An Introduction for Artists to the Rural Touring Scheme Model…

Rural Touring in the UK happens in lots of different ways. There are, of course, rural-based theatres and arts venues that will have a full tech set up and their own programming teams, who operate much the same as their urban counterparts. Alongside this, rural community venues such as village halls, pubs and libraries also host professional arts events, to provide their communities with a rich cultural offering.

One way of rural touring is to work directly with these community venues. You may book the hall for your show, or in some cases, the hall may book you directly or you may agree on a box office split. The other way and the way that the NRTF is predominantly involved is through Rural Touring Schemes.

Rural Touring Schemes act like the programming department for a theatre or arts venue, except instead of programming different spaces within one building, they work with a network of volunteer promoters and rural venues to programme shows across a geographical area (usually they cover a county or two).

Each Rural Touring Scheme works slightly differently (depending on their size/funding etc.) but the basic model is this…

Artists apply to be programmed with the scheme (like you would with a theatre venue). Schemes then liaise with artists to pencil in dates, usually two or three dates, discuss fees etc. and make sure their work is appropriate for their rural touring spaces.

They then put together a menu of shows, which they send out to their rural venues and their volunteer promoters. This menu will offer a variety of music, theatre, children’s work, dance etc. Each scheme has different sized seasons and menus depending on their funding.

From this the venues and volunteer promoters tell the schemes which show, or shows, they would like for their halls, based on their space, knowledge of their audience, and importantly what dates are available in the venue diary.

The schemes then take in all of these expressions of interest, and piece together the season – like a giant jigsaw. They will then confirm with the artists which halls or venues they’ll be heading to on which date.

The artists then provide the halls and promoters with the marketing material. The volunteer promoter is responsible for promoting the event and selling the tickets, helping the artists get in on the day, and hosting the event on the night. The schemes are there to support the artists and the venues with marketing, or any teething problems that come up along the way. Schemes will usually produce a season brochure which is sent out across their location and to their mailing lists, they will run social media campaigns and support online ticket sales via their websites (but again this differs from scheme to scheme).

Schemes tend to guarantee the artist a set fee per show, rather than working on box office splits etc. but as I said each one operates ever so slightly differently. Some schemes also cover overnight stays or will facilitate homestays.

Take a read of this blog post to find out more about getting programmed by a scheme:

Artists FAQ (COVID Edition): I don’t want to create digital work – is that going to harm my career?

No. Right from the beginning of lockdown Rural Touring schemes have been asking ‘how do we reach audiences offline’ and working with artists to address this. We work with audiences and in communities where access to the internet (or good internet) can be limited. Just as some schemes and venues will continue to think about digital work becoming part of their core offer in the future, others are exploring alternative art forms and ways of reaching audiences. So if you have an idea that isn’t digital, but also isn’t an in-person event, now might be a good time to explore that! 

It is also a very stressful time, so if what you need to do is secure yourself financially, or take a break completely, we all want to support you to do that too.

Artists FAQ (COVID Edition): What about digital work?

One of the fantastic things about the lockdown was the access to digital work it has created – and the appetite for it among some of our least tech-savvy audiences. Some schemes have embraced digital work and started projects which they are now looking to tie in with their regular work and make long term, others have been focussing on how to reach audiences offline.

One thing all the schemes have kept at the forefront of all their digital thinking is, how do we deliver something online that still captures the magic of rural touring and feels local? If you’re thinking of creating or sharing work digitally, it is worth keeping this in mind too when you approach schemes.

Artists FAQ (COVID Editing): Are other creative ideas being discussed?

Yes! And as we all know, the best people for creative ideas are artists. So if you’ve got a new project you’ve been thinking about that responds directly to these new conditions we find ourselves in then speak to your local scheme, keeping in mind their capacity right now.

Artists FAQ (COVID Edition): Is outdoor work being considered?

Yes. Outdoor work is being considered, even for Autumn. But the same thought processes apply to indoor programming when it comes to considering how far artists would be travelling/touring, how will we accommodate them, how can we keep artists and audience safe. We have also been advised that the restrictions for events outdoors will be the same as the restrictions for indoor events, so this may not be as simple a solution as we originally thought.

Artists FAQ: How will venues and promoters be operating?

If you haven’t already it’s worth looking at the ACRE guidelines for village halls reopening, to get an idea of the new restrictions promoters and venues will be working within, as they’ll also have new things to consider when it comes to hosting your show. For example, how will get-ins and get-outs be delayed or lengthened by new cleaning schedules?

There will be other ways touring will be different going forward. We are encouraging promoters to go cashless wherever possible especially when it comes to ticket sales, but as we work with such a variety of spaces it’s hard to say how each space will adapt. If you do have a tour that is looking likely to go ahead, it might be worth putting together a survey/checklist for your venues to fill out so you can get all the information you need about how your show will work in their space.

Artists FAQ (COVID Edition): When should I be contacting schemes about touring beyond Autumn 2020?

Now, but make sure we have all the information we need and be aware that 2020 is having a knock-on effect into 2021. Many shows which were due to happen this year have been rescheduled for future seasons – some schemes have the capacity and the funding to be able to have bigger future seasons to incorporate new programming alongside rescheduled programming but not all schemes. It’s also worth remembering that some tours which were due to happen in future seasons or were originally rescheduled for Autumn 2020, and are now looking at Spring 21 may not be able to happen so there is still the opportunity for new work to be included in programmes. Again arming schemes with as much information as possible about your work in one concise place will help them make decisions if another show falls through and they need replacements etc.

Artist’s FAQ (COVID Edition): What Do Schemes Need To Know?

Going forward, and especially in the next 18 months, the way we all approach touring and the information we will need is going to be different. We advise you to update your tour packs to make sure you’re including as much of this information as possible, for both long and short term tour plans.

  • Where you are based, and how far will you be travelling?

Many schemes, especially the ones who are looking at programming events are likely to be looking to work with more local artists, so make sure your closest scheme is aware of you. Make sure you include if you were already in conversation with them, where you are based, and how far you would be travelling to get to them. If you have other tour dates in other areas then please also let schemes know about these dates. We’re aware of how much travelling people are doing, how many people we have come in to contact with, and what the danger of moving around lots might be. Schemes and promoters will want to know this information so they can make an informed decision.

  • Your accommodation needs/touring radius from home

Even if schemes are planning to book tours this Autumn, it is unlikely promoters will be offering homestays any time soon. As we all know the hospitality sector has been hit hard by the crisis, and we don’t know what that will mean for hotels and other guest accommodation across the UK. 

And most importantly we want you to feel safe and comfortable when you’re on tour too, so it is worth setting yourself a touring radius and specifying any accommodation needs. How far are you willing to travel in one day? For example, if you were to go home every evening? Or if suitable accommodation can’t be found nearby.  If you’re touring as a group and isolating together for the tour how much room do you need to be comfortable and support the mental health of everyone on tour?

  • How quickly can you be on tour?

We all now know how quickly things can change, so its good to let schemes know if your show can be on the road straight away, or if you need a specific amount of time to get prepared. For example, if you’re a band who have been touring together previously, it’s likely you could take a gig nearby at a drop of a hat, whereas a theatre production might need time to cast and rehearse.

  • How self-contained are you?

Are you a company or a band that lives and works together? Are you a group that could isolate together for two weeks before you begin the tour? Or are you putting together a cast of people from all across the country? Schemes and promoters will want to know this so that they can assess how comfortable they are with touring your show into their communities. Transparency and information is the key to making touring safe.

  • How many people are on the road

Similar to the above, now more than ever we need to know exactly how many people are on the road. This includes artists, technicians or stage managers, and anyone else who may be joining you (eg family members who aren’t actually part of the performance). 

  • How flexible can you be?

If a date had to be cancelled at short notice what are your terms? Could you reschedule for a week later or would you need to ensure a fee was paid?

This is going to be tricky waters for everyone going forward, and everyone is looking at their contracts and cancellation clauses, if you’re planning a tour in the next 18 months you need to be thinking about how you make that viable.

  • Have you thought about how social distancing measure might affect your show and how they can be built in?

Currently, there are different restrictions in place for different types of performances. Make sure you are up to date with what rules are in place and how they might affect your show. The key one is obviously how much space will you need to make sure everyone on stage is at the appropriate distance from one another (if applicable) and the audience? Other things to think about is how will your get-in be affected, do you have your own risk assessment done? Is there anything else you will need to know from venues ahead of touring.

  • Have you got other creative ideas for making your show work within the new rules?

Schemes and promoters are open to new creative ideas and ways of working. If you’ve ideas for how your show can work within the new guidelines, make sure you share them.  

Artist’s FAQ (COVID Edition): When are schemes looking to start programming and touring again?

When are schemes looking to start programming and touring again?

As always with rural (and all) touring there is no one size fits all. Schemes have been working closely with their promoters to plan for future touring in their area. Some schemes are going ahead with a limited Autumn 2020 season, whereas, some schemes have taken the decision not to programme at all for the rest of this year, and some may be hitting pause for now but with the hope of programming events, with a much quicker turnaround further down the line.

With this in mind, our advice is…

If you had dates pencilled with a scheme for Autumn 2020 or beyond, then speak to those schemes individually. Schemes are committed to keeping artists informed. Many schemes are working with very reduced staff, so replies may be slightly more delayed than usual. Because communication at the moment can be interrupted, we suggest arming the schemes with as much information about your show/tour/company as possible in one easy place.