Local Play with National Significance – The Common Hopes to Hit the Road

NRTF members Beaford Arts and China Plate worked together to produce The Common:

An inspiringly insightful piece of contemporary theatre with important messages for our collective future – we ARE the land” … Positive response to Beaford Arts’ The Common might just get this show on the road.

After two sellout performances of this series of dramatic dialogues about our relationship with the local environment, Beaford Arts hopes to take The Common on a national tour.

Lucy Deasy, General Manager of Beaford Arts, says “Our objective as the cultural partner of the North Devon Nature Improvement Area (NIA) was to create a piece about the value of the land. Our mission was to engage with two local communities, work within them, engage them and produce a show that would resonate with the varied audience within those communities.”

Feedback from those who saw the shows in Dolton and Hatherleigh, where The Common was researched, developed and performed, certainly seems to indicate success “It was a triumph. Full of admiration for the performers. Very moving and you got the Devon nuances.” 

Others wanted to share the love @ruthresearch tweeted “A lovely evening in the company of @beaford & @YourOldChina last night, do hope there is a longer life for #TheCommon” and another comment simply says “Brill! Sock it to Whitehall”

Producer, Fin Irwin worked with theatre company China Plate to create the show “It has been a pleasure to work on a project that has had such a high and diverse level of engagement. From the environmentalists to the local farmer and the pub landlord, everyone has had a story to tell and has been keen to tell it. The positive response from the participants and audience alike was overwhelming and proved that this project will create a lasting legacy in the memories of those who saw it.”

This is a local production with national significance. The rural issues explored in The Common are relevant to communities nationwide and Beaford Arts hopes to roll the show out to the other eleven Nature Improvement Areas around the country “Our future goal is to tour the play to other NIAs, Westminster and maybe beyond.” says Lucy Deasy.

New Directions 2014 – Participant Feedback

The bi-annual rural touring showcase festival, New Directions, took place in York from 15th – 17th July this year. Featuring showcase performances by 38 performers and companies, the event was attended by over 100 delegates including touring scheme representatives, voluntary promoters, artistic companies, small venues and funders.

The opportunity to meet Promoters, venues, agencies, artists and funders was immensely useful. And to actually see and experience quality work fit for rural touring was important in understanding the product and the relationship between Artist/company and Promoter.”

The showcase took place at York Theatre Royal and at The Fauconberg Arms in Coxwold, where The Little Festival Of Everything saw performances in a range of non-traditional spaces, from the pub itself to the surrounding fields, a car, a caravan and a minibus. A new departure for 2014 was a focus on dance for rural touring, with four dance companies invited to showcase their work and talk to promoters and touring schemes.

“Fantastically organised, felt like going to a mini Edinburgh festival but without all the dashing between shows and all the hard work done for us!”

Delegates were asked to feedback on the event and the results have been summarized in a report that can be downloaded from the Resources section of the NRTF website.

“I thought the whole conference was fantastic. I returned home with a real buzz and lots of ideas of how to promote new events in our community.”

The report contains feedback on all elements of New Directions and closes with recommendations for future events.

Next year’s NRTF conference, taking place at Wymondham College in Norfolk from 14-16 July, will focus on networking, discussion and debate, with some showcase sessions. Applications are now open to performers and companies wishing to showcase at the event.

The next New Directions showcase will take place in Falmouth, Cornwall in July 2016.

Our Highlights From 2014

We’ve had another fantastic year in 2014 – here are some of our highlights from the past 12 months:

Our partnership with Contact Theatre started 2014 with a 42-date tour of The Novice Detective by Sophie Willan, involving 14 rural touring schemes and their young promoter groups, 81 creative workshops for young people and over 1,600 audience members. Sophie was the winner of the 2012 Flying Solo Rural Touring commission and the NRTF/Contact partnership is now working with Jackie Hagan, the 2013 winner, on her show Some People Have Too Many Legs. Jackie showcased work in progress at our New Directions event in July and is now working with Take Art and Beaford Arts and audiences of young people on developing the show for a 2015 tour.

Our partnership with PANDA (Performing Arts Network and Development Agency) on their pitching and mentoring scheme saw eight companies invited in March to pitch to a panel made up of touring scheme representatives and voluntary promoters. A full overview of the 2014 pitching and mentoring scheme can be found in this article.  Chanje Kunda, one of the artists selected to pitch, was invited to our New Directions showcase in July, presenting an excerpt from Amsterdam. Chanje’s work was very well received at New Directions  and it’s hoped that she’ll soon be appearing in village halls around the country.

We were also delighted to work with Rasa theatre company to bring a tour of States of Verbal Undress to 13 rural and small-scale venues in the Spring this year, supported by workshops and post-show Q&A’s. One of the key aims for the project was to look at ways of developing new audiences for culturally diverse work in rural areas and an evaluation of the tour can be found here.

Our bi-annual New Directions showcase in July saw over 100 delegates and 38 performers and companies take over York Theatre Royal for three days of fantastic showcases, discussions and networking. A new addition to the showcase was the Little Festival of Everything at the Fauconberg Arms pub in Coxwold, an evening of showcase performances in non-traditional spaces. 2014 also saw a focus on dance for rural touring for the first time, with four dance companies showcasing their work. Philip Holyman, of Little Earthquake, has written about a theatre maker’s experience of New Directions and Cate Latchford told us about her experience of the event as a voluntary promoter. A summary of the feedback from the event can be found here.

Panta Rei Danseteater at New Directions 2014

Our successful partnership with Jazz Services continued, with the Jazz Services Rural Touring Support Scheme supporting high quality jazz artists to tour rural venues across the UK. The winners of the awards for 2014 – Fumi Okiji’s Old Time Jazz Band, Sue Richardson and Heads South – all took part in the Jazz Services showcase at New Directions and have been on the road throughout the Autumn, continuing their tours into 2015.

We were very pleased to be able to announce that the NRTF was successful in its application to remain an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation (NPO) for 2015-18. 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.

Finally, we’ve been continuing with the development of our website as a tool to support our members in networking; sharing news, information and resources; and collaborating on booking tours. As our membership base grows, with associate membership now open to artists, companies, small venues, producers, promoters and festivals, we’re currently looking into how we can develop the site further in the future to make it an invaluable resource for the rural touring network. Feedback from members shows that the site continues to be a useful resource: 73% of NRTF members visit the website 1-4 times a month, 81% of members find the weekly discussion updates useful and 61% of touring schemes have booked performers and companies after they’ve posted information on a forthcoming tour on the site’s discussion boards.

With exciting plans in the pipeline for 2015 we’re looking forward to another fantastic year for rural touring!

Create – making the case for arts and culture

Arts Council England have published Create – A Journal of perspectives on the value of arts and culture, with a rallying call from Chair, Sir Peter Bazalgette, for all those involved in arts and culture to join in the debate and make the case for how the arts are integral to our communities, our education, our health and wellbeing and our national standing.

You can download Create from the link above, search the digital version of the journal by theme and join in the debate on Twitter by tweeting @ace_national and using the hashtag #culturematters

To accompany Create, Arts Council England have also updated their Advocacy Toolkit to support individuals and organisations in making the case for the value and impact of public investment in arts and culture.

NRTF members have been invited to join the debate using the discussion boards on this site.

States of Verbal Undress – Project Evaluation

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

Audience Development

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.

Audience Responses

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.

Black Country Touring – Call Out for Artists and Companies for Alchemy Black Country

Black Country Touring have issued the following call out for artists and companies:

Next year at the end of May,  Black Country Touring will be hosting Alchemy Black Country, a festival inspired by The South Asian Culture and its influences across Britain today.

The festival, originally pioneered by the Southbank Centre in London, will for the first time take place at three other locations across the country including the Black Country.

We are on the lookout for shows, performances and workshops that have South Asian influences that can potentially be a part of this festival.

Full details on the submission process can be found in the PDF that you can download by clicking on the title of this post and then cliking on the link in the downloads column on the right hand side.

Applause Outdoors 2015 – Commission and Development Awards

Applause Rural Touring have issued the following call out for artists and companies:

Applause Outdoors 2015 Commission and Development Awards

In summer 2015, Applause Rural Touring will be programming outdoor performances into existing, locally organised village fetes, community festivals and similar events in Kent and Sussex.

We are looking for companies / artists with an established interest and track record of working outdoors and interactively who would like to be part of this programme. We are seeking:

  • Work which is in need of some development to receive Development Awards
  • One piece to receive a special Co-Commission award from Applause, Fuse Festival Medway and Gulbenkian bOing ! International Family Festival.

Please see the full brief, which can be downloaded by clicking on the title of this article then downloading the PDF from the right hand column.

Or visit: http://www.applause.org.uk/outdoors/ for further details.

Please forward this information to any contacts that would also be interested.

With best wishes,
The Applause team

Black Country Touring – Call Out for Artists and Companies for Alchemy Black Country

Black Country Touring have issued the following call out for artists and companies:

Next year at the end of May,  Black Country Touring will be hosting Alchemy Black Country, a festival inspired by The South Asian Culture and its influences across Britain today.

The festival, originally pioneered by the Southbank Centre in London, will for the first time take place at three other locations across the country including the Black Country.

We are on the lookout for shows, performances and workshops that have South Asian influences that can potentially be a part of this festival.

Full details on the submission process can be found in the PDF that you can download by clicking on the title of this post and then cliking on the link in the downloads column on the right hand side.

Rural Arts ON Tour’s Magic Lantern Tales Marks Cenenary of First World War

Yorkshire’s finest poet is marking the centenary by teaming up with award-winning documentary photographer Ian Beesley to create a new show, Magic Lantern Tales.

Ian McMillan, described by poet laureate Carol Ann Duffy as “one of today’s greatest poetry performers”, tells the stories of men who fought in the first world war and lived to tell the tale, while a real ‘magic lantern’ – one of the very first types of projector – provides stunning, atmospheric accompanying images. The piece reminds an audience that although often seen in great sweeps, war is but ‘people against people’, and that every person has a story to tell.

Using real memories to bring back to life the humanity rather than the brutality of war, “the past and the present come together in pictures and poems that take the audience back” said veteran poet and broadcaster Ian McMillan. “The room will be dark but the pictures and the poems will light up the spirit!”

The show will tour to Gilling East, Potto and Settle as part of ON Tour, a scheme that brings professional performance to rural venues across North Yorkshire and East Cleveland. Ran by Thirsk-based charity Rural Arts, this season has seen dance, music and drama play to 500 people in its first two months alone.

“We’re particularly happy to welcome Ian and Ian to the ON Tour family, not least because they’re both Yorkshiremen themselves” said John Hamilton May of Rural Arts. “Ian Beesley was born in Bradford, whilst McMillan is Barnsley through and through”

At Gilling East, the performance will be accompanied by beautiful artworks from contemporary gallery Bils & Rye, who have carefully selected pieces responding to the themes of the evening. All work will be for sale, and a donation of profits will be made to the Village Hall Committee, as part of a project funded by Ryedale District Council.

“We’re thrilled to showcase our artists’ unique and distinctive work at what is set to be a wonderful evening”, said Bils & Rye co-owner, Nick Bentley. “Linking independent businesses and arts events is a great initiative to not only strengthen the local economy but prove our area’s vibrancy to tourists and visitors. Hopefully our art – and the words and images of Ian and Ian – prove that Yorkshire is and will always be a place to come back to.”

Magic Lantern Tales will play at:

Gilling East Village Hall, Wednesday 19th November, bar and art viewing from 6.30, performance at 7.30pm. Tickets £10, 01347 889335.

Potto Village Hall, Thursday 20th November, 8pm. Adults £10, U18s £5, 01642 701797.

Settle Victoria Hall, Friday 21st November, 8pm. Tickets £12, 01729 825718.

Tickets are also available online at ruralarts.org

Rural Arts is funded by Arts Council England, Ryedale District Council and Craven District Council. Any profits made from ON Tour events are reinvested into the charitable activities of the organization.

NRTF Partnership with PANDA and the Northern Schemes update

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.