It’s fantastic to see so many of you planning on attending our ‘Out of Office’ conference next month.
We’ve been busy working away behind the scenes confirming artists and sessions, and planning our 25th Birthday Party! For those of you who haven’t bought a ticket yet, maybe we can convince you with a glimpse at our confirmed programme?
We kick off on Monday afternoon with a welcome reception followed by a session from Little Earthquake focussing on reconnecting. Many of you will be familiar with the work Little Earthquake do and their focus on collaboration and inclusivity – we couldn’t think of anyone better to bring us all back together for the first time in 3 years!
For those of you working with, in or simply just interested in Libraries, there will be a break out session from the TAIL project, Spot On Lancashire and Creative Arts East. There’ll also be a chance to explore ‘I Am No Bird’ by Marie Kilmis, an immersive new experience for library spaces commissioned by the TAIL Project.
Fingers crossed for a beautiful Buxton evening as we come together for a barbeque. We end day one with a chance to see ‘Tickbox,’ by Lubna Kerr, a semi-autobiographical, one-woman play in Scots-English and Urdu, which combines theatre, storytelling, and comedy to interweave the journeys of two Scottish Pakistani women.
Nick Goss Consultancy will be joining us Wednesday morning for an in-depth workshop on Equality, Diversity and Inclusion. This will be your chance to equip yourself with the knowledge, tools and resources needed to make meaningful change and progress within your organisation, venue and community.
We don’t want to give too much away about Tuesday afternoon, but we will be adventuring out from The Palace Hotel to explore the beautiful Pavillion Gardens. You’ll have a chance to see the wonderful ‘Old Green Time machine’ from Coalesce Dance Theatre and meet new Inn Crowd artists.
Then that evening, we’re going back in time with a silver party and nineties disco to celebrate our 25th birthday party! After all, we think we all deserve to come together and celebrate everything our sector has to offer, don’t you?
We end the conference on Wednesday morning with a Culture, Health and Wellbeing Alliance session to support you and your teams’ health and wellbeing in and out of the workplace. So ensuring you are not only leaving the conference full of inspiration but also energised and confident that you can take on the next 25 years of Rural, Library and Community touring.
Remember if you have any questions about the conference you can email Stephie firstname.lastname@example.org
Book Sleuths in a Bind: A Very Puzzling Case was an interactive theatre show for families, specifically those with children aged between 7 and 11. At the opening of the show, the Sleuths learn that the Reading Rug – a key (but fictional!) feature of all library events – has mysteriously vanished, and they have been tasked with tracking it down. During the show, audiences had the opportunity to join in the sleuthing: creating an E-fit based on a description, decoding numbers, solving a riddle, completing a rhyme and examining evidence. To do this, each child was provided with a Sleuth’s Sleuth Proof – containing stencils and template for the E-Fit, a pencil and paper. They were also given a free sheet, containing a welcome note, company biographies and puzzles.
The Book Sleuths toured 15 Hertfordshire Libraries in the October half-term break 2021. We performed 19 shows in total, all across the county. The project received funding from ACE Project Grants, and sponsorship from local businesses Auria Accountancy and Simmons Bakers. Hertfordshire Libraries provided considerable support-in-kind, including extensive staff time, the use of libraries and a rehearsal room. We were also supported by TAIL, and Hertford Theatre through the loan of costumes.
Facts and figures
The show was a commission by Hertfordshire Libraries, who wanted an arts event to entice families back into their spaces after the lockdowns. This was to be a first for the service, they had previously hosted creative work but not collaborated with artists to make a show specifically for them. Given the local nature of the project, I was keen to engage local creatives: Hertfordshire-based Kate Miller and I developed and wrote the show, Nancy Surman designed the set and costumes. After 9 days of rehearsal, the tour took place over 9 days, taking in libraries of all sizes. With the exception of two libraries, we only played each of our libraries once, plus additional shows at Hatfield for Prize Draw Winners from the Summer Reading Challenge. These latter shows were free to attend, but for all other performances we charged £7 for adults and £5 for children. Our audience feedback generally suggests that this was fair and accessible pricing. If we hadn’t charged, the project would not have been possible in our time frame, at this turbulent time and with an under-15k ACE bid. Our feedback shows that the majority of people heard about the show through posters or bookmark-flyers in their local library. We also made thorough use of the libraries’ social media accounts, particularly Facebook. We did manage to secure one radio interview, but other than that our press releases were not picked up by local press outlets.
One of our main barriers was, of course, Covid-19 and the uncertainty that caused and continues to bring. We initially scheduled the project for summer 2020, but moved it to the October due to restrictions and the lack of confidence around indoor events. Another challenge was just the newness of the working relationship. It was my first time working this closely with a service under a local council, and, as I say, the libraries first time working this closely with an artist. Libraries have to work in very different ways to theatres and arts venues, it’s a completely different set-up with a great many tiers of hierarchy. However, my three key libraries staff – Audience Development Manager Shirley Everall, Young People’s Librarian Jane Mellors and Project Librarian Izzy Martin – could not have been more supportive of the project. All three gave a great many hours to Book Sleuths, above and beyond anything they anticipated.
This enthusiasm was largely reflected in the wider libraries staff. Some libraries were more confident, for those who weren’t this was often a reflection of new staff being in post, and, again, concerns about Covid. However, Kamal at Tring Library was just terrific and deserves a mention! Izzy did a brilliant job of making sure all the libraries knew who and what to expect on the day, so we had very few problems there. The only issue we did have was one of our making, when our set was too tall for the (very) low ceiling, but, team work makes the dream work, and we dealt with it. Some shows sold better than others, which is a reflection of a range of factors. It does seem that the personal touch was important, where staff would actively draw people’s attention to the show; we provided every library with a detailed FAQs sheet to help with this. Some libraries had a harder task than others – there is a noticeable trend between lower-income areas and our smaller audience numbers, and our audience figures mirror the ACE Arts Engagement Indices from 2010. Also, at the time of marketing, most schools were unable to be receptive to communications from the libraries service, which is usually a strong avenue for libraries in the run up to events. There are discussions to be had about how we reach those people who don’t usually engage with the libraries service, as the majority of our audiences were already members. However, the aim was to get people back into their libraries, which we certainly did.
Feedback and Reflections
We considered this as a pilot event, testing the water. In our post-show Q&As, we had numerous requests from parents for this kind of work in Hertfordshire Libraries in the future, which is fantastic. Three-quarters of adults who attended said they were ‘very likely’ to attend a family event at Hertfordshire Libraries as a result of their experience at Book Sleuths, it was clear to anyone watching that the children were engaged and having a good time. The Book Sleuths’ Salute was a particular favourite, especially with library staff! One of the reasons for the success of this project was the bespoke nature: we had a specific age range in mind, we knew it had to fit into libraries of various sizes, we wanted it to be around 50 minutes long and be attractive to families. Another reason for the success was the real partnership with the Libraries Service and the fact that the initial idea of creating a show was theirs, so they had the determination to see the project through and to make it happen. (Shirley’s tenacity is incredible!) Without that, I believe it would have been a different story.
Early on in the process, I attended online meetings with library managers to outline the show and what they could expect from us, which were appreciated. There is value to be had in the library staff meeting the people making the work. The information that we provided, spear-headed by Izzy, helped them feel secure and confident before the show. At least one member of senior library staff was also present at every show, which I really appreciated and it was a great support to their colleagues. I would also like to say that I really appreciated the support of Karen, formerly at Creative Arts East, who was brought in by TAIL to mentor us. I found our conversations really valuable, especially when I needed a bit of a boost.
The majority of our performances were well attended, 97% of our young audience said they enjoyed or really enjoyed the show and 11 freelancers received work as a result of the project. Book Sleuths in a Bind inspired children to read and engage with stories, encouraged families to spend time together and sparked imagination and curiosity – all within an accessible, local community setting. In doing so, we contributed to meeting four of the Universal Offers: Children’s Promise, Culture and Creativity, Reading, and Health and Wellbeing. Library staff have reported that they feel excited and ‘fired up’ to further explore the potential of their spaces as performance venues; the local councillor with the Portfolio for Libraries attended three shows, after the first he said ‘this is the future of libraries’. Yes, the project took an incredible amount of work, time, effort and energy, but it gave hundreds of families a wonderful time. I hope rather than being a one off, this is the start of something new, for us and for Hertfordshire Libraries.
We have a film of Book Sleuths in a Bind, filmed at Bishop’s Stortford Library. (Yes, Michelle, we had a lovely time with you!) If you would like to see that, or have any questions about the project, whether you’re a librarian or a fellow artist, please get in touch with me, I’d love to hear from you.
If you’re a venue brand new to rural touring, and not sure how it all works or just looking for some advice on hosting your first event, we’ve gathered together all our most useful links and resources! And if you can’t find the answers in the posts below, remember you can always email us: email@example.com
On average it take 58 volunteer hours to host every single rural touring event, which might sound like a daunting task. We asked existing volunteering promoters from across the UK, why they host rural touring events in their venue, and what advice they would give to new venues looking to offer their communities something new…
Why do you host rural touring events in your venue?
‘An opportunity to host quality professional shows that can take us on a magical journey without us leaving our village.’ Des George Neuadd Dyfi
‘Because it’s a total treat to watch fabulous performances in intimate settings such as small village halls. Members of the community who may very well not see anything at all otherwise are given the opportunity for a lovely night out, usually close to home.’ Tricia Meynell – Cumbria
“Live performance must be kept alive. It is a different experience to TV or Cinema and needs nurturing and supporting. It enriches your venue.” Steve and Fran, Hinton Martell, Tiny venue in Dorset
“Not for the money, that’s for sure. But the quality and standard of the actors and musicians and dancers etc is wonderful and to see and the number of people who come and say how did we get to be so lucky to have this experience locally. I believe village halls etc are there for many things and if one young person sees a live performance for the first time, or listens to artists telling them about their road to success, and is inspired , then you have done a good job.” Jan, Allendale Village Hall, promoter for Highlights and others
“It is a real pleasure to bring a show into our community and to see the pleasure it brings to our audiences. These schemes are so important for the more remote communities as they get people out socialising and give a feeling of belonging to an extended community. Our walls have closed in on us enough over the past couple of years and we need to break down the feeling of isolation which many have found.” Graeme, Winterborne Stickland, Artsreach (Dorset)
“Partly because it opens doors for artists to reach communities, but it also allows us to present work that people might not see elsewhere. That diversity of programming is really important. Its also a great way to bring together parts of your community who may be distant from others, but are actually the same – they just might not know it.” John, The Civic Stourport
“To explore all ways of entertaining our community” DVHall Drayton Langport – On-the-Levels
“We are in a rural village with a large elderly population. They feel more comfortable in smaller venues, especially post Covid” Anonymous
What advice would you give to a village hall or venue approaching Rural Touring for the first time?
“Do it!” Des GeorgeNeuadd Dyfi
“Firstly, you’ll know that whatever show you are offered will be top quality, regardless of it’s type. It’s a great way to bring amazing acts to rural communities for not a huge amount of money. Great for community engagement.” Tricia Meynell – Cumbria
“Remember that you are choosing artists for your community not yourselves. Talk to others about what they would come to.” Steve and Fran, Hinton Martell, Tiny venue in Dorset
“Think about the size of your venue and any particularly useful stand out features (say a high ceiling for acrobats or a recreation ground for outdoor events. Know your audience and old fashioned leaflets thru doors and paper tickets purchased at your local store still works alongside media channels” Jan, Allendale Village Hall, promoter for Highlights and others
“Don’t be put off, or feel daunted by the unknown. Yes, there can be a lot of work required to host shows, but there are many other nearby promoters with lots of experience who you can reach out to and be guided / mentored through the process. More importantly, the rural touring schemes and the NRTF are a great, friendly bunch who want nothing more than to see you succeed!” Graeme, Winterborne Stickland, Artsreach (Dorset)
“Don’t be scared to try something unusual or different – it’s one of the best parts of Rural Touring – finding something different that your audience possibly wouldn’t see at a larger venue.” John, The Civic Stourport
“Make sure you have your ‘target’ audience in-focus. No good relying on your venue ‘faithful’ to turn-out for something they are not sure about.” DVHall Drayton Langport – On-the-Levels
“Use as many local village facebook groups as possible to advertise” Anonymous
Tell us about your favourite rural touring experience?
“There have been many. Two come to mind “The Chef Show” by Ragged Edge Productions. Life in a busy Indian restaurant, a brilliantly produced show which ended up with a superb curry produced by our local curry restaurant. Also Circo Rum bab production of L’Hotel!” Des George Neuadd Dyfi
“Too many to pinpoint one. If the ‘Farnham Maltings’ offer you a show – take it!” Tricia Meynell – Cumbria
“We don’t have a favourite really, but John Etheridge and Vimala Rowe performing sublimely in the church and the Grahams raising the roof of the village hall are particularly powerful memories. Very different, but both so well worthwhile.” Steve and Fran, Hinton Martell, Tiny venue in Dorset
“The dance – Pheonix Dance from Leeds was a high spot, Opera North come each year and hearing them warming up in the hall to sing outside is a heart wrenching moment, Kate Fox explaining thru laughter about her diagnosis of adult autism, King lear being performed as snow stormed down outside , we did not get home till the following evening!” Jan, Allendale Village Hall, promoter for Highlights and others
“We promoted a show called “”Our June’s Wedding”” a few years ago, and the show started with a “”wedding”” in our local chuch, then moved on to a party in the Village Hall. The wedding was officiated over by our local vicar (in full gowns etc) and 90% of the audience turned up dressed for a wedding with all the big hats, posh frocks and suits etc. The atmosphere was brilliant, and the whole “”congregation”” walked to 500m to the Hall en masse only to be told that as they walked they were travelling forward in time by one year!! It was amazing!” Graeme, Winterborne Stickland, Artsreach (Dorset)
“Mountain Music was an excellent show which combined storytelling with Americana music and was done in the round. ” Anonymous
Anything else you’d like to tell us about or share with new venues and promoters?
“Don’t expect to make a fortune, be prepared to take risks. Always look for quality. The touring schemes are there to help make it happen” Des George Neuadd Dyfi
“Just do it. Advertise locally via email. Build up your own emailing list or see if you can piggy-back an existing one. Social media is invaluable. Posters locally are good, but in my opinion don’t generate much of an interest. Distribute the brochures printed by your local touring scheme in relevant places such as exhibitions/museums/arty places. If you are able to make your own posters they are sometimes better than the official ones you will get sent which tend to over-complicate things with too much text and not enough space for venue details/dates in large lettering. You can use these electronically and the paper ones you get sent for notice boards.” Tricia Meynell – Cumbria
“Make the artists welcome, us trustees use the time spent feeding them to join in and have a get together ourselves” Jan, Allendale Village Hall, promoter for Highlights and others
“As per my first comment, never be afraid to ask your local scheme for support and advice.” Graeme, Winterborne Stickland, Artsreach (Dorset)
“Beg, Borrow, and Salvage whetever you can to make your event work – and use whatever you can (if you can) to make it an experience i.e. Serve food or popcorn for a movie; dress up in a costume themed to the event (and encorage audienec to do the same); dress the venue to suit if you can (we had a WW2 era band and we built a sandbagged checkpoint for FOH to check tickets at). Make it different to seeing a film in the cinema or a show in a larger venue – you are different so be different.” John, The Civic Stourport
“[We] Recently installed a large screen new projector and sound system. We have the Umbrella film license plus music license and are now holding our own monthly film nights which are proving popular. With the kit we now have we can widen the spectrum of entertainment no end.” DVHall Drayton Langport – On-the-Levels
“Don’t panic if early sales are disappointing. Especially with Covid, people in villages seem to leave it late to get tickets” Anonymous
Across the country thousands of rural venues, village halls, community spaces, libraries, schools and pubs host professional artists, performances and events for their community. Musicians, theatre companies and other artists tour to these spaces, alongside urban arts venues, reaching as many audiences as possible.
Rural Touring happens in many different shapes and forms. Some artists and companies organise their own tours independently directly with venues but one of the main ways the NRTF supports rural touring, is by working with Rural Touring Schemes.
What is a rural touring scheme?
A rural touring scheme is a bit like a traditional arts venue… except, instead of organising a programme of events in different rooms of one building, they work with lots of rural venues across a geographical location (usually a county or several).
Rural Touring Schemes, put together a menu of professional art events, for their volunteer promoters and venues to choose from. This means that the people that live in those rural communities, that know their venue and their audiences the best, can choose the show that best fits for them, while also having the confidence, that the Rural Touring Scheme has put together a quality offer. Often Rural Touring Schemes will have seen the shows they are offering in advance or will have worked with the artist before.
The promoters and venues then choose one or two events from this menu, and let the Schemes know which shows they’d be interested in and wat dates work for them. The scheme will then look at all the expressions of interest from all their venues and start to piece together the jigsaw… making sure that the venues have chosen shows that physically fit in their spaces, ensuring that the artist dates are spread out across the county so that you don’t have two venues next to each other trying to host the same thing etc.
Then the artists, promoters and venues, and the Rural Touring Scheme all work together to market the events. The promoter and venue are responsible for selling tickets, setting up their own box office in a way that works for them. The artist will provide the venues with all the leaflets and marketing materials they need, and the Rural touring Scheme will put together a season brochure (like the one you might get from your local arts venue) which has all the shows happening in their area in, and they’ll also look after their website and social media.
This is the basic Rural Touring Scheme model. There are around 30 Rural Touring Schemes across the UK. Each one works slightly differently depending on their size and how they are funded, but the majority are funded by Arts Council England (or Arts Council Wales/Creative Scotland). This means they can support venues in covering the fees for the artists, but how each Scheme does this is slightly different.
How do I get involved with a scheme?
You can find your nearest Rural Touring Scheme by browsing our Scheme Directory here. The map pin points are based on where the Schemes main office is but they often cover the whole county. If you have trouble finding your scheme, email us firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help.
Once you have found your local scheme you can contact them directly about becoming a promoter. You’ll find on most scheme websites they have more information about how they specifically work with volunteers and venues and a direct number or email address for you to contact them on
What if there isn’t a scheme that covers my area?
There are a handful of places in the UK not currently covered by a scheme (and we are all working to change that). If you think your venue is in one of these areas, contact us to make sure. As we mentioned before, there are ways of hosting professional rural touring events without being part of a scheme, and we can point you in the right direction for finding out about companies, or independently seeking out funding for your area.
It is also always worth making yourself known to your nearest scheme, even if they don’t currently cover your area. If they know that there is a venue near them actively wanting to promoter arts events, they can often help in other ways. Whether that is pointing artists who have spare dates in your direction, or linking you up with other organisations in your area.
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.