Little Earthquake and Black Country Touring nurturing the theatre makers of tomorrow

NRTF members Little Earthquake and Black Country Touring have been working with pupils from five Black Country primary schools in a groundbreaking new Young Producers programme:

The Boy Who Became A Beetle is being made with 100 Young Producers from five primary schools across the Black Country. They are involved in every element of the theatre-making process: from choosing the show idea and developing the story, through to recruiting the professional cast and creative team, contributing ideas for the design and music, and, finally, to hosting and promoting a performance in each of their own schools as part of its initial tour.

This unique flagship project is being led by Walsall-based theatre company Little Earthquake in partnership with Black Country Touring, and has been generously supported by Arts Connect, the Arena Theatre and Arts Council England.

The production will be on tour from 18th June. For more information on the project, please click here to visit the Young Producers dedicated website. If you have any questions about the event, the project or the production, please contact Natalie Kidman at Black Country Touring.

You can watch the trailer here:

Alchemy Black Country, 19 – 30 May 2015

Touring Scheme member Black Country Touring, is one of the key partners in Southbank Centre’s Alchemy 2015, bringing exciting new productions to venues across the Black Country later this month:

We are thrilled to welcome Alchemy, a contemporary festival exploring the cultural links between the UK and South Asia to the Black Country celebrating the best theatre, dance, music, workshops, comedy and film.

Southbank Centre’s Alchemy is an annual festival in London. This year, Southbank Centre’s Alchemy goes national. Working with three key national partners, a bespoke Alchemy programme has been devised for regional audiences and these festivals will take place at Cast in Doncaster, Oldham Coliseum and across venues in the Black Country (through Black Country Touring).

United Colours of FrustrAsian

Festival highlights include: Midlands premiere of internationally acclaimed theatre show, Nirbhaya; United Colours of FrustrAsian fusing live music and storytelling to examine our identities; Variety is the Spice – featuring live performances from Britain’s Got Talent finalists – Signature and music fusion band Alpha Nomega; Knives, Forks and Fingers, a new show created specially for Alchemy by comedian, broadcaster, journalist, and chef Hardeep Singh Kohli; a second chance to see the wonderful My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding and last but not least, Occasionally We Skype, BCT’s new dance theatre co-production with Sonia Sabri Company – premiering at the Southbank Centre.

My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding

There’s something for everyone at the festival – so take a look and tell your friends and family about the first ever Alchemy Black Country! We look forward to welcoming you and remember to use the hashtag #AlchemyFest and #AlchemyBC when you tweet!

Full listings of all events is available at:

Northern Exposure – Canada’s Top Performers Tour the North 

The Northern Consortium of Touring Schemes are celebrating a ten year partnership with Canadian performing arts organisation Atlantic Presenters Association (APA) with tours by some of Canada’s finest acts.

From February to May this year, award-winning singer/songwriter Ian Sherwood, Theatre Newfoundland Labrador and comedian/performer Melody A Johnson will be performing in village halls and community centres as part of the Rural Touring Scheme’s ‘Canadian season’.

The APA welcomed Blaize and other schemes to its prestigious booking conference, ‘Contact East’, held in Novia Scotia last summer, where some of the country’s best acts were unveiled.   

The three Canadian performers will now tour with seven Rural Touring Schemes working together in the north including:

The Touring Schemes involved in the partnership have a long-standing history of collaborating on tours and special projects, working together to bring outstanding theatre, music, dance and more to rural communities across the north of England and the Midlands.

Thanks to this amazing partnership between the Northern Touring Schemes and the APA, over the past few years the NRTF has been able to showcase Canadian artists at conferences and invite Contact East representatives to come and talk about rural touring in Canada (including the possibility of meeting bears en route!).

Spokesman for the APA Laurie Gillies said: “Having Blaize attend Contact East and see showcasing artists is a huge opportunity for Canadian artists.” 

 “Tours booked with Blaize and other presenters in the Northern Rural Touring Scheme exposes artists to new audiences in new markets which is a fantastic career development opportunity.” 

The three acts will contribute to almost 50 gigs covering Northumberland, Durham, Cumbria, West Cumbria, Yorkshire, East Yorkshire, Lancashire, Cheshire and also Shropshire and Herefordshire.  

Laurie said: “Being able to bring unique artists to your community is what presenters do best. Exposing audiences to Canadian artists they might not otherwise get to see is exciting and important in the curatorial development of presenters.” 

The first to perform has been award-winning singer/songwriter Ian Sherwood.  

Sherwood is an established musician and story teller who has penned tunes for many other artists as well as for theatre, film and television.  

He started off the season on Valentine’s Day (Feb 14) in Cumbria  before performing at twenty venues right across the north including North Yorkshire, East Yorkshire, and Teesdale before finishing up in Lancashire on March 15. Ian wrote us a blog post about his experience of rural touring in the UK and working with the NRTF and member Touring Schemes.

Next up is Theatre Newfoundland Labrador (TNL).

A theatre company which prides itself on reflecting the Canadian culture, TNL brings its latest production ‘With Cruel Times in Between’.

The show paints a picture of island life in Canada inspired by one of Newfoundland’s best love poets Al Pittman.

It will make its debut at Appleby Market Hall, Westmorland, on April 16, before touring a further thirteen venues across the north and north east, ending up in Leominster, Herefordshire on May 28.

Melody A Johnson is an award-winning actress, writer and comedian. She has numerous stage and film credits and will be showcasing her most recent act ‘Miss Caledonia’ which tells the story of a 1950s farm girl with ambitions to become a movie star.

Melody begins her tour in Blackburn, Lancashire on May 18 before moving on to perform at a further 13 venues across the north.

Exact Dates and venues for the full touring season are available on individual Scheme websites, using the links above.

The Canadian High Commission, impressed by the number of bookings offered to Canadian artists by the Touring Schemes and the resulting exposure to new audiences, have included information on the tours in their March Canada Plus bulletin.

Charming Children’s Book is Reinvented for the Stage: The Boy Who Bit Picasso Comes to The Pound

Delegates at our New Directions showcase 2014 had a lot of fun getting into the mind-set of an audience of 5 year olds for this new show that premiers in April:

Oxford Playhouse and Untied Artists present the world premiere production of brand new family show, The Boy Who Bit Picasso at The Pound arts centre on Saturday 11 April, 2pm

The Boy Who Bit Picasso is inspired by Antony Penrose’s well-loved book. This charming children’s production follows a boy called Tony who becomes friends with Pablo Picasso, telling the true story of how Tony spent his childhood with one of the greatest artists who ever lived.

In this interactive new show, audiences are invited to take part in a variety of hands-on art and craft activities, aimed at children aged 4 to 8 and their families. There will also be storytelling and music composed by Untied Artists, as children are introduced to one of the 20th century’s most influential artists.

The Boy Who Bit Picasso is devised and directed by Jake Oldershaw, co-founder of the innovative Untied Artists theatre company. Based in Birmingham, they create diverse, engaging performance characterised by intimacy, musicality and heartfelt storytelling.

Jake (who plays Tony in the show) said “the opportunity to bring this brilliant story and book to life is a real privilege. Tony, the boy who bit Picasso, had the good fortune to enjoy the whirlwind of his creativity first hand, and I hope by recreating their relationship and inviting children of the 21st century to experience it, some of that energy and sense of wonder might just rub off a bit.”

The Boy Who Bit Picasso premiers at The Pound arts centre, Saturday 11 April, 2pm. For more information, please visit

Contact Theatre: Jackie Hagan Rural Tour, March to May 2015: ‘Some People Have Too Many Legs’

NRTF is delighted to announce the commencement of Jackie Hagan’s new show, ‘Some People Have Too Many Legs‘. A product of the NRTF and Contact Theatre Relationship that started in 2012 with a 70 date tour by Maxwell Golden’s show, ‘A Countryboy’s Struggle’ Jackie’s show details a very different kind of experience, abeit one with just as many resonances for young people, its immediate target audience.

NRTF has supported the development of the show, along with Beaford Arts in Devon and Take Art in Somerset, through dramaturgical support and a residency in Devon before Christmas 2014. It has been an interesting journey for Jackie, to say the least, and Contact Theatre have provided a crucial continuity of support throughout. We are finally at the point where the audience gets to see the fruits of all the combined efforts.

We wish the best of luck to rural touring schemes that have booked the show so far and we know that Jackie is keen to tour into the autumn 2015 and beyond.

There has been a variety of press interest in the show and for further information please follow the following links:

BBC Ouch – The Amputee Who Impersonates Celebrities with Her Stump

BBC Ouch – Talk Show

Daily Mirror Interview

You can follow Jackie Hagan on Twitter.

Tour dates can be found on the Contact website The page lists all current tour dates (including booking info), show info, photos, video etc.

For further information please contact the NRTF office or Ralph Lister, Development Director, NRTF

Dance and Rural Touring – reflections from Spiltmilk Dancea

July 2014 saw Sarah and Adele, Co-Directors of Spiltmilk Dance, head up to York to join in the events of New Directions 2014, the NRTF conference and showcase event. We were delighted to be able to attend the whole conference through support from Live and Local and their DART scheme.

Jam-packed doesn’t quite cover the timetable of showcases, discussions, coach trips and networking that was provided as part of the conference and we arrived determined to soak up as much as we possibly could over the three days.

As well as the showcases there were a number of opportunities for meaty discussions about hopes and ambitions for rural touring in the future as well as challenges faced by both schemes and companies. Dance was a key topic of conversation throughout the conference.

Dance is still largely under represented on scheme brochures for a number of reasons, not least because the genre has historically required technical luxuries such as a large playing space and sprung floors. However, we firmly believe that, alongside Spiltmilk Dance, there are many companies working in the dance sector at present creating work which is much more flexible in terms of staging and would go down very well in village halls and community settings across the country. It was extremely gratifying to see and hear the extent to which both scheme managers and promoters are keen to bring more dance to their audiences. We feel there is some matchmaking to be done between these rural touring experts and dance companies that may have only heard the whisper that rural touring could be an option for them. This is something that we would love to play a part in, in the future.

We were delighted by the reception that our own showcase performance received and we have had some great discussions with schemes we had not previously engaged with before the conference. Indeed, this translated into new touring dates for Spiltmilk say Dance in Spring 2015.  Additionally, we are in the thick of developing a new performance work for touring in 2015/2016 and particularly have rural touring audiences and venues in mind throughout this creative process. Schemes we haven’t toured to previously have already shown great interest in hosting this work because of their impressions of the company from the NRTF conference.

It was relatively recently that we entered into the world of rural touring but we are rapidly feeling that, in this setting, our work has found its spiritual home. Meeting the audiences that we can access through rural touring and getting to feel part of their community for a night has been already been hugely rewarding and we’re excited to continue with more touring in future.

So far our tour of Spiltmilk say Dance has seen us getting toes tapping from County Durham to Warwickshire and this Spring we’ll be carrying on the fun from Cumbria to Devon! The communities we have visited have been overwhelmingly welcoming, as we journey around the country in our van we look forward to meeting the friendly faces of local promoters, ever ready to offer a helping hand or a restoring cuppa.  We’ve also loved the process of decking out each new hall we visit with fairy lights, bunting and the all-important fancy dress table so that locals can enjoy seeing their familiar space transformed.

With all our work we aim to give audiences a great night out, with the chance to see a new and innovative performance work whilst also having a fun and sociable evening with their family and friends. We have loved seeing 5 to 85 year olds togged up in their fancy dress, dancing together to the live music from our musician and leaving at the end of the night with big smiles on their faces.

Our audiences have summed up best how rural touring has given us some of the most rewarding outings for our work;

‘The best night out we’ve had as a whole family in ages… Thank you for a wonderful evening.’

‘A really good evening. A reluctant husband danced his socks off and said he really enjoyed himself!’

‘I really felt part of something, not just an audience member’

If these experiences are anything to go by then the future of dance on rural touring schemes is certainly bright, so here’s to many more dancing adventures up and down the country in future!

A trailer for Spiltmilk say Dance can be viewed by clicking here or visiting

Rural Touring in the UK – an international artist’s perspective

Canadian musician Ian Sherwood reflects on his experience of rural touring in the UK, since showcasing at the NRTF conference in 2013:

In the summer of 2013 I was given the rare opportunity to be one of two Canadians to showcase at the National Rural Touring Forum conference. During that unseasonably hot July weekend in Stirling, Scotland, I met some of the warmest people I could ever hope to meet (and got my first sunburn of the summer!). While staying at the beautiful MacRobert building we got to sample some traditional celtic dancing, haggis for breakfast every morning and witness a few of the other talented showcasing artists at the conference (the Pacific Curls were a crowd favourite). The weekend had a very laid-back feel that comes with the gathering of friends and colleagues, but when work needed to be done it was done fast. The morning after my showcase I was enthusiastically booked on the spot for a show in Honiton three days later!

Since that trip to the NRTF conference in 2013 I’ve had the pleasure of coming back to the UK three times with a fourth happening in February and March 2015. I’ve experienced the home-grown hospitality of folks from Cumbria to Berwick-Upon-Tweed to Cornwall. I’ve manoeuvred the narrow roads of Dorset and taken breathtaking train rides through the rolling hills of Scotland from Glasgow to Edinburgh. I spent a night in the same house King Charles II slept in in 1651, toured the Roman baths in Bath and sat Robert Burns’ favourite chair in Dumfries. I’ve played shows in beautiful community centres to sold out crowds as well as a candle lit performance to an appreciative 15 guests. Every experience is one I hold close to my heart.

To say that working with the NRTF has been a life changing experience may sound glib or trite (as a songwriter I try to avoid these two), but I can’t think of a better way of explaining it. Having the opportunity to play in the type of rooms offered up by rural touring is exactly the kind of touring I’ve been looking for!

Visit Ian’s website for more information on his forthcoming UK shows.

The View From the Stage

NRTF associate members Mambo Jambo reflect on their experiences of rural touring:

We’ve been working with Rural Touring Schemes over the last few years, and have been lucky enough to have been involved with 11 areas to date (Arts Out West, Highlights, Creative Arts East, On Tour, Northants, Air In G, Live and Local, Live Lincs, Village Ventures, Centre Stage, Rural Touring Lincolnshire). We actually did 9 of these schemes before we joined as members; but the advantages of being a member mean we can find out latest news and developments.

We often find ourselves chatting with the promoters about what a great scheme Rural Touring is for us and for them, and for their communities. In fact I can’t think of an occasion recently when that topic hasn’t come up! Under the umbrella of the scheme we can reach people who wouldn’t necessarily take the risk to go to a regional venue to see an act they hadn’t heard of. And, very importantly, folks from wide areas and all walks of life, can go out together, enjoy all kinds of shows and performances, whilst enjoying each others’ company, keeping in touch and making new friendships, through positive and life-affirming experiences – which are exactly what artists work hard to provide!

Shops, post offices, even churches in many places have closed down, and it’s a fact that rural community life has been eroded. Without things like Rural Arts and other social activities, neighbours can become increasingly isolated from one another. A social space, village hall, or whatever it’s called, can be a massive asset for a community, but only if it is used. We have met so many people working hard to keep communities lively and active, using these spaces through the schemes, and also in many other imaginative ways. We are very grateful to these people because they want to make a difference, and with support from the touring scheme, all the helpers, promoters, and artists like ourselves, we feel that they, and we, all succeed.

Rural Touring has helped enormously in the development of what we do – we’ve always strived as musicians for quality in our musicianship, whilst making sure that we remain accessible, and the Scheme seems to suit our approach. We enjoy the aspect of contact with the promoters and the audience; we make a point of encouraging people to ‘come and say hello’. We are very approachable, and love it when someone from the audience comes up to us to share some story that might relate to something we’ve touched on, some aspect of local life, or expand on a story we’ve told in the concert. This is very rewarding for us because we feel a real exchange going on here. From onstage we learn through these exchanges about aspects of local life. We really enjoy finishing an evening having learnt a bit about what goes on or what might be a distinctive local feature. We tell the audience that as we’re going round the country we’re taking notes – and we are! We get a lot of good feedback from the audience once we’ve come off stage, and that immediacy is very special to us. People often comment that they are ‘amazed at how many instruments you play’ and ‘what a great evening it was’. One comment we enjoy and we hear regularly goes something like this…..”You know I didn’t think this would be my cup of tea, but I’ve really enjoyed myself, and in the end I’m ever so glad I made it out tonight!” At that moment all the work we’ve put in on the night, and all our practice and experience over the years becomes worthwhile.

From our point of view the conditions are good for the musicians;  The fact that it is a regional scheme and you can get gigs in succession or rely on getting a few gigs in a season. Having secured those dates in the diary, there’s a security that is so often lacking in the working life of artists and musicians(!).

The way the NRTF is set up means that meaningful feedback can reach all levels of the chain, so that suitable acts get to play in suitable places. The worry for the promoters of making that ‘lead balloon’ booking can evaporate, and bookings can go ahead with confidence, felt by artists and audiences alike, that a show or event enhances local life, and is, and was, more than worthwhile – and that the next show will be great too!

NRTF Conference 2015 – showcase application deadline 12th February

Call out for Companies and Performers wishing to engage with Rural Touring.

From 14th-16th July, the National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) and Creative Arts East will host the NRTF’s annual rural touring conference and showcase 2015.

We will bring delegates to Wymondham College and nearby venues from across the UK and further afield for 3 days of showcases, workshops, debate, discussion and networking. 

Showcasing is an important part of the conference, allowing touring schemes, venues and voluntary promoters to see work, share experiences and broaden their knowledge of work available. 

NRTF is now looking for applications from companies wishing to showcase at our conference.

Priority (but not exclusivity) will be given to companies based in the Arts Council England South East area. (ACE South East Area covers Bedfordshire, Berkshire, Buckinghamshire, Cambridgeshire, East Sussex, Essex, Hertfordshire, Kent, Norfolk, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Surrey and West Sussex.)

The showcase programme will be selected by a working group of National Rural Touring Forum, Creative Arts East and Applause Rural Touring Schemes.

The programme will showcase theatre, dance and music. For this event we are particularly interested in hearing from dance companies, digital art creators and companies specialising in out-door work.

Our aim is twofold:

  1. to introduce delegates to exciting high quality work by known and unknown artists
  2. to showcase the work of South East based companies and performers to the wider rural and community touring network.

All work will be selected on the basis of quality and appropriateness for the rural market. We are looking for bold and exciting work from a diverse range of artists practising across the genres of theatre, dance, music and live art.

Companies and performers wishing to be considered must complete the application form to the right and submit to by midnight Thursday 12th February.

The programme will include work presented as a pitch or in excerpt, no full shows will be presented.

Companies and their shows, wishing to be considered must be:

  • Available to showcase an extract not more than 20 minutes on 14th, 15th or 16th July 2015
  • Suitable for rural touring – size, cost, technical, quality
  • Available to tour throughout the UK 2016 onwards
  • Able to provide a contact for a reference from someone who knows your work and is prepared to vouch for your suitability for rural touring. This could be a venue, a touring Scheme, a promoter, producer or a funder.
  • Professional i.e. a company whose members consider creating theatre, music and/or dance for public performance as their main occupation and who pay staff a living wage in line with Equity/Bectu agreements throughout the rehearsal and performance period.
  • Flexible enough to perform in non-traditional spaces. Self-contained with minimum technical requirements.

We would like showcasing companies to take part in the conference, to join us for networking, discussions and a meal and we will be able to offer this in addition to a modest amount towards expenses.