Angela Hall has stepped down as the Director of Rural Arts after more than 26 years. Home to ON Tour, the rural touring scheme for North Yorkshire, East Cleveland and the Tees Valley, Rural Arts delivers a range of participatory and professional arts programmes at its own venue, The Courthouse in Thirsk, and beyond.
Angela established Rural Arts in 1992 with support from Arts Council England and eight North Yorkshire local authorities. ON Tour was launched in 1997 as one of the first formalised rural touring schemes in the country. Over 300 village halls registered on the scheme, and the model of working with local volunteers and seasonal touring is still in place today. Today, the annual programme consists of over 65 live music, dance and theatre performances across 2,500 square miles.
Speaking about her time at Rural Arts, Angela said: “Rural Arts reaches the people other organisations can’t – I’ve run workshops in fields, set up dark rooms in people’s toilets, and worked in army tents with only fairy lights for illumination. I’m immensely proud of what I’ve achieved here and plan to stay involved by volunteering where I can.”
Angela hands over the role to a former colleague, Max May, who re-joins Rural Arts from London-based theatre company Access All Areas. Max started his career as a volunteer and then intern with Rural Arts, before being appointed Communications and Engagement Officer in 2014. He said:
“Rural Arts plays a vital role in bringing high-quality performance to our local rural communities. I’m looking forward to continuing Angela’s work and building on her brilliant legacy to ensure Rural Arts is vibrant, resilient and sector-leading.”
Rural Arts bids a fond farewell to its director and wishes her the best of luck in her future creative endeavours, as she pursues her own creative practice in ceramics and printmaking.
Rural Touring is a great opportunity for artists but we’d be lying if we said it always went smoothly. As with any tour, there can be bumps along the way. Today we hear from Up The Road Theatre about why they were so keen to get more involved with Rural Touring and how they handled it when things didn’t go to plan.
This March, Up The Road Theatre, are going back on the road. We toured our first production, Bardolph’s Box, in 2016, and dipped our toe in the rural touring scheme waters with Cheshire Rural Touring and Spot On. A great time was had by all. Especially those children at Lancaster Library – I think one of them is still wondering where that witch went. Peril at Sea is a very different kettle of fish. We’re sticking to our roots of very little technology, and it’s still all about story-telling, character and text. No projectors or SubZero SZPA’s required by this company. (I have no idea what that is by the way, but we don’t need one, thanks all the same.) This production is for adults rather than children, and it’s going to boathouses rather than libraries.
Up The Road Theatre are based in Kent. I went to school near Dover, a place that is not renowned for its thriving arts culture. In the days before High Speed, London was two hours plus on the train, and school trips meant getting back at 1am. By the time I got to university, I felt at a disadvantage. I hadn’t heard of half the artists and companies being talked about. I’d done my best at going to see shows in the West End but realised there was so much more out there. After university I wrote to Ivan Cutting at Eastern Angles, asking if he had any upcoming opportunities. I nearly didn’t go to the meeting as I’d already had a few treks across the country to be rejected or ignored and was feeling somewhat deflated. As it turned out, Ivan did have an opportunity and I found myself assistant director on a verbatim musical about New Towns. Obvious choice for someone with a Shakespeare masters. In my time with Eastern Angles we had a company trip to see their production The Long Life and Great Good Fortune of John Clare. That play still remains one of the best things I have ever seen, and we were in a village hall in Suffolk. I found that incredible and over the next few years with Eastern Angles I grew to understand what rural touring means to people. Up The Road Theatre started to emerge.
Our aim is to take work to those communities who have little access to live theatre, or the arts in general. Those communities who aren’t a short distance from a producing or receiving house. Those for whom seeing theatre means spending a great deal of money and getting back at 1am. For our current production, we wanted to focus on coastal communities, it being a show about the sea and set in a coastal community. I really wanted to up our engagement with rural touring schemes and we got onto the menus of the four schemes we applied to. Hurrah. We took a punt with 10 dates, and, unfortunately, the punt didn’t pay off. I know dates are never guaranteed but we had everything – images, trailer, copy, press release. We had a brand-new production made for coastal audiences, all self-contained, Q&As and workshops available, and we couldn’t make it work.
There could be a great many reasons why we weren’t picked up. I don’t know what those reasons are. I know for one venue it was a lack of available dates. Not getting those dates did cause difficulties. I have filled those six gaps, and thank you to those who stepped in and pulled me out of the hole. We’re looking forward to going to Cornwall with Carn to Cove and I’m really pleased to be taking the company back to Cumbria with Arts Out West. I pitched at the AOW menu launch event, it was interesting, informative and not nearly as scary as I thought it might be. We’re also with Spot On now too, which feels like being welcomed into a large, happy family. I have a brilliant trio of actors and I know audiences will take to them; I’m very excited to see what our cast will do with the script.
So if you’re around a coastal area in March and fancy coming to see our work, please do. The tour schedule is on our website. If you’d like to have a chat about rural touring or think this sounds like the sort of production you’d like to have on your menu, get in touch. My email address is on the website. I would like to take the show out again, there is interest. I’ll just need to have a lie down first.
I think rural touring is fantastic. I’ve really enjoyed the previous conferences I’ve been to. As a company, we might have been down, but we’re certainly not out. We’re a relatively new company, we’re a small company but ‘art not without ambition’. As ever, we’re on a learning curve, but at least it’s a curve going upwards.
Do you have a Rural Touring Story you’d like to share with us? Email Stephie: firstname.lastname@example.org
The NRTF offers a number of grants to contribute towards professional development and support the sector in attending conferences, setting up meaningful networks.
Today we hear from Claire Marshall, the Scheme Manager for Carn to Cove about how the grants enable the South West Rural Touring Schemes to meet up and why that’s important.
In February each year, the South West Rural Touring organisations take over a room in a pub in a little village in Devon to spend the day talking, sharing, eating biscuits, bonding, laughing and supporting each other. It’s one of two occasions each year that we all get together (the other being the NRTF conference) and has become an important link in the chain that makes up the South West rural touring network.
The face to face meetings allows us time out from our daily tasks to share what’s worked and what’s not in our individual programmes, to keep each other in the loop of local challenges – from funding issues and opportunities to staff changes and joint projects. The meetings give us the time to discuss and make plans for joint projects. This year we’re planning to develop, strengthen and sustain South West Rural Touring by putting together a proposal to apply for funding to support this work.
Our region is fairly geographically dispersed, so the NRTF travel grants mean that we can meet in a location which is fairly central to us all, and that means that we nearly always get a full attendance. One of the many joys of working in rural touring is feeling that you are a part of a larger whole, and being able to check in with those that inhabit your world is a really nourishing and restorative process – there really is nothing like a group hug to invigorate the rural touring senses!
The NRTF has a number of Professional Grants available sector support, concentrating on community, personal and project development. For more information on all our available grants visit the website here.
Have a rural touring story you’d like to tell? Get in touch with Stephie: email@example.com.
We’ve been thinking of practical ways we can help promoters – with every aspect of hosting a rural touring event. One thing that comes up a lot when we talk about rural touring is hospitality.
Lots of Rural Touring promoters feed artists with a homemade meal before their show! Sounds like a lovely, simple thing, right? But when you consider the logistics of this it can be quite the task…
Whatever you make has to:
Often feed a fairly large number of people – the artists, stage manager, the promoter, any other volunteers that have come along to help.
Has to meet any dietary requirements people have – vegan, vegetarian, gluten-free, allergies
Usually has to be made in advance – and easy to heat up, kitchens in rural touring venues come in all shapes and sizes!
Be fuss-free – so that the promoter and the artists can eat without it getting in the way of making sure the show the show goes up on time!
We thought it might be good to collect some easy. batch cook recipes that promoters are using all in one place… and it doesn’t have to be just promoters that send us ideas – artists what do you want to eat when you’re on tour? If you have a dietary requirement what’s an easy thing people can whip up for you that they might not have realised is suitable?
If you have any recipes or tips you’d like to share with us, please comment below. They could be links to other recipe sites, advice, or just preferences on biscuits!
Or email us firstname.lastname@example.org – who knows maybe one day we could publish a Rural Touring Recipe Book!
Ps. obviously it wouldn’t be a blog post about rural touring and food if we didn’t mention cake, we’d also love to hear your sweet recipes!
This short form is designed to help you asses whether or not your show is Rural Touring ready. We take you through the very basic needs of rural touring and give you a list of things to consider. We also point you to other helpful resources and pages along the way. Please note this form is NOT a way of submitting your show to be considered for touring but should be used as a tool to equip yourself with the knowledge you need to approach schemes.