Clod Ensemble’s Rural Touring Story

Next in our series of features about the people who make rural touring happen, Sarah Cameron, writer and performer of Clod Ensemble’s ‘The Red Chair, tells us her rural touring story:

What’s your involvement in rural touring?

I am a performer and a writer and I am touring a show called The Red Chair with Clod Ensemble.  The Red Chair is a solo show (adapted by the director Suzy Willson and me) and is based on a story I wrote called The Tale of The Man that was So Fat He Growed into The Chair he was sitting Upon. It’s a piece of storytelling, written in a kind of remembered Scots vernacular – part epic poem, part Grimm Tale, part guide on how not to bring up your children. It’s a hoot and a dark one at that….

What got you into rural touring in the first place?

I really wanted to do it. We had an instinct too that the story might demand a non-traditional theatre space – having done it now in traditional theatre spaces, an art gallery and village halls, it would seem the village hall suits the show very well. I’d like to go really rural and do it around a roaring fire in a forest! The show would equally suit the kitchens of a stately home or a derelict industrial building too, for example. The idiosyncratic nature of the story and its telling asks for it to be told in bold, rare, unusual spaces; spaces that support the notion of it being an event, an experience, a happening.

There’s something unique and very special about being invited into a space that belongs to a community. Of course, storytelling began and thrived within small communities, so it makes complete sense to bring The Red Chair into the heart of a community, to share in the intimacy a community group.

What are some of your rural touring highlights?

All Stretton in Shropshire was fantastic – packed to the rafters with a wonderfully warm and open audience. It was our first experience of rural touring and it couldn’t have been better.

In truth, each of them has been brilliant and joyful in their own way. The sense of welcome exuding from both audiences and hosts is very special – rural touring venues really know how to look after their visiting artists and the feedback from audiences feels very real and heartfelt.

What would you say to anyone thinking about getting involved in rural touring?

The local community is coming together to see the work but they are also coming together to see one another – it’s a social occasion as well as a cultural occasion and whilst this is true for much of our work the social dimension of the event is very strong in the context of rural touring.

It’s incredibly enjoyable and hard work. It’s a different kind of responsibility as a performer too. It’s a get in and get out –  a fast turn around and there’s something very appealing in this.

Be prepared to:

  • be fluid and adaptable, both with the space and the performance.
  • come with a very simple set and lighting rig  
  • be creative within the given constraints, and work with whatever is there.

Sally’s Rural Touring Story

Next in our series of features about the brilliant people who make rural touring happen, Sally Seed tells us her rural touring story. Sally’s the volunteer promoter for the Highlights Rural Touring Scheme in the village of Orton, about two miles from Tebay Services near the M6 motorway in Cumbria:

What’s your involvement in rural touring?

I’ve been a volunteer promoter with Highlights in the Eden District of Cumbria for about ten years now.  Initially, that means that I am involved in choosing the performances for our venue, Orton Market Hall, from a menu that the Highlights team put together. A friend who is also a local volunteer and I try to go along to the presentations about each menu so that we can find out a bit more about what’s available. We then decide on which ones would work best for us.

Once we’ve had our two shows per season confirmed, I then lead on promoting them, liaising with the performers or their agents on the practicalities, organising the day of the show, hosting the performance and then sorting out the box office takings. 

For a typical show, my jobs cover just about everything.  I’d reserve the Hall, overprint or label publicity materials and go around putting it up on local noticeboards, send out press releases, create social media events and invitations, put out the chairs, cook a meal for the performers, serve interval refreshments (with other regular volunteers from the village) and put those same chairs away to leave the Hall clear for badminton or Pilates or whatever is happening the next morning!

What got you into rural touring in the first place?

I have always gone along and supported the rural touring performances in Orton – and elsewhere in neighbouring villages – ever since we moved to Cumbria about 15 years ago.  The fact that I was a regular was spotted by the local promoter at the time, she got me a bit more involved and then asked if she could hand it over completely.  I work in PR and communications so the publicity part of the role is no problem at all and I enjoy meeting the performers and seeing the show come together.

What are some of your rural touring highlights?

There have been lots of highlights in those ten years.  We’ve had some amazing musicians, charismatic performers and some really moving drama and storytelling too. 

The Polyjesters, a slightly crazy band from Canada with two brothers at its core, were an immediate favourite and their return visit after a couple of years attracted one of our biggest audiences ever as their reputation had spread fast.  After that second performance, they even continued playing in the village pub due to popular demand!

Another highlight was the musician, John Kirkpatrick who brought his Victorian Farmer’s Year in Song show to Orton.  He was quite moved to realise, chatting to people in the interval, that there were a couple of elderly gentlemen in the audience who, 60 or 70 years previously, would have been just the sort of young farm workers working with traditional horses he was singing about.  That was quite an emotional evening and a bit special.

What would you say to anyone thinking about getting involved in rural touring?

Go for it. 

It’s a really good way of ensuring that your village hall or venue is well used and derives a benefit too, you’ll meet plenty of fascinating people – not only performers but also the other promoters and volunteers – and you’re part of something that really makes a difference for people. 

We gather our audience from about a 20 mile radius, even further afield sometimes, but we also provide a night of entertainment as good as anything in a big city for people here in the village.  Some of those locals wouldn’t be able to travel any distance to a theatre or would find a commercial show too expensive.  I think my best experience on that was the classical guitarist, Eduardo Niebla.  He performed in Orton Market Hall one evening as part of the Highlights season and then, about four months later, he was playing in the Birmingham Symphony Hall.  I think our Orton audience got pretty good value from their £8 tickets compared with commercial prices!

You can read more of our rural touring stories here.

Sian’s Rural Touring Story

In the first of a new series of features about the wonderful people who make rural touring happen Sian Kerry, Co-Director of Arts Alive Rural Touring Scheme, tells us her rural touring story…

What’s your involvement in rural touring?

Co-director of Arts Alive, covering Shropshire and Herefordshire. We set up a single county scheme in Shropshire then a second district scheme, that expanded, then we merged them into one charity. I do all the programming and development work of the live side (we also run Flicks in the sticks touring cinema).

What got you into rural touring in the first place?

Consultancy work, being asked to get professional venues in one county to be more joined up in their programming and marketing – and then to address the geographical gaps.

What are some of your rural touring highlights?

Generally – Packed halls, standing ovations, provocative, moving shows that people can’t believe they are experiencing in their hall, interaction of artists and audiences, seeing children enthralled, people telling me what a great experience they have had. Audiences not leaving but staying and talking about the show. Being told by audience members – sometimes years later – about shows that had made an impact and they remembered. So many moments of magic and humanity.

Specifically – a storytelling performance on the top of a hillfort illuminated by fire, with audience cosied up under blankets, feeling that we as humans have been sharing stories like this for centuries. My Big Fat Cow Pat Wedding – seeing the development from initial idea to production, and it being so well received across urban and rural audiences. Pop Up Opera’s ‘tea cup’ overture, open air one man Midsummer Night’s Dream in a rose garden on sunny afternoon with all the audience bowled over. Young promoters turning their hall into ‘London’ with street stalls and live music for Country Boys Struggle. Rani Moorthy’s Curry Tales, hearing back from the village that the next day that it was the talk of the local shop. Having Rani perform Pooja in a church – with post show teas served from the font. Kinder Gardens – wonderful European early year’s theatre for children, especially La Baracca from Italy. I could go on….

What would you say to anyone thinking of getting involved in rural touring?

Don’t do it to make your fortune or for any concept of ‘career progression’, but expect to be repaid in currency of inspiration, professional reward, stimulation, shared laughter, amazing moments, loyalty and commitment from promoters. Love the possibilities of RT rather than focus on the limitations, love the range of spaces, communities and people. It’s like running an arts centre covering 2,500 square miles with 100 different spaces. Why do you think schemes managers stay in the job so long?

You can read more of our rural touring stories here. If you’d like to share your rural touring story, please get in touch with Kirsty.

Rural Touring Seasonal Highlights – Spring 2016

From an Iranian Feast in rural Shropshire and Herefordshire to high octane Shakespeare in Cumbria and everything, and everywhere, in-between…

Not to be beaten by floods or anything else the British weather can throw at them, rural audiences are set to enjoy a sensational spring as the members of the National Rural Touring Forum present a diverse range of high quality live entertainment from dance to drama throughout the country.

With an eclectic mix including a supercharged re-telling of Macbeth and an Iranian feast, the season will bring the best in live theatre, music and dance to rural communities across the UK with productions handpicked for their high level of quality. From children’s productions to others addressing highly political topics such as fracking, the season is as varied as the venues taking part.

A network of rural touring schemes, arts producers and local promoters combine to bring the very best in live performances to rural communities that may otherwise have limited access to the arts. Often this involves playing to small audiences in a myriad of locations such as village halls and pubs, each of which comes with its own challenges and charms.

NRTF’s Development Director, Ralph Lister, commented on the forthcoming season and its highlights: “Every season sees the offering available to rural touring venues grow and grow – both in terms of the numbers of productions and also the level of quality which is now phenomenal. Rural touring is no longer to be considered the poor relation of the arts world with more companies, including established main house companies, embracing the challenges and rewards it has to offer”.

TASTE – Cscape Dance Company

Inspired by the tapestries of Grayson Perry, TASTE is a romp of a show. Relishing in the national obsessions with social class and the cultural extremities of food, fashion and style, it blends theatre, dance, writing and music. TASTE explores what defines our identity and ponders the intricacies behind our choices. A dance show with a difference that’s as refreshing as a nice cup of tea!

Tiny Heroes – Daniel Bye

Tiny Heroes, a new production from award-winning theatre-maker Daniel Bye, tells the stories of North Devon locals, the unsung heroes whose song is now set to be sung. 

Connected directly to the communities in which it will appear, Tiny Heroes is about the people who saved your life, your day, or your bacon; the people who took the time, took a stand, took a chance; the people who tried, even if they failed.

The Iranian Feast – Farnham Maltings

Take your seat for The Iranian Feast, a contemporary piece of British theatre with delicious food from the heart of Persia. Part thriller, part cookery lesson this is a story of a family in modern day Tehran working out how life will be in the future. One that is surprising, uplifting and a celebration of being alive. Going in the pot are fresh herbs, spices, sweet vegetables, and Eli’s mother’s secret ingredient.

The Boy Who Bit Picasso – Untied Artists

Inspired by the children’s book by Antony Penrose, Untied Artists bring this wonderful tale to life in an interactive theatre show which was originally co-produced with Oxford Playhouse. Featuring storytelling, music and lots of chances to make your own art for everyone aged four and up.

Macbeth – Out of Chaos

Something wicked this way comes. In what may be their greatest challenge yet, Out Of Chaos present all the drama, intrigue and madness of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth in 80 high-octane minutes with the full gamut of 30 characters brilliantly and boldly brought to life by just two actors.

Produced in association with mac birmingham, Oxford Playhouse & The Civic, Barnsley.

This Land – Pentabus

Pentabus take on one of the hottest rural topics of the moment, fracking, in this co-production with Salisbury Playhouse.

This Land digs down through the history – and the future – of a patch of earth and everything that has and will happen there. Be taken on a theatrical journey through an ever-changing landscape with this new play.

Other highlights include…

Transports (Pipeline Theatre Company); Zulu Tradition; Salt In The Sugar Jar (Nikesh Shukla); The Mighty Prince And Other Fabulous Tales (Open Sky Productions); Crazy Glue (Single Shoe Productions); Can You Dig It? (Xylophone Productions); The Tailor Of Inverness (Dogstar Theatre); Amadou Diagne Band; Dendende (Anna Mudeka Band); Muse (Juge Productions).

Black Country Touring wins Heritage Lottery Fund bid to preserve South Asian storytelling tradition

Congratulations to Black Country Touring on the news of their latest Heritage Lottery Fund grant:

Black Country Touring (BCT), a local theatre company has received £28,000 from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for an exciting project, Tongue Tied & Twisted. Led by Black Country Touring in a partnership with Creative Black Country the project will work with local Asian elders and international storyteller Peter Chand to preserve folktales, legends and myths told through oral tradition. These will be used in the creation of a brand new theatre show and online archive called Tongue Tied & Twisted!

Storyteller Peter Chand likens the dying of an Asian elder as “a library burning down”, with these stories being lost forever. For this reason, it is vital to record these stories now to ensure that they are preserved for future generations. Approximately 232 participants will benefit from the project and the groups selected for this project are; Asra Centre Yoga Ladies Group, Sandwell Asian Family Support Service (SAFSS) St Chads Asian Women’s Group, Tettenhall Asian Ladies Group and Wolverhampton Elder Asian and Disabled Group (WEAD).

Members of the ASRA Centre Yoga Group

BCT is an organisation that works with local communities to bring a programme of professional arts activity to the Black Country and to create new projects developed from the stories of diverse communities that live and work in the area. A few workshops have taken place, capturing not only fantastic stories but also the positive impact of recollection in older people. Mr Jain has dementia and was initially hesitant when asked to get involved with the workshops, however after a few sessions he told four lengthy, great and coherent stories without any gaps. He felt valued and that he still had something to contribute to the community, a sentiment shared amongst many of the other participants.  So far, this activity has demonstrated the potential for further work like this with older groups in the UK.  

Gathering stories at SAFSS Carers Group

Dawinder Bansal, Producer at Black Country Touring said: “This is the first time these groups have participated in a heritage project like Tongue Tied & Twisted. Their eyes twinkled as they remembered childhood stories they were told by parents and grandparents, unheard for over 50 years. Thanks to the Heritage Lottery Fund, these stories and their voices will stay alive in an online archive for future generations” 

Vanessa Harbar, Head of the Heritage Lottery Fund West Midlands, said: “This exciting intergenerational project will make a significant contribution to the local community by preserving and sharing cultural traditions. Thanks to National Lottery Players, this investment will give local people the opportunity to engage with creative story-telling projects, whilst also recognising and valuing the unique contribution of oral history in local cultural heritage.”

Devoted & Disgruntled 11 – How do we fund and inspire new work for the Rural Touring network?

Devoted & Disgruntled (D&D) 11 took place recently in Birningham, gathering people involved in theatre and the performing arts from around the UK to discuss a range of topics under the heading “What are we going to do about theatre & the performing arts?”

Several NRTF members, including Touring Scheme representatives and theatre makers, went along to the event and took part in a discussion around funding and inspiring new work for rural touring. They found the Open Space format a really interesting and effective way of engaging a range of different views and opinions.

The report of the rural touring discussion, as well as all of the other reports from D&D:11, can be found here.

Claire Smith joins the NRTF as Project Manager for the Rural Touring Dance Initiative

We’re delighted to announce that Claire Smith has joined the NRTF team as Project Manager for the Rural Touring Dance Iniative.

Claire will be the central liaison point for the project, working with touring schemes, dance companies, project partners and local promoters to coordinate: tours of rural venues, artistic residencies and development labs, professional development bursaries for touring schemes and local promoters and dance showcases at the annual NRTF conference.

NRTF Development Director Ralph Lister said: “The NRTF is delighted to welcome Claire Smith as the Project Manager for the Rural Touring Dance Initiative. She brings a wealth of experience to the role, having co-managed the Cheshire Rural Touring scheme for several years. In addition she brings great enthusiasm for the support and encouragement of more performing arts companies to get involved in rural touring”

On joining the NRTF, Claire Smith said: “I am delighted to be stepping into the project management role for the Rural Touring Dance Initiative. I have already really enjoyed my first few days speaking to companies and schemes about what’s possible. For some schemes, promoting dance will be a challenge but the excitement it will generate, we hope, will be ample payback. This is a brand new exciting opportunity – there is no ‘template’ as such so I am keen to get to grips with what the extended opportunities could be.”

Welcome to the team Claire!

New Artsreach Director is ‘coming home’ to Dorset

A warm welcome to Caroline from all of us here at the NRTF:

The new director of Artsreach, Dorset’s rural touring organisation, is Caroline Corfe, who took up the position on 1st January 2016.

Image (c) Bella West

Caroline is stepping into the shoes of Ian Scott, who has retired after 25 years as director of what is probably the country’s most respected, popular and successful rural arts programme.

She is no stranger to Dorset and describes her new job as “coming home” and “a dream come true.”

Her connection with Dorset is deep, going back to the five years from 1988-93, when she was the first paid administrator of Bridport Arts Centre. After having twin babies, she left Bridport to work as a freelance.

In the intervening 22 years, Caroline has worked for national, regional and local organisations and public authorities, as a freelance and as a salaried arts professional, gathering experience and expertise which is sure to prove invaluable in her new role.

Caroline has most recently been working for the London-based National Foundation of Youth Music, developing education programmes and helping with grants. She has been responsible for a vast area that covered the South West, the East Midlands and the East of England.

“We have been looking at how music can support children and young people in challenging circumstances, how music can help with personal and social skills and really the whole person,” she says.

From 2010 to 2013, Caroline was a relationship manager for Arts Council England, covering the south west regional planning role. She also spent about a year working for the Guernsey Arts Commission, helped the trustees of Taunton’s crisis-hit Brewhouse Theatre to prepare a business plan to relaunch the venue, carried out projects for district and county councils in the West Country and worked for Taunton Deane Borough Council as their local arts officer.

One of her most exciting projects was working as development manager for Exeter’s Phoenix arts centre when it was relaunched, helping to run the community projects for the millennium in Exeter and organising the first county-wide Devon open studios event, Nine Days of Art, in 2001.

For many years, she says, she was juggling her work-life balance, but now the twins are 23 and she is ready for the exciting challenge of Artsreach.

“It’s my dream job,” she says. “I am so pleased to be coming back to Dorset. I love the landscape and the heritage. I love to walk and paint. I have so many friends here. It feels like coming home.”

Artsreach has “such a good reputation,” she says and “a great team, which is small but so efficient and flexible. There are challenges ahead but this feels really a good time to be coming here.”

Caroline will be looking at developing what Artsreach does, and at the need to raise funds to run the organisation, as local authorities face their own financial challenges.

I will be looking to see how we can grow and provide more appropriate arts activities for those who are not involved in the village hall programme.” These could involve activities for older people, and events or projects linked to early years development and health and well-being.

But she stresses that the village hall programme will remain at the core of their work because this is where Artsreach has developed its strong relationships with audiences and performers.

Artsreach has a reputation for putting on high quality and exciting work – from contemporary dance to traditional jazz, solo theatre pieces to classical ensembles. Many artists, performers and groups who have gone on to national success had Artsreach tours to village halls at the start of their careers – the Bristol-based clowning and physical theatre group Peepolykus is just one company that now has an international reputation – we saw them first in Dorset!

The rural audience is not conservative and can be quite adventurous. “People like to try something new,” says Caroline. And performers like the intimacy of the village hall venues – many repay the early Artsreach support by returning to Dorset again and again.

Job Opportunity – Rural Arts Officer – Cheshire West and Chester

Title: Rural Arts Officer

Salary: Grade 8 £25,440-Grade 8 £29,558 Pro Rata Per Annum
Hours per week: 18.5
Address of job: HQ, Chester

Deadline: 29 January 2016
Interview date: 18 February 2016

Job Description:
We are seeking an inspiring and dynamic individual to manage the delivery of Cheshire Rural Touring Arts (CRTA).

CRTA has over the last 15 years built a National reputation as an innovator in the rural touring sector.

The scheme works in partnership with approx. 30 rural communities and their volunteer promoters county wide to deliver a programme of the highest quality small scale performing arts events.

Alongside the main seasons of events CRTA is highly developmental, mentoring artists and proactively designing and delivering strategic art form and audience development projects with key professional partners i.e. Big Imaginations, The Lowry, PANDA, National Rural Touring Forum and Northern Consortium of Rural Touring Schemes.

CRTA is hosted by Cheshire West Council and is a shared service between Cheshire East and Cheshire West. It receives support from Arts Council England as one of its National Portfolio Organisation with its partner ‘Spot On’ in Lancashire.  

This post is a job share position and will involve travel across Cheshire.

This role will be predominately responsible for the artistic programming of CRTA and the delivery of innovative collaborative projects in line with the Business plan and audience development plan. The post will ensure the viable financial running of the programme and support the artists and volunteers that ensure high quality professional arts reach our rural communities.

Please note CRTA is also a partner in the delivery of a 3 year Strategic Touring project in Cheshire Libraries and there will be temporary additional hours available to deliver this associated project in addition to the for the role if desirable.

For a full job description, person specification and to apply please visit:

For an informal discussion, please contact Katherine West on 01244 976703.

For any enquiries please email  or call 01244 972503.

Please quote job reference number WK 00003P in all correspondence.