Rural Touring is unique in many ways, but one of the things that make it so special for artists is the feeling you get when a community welcomes you into their homes… some times quite literally.
Often, artists on rural tours, are heading so far off the beaten track, that staying overnight in a hotel just isn’t an option. So how do rural tourers solve this? Homestays with promoters. We’ve spoken many times about the extreme lengths promoters will go to in order to make rural touring happen in their community, and offering artists a bed for the night is yet another example. Here Oliver Carpenter from Mumbo-Jumbo talks about the joy of homestays.
One of the joys of Rural Touring is becoming ‘part of the community’ for the evening, and nothing says that more than being put up in people’s homes after the performance. We’ve had delightful experiences from the Scottish Borders (where they shut the village hall immediately after the show and the whole audience and band went straight down to the village pub together), to Somerset, where we were put up in the house of a lovely lady with a full sized snooker table!
This last weekend for our gigs with Creative Arts East was no exception, where the lovely people of Freckenham and Ovington put us up, let us pat their dogs, chatted about everything till late in the evening, gave us the odd snack and glass of wine and fed us lovely breakfasts the next morning. We like to leave them with something appropriate, so here they all are in their Mumbo-Jumbo aprons, and a MAHOOSIVE THANKYOU!
Monday, October 14, 2019The NRTF recently sent Gail Ferrin from Blaize ArtERY & Live Lincs Touring to ‘Braw Revealed’ using one of our CPD grants. Here we hear about what she learnt.
I recently had the opportunity to attend Braw Revealed billed as ‘a day of learning, sharing and doing for anyone looking to contribute to the innovation of rural touring’, which took place at the Eden Court Theatre in Inverness, Scotland. Representing the NRTF, I went to hear about the project and see if I had some ideas to contribute to the day.
On arrival, I found a room full of delegates from across a wide spectrum of arts, including; development officers, marketing & communications officers, venue directors, performers, touring organisations and programmers, representatives of various forums, event managers, lecturers and other arts development professionals.
I also noted the quote displayed on the screen – which set an interesting tone to the day; “I thought it was going to be shite but it was actually quite good” Neil – audience member Isle of Eigg
The day began with an overview of Braw – a two-year-long action research project which is almost complete. Described as a project which is ‘examining artistic vibrancy, relevance and impact by deepening the relationships between three devising performers and three rural communities’ I was interested to hear about the impact and learning from this process.
Jo Maclean, CEO of the Touring Network and Lisa Baxter of The Experience Business led the day and began describing the project ‘What we did, why and how we did it’. They explained that they would explore and share what happened when they propelled 3 devising artists, 3 promoters and 1 first-time animater into an open-ended experiment into rural touring – examining what happened when trialing some new approaches (with some spectacularly good and not-so-good results!). What followed was a series of sessions where the assembled delegates heard a review of the three areas and projects, from promoter and artist perspective – Birds of Paradise Theatre, Creative Electric and Lochgoilhead, Vanishing Point and the Idle of Eigg then Saffy Setohy, The Work Room and Forres , Finhorn Bay Arts. There seemed to be some more successful experiences and those which perhaps hadn’t accomplished quite what they could have. However, all acknowledged it had been good to try. It seemed that perhaps a two-year project timeline was too long to keep audiences and participants involved and that some of the initial energy dissipated as time went on. The team also acknowledge they should have put in place a tighter brief and been clearer on expectations of all involved, including promoters, companies, the animater, and artists.
At the end of the day, the delegates were asked to contribute to some questions around what happens next for Braw.
Overall an informative and interesting day, which mainly consisted of hearing from all of those involved in the Braw project, and some comments and feedback from delegates who offered some opinions, suggestions, and observations after hearing about the process, results, feelings of promoters, audiences, and artists who were involved. One of the main points I came away with from the day is just how important promoters are, they are key to the success of projects like this, they know their communities and yet they have limited capacity and should not be expected to work as hard on getting projects up and running and sustaining a lot of local involvement over a long period, without funding and other support.
This year’s New Directions Showcase was held at the fabulous Worcester University. As well as providing comfortable digs, two professional (but very warm) theatre studios and catering, they also provided a whole team of incredible students. Without whom the showcase just would not have gone so smoothly. One of those invaluable helpers was Noah, a recent Worcester University graduate, who teamed up with NRTF Stephie to cover the social media for the three days. At the end of the showcase, we asked Noah to pen us some thoughts on his experience and his understanding of Rural Touring… we think you’ll like, and be impressed, by what he has to say…
There’s a saying in life, ‘timing is everything’. My name is Noah Kilworth; within the last month, I have spent my time completing a degree (Drama & Performance – University of Worcester) moving back from Worcester to my hometown of Wolverhampton, marrying my fiancé and, last but not least, searching for employment.
When Dr Jane George (Head of Theatre and Film – University of Worcester) approached me in May 2018, asking ‘are you interested in writing a blog for the National Rural Touring Forum’s showcase?’, the answer was a simple ‘yes’.
My first experience of rural touring theatre came whilst studying on the Touring Theatre Masters course (University of Worcester), a new four-year integrated master’s degree which specifically equips students with hands-on experience of touring theatre and the related skills to be successful in this career.
In winter 2016, my peers and I travelled to Malvern, Stourport and Ludlow to perform in community centres, parish halls and theatre studio spaces. On-route to our first venue, travelling from the confines of the University of Worcester, I remember feeling a ripple of uncertainty. I guess, for me, ‘rural touring theatre’ was totally unfamiliar and a step into the unknown. My trepidation soon changed when I met the managers behind the venues, the promoters who had booked the work and the public who had paid money to be entertained. I soon realised that the rural network has as much dedication, heart and thirst for theatre as any urban setting, if not more. Ultimately, I realised that as long as we performed quality work, everyone will be happy.
Perhaps, what surprised me the most at this year’s showcase, was the vast range of work displayed by the artists and practitioners. From traditional theatre to dance, poetry and storytelling, the three-day showcase truly covered a vast spectrum of theatrical disciplines.
A large number of the shows used autobiographical stories, exploring journeys which they themselves had encountered. The majority of acts, in my opinion, shared logistical similarities and set-ups. Familiarly, I witnessed casts of no more than three (many solo performers) and simple set designs which were easily manageable and manoeuvrable.
As a result, aesthetically speaking much of the performances were comparable in appearance. However, each artist had a unique story to tell. My question to the artists was quite straightforward, ‘Why tour rurally? Specifically, I wanted to know what the term ‘rural theatre’ meant to the performers. The very people who pitched their ideas hoping to be selected. The responses were vastly varied, from this I understood the different approaches used by the companies to create their piece are often unique and individual.
For some, such as Pentabus (National’s Rural Theatre Company), the question is a no-brainer; as Sophie Motely (Artistic Director) stated: “this is what we do – telling stories with local relevance making a national impact”. Still in its early development, Pentabus’s ‘One Side Lies The Sea’ explores maritime heritage of rural coastal Britain. They use verbatim theatre to great effect, the piece also uses digital media throughout.
The Smog, a new theatre company established in 2016 want to push absurd theatre for audiences looking for an alternative. For London based artists Nick Cassenbaum, writer and performer of ‘Bubble Schmeisis’, and Shane Shambhu, with his piece ‘Confessions of a Cockney Temple Dancer’, the question ‘Why tour rurally?’ evoked different standpoints. For example, East London’s Nick Cassenbaum stated: “its great touring to rural communities because you meet different types of audiences – the simple fact that you’re not in your hometown changes everything”. For Shane Shambhu, by touring his work rurally he not only bridges the gap between different cultures but also uses the opportunity to collaborate with artist across the country.
Elephant and Castle, by Tom Adams and Lillian Henley, use music and acting to deliver a thought-provoking piece on sleep disorders. Hannah Prior, creative director and theatre-maker at Ignition spoke about the usefulness of the NRTF showcase for networking, “It’s great to take time to be able to meet all the other schemes and see the array of work that is available to rural communities.” Hannah has worked extensively with Looked After Children, educated in pupil referral units in the London area.
Flipping the coin, I asked the promoters and venue managers the similar question, “What do you want to see toured rurally?”. Those who are connected with schemes that support and encourage new work across the UK are quite simply committed to bringing diverse quality pieces of work to rural communities.
Paul Graham, chair at arts alive informed me “bringing acts to a venue is risky – if it doesn’t work people in the community will remember”, continuing “if you give people a night they remember – for the right reasons then there’s no better feeling.”
Due to the practicalities, many artists would tell me that one-person shows work better and a minimal set is a bonus. On a whole, promoters felt that selling a show with a bigger cast may be more lucrative but not always.
Singalongs or, theatre with musical soundscapes are often a winner, especially if the piece of work attracts multiple age ranges. However, the final say always returns to the word ‘quality’.
I intend to create a pitch specifically aimed at the rural touring community. I’ll also be spreading the word to fellow theatre-makers, ‘if you’re not tapping into the rural touring theatre world, you’re missing a trick.
Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) is one of those wonderful under the radar
organisations that helps keep rural Britain thriving. I’m its Chair.
to that heady position began when I became what is known in the rural touring
world as a “promoter” eight years ago. That is, a volunteer who makes a
professional performance happen in their village hall. There are currently
1,659 of us across rural England, Wales and Scotland. And last year, we put on shows
to over 330,000 paying audience members – a whopping 26% increase over the last
of Castle Carrock has about 270 inhabitants and it’s located 10 miles east of
Carlisle, on the edge of the North Pennines Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty.
We still have a good pub, a thriving school, a church and crucially, a village
hall, The Watson Institute. Hosting rural touring shows has been a crucial
mechanism to keep the hall busy and talked about.
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 65 people at a
push, cabaret style, small tables, candles, subdued lighting and a small stage
that I borrow from the school next door.
There are two seasons to the rural touring year where I live in Cumbria – the spring season and the autumn season. A small 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.
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 subsidise more “risky” shows, encouraging more confident promoters to try out shows that might on paper be more difficult to sell. And the schemes are affiliated to the NRTF which advocates for rural touring as well as helping to drive a central strategy. A recent three year campaign to get professional dance into village halls – yes, dance into village halls – has been a huge success.
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.