Say Hello to Artsreach’s New Marketing and Development Officer

Artsreach in Dorset welcome Becky Varndell to the team as their new Marketing and Development Officer. We got in touch with Becky to find out a little bit more about her, and what rural touring means to her!

  1. Introduce yourself! Who are you and where have you come from and what will you be doing with Artsreach?

My name is Becky Varndell and I am the newest member of the Artsreach team working as the marketing and development officer. Since graduating from Plymouth University with an English with Media Arts degree in 2012, I have worked in digital marketing for an online events company and most recently as a tourism officer for the Lyme Regis Tourist Office. For the past three years I have acted with Lyme Regis amateur dramatic society’s The Marine Players and in the summer of 2017 I produced and acted in ‘Monmouth’ at the Marine Theatre, which went on to tour the South West in autumn 2017. I am so excited to get stuck into my new role helping to promote the diverse and rich programme of events on offer this season.What does rural touring mean to you?

Rural touring is hugely important because it delivers an accessible programme of professional theatre, dance and music to the heart of rural communities, who may not otherwise have the chance to engage with the arts. Artsreach really enriches Dorset communities, bringing people of diverse backgrounds and ages together to socialise, learn and connect through the arts. What’s more, promoters have the opportunity to choose which events they would like to host in their venue and a portion of the income generated from audience members purchasing tickets plays a vital role in supporting community venues. I feel lucky to work for such a valuable organisation made up of passionate and creative people.

  • What are you most excited about getting stuck into?

I’m looking forward to dreaming up new ways in which Artsreach can develop as a company, helping to deliver new exciting projects to a wide range of audiences. Our spring brochure is currently being finalised and there are some amazing and diverse shows coming up. I can’t wait to spread the word and engage new audience members. I am excited to work closely with the volunteer promoters who work so hard to put everything together for their venue.

  • What was the first rural touring show you ever saw?

I remember being captivated when my parents took me to a puppet show in my local village hall as a child. More recently I have listened to the inspirational Lyme Regis based sea shanty singers Harbour Voices and watched a very poignant performance of Tree House by Chris Fogg Projects.

  • Do you have a top tip for anyone new to rural touring? Maybe a golden nugget about marketing?

When it comes to rural touring, strong, accurate communication is key, particularly as there are many different aspects and needs to fulfil including that of the performer, promoter, volunteers, touring organisation and of course, the audience. It’s also really important to utilise local networks in order to promote a show to it’s full advantage. Listening to your audience is essential in order for them to receive the best quality of performances suitable for their village.

Carn to Cove wins new award for ‘Locomotor’ project – 2018-2020

Carn to Cove is delighted to announce that it has won a substantial award from the Arts Council of England ‘Strategic Touring Fund’ to develop its work in rural communities in Cornwall, Devon and the South West with a new project ‘Locomotor’. Carn to Cove is a project of the Cornish charity Creative Kernow based at Krowji in Redruth but active in 85 villages and towns around Cornwall. It presents professional rural touring performing arts and film (C Fylm) events through its network of community volunteers.

The Strategic Touring Fund award Carn to Cove has won from the Arts Council is to support their role in making the best in the arts available for rural communities. There are three strands of new activity which Locomotor will deliver:

First is the development of a sustainable rural touring offer in neighbouring Devon. Carn to Cove has been working with Villages in Action, the Devon charity which suspended rural touring performing arts in March 2017. The objective is to secure and resource the volunteer network in Devon active in their local communities to provide “Great Art for Everyone” with high quality performances and to build capacity for the sector there. This will include advocacy to local authorities around the social and economic impacts of arts activity, developing new partnerships in Devon and Cornwall, and testing new models of working between villages and market and coastal towns.

Secondly, the award will support an international programme to present more diverse work of different cultures in the South West. This builds on Carn to Cove hosting the ‘New Directions International’ showcase in Falmouth in 2016 for the National Rural Touring Forum and the international partnerships that have emerged from that – including Cornish companies touring overseas (graduate rural touring company Cheap Date Dance touring to Sweden in October 2017). Artists from Spain, Lithuania and Sweden are among those who will be performing and undertaking workshop and participation activity across all the rural touring schemes in the South West of England with partners Beaford Arts (Devon), Air in G (Gloucestershire), Artsreach ( Dorset), Rural Arts Wiltshire and South Glos, Takeart (Somerset) and Villages in Action (Devon). International touring is a priority area in the Strategic Touring Fund criteria and is partly resourced by the Olympic Lottery Distribution Fund.

Thirdly, the Locomotor project will enable the development of new online tools and web presence to improve box office income and therefore sustainability of the touring model. Box office income is already the main source of financing for the performing arts in rural spaces at both Carn to Cove and Villages in Action. Providing centralised online ticketing and marketing will improve access to these services to people living in remote rural communities and therefore attendance and sustainability.

Phil Gibby, Area Director, South West, Arts Council England, said: “Our National Lottery-funded Strategic Touring programme takes exciting arts and culture to places and people across the country who might not otherwise get the opportunity to benefit from these experiences. So, we’re pleased to be supporting Carn to Cove to bring the work of talented international artists to the south west, allowing a wide range of audiences to enjoy these shows on their doorsteps.”

Rural Touring Dance Initiative Receives Second Round of Funding

Boost for dance in rural areas as second phase of Rural Touring Dance Initiative receives Arts Council England funding
Successful partnership between National Rural Touring Forum, The Place, China Plate and Take Art awarded £416,855 to continue work over next three years

An innovative partnership founded to increase touring by dance companies to rural areas has been awarded £416,855 to continue its work over a further three years. The new funding, announced today, will allow the Rural Touring Dance Initiative (RTDI) to build on its success by working with more local rural touring schemes and venues, delivering 195 performances over the next three years across England, Wales and Scotland. This is an increase on the 115 performances staged in the first three years of the RTDI, which included touring shows by Uchenna Dance, Lost Dog, Luca Silvestrini’s Protein and Joan Clevillé Dance.

The new funding follows overwhelmingly positive responses to the project from participating rural touring schemes and promoters, with 93% of promoters reporting an increased interest in promoting dance and 100% of touring schemes reporting that the RTDI increased their interest in programming dance.

The second phase of funding will cover curating and supporting three annual ‘menus’ of dance which local promoters can select from, working with dance companies to adapt existing pieces so they are suitable for rural touring and commissioning dance companies to make original work for the rural touring circuit. The RTDI’s first commission, Point of Echoes, a collaboration between international choreographer Ben Wright and musician Stuart Warwick will tour in Spring 2018; further works commissioned especially for rural touring will be developed during the second phase.

Additionally, the next three years will have an enhanced focus to involve more children and young people, as well as support workshops for promoters interested in staging dance performances in village halls and rural venues around the UK, many of whom are volunteers working to stage high quality performance in the heart of their communities. RTDI 2 will also develop partnerships with Pavilion Dance South West and DanceEast, capitalising on this burgeoning new dance audience.

The Rural Touring Dance Initiative was launched in 2015 with the aim of substantially increasing dance touring in rural England over an initial three-year period, due to end in July 2018. It is a partnership between NRTF, the Yorkshire-headquartered membership body for rural touring schemes in the UK; leading dance institution The Place; Birmingham-based independent producing studio China Plate; and Somerset’s county dance agency Take Art. It was formed in response to Arts Council England’s rural evidence and data review (March 2015), which found that only 2% of NPO funded dance companies toured to rural areas.

Speaking about the award, Pete Massey, Director North, Arts Council England said “Yorkshire has a particular strength in dance and I’m delighted that we are supporting the National Rural Touring Forum to develop its dance initiative through our National Lottery funded Strategic Touring programme. Working with partners across the country, they will tour to a variety of places that would not usually host this sort of event, enabling rural audiences who may not have experienced dance before to see performances where they live – and to encourage children and young people to get involved.”

Ralph Lister, Development Director of NRTF, said “The NRTF is absolutely delighted by the Arts Council of England’s decision to support the second phase of the Rural Touring Dance Initiative. Driven by a clear vision and commitment, shared by the 4 partners and Project Manager, a strategic intervention of such significance needed this further 3 years to solidify the tremendous gains made so far. The next 3 years will see a further 200 contemporary dance performances in village communities across the UK and we are really excited about working with more dance companies and making rural touring a regular part of their touring activity”.

Ed Collier, Director of China Plate said “This significant second tranche of funding from ACE will allow us to really embed a culture of making dance for rural audiences amongst the most exciting contemporary dance practitioners and companies.”

Eddie Nixon, Director of Theatre, The Place said “The success of this initiative in the first 2 years has shown there’s a huge appetite for dance performance amongst audiences in rural venues and a real desire amongst dance companies to tour there. This support from Arts Council England means we can allow this interest to flourish well into the future”.

Alison Lord, Dance Director, Take Art said “Establishing a network of Rural Touring Scheme Dance Ambassadors is a key development for the next phase as is greater involvement of children and young people. We are excited to be part of this ground breaking audience development initiative and are determined to make it a great success”.


A film about the RTDI has been made by Director Rachel Bunce and can be viewed here:

The Rural Touring Dance Initiative is a partnership project led by The National Rural Touring Forum with The Place, China Plate and Take Art. The project is funded by Arts Council England through its Strategic Touring Fund.

NRTF seeks full time Director

This is now closed for applications.

The Trustees of the National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) are looking to recruit a full time Director who will be responsible for the delivery and development of their Business Plan over the next 4 years.

The last few years have been an exciting period of growth and expansion, both for the NRTF and the rural touring sector as a whole. The company’s turnover and activities have increased through a range of partnerships and development opportunities, whilst the rural touring sector has seen its audience and profile grow steadily. The Board of the NRTF now wish to appoint an effective leader to develop the activities of the company and oversee the management of the organisation.

This post is a new and exciting opportunity within the NRTF and as such the Board is looking for applications from dynamic, skilled and well-connected people who can help build on the organisation’s growth to date and drive forward its vision and mission. You will be a true ‘all-rounder’, someone with the character, charisma and commitment to lead the organisation who is also willing to fulfil the essential operating and administration tasks that enable the company to function and thrive.

The Director is the first point of call for our members and stakeholders. A public facing position, the Director has responsibility for relationships with the companies and organisations that constitute our membership, our funders including Arts Council England and other charitable supporters, and with our Trustees. A key advocate for the NRTF, the Director oversees the general management of the organisation and ensures high standards in delivering its work and promoting its position as a leading cultural organisation.

For further information about this position and details of how to apply please download the recruitment of director application pack to the right.

Closing date for applications 10.00am 11th December 2017.

New Directions showcase festival 2018 – Call out to artists is now OPEN

Please share via your networks. for full details, criteria and application process.

National Rural Touring Forum and China Plate seek artists to perform at New Directions 2018 showcase festival.

The Bi-annual rural touring showcase will return in June at Worcester University

Theatre and dance companies interested in introducing their work to the rural touring sector are invited to apply to participate in the New Directions showcase, taking place at Worcester University from 26-28 June 2018.

New Directions 2018 will bring together rural touring schemes, venues, voluntary promoters and artists to sample shows, see work, share experiences with other promoters and broaden their knowledge of work available. It also offers theatre companies the opportunity to highlight the quality and style of their work by participating in the showcase festival, programmed by independent producing studio China Plate and hosted by the National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF), the membership organization for rural touring schemes, with Live & Local, a rural & community touring scheme covering parts of the East and West Midlands.

For the showcase we are seeking entertaining, surprising and stimulating performance reflecting the best of contemporary theatre, performance and dance available for rural touring in 2019. All work featured at the showcase will be selected on the basis of quality and appropriateness for the rural market.

Speaking about the showcase John Laidlaw, Executive Director of Live & Local and NRTF board member said “We are looking for bold and exciting work from a diverse range of artists – performances and people that reflect and celebrate the best of Britain and beyond and we welcome applications from all artists undertaking innovative work in disciplines such as theatre, physical theatre, digital art, dance, spoken word and circus arts. We are keen to hear from artists and companies who are not currently making work for rural touring, but who have a genuine desire to engage with rural audiences, and to change or adapt how they work to become suitable for rural touring.”

The showcase programme will be selected by a working group of China Plate, Live & Local, Worcester University Drama Department and the NRTF. The working group are particularly looking for tour-ready work however a limited number of shows in development will also be considered. All participating artists/companies will be offered a small showcasing fee to cover expenses. Audiences for rural touring are growing in the UK with the NRTF’s most recent survey results indicating a 26% growth in audiences over the past decade.

Interested artists who fit the eligibility criteria outlined at are invited to complete the online application form.

Applications will close at 5 pm on 16th February 2018.

RTDI Company Profile: Find out more about James Wilton Dance

In the third of our Rural Touring Dance Initiative Company profiles, we find a little bit more out about how James Wilton is prepared for his Autumn rural tour of ‘Last Man Standing.’

What are you most looking forward to?
New audiences in new areas, as well as testing our work in a completely new setting.

What have you packed in readiness for rural locations ?
Welly boots and our cocker spaniel Henry-thought we’d make the most of the lovely walks whilst in the country!

How do you think it will be different from touring to towns?
It will be nice to be really close to our audience, so often we perform to an auditorium in darkness, I suspect that this may not be the case which is an exciting new challenge as a performer.

Can you sum up your show in 3 words?
Grace, gravity and grit

What would you say to anyone who has never seen dance /theatre?
It can change your perspective on the world without even realising. You can visit other worlds and go inside other peoples minds, without even leaving your seat.

James Wilton Dance Website | Twitter | Facebook

Read our previous company profiles with Uchenna Dance here and bgroup here

What a performance! Tom Speight

om is a rural touring promoter. He is also Chair of NRTF. His article “What a Performance!” was featured in the Countryman magazine which is available in all good newsagents Read about Tom’s experiences below…

Sometimes it’s the ticket sales. But more usually it’s the positioning of the lights. Or the whereabouts of the corkscrew(s). Or working out how to squeeze another five seats in for late arrivals. Or juggling the dietary requirements of the actors who I’ve offered to feed before the show. But whatever the worries of being a rural touring promoter, it’s always great fun and immensely satisfying.

I first took an interest in what I learnt was called ‘rural touring’ in 2009. I was working as the news editor at BBC Radio Cumbria. Occasional press releases would come my way, advertising what sounded like high quality, professional performance art — drama, music, comedy, magic, even dance — all taking place in the extensive network of village halls that pepper a rural county like Cumbria.

I was intrigued. How on earth did that happen? How did they get such astonishing calibre of artists? How did this process work?

I dug a little deeper, and before I knew it, I had become what is known in the rural touring world as a ‘promoter’. That is, a volunteer who makes an event happen in their village hall.

Photo by Tom Middleton

There are currently 1,659 of us across rural England, Wales and Scotland. And in 2016 we put on shows to more than 330,000 paying audience members — a whopping twenty-six per cent increase over the last ten years.

My village of Castle Carrock hasabout 270 inhabitants and it’s located ten miles east of Carlisle, on the edge of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. We lost our shop a few years ago when the proprietor died and no one stepped in. But we still have a good pub, a thriving school, a church and a village hall, the Watson Institute. And so we have enough amenities to keep some kind of community spirit going — so long as people use them. And hosting rural touring shows has been a crucial mechanism to keep the hall busy and talked about.

The role of being a promoter itself varies enormously. I am the programmer, the theatre director, the marketing department, the box office, the host and the front of house. And often I’m the lighting technician, the sound engineer and the stage manager too. A true modern-day rural impresario.

There are two seasons to the rural touring year where I live in Cumbria: the spring season and the autumn season.

An organisation called Highlights acts as the clearing house for me as I choose which shows to put on. Highlights is a charity, one of twenty-seven such schemes across the UK, and it’s staffed by three professionals who know what performance art will work in a village hall. So, along with about eighty other promoters across rural Cumbria, County Durham and Northumberland, I get to choose twice a year which shows, from the menu of maybe thirty that I’m offered, I want to bring to my hall.

My hall. It’s a very special place and means the world to me. Built in 1897 by the richest family in the village originally as a reading room, it’s now a wonderfully intimate village hall and venue where I can sit sixty-five people at a push, cabaret-style (small tables, candles, subdued lighting), with a small stage that I borrow from the school next door.

I know most of my audience very well. I’ve built up a very loyal following over the eight years that I’ve been promoting. The trick is to always, always maintain high standards and professionalism, and then they will learn to trust your selections, come what may.

About a third come from the village, the rest from further afield. Music always sells better than drama, and probably always will — I suppose it’s more accessible, less of a risk. But in my experience, it’s often the variety of the offer which drives success. Take the last three shows I’ve put on. In May I hosted the Montreal Guitar Trio from Quebec, who stunned everyone with their musicianship. In February it was an evening of poetry and music with Radio 4’s Kate Fox and Union Jill. And in late 2016 it was a play called Launch Party, about young people leaving the countryside.

So the variety is remarkable. And the bit that usually raises un knowing eyebrows is the professionalism.

All of the performers make a living out of this. All of them have done very well to be taken on by the schemes in the first place. But in return, performers have had mini tours created for them, often with the offer of free bed and breakfast thrown in, and the chance to ply their trade in wonderfully intimate venues.

The schemes get some of their money from the Arts Council, some from the box office and some (though less and less) from local authorities. It means that they can help sudsidise more ‘risky’ shows, encouraging more confident promoters to try out shows that might on paper be more difficult to sell. And all the schemes are affiliated to the National Rural Touring Forum, a small organisation with, again, a skeleton staff which advocates for rural touring as well as helping to drive a central strategy. (This summer I was appointed the new Forum chair.)

A recent three-year campaign to get professional dance into village halls — yes, dance into village halls — has been a huge success.

I love being involved. I love the challenge of choosing a show which I think will work for my audience (my reputation is constantly on the line). I love witnessing people coming together. I love experiencing superb performance art. All on my doorstep.

This article was originally printed in the October 2017 issue of the Countryman magazine which is available in all good newsagents as well as via subscription too

RTDI Company Profile: Uchenna Dance

In the second of our Rural Touring Dance Initiative Company profiles, we find a little bit more out about how Uchenna Dance are preparing for their Autumn rural tour of ‘The Head Wrap Diaries’ from their Creative Director Vicki Igbowke.

What are you most looking forward to?

Being on tour! This is our first tour of this scale and to rural audiences, we are really excited to be part of the scheme and sharing this show with those we would not normally engage with.

What have you packed in readiness for rural locations?

Food is VERY important to the company (LOL) so we have all packed those essential snacks that will keep us going while on the road. We also have some equipment, set and a mobile installation that we hope to be able to display at most venues.

How do you think it will be different from touring to towns?

The difference is that rural touring as a real intimate feel to it, we are being welcomed into the local community by the local community on all levels including communication with promoters pre-tour, recreating bespoke versions of the show for each individual venue to being looked after post show in the homes of those from the community. You just don’t get this kind of intimacy touring to town and big cities.

Can you sum up your show in 3 words?

Culture, Laughter, Hair

What would you say to anyone who has never seen dance /theatre?

Come with an open mind, know that you do not need to get all of it as there is not always a deep and meaningful story to work out and just enjoy the dance and music

Uchenna Dance website | twitter | instagram | facebook

To find out when and where Uchenna Dance are touring click here.

Read our previous company profile with bgroup here.

RTDI Company Profile: Find out more about bgroup

Each month we’ll be profiling one of this seasons Rural Touring Dance Intiative companies! First up we have bgroup who won the first ever RTDI comission to make a dance show specifically for rural touring.

What are you most looking forward to?

A warm welcome for the most part 😉 Point of Echoes is an exciting return for us to touring work in the UK. After spending the last three years choreographing more large scale work for Opera and Theatre stages in Sweden, this challenge of developing an intimate work specifically conceived to work in non-theatre spaces has been extremely engaging. We are looking forward to the proximity of performing up close to our audiences whilst retaining certain epic proportions within the production.

What have you packed in readiness for rural locations?

An area Press coffee maker, a full bag of Huel ‘nutritionally complete food’, oh and a van packed dot the hilt with set costume and lights.

How do you think it will be different from touring to towns?

I guess it’s the intimacy of the communities involved. We have already been bumping into individuals here in Langport who came to see one of out dress rehearsals, I like the immediacy of the conversation that can ensue. In many ways it feels like the circus has come to the village and it is exciting to be at the hub of that curiosity.

Can you sum up your show in 3 words ?

Kinetic creepy storytelling.

What would you say to anyone who has never seen dance /theatre?

Don’t come with preconceived ideas. We have developed a show that draws on the full spectrum of my working experience and curiosities. Point of Echoes is blend of genres and disciplines. Although the work is based on a script by Stuart Warwick our storytelling methods drift between movement, song and spoken word. I am interested in working expansively, creating a sense of boundlessness, the categorisation of the show is less interesting to me than getting an engaged and curious audience involved. Think an episode of Tales of the Unexpected or The Twilight Zone performed by dancers.

2018 Applause Outdoors – Commission Opportunities

New commission opportunities for Outdoors work

In summer 2018, Applause Rural Touring will be programming outdoor performances into existing, locally organised village fetes, community events and Festivals in Kent and Sussex. These events take place almost exclusively at weekends from May to September.

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

All work should entertain and engage audiences, be self-sufficient (i.e. not require technical or other support/involvement by the host organisation) and be able to be accessed by diverse, non-age specific audiences. They can be walk about or static productions but they are intended to suit a range of time frames(i.e. does not require the audience to arrive at a certain time and remain for a set amount of time).

For 2018 we are also looking to commission one new outdoor work inspired by spoken word that we can tour as part of our Inn Crowd project that brings exceptional live events to rural/community pubs –

We are offering the following opportunities and expect to take out between 6-8 shows this season:

1 x Inn Crowd (spoken word inspired outdoor work) – commission fee between £3000 – £6000
AO new commissions for outdoor works – commission fees between £3000 – £8000
AO reshaping/development awards for existing works that requires some reshaping to tour rurally – development fees between £500 – £2500
For full details on the application process, including information for companies, and application forms visit

Deadline 5pm Sunday 1st October