Rural Arts FRESH Initiative

Sophie Backhouse, of Rural Arts North Yorkshire, tells us about their FRESH pay-what-you-think initiative:

Last year we trialled a few pay-what-you-think events as a new way of marketing hard to sell performances.

Originally this was really a one-off idea to inspire audiences to give shows a go. However, we received brilliant feedback, with audience members mentioning that they attended because they didn’t have to commit financially, but then really enjoyed the show. So we realised it was a novel way of drawing people in to shows that they may not have heard of, or performance styles we haven’t often programmed.

At the start of 2015 we decided to put this approach in to practice, programming a summer of ‘Fresh’ performances which were all pay-what-you-think. We decided to use this platform to offer opportunities to emerging artists, as a way of viewing performances that haven’t been shown before or working with companies that were very new. We could then talk to them about the idea of rural touring and how their show could be adapted to work with us, this included advice on staging, marketing etc.

Vanessa Kisuule

Spoken word artist, Vanessa Kisuule

We also used this opportunity to increase our programming of performance poetry, being situated in Thirsk you would normally have to visit York to see a performance poetry night. With the pay-what-you-think aspect performance poetry was very successful, with people attending that had never visited Rural Arts before.

Audience feedback included:

“Totally refreshing to see a vibrant spoken word show in Thirsk. Great as a ‘Pay what you think’ event”
“It is a privilage and a delight to have an oppertunity to experience live poetry being performed. Thank you to the poet and Rural Arts”
“Not a poerty person usually – this was a revelation!”

The only drawback to this initiative is discussing artists fees, as you don’t know how much the performance will make. However, everyone we worked with was up for the challenge and appreciated the idea. We found that you often have to find the right balance of quality, as even though it’s essentially free to attend potential audience goers still wanted to see a high quality performance. We would recommend giving the idea a go, as it worked for us at The Courthouse.