wilton Dance Website | Twitter | Facebook

    Read our previous company profiles with Uchenna Dance here and bgroup here

  • What a performance! Tom Speight

    Tom is a rural touring promoter.  He is also Chair of NRTF. His article "What a Performance!" was featured in the Countryman magazine which is available in all good newsagents Read about Tom's experiences below...  

    Sometimes it’s the ticket sales. But more usually it’s the positioning of the lights. Or the whereabouts of the corkscrew(s). Or working out how to squeeze another five seats in for late arrivals. Or juggling the dietary requirements of the actors who I’ve offered to feed before the show. But whatever the worries of being a rural touring promoter, it’s always great fun and immensely satisfying.

    I first took an interest in what I learnt was called ‘rural touring’ in 2009. I was working as the news editor at BBC Radio Cumbria. Occasional press releases would come my way, advertising what sounded like high quality, professional performance art — drama, music, comedy, magic, even dance — all taking place in the extensive network of village halls that pepper a rural county like Cumbria.

    I was intrigued. How on earth did that happen? How did they get such astonishing calibre of artists? How did this process work?

    I dug a little deeper, and before I knew it, I had become what is known in the rural touring world as a ‘promoter’. That is, a volunteer who makes an event happen in their village hall.

    Photo by Tom Middleton

    There are currently 1,659 of us across rural England, Wales and Scotland. And in 2016 we put on shows to more than 330,000 paying audience members — a whopping twenty-six per cent increase over the last ten years.

    My village of Castle Carrock hasabout 270 inhabitants and it’s located ten miles east of Carlisle, on the edge of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We lost our shop a few years ago when the proprietor died and no one stepped in. But we still have a good pub, a thriving school, a church and a village hall, the Watson Institute. And so we have enough amenities to keep some kind of community spirit going — so long as people use them. And hosting rural touring shows has been a crucial mechanism to keep the hall busy and talked about.

    The role of being a promoter itself varies enormously. I am the programmer, the theatre director, the marketing department, the box office, the host and the front of house. And often I’m the lighting technician, the sound engineer and the stage manager too. A true modern-day rural impresario.

    There are two seasons to the rural touring year where I live in Cumbria: the spring season and the  autumn season.

    An organisation called Highlights acts as the clearing house for me as I choose which shows to put on. Highlights is a charity, one of twenty-seven such schemes across the UK, and it’s staffed by three professionals who know what performance art will work in a village hall. So, along with about eighty other promoters across rural Cumbria, County Durham and Northumberland, I get to choose twice a year which shows, from the menu of maybe thirty that I’m offered, I want to bring to my hall.

    My hall. It’s a very special place and means the world to me. Built in 1897 by the richest family in the village originally as a reading room, it’s now a wonderfully intimate village hall and venue where I can sit sixty-five people at a push, cabaret-style (small tables, candles, subdued lighting), with a small stage that I borrow from the school next door.

    I know most of my audience very well. I’ve built up a very loyal following over the eight years that I’ve been promoting. The trick is to always, always maintain high standards and professionalism, and then they will learn to trust your selections, come what may.

    About a third come from the village, the rest from further afield. Music always sells better than drama, and probably always will — I suppose it’s more accessible, less of a risk. But in my experience, it’s often the variety of the offer which drives success. Take the last three shows I’ve put on. In May I hosted the Montreal Guitar Trio from Quebec, who stunned everyone with their musicianship. In February it was an evening of poetry and music with Radio 4’s Kate Fox and Union Jill. And in late 2016 it was a play called Launch Party, about young people leaving the countryside. 

    So the variety is remarkable. And the bit that usually raises un knowing eyebrows is the professionalism.

    All of the performers make a living out of this. All of them have done very well to be taken on by the schemes in the first place. But in return, performers have had mini tours created for them, often with the offer of free bed and breakfast thrown in, and the chance to ply their trade in wonderfully intimate venues.

    The schemes get some of their money from the Arts Council, some from the box office and some (though less and less) from local authorities. It means that they can help sudsidise more ‘risky’ shows, encouraging more confident promoters to try out shows that might on paper be more difficult to sell. And all the schemes are affiliated to the National Rural Touring Forum, a small organisation with, again, a skeleton staff which advocates for rural touring as well as helping to drive a central strategy. (This summer I was appointed the new Forum chair.)

    A recent three-year campaign to get professional dance into village halls — yes, dance into village halls — has been a huge success.

    I love being involved. I love the challenge of choosing a show which I think will work for my audience (my reputation is constantly on the line). I love witnessing people coming together. I love experiencing superb performance art. All on my doorstep.

    This article was originally printed in the October 2017 issue of the Countryman magazine which is available in all good newsagents as well as via subscription too

  • RTDI Company Profile: Uchenna Dance

    In the second of our Rural Touring Dance Initiative Company profiles, we find a little bit more out about how Uchenna Dance are preparing for their Autumn rural tour of 'The Head Wrap Diaries' from their Creative Director Vicki Igbowke.

    What are you most looking forward to?

    Being on tour! This is our first tour of this scale and to rural audiences, we are really excited to be part of the scheme and sharing this show with those we would not normally engage with.

    What have you packed in readiness for rural locations?

    Food is VERY important to the company (LOL) so we have all packed those essential snacks that will keep us going while on the road. We also have some equipment, set and a mobile installation that we hope to be able to display at most venues.

    How do you think it will be different from touring to towns?

    The difference is that rural touring as a real intimate feel to it, we are being welcomed into the local community by the local community on all levels including communication with promoters pre-tour, recreating bespoke versions of the show for each individual venue to being looked after post show in the homes of those from the community. You just don't get this kind of intimacy touring to town and big cities. 

    Can you sum up your show in 3 words?

    Culture, Laughter, Hair

    What would you say to anyone who has never seen dance /theatre?

    Come with an open mind, know that you do not need to get all of it as there is not always a deep and meaningful story to work out and just enjoy the dance and music

    Uchenna Dance website | twitter | instagram | facebook

    To find out when and where Uchenna Dance are touring click here.

    Read our previous company profile with bgroup here.