States of Verbal Undress – rural tour was a partnership project between the NRTF, Manchester’s Rasa Theatre and 8 rural touring schemes/ associate venues in the north of England. The full evaluation of the project is now available to download from our Resources section but some of the key findings are mentioned below.
The key aims of the project were to encourage promoters to take culturally diverse work that is contemporary and relevant; and to look at different ways to build an audience for this type of work, with the aim of informing audience development approaches in the future.
The project offered financial and practical support through subsidy on the performances of States of Verbal Undress – a theatre piece about the migrant experience offered with an optional post show Q&A – and attached workshops. Additional funding was made available for each promoting venue to try out new marketing initiatives to increase and diversify audiences, and a freelance coordinator provided administrative support to the project on behalf of the NRTF and its participating members.
The tour saw 13 performances and 6 workshops programmed, with venues including three village halls, three secondary schools, four community centres and three small theatres/arts centres across six counties.
States of Verbal Undress Audience at Swanland Village Hall
As one of the key aims of the project was to look at different ways to build audiences for this kind of work, the touring schemes, venues and promoters involved in the tour trialled a range of different audience development initiatives, including:
- – Extending the evening through the inclusion of free food offer (this varied from inviting a local Asian chef to cook on site, working with migrant workers from a local restaurant to prepare a buffet and working with A Level food technology students)
- – Working with community venues who were first time promoters of arts events
- – Researching/compiling new mailing lists and mailings to diverse groups
- – Extra staff time to target specific groups and widen print distribution
- – Providing transport and subsidising participation of BME/migrant support groups
- – First time paid advertising in local press and social media campaigns
- – Encouraging diverse residents of the village to become involved in promoting and organising the event.
- – Targeting of community and writers groups, with special offers and discounts
- – Building relationships with community/diverse groups
- – Direct approaches to immigrant communities eg in shops and centres
These initiatives met with mixed success. On the whole, it was found that the venues with most success were situated in smaller communities who used their word of mouth strength to generate interest. The food offer was also successful as it added a social aspect and offered a ‘good night as a whole’. It was thought that the small theatres involved in the tour perhaps struggled more because they couldn’t enjoy these benefits. Social media faired less well and though it generated awareness of venue activities, didn’t translate to bookings.
With half of the promoters reporting a slight increase in their audience diversity, some success was achieved through targeting of specific groups. Working with an organised BME/migrant support group proved more successful than direct approaches to these communities. Subsidy to facilitate attendance by groups had some success but special offers and combined ticket deals did not work.
Whilst there is no single blueprint that would work for every venue, promoters welcomed the opportunity to try out new marketing activity. As a result of this project, all promoters made new links and contacts that will assist future marketing.
Comments offered on the challenges of finding an audience for culturally diverse work included:
- “The challenge is to attract an audience for contemporary culturally diverse work. Audiences are more comfortable seeing diverse work which is considered traditional or ‘exotic’.”
- “In our rural villages there is little or no diversity of ethnicity”
- “I don’t think the challenges around attracting audiences for this type of work are any different from the challenges around attracting audiences for serious theatre work. We tend to find that audiences seem to prefer music, children’s theatre and theatre with a comedic edge to it, rather than “serious” theatre pieces. It is always difficult.“
- “It needs to have an extra hook. Other USPs become important“
- “Often it’s ‘fear of the unknown’ which prevents bookings, but for others, this can also bring out the curious who want to know why such an event is happening in their village.”
- “Audiences may be held back by what they perceive as ‘risks’ of attending work that is outside what they normally see, they may worry that they won’t enjoy / understand what they watch.“
The findings of the evaluation report are being shared with all NRTF members, with an invitation to join discussions around audience development in rural areas for contemporary culturally diverse work.
Audiences were overwhelmingly positive about the show and the Q&A that followed the performance, with feedback including:
“Good for village venues and community participation. It’s really important for shows such as this to come and inform rural communities of issues important and relevant to all of us.”
“We thoroughly enjoyed this thought provoking show – and gained a great deal of understanding from it. The staff and actors were great and very friendly. “
Rani Moorthy, Rasa’s Artistic Director, felt that: “The tour exceeded our expectations especially how well it was received and how much of the issues of the play took on a fantastic resonance with the current news events with UKIP etc. People seemed to appreciate how the work spoke volumes about immigration but without hitting them on the head with issues. The humanity of the piece seemed to hit the right notes.”
Summary of achievements
All touring schemes and venues involved in the project made links and contacts that will help support future marketing of this type of work. Half felt that the diversity of their audience had increased, though marginally, and all said they were more likely to book culturally diverse work in the future.
The project fulfilled its aims by: bringing quality contemporary diverse work to rural communities; delivering new audiences to host venues; enhancing debate about immigration amongst audience members; strengthening links with outside communities; providing new knowledge from audience development initiatives; and raising awareness (amongst touring schemes) of programming ‘contemporary’ culturally diverse work.
What came out strongly from feedback was that promoters felt the project had given them more confidence and experience with this style of work and allowed them the resources to lay the ground work, undertake research and make connections and partnerships that will help with future marketing. This was greatly valued.