NRTF remains an Arts Council England National Portfolio Organisation 2015 – 2018

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.

To find out more about the benefits of NRTF membership, please visit our Membership section. You can find out more about our work and our strategic initiatives in the Our Work section.

Choose Wisely This Season – A Voluntary Promoter’s Perspective on New Directions 2014

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!

A Theatre-Maker’s Experience of the NRTF Showcase

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.”

New Directions 2014

New Directions 2014 took place at the York Theatre Royal and the Fauconberg Arms between the 15th and the 17th July 2014.

37 companies featuring artists, performers, musicians, dancers, jugglers, comedians, poets, actors, poets and storytellers came along to present their work either as 20 minute extracts or as 10 minute idea presentations.

The event was sold out with touring scheme representatives from across the country from Carn to Cove in Cornwall to the Touring Network up in the Highlands.  Voluntary promoters representing some of the 2,400 communities who work with touring schemes to bring high quality professional arts into their rural village or community halls, schools, pubs and other spaces were there in force to enjoy meeting, discussing, watching and in some cases participating in the feast of artistic talent shown over the 3 days.

The event also attracted small venues and other performers and artistic companies keen to engage with the rural touring network.

Members of the Arts Council England  were there to see the work and meet the people who help to deliver over 3,500 live performances per year across the country.

An evaluation of the event will now take place and the findings will be made available.  However feedback so far has been overwhelmingly positive and here are just some of the comments we have received:

Voluntary promoters:

“This was an excellently organised event – well worth attending. Overall saw 20+ shows, or mainly 20/30 minute extracts from shows and attended two discussion groups on aspects of rural touring. I found the discussion groups containing promoters and artists really useful and was a sort of induction for me into the rural touring scene.”

“The Conference and showcase were brilliant, so well organised; definitely the best I have been to yet.”

“A  HUGE thank you for giving me the opportunity to attend the New Directions showcase through the NRTF bursary towards my place – I thoroughly enjoyed the experience and have come back (happily) drunk on culture! It was such a joy to experience so many snapshots of quality entertainment. Thanks again for enabling me to have such a wonderful 2 days. I feel very lucky and privileged.”

China Plate – our Programme Curators at York Theatre Royal:

“What a fantastic few days we all had up in York. And it wouldn’t have been possible without the support, generosity, enthusiasm and boundless energy of the team that put it all together.

So from us all at CP HQ we would like to thank: Alice, David and Kirsty, custodians of the NRTF core admin. Phil Green and his tech team. The board of the NRTF especially those who helped in the programming process and discussion discussions. Alex Wright for programming an amazing night of work at The Fauconberg Arms. All at York Theatre Royal, especially Damian Cruden and Liz Wilson.

All of the schemes and promoters who made the trip up / down / across to York.

And most of all the artists who bought their magnificent work to New Directions.”

Chanje Kunda (one of the showasing artists at the Fauconberg Arms):
“I had a really good time performing at the NRTF event at the The Fauconberg Arms. As promised, I am posting with details about the show Amsterdam ( the quirky show with the tomato, the megaphone and the haute couture  pony hat.)”

Sonia Sabri (one of the dance showcases):
“I just wanted to say a big thank you to everyone who attend our showcase performance on Thursday at NRTF14. We are very excited about the potential of touring wider on the Rural networks and are excited about developing new relationships.”

Pentabus (one of the YTR showcases)
“Thank you for a wonderful showcase and conference
We started a conversation with you all at NRTF about putting promoters at the heart of the process, by which we mean involving promoters in the creative journey of commissioning a play through to bringing it to your hall. We’re interested in whether this is appealing to promoters and how this might work for promoters across the UK and whether it feels do-able both in terms of interest and time/capacity.”

Tin Box Theatre (one of the showcasing companies at the Fauconberg Arms):
“We had a really inspiring three days at the NRTF showcase and really enjoyed the discussions around dream work for rural touring and exploring new models and ways of working, we are looking forward to continuing the conversation!”

You can check out some of the Twitter conversations in our New Directions 2014 Storify and see a selection of photos from the three days in our Flickr album.

For us at NRTF this event was partly about starting a dialogue between artists and promoters and presenters.  We are delighted to say that the conversations are continuing in the Discussion area of this site.  The forums are buzzing with comments and discussions: You will need to log in to join in with these.

If you are not a member, please contact Alice at or by phone 01904 466527

Shropshire and Neighbours Rural Touring Pilot launches with Introduction to Rural Touring event

Shropshire and Neighbours Rural Touring Pilot (SNRTP), a new and innovative project to strengthen approaches to rural touring, is holding an Introduction to Rural Touring event in Crewe on 21st May.

Open to performance companies and artists, touring schemes, venues and promoters, the free event will share information on rural touring and explore new, more collaborative ways of working to support sustainability and increase access to the arts for rural communities.

For more information on the event, either download the PDF to the right or click on this link for booking and programme details.

Supported by Arts Counci England, and delivered in partnership with PANDA, Arts Alive, Axis Arts Centre, and Freerange Theatre Company, this exciting and innovative research and development project builds on and expands the success of existing work pioneered by PANDA and Cheshire Rural Touring Arts. For more information on SNRTP, click here.

New Directions Showcase 15-17 July 2014 highlights announced

Highlights for the New Directions showcased were announced today with booking open for members only until 22nd April. 

NRTF is delighted to announce highlights for New Directions 2014.

As part of an exciting evening at the Fauconberg Arms in Coxwold:-

Work by award winning theatre & folk company Fine Chisel, and spoken word poet & performer Henry Raby.

At the York Theatre Royal delegates will be treated to extracts and pitches featuring amongst others:-

The Red Chair – Clod Ensemble; Some People Have Too Many Legs – Jackie Hagan; Strictly Balti – Travelling Light; Brilliant (Film Version) – Fevered Sleep; The Sid Lester Village Hall Special – Sue MacLaine; Shopping and Fracking – Pentabus; The HS2 Project – Gameshow and Camden People’s Theatre; Hurtling – Greg Wohead; The Love Project – Every Day; My Dearest Girls… – Francesca Millican-Slater;  RIOT – Wardrobe Ensemble.

This year we are delighted to feature a special morning of dance showcases including:-

Spiltmilk say Dance – Spilt Milk; Labyrinth – Sonia Sabri; Panta Rei Dance Theatre from Norway.

For more information and for a members booking form.

Live & Local: Developing Artists in Rural Touring (DART)

Sally Rew, Company Administrator from Live & Local, provides an interesting overview of their DART development scheme, another example of a rural touring mentoring scheme for artists:

We have to thank Worcestershire County Arts Officer, Steve Wilson, a passionate advocate for artists, for initiating, and indeed funding, an artists’ development project in relation to Shindig (Worcestershire’s community touring scheme, which is delivered by Live & Local). Worcestershire County Council had previously delivered a successful visual artists’ development programme, but when it came to performing arts it was felt that the Shindig scheme was best placed to develop and deliver this, so as to benefit Worcestershire performers and the county’s arts venue infrastructure.

Live & Local created a project which would offer artists, groups and companies – in any performing art form – the chance to enter into a dialogue with rural touring and local small-scale touring venues. We advertised the opportunity through national, regional and local networks.

Live & Local was the Project Manager, taking charge of the delivery of the project, bringing others on board with suitable experience and expertise. We were keen to develop a project that was not simply about access to the community touring menu. We therefore recruited a panel who would work together to select the artists, provide feedback on their work, advise on marketing and touring opportunities at a DART-Day in November. The panel included: John Laidlaw (Executive Director of Live & Local) and Steve Wilson (Worcestershire County Arts Officer); two Shindig promoters; two Worcestershire arts venue managers/programmers; independent producers in theatre and music; a theatre-maker and a musician with experience of making shows for rural touring. This panel proved to be a valuable resource to the project and participating artists, bringing a breadth of experience to artist selection and advice-giving. It required a considerable time commitment of three full meeting days as well as reading all the applications and artists’ evaluations. However, panel members repeatedly affirmed that the whole experience was an interesting and valuable learning process.

DART-Day attendees

DART-Day took place on 20 November with the support of Number 8 Community Arts Centre, whose programmer, Emma Bangham, was a member of the DART panel. The panel had selected six groups to take part: two dance, two theatre, two music. It was an early start for many participants who had travelled some distance and already done their get-in in the theatre. We rewarded them with tea, coffee and pastries, and a very jolly ice-breaker activity that got everyone talking with each other. The morning then went into a series of 15 minute performance extracts, performed in the theatre to the panel and the other artists. Further tea and lunch breaks provided sustenance and the chance for artists and the panel to talk informally. In the afternoon each performance group received one-to-one feedback from the panel, and took part in small-group discussions offering tailored marketing advice and performance opportunities in Worcestershire.

After DART-Day, the panel was called together to formalise written feedback to artists and to share reflections on the DART process and ideas about the way forward. For many of the panel, Live & Local included, it has prompted thinking about formalising artists’ professional development opportunities that their organisations can offer; whether it be a village hall promoter offering to host a work in progress, or a venue manager creating a showcase event for local performers and promoters.

Live & Local is currently reviewing a range of possible levels of artist development support, with the intention of building a committed programme of activity into its business plan for 2015-18. We are keen to be in dialogue with other schemes that are supporting artists to develop their work for rural touring, working towards enhancing our network with a new generation of exciting shows.

Sally Rew
Company Administrator, Live & Local

More information about DART is available on the project website:

International Rural Touring Developments 2014

NRTF is delighted to announce that it will be working with Swedish and French colleagues through 2014 to develop a joint project submitted for EU funding. Following on from our existing links with Riksteatern, developed over a number of years, our colleagues at Riksteatern Vasternorrland have been able to secure a grant to support the costs of developing the project. Its central aim is to increase the level and quality of performing arts touring in rural areas within the 3 partner countries.

Our other partners will be Northern France based agencies; Spectacle vivant en Bretagne and Odia Normandie. Over the next 10 months a series of planning meetings will take place, one of which will be at the time of the NRTF New Directions 2014 Showcase Conference. If successful we would aim to start the project in 2015.

PANDA Rural Touring Pitching Day 2014 – applications open

PANDA, ArtERY, Arts Out West, Cheshire Rural Touring, Highlights, Spot On and the National Rural Touring Forum invite you to apply for the PANDA Rural Touring Pitching Day:

Date: 21st March 2014

Location: Barnard Castle, County Durham

Deadline for applications: 3pm, 3rd February

6 Impossible Things by Avanti Display & Artizani (2012 scheme)

We invite you to apply to pitch your show at a rural touring pitching day. You will have the opportunity to pitch an existing performance or a developing project to a panel of rural touring scheme managers and promoters. You will receive advice on how your show would work in a rural venue with the possibility of receiving further mentorship from a panel member.

PANDA and the rural touring panel welcome applications from those experienced in touring but new to rural touring. We also welcome pitches for shows in all performing art forms.

The benefits:

• Ongoing mentoring opportunity from a rural touring manager or promoter
• Potential inclusion in future rural venue programmes
• Ongoing support, advice and training from PANDA
• Financial support to attend the pitching day

N.B This is a PANDA led scheme developed in partnership with the National Rural Touring Forum and a northern consortium of Rural Touring networks. All applicants must be a current PANDA member in order to enable us to provide the additional support to all applicants – whether successful or not.

For more information please visit the PANDA website here or email