Celebrating a Rural Touring-iversary with Spiltmilk Dance

Image credit: James Dodd

We’ve recently celebrated our 6 year Rural Touring-iversary (yes, that’s definitely a word!). That, coupled with the current public health crisis which is keeping us away from the audiences we love, has led us to take a delightful trip down memory lane. We’re looking back to where this adventure all began and sharing some of the stories we’ve collected along the way. 

In 2013 we took a show called Spiltmilk say Dance to Edinburgh Fringe, it was a tongue in cheek celebration of social dance crazes that have swept the nation over the years from The Twist, to The Charleston and The Hand Jive to The Macarena!

Happily, whilst we were up there some touring schemes saw the show and the feedback was great, they loved the accessible subject matter and that it mixed complicated choreography with proper belly laughs.

So in discussion with the lovely folk at Live and Local we began to build on a little dream of ours – to tour the show alongside a social dance with live music, fancy dress and everyone getting stuck in! They gave us the encouraging nudge necessary for this participatory, great night out to be born – and we’ve never looked back.  Spiltmilk say Dance went on to tour to 35 village halls across the country and from the first few shows we knew, in this setting, our work had found its spiritual home.

Image credit: James Dodd

It’s that heady combination of doing shows for such a diverse range of audiences, mixed with the total joy of being fed, watered and welcomed in by a local promoter plus the glorious opportunity to become part of a community for the night – well, we were hooked!

We’ve gone on to tour three more shows on rural circuits, visiting hundreds of fabulous halls from the Scottish Highlands to Cornwall and from Norfolk to Wales.  We now make all our shows with rural and community audiences and venues in mind.  Embracing the ‘think on your feet’ challenges of fitting into halls of all shapes and sizes is all part of the fun and we get a huge thrill from the complete absence of a ‘fourth wall’ at rural shows; we can’t imagine doing a show now without the chance to chat to everyone as we pack up our gear at the end of the night!

And where else in theatre land would you be able to gather such a brilliant selection of touring anecdotes? We could entertain you for hours with tales of ‘tricky’ changing rooms (a cupboard with no lights or a curtained off section of the kitchen, anyone?).  Warm your heart with moments of pure joy such as the audience turning up to a show in Wales all in 60s and 70s gear and the promoter leaving us homemade brownies in the morning.  Or arriving at a venue in Scotland to discover our digs were in a castle with four poster beds!  And we’ll give you a chuckle relaying the occasional challenges unique to rural touring such as the tiny Kent church where we just about squeezed in 3 stage blocks and our techy had to operate the show from the pulpit.  Or even the time we got snowed into a Derbyshire village and had to appeal to some friendly locals for a bed for the night.  These are all experiences we will never forget and which we can’t wait to collect a few more of in future.

It’s always important to try the local cuisine…

Whilst the world is taking a necessary pause from such live events at the moment, we’ll be leaping back into touring as soon as we are able to, and look forward with excitement to what the next 6 years on the rural road may have in store for us – we’ll see you there!

Sarah  Boulter – Co-Artistic Director, Spiltmilk Dance

Find out more about Spiltmilk Dance online here:

Website www.spiltmilkdance.co.uk
Twitter @SpiltmilkDance
Facebook @SpiltmilkDance
Instagram @spiltmilkdance

Do you have a Rural Touring story you’d like to share with us? Then email Stephie admin@nrtf.org.uk!

Becoming Part of the Community

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!

Oliver Carpenter – www.mumbo-jumbo.biz

Do you have a Rural Touring story you’d like to share? Email Stephie admin@nrtf.org.uk

Saying Goodbye To Rural Arts’ Director Angela Hall

Thursday, February 21, 2019

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.

Guest Blog: Blaize Village Halls Week Interview with Worlaby Village Hall promoter

Friday, January 25, 2019

This Week is National Village Halls Week, and the NRTF have teamed up with ACRE to celebrate along with our rural touring schemes, promoters and artists. All week we will be releasing new content here on the blog and over on our Social Media to celebrate just how much Village Halls do for their community.

Today we have a guest blog post from Blaize who deliver Rural Touring events through Live Lincs and Artery. To find out more about Blaize and their programming visit their website. 

Remember if you have a Rural Touring Story you’d like to share, email us admin@nrtf.org.uk!

Here at Blaize, we join the National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) to celebrate #VillageHallsWeek! Village venues play a vital role in the lives of many rural communities.  Today we hear from one of our valued promoters, Richard Beeforth, who is responsible for our Live Lincs’ events at Worlaby Village Hall in North Lincolnshire. Richard explains;

Worlaby is a small village in North Lincolnshire but despite its size, it has great community spirit and is a nice place to live. The village pub closed some years ago so our village hall is the hub for most community activity and is very well used. We have a fairly new village hall and our Village Hall Committee works hard to maintain and improve it. 

The Live Lincs rural touring scheme has been superb for Worlaby and the surrounding area. Not only providing quality entertainment for our residents but providing much-needed income for the upkeep of the hall. Because the quality of acts has been consistently high, it makes it easy for me, as a promoter, to sell tickets. I usually only have to put out a promotion email to our locals and the demand for tickets comes flooding in!

We usually fill the hall which creates a great atmosphere for the entertainers as well as providing a memorable night for the residents.  As a promoter of the scheme for Worlaby, the most rewarding time is getting good feedback from our audience after a performance. I then feel satisfied that I have chosen well! It’s particularly rewarding when the entertainers also provide good feedback that we have looked after them well.

Thanks to my wife Pam and our volunteer helpers, performers always get well fed at Worlaby!

I hope the funding for this scheme continues and Blaize continues to provide such a high standard and diverse mix of entertainers. Long may it continue!

Richard Beeforth
LiveLincs Promoter.

Guest Blog: Blaize interview Jazz Musician Dave Newton

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

This Week is National Village Halls Week, and the NRTF have teamed up with ACRE to celebrate along with our rural touring schemes, promoters and artists. All week we will be releasing new content here on the blog and over on our Social Media to celebrate just how much Village Halls do for their community.

Today we have a guest blog post from Blaize who deliver Rural Touring events through Live Lincs (North Lincolnshire) and Artery (East Yorkshire).

To find out more about Blaize and their programming visit their website. 

Remember if you have a Rural Touring Story you’d like to share, email us admin@nrtf.org.uk

This week, (22-28 Jan) The National Rural Touring Forum highlights the vital role that village halls can play in rural communities.

Here at Blaize, we decided to join the celebrations! We decided it would a good idea to hear from one of the acts we commissioned about their experiences of touring small venues. Last season audiences in East Yorkshire and North Lincolnshire couldn’t get enough of jazz musicians, Dave Newton and Alan Barnes and having heard them play, we can understand why. The two have been playing duets together for over 40 years. These multi award-winning performers cover a vast repertoire from Louis Armstrong to Chick Corea. Their fantastic music, coupled with their interaction with smaller, more intimate audiences is what made each of their tour dates with us such a fabulous success. We spoke to Dave about what it was like for him, playing to audiences in village venues. Here is what he shared with us.

Q. Ok, Dave, so you’ve obviously performed to audiences large and small – what’s the largest audience you’ve ever played before and what’s the smallest? (roughly) Which do you prefer (if any) and why?

A. The largest physical audience I can remember was when I played as part of the support group for a Frank Sinatra concert at Ibrox football stadium and that was about 10,000 people but playing live solo piano for radio broadcasts on Radio 2 where the audiences would have been in hundreds of thousands was probably more nerve-wracking. As to the smallest, I sometimes play for people in their house and that can be to as little as ten folk lounging on easy chairs in a nice room with a lovely grand piano that might not get used very often. I really don’t have a preference. I enjoy playing in most settings.

Q. What do you like about rural touring? You build a very good rapport with your audience – does it feel more intimate in a rural setting? What is the secret of connecting with an audience – is it easier or harder in a smaller venue?

A. Rural touring for the most part, means playing to people that are unfamiliar with jazz or improvised music but having it brought closer to them means it’s easier to pluck up the courage and go and see for themselves that it’s not as esoteric, discordant or unfathomable as some would have them believe. In fact, if delivered with some humour, it can actually be quite entertaining. The village hall is a wonderful setting to hear acoustic music as you are up close and there’s no distraction which give the listener the chance to absorb themselves in the music completely.

Q. Do you have any anecdotes about rural touring you could share with us?

A.I can’t think of any anecdotes other than the apologies forthcoming from a lady who was running one particular village hall who was five minutes late in arriving because she’d been up in the hills ‘doing the lambing’ all afternoon and had forgotten the time! They really are fantastic people who deserve fantastic music.

Q. Is it difficult being on the road, driving long distances away from home or is it just something you get used to?

A. I love getting into the car and going somewhere new so it’s always been 50% of the job for me and as a result, nowhere feels obscure, just different.

Q. Why do you think rural touring is important? Should we make an effort to do more of it? 

A. The feedback from our rural audiences has been marvellous and very vocal from people who once lived in cities but now live a country life and are thrilled the city has come to them for a change.

Q. Is it difficult working in smaller halls with equipment etc and sound?

A. We have never had any technical difficulties as there’s only the two of us and there’s never a shortage of plug points or anything of that nature. In fact, it’s usually much easier to get in and out of village halls as you can get the car right up to the door!

Q. What would you say to other large acts considering the rural touring circuit? 

As long as a group has keyboard equipment of their own, I would encourage anybody to get involved in rural touring if I thought their music was the right mixture of ingredients. I can only reiterate my observation of earlier, that the audiences and especially the volunteers, really are fantastic people who deserve fantastic music.

If you’re an artist looking to get more involved with Rural Touring then be sure to check out NRTF Membership here.

A Very Special Thank You to Barbara Slack

Thursday, December 13, 2018

As 2018 finishes as does Barbara Slacks’ time as co-director of the rural touring scheme Highlights when she retires at the end of the month. Barbara has been at the helm of Highlights, and a much treasured rural touring colleague, for over 20 years. Back in summer, we celebrated Barbara and all her wonderful work, with the much deserved, NRTF Special Award. Her colleague, friend and Highlights co-director, Rosie Cross, gave a speech which left many of us with tears in our eyes.

To say thank you once again to Barbara for all the wonderful work she has done for Rural Touring in the UK, we wanted to share Rosie’s speech once more. Don’t worry though, we’re not letting Barbara go that easily – Barbara will continue to host rural touring events as a voluntary promoter in Appleby, Cumbria, for years to come! 

21 years ago in 1997, as the arts officer for one of the District Councils in the North Pennines, I interviewed Barbara for the job of Director for the brand new Highlights Rural Touring Scheme. 10 years later in 2007, she interviewed me for the position of Co-Director of Highlights. Since that time, I’ve had the great good fortune to be her job share partner.

Back in 1997, Highlights worked with a handful of venues in the 4 districts which made up the North Pennines. Barbara grew the scheme to what it is today, with nearly 70 venues, covering 3 counties. She secured regular funding from ACE and from the 3 County Councils – as well as numerous project grants over the years. Remember that NRTF also was constituted in 1997. In those early years, Barbara got involved in the small network of Rural Touring Schemes which were starting up around eh country.

And in the year 1999, she hosted one of the earliest NRTF conferences in Appleby in Cumbria. Of course, the NRTF conferences then weren’t quite the large affairs that they are today; but also remember that at that time, there was only Barbara at Highlights and she pretty well put on the conference alone – an enormous feat! And more recently Barbara has joined the NRTF board.

Barbara is held in the highest esteem by all of those who come into contact with her professionally. Scheme managers across the country admire her – especially those in the North, whereas you may know we have a particularly strong network; and that’s due in no small part to Barbara’s efforts over the years. But this appreciation extends also to all of our volunteer promoters, who love her and think the world of her. The same is true of funding partners and of course artists and companies. Just recently I saw an email to Barbara from a company, saying something along the line so simply:- “You’re just so brilliant. Thank you!”

Scheme managers have a lot of tangled tricky stuff to sort out in all sorts of areas. Faced with a problematic, thorny situation, whereas many of us may lose our rag and turn the air blue, Barbara keeps her calm, sorts things out and everyone is left happy and content. She has a wonderful quality of impartiality and compassion and treats absolutely everyone in the same fair way.

I reckon, that in whatever capacity we know Barbara, through our lives in the Rural Touring scene, we are all privileged to be counted AMONGST her loves and passions. I say AMONGST because we must acknowledge and not underestimate the other loves and passions in her life – these being:-

  • Her unbounded love and devotion to her family and friends
  • Her great love of the outdoors
  • And of course – her insatiable love of cake!

So, ladies and gentlemen, I give you Barbara Slack, THE most deserving recipient of this very special award.

NRTF Director goes to Juliet & Romeo

hursday, November 8, 2018

It was a dark and cold Sunday, November evening, the type of evening you might light a fire and curl up on the sofa with a hot chocolate… Not me!! I keenly left the house at 6pm in the pitch black to drive to a village called Collingbourne Duces in Wiltshire to see Juliet and Romeo.

Welcomed to a large village hall by the lady at reception who also manages the hall. I didn’t catch her name but she was very friendly and accommodating and looking forward to seeing the production. The hall was already full, despite arriving in good time, bar open lots of chatter.

I sat on an agility table at the back, higher than the chairs, and normally used by the children’s gym classes held there in the week. I was grateful as I could see the dancers feet this way! I got chatting to the couple in front of me. She commented that normally she knows everyone but this evening she didn’t recognise most people. She believed people are travelling long distances to see the renowned dance company Lost Dog.

It starts, conversation aimed at the audience about a marriage in trouble, the audience finds itself part of some kind of interactive, memory based, marriage guidance counselling.

Heartbreak and humour, surrounded by beautiful dance and evoking memories. Anyone who’s been in a long-term relationship can relate to aspects of this performance. It’s self reflective, emotional and truly stunning. As it completes I need to take deep breaths and look at the ceiling, please don’t cry!

I hung about to say hello to Ben Duke & Solene Weinachter who devised and performed Juliet and Romeo. I met Ben in 2004 at the very conception of Lost Dog Dance, when I was running a Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe (The Roman Eagle Lodge). So it was great to catch up being in my role as Director of NRTF.

Juliet & Romeo is touring as part of the Rural Touring Dance Initiative

More information on all the Dance tours can be found here – https://www.ruraltouring.org//rural-touring-dance/rural-touring-dance-initiative-dates-autumn-2018

NRTF Board Away Day

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The National Rural Touring Forum Board of Trustees and observers consist of promoters, performers, senior schemes staff and Arts Council. We meet at least 4 to 5 times a year to ensure the success and good governance of NRTF.

Stanford Dingley Club Room

This September we had an away day, which was a chance for me, the Director and the Trustees to have the space to explore ideas, innovative initiatives and to better understand the needs of our members.

As I reach my 6-month-in-the-job mark I decided to invite the board to my village to see NRTF HQ, our local Clubroom (where we held the meeting) and also to see where I am from. 


I am lucky enough to live and work in a beautiful village called Stanford Dingley, an hour west of London in West Berkshire. It was a hot Indian summer day so we could make the most of the surroundings.

I probably have one of the tiniest HQ’s in the land. It is small but perfectly formed and probably now Pinterest-able! 
For me it is important to have a place to work that is uncluttered and just how I want it. Lets be honest I spend most of the hours in the week here, so I have made it a little heaven to get my head down  in, and do the best job I can.

NRTF Board Members

We had a picnic lunch then a countryside ‘walk & talk’, which really works in avoiding the post lunch slump and keeps the energy in conversation going when you have limited time.

On the away day agenda, amongst many other things, was our members and how to best support their/your needs. We are always interested in hearing ideas form members about how to expand what we do!

It was a very productive day and it was fun. Keeping a proactive and supportive board enthused and engaged is so important for organisations and an away day is a good opportunity for this. The NRTF (and I) are very lucky to have the support of such an amazing group of Trustees each one with a wealth of Rural Touring Knowledge.

Want to know who is on the board?- https://www.ruraltouring.org/about

Reflections on New Directions 2018: Sam ‘Making Work for Rural Touring’

Friday, September 21, 2018

In the second of our ‘Reflections on New Directions’ blog we hear from another of our wonderful social media helpers – Sam. Sam is a theatre maker and recent graduate of Worcester University – our hosts for the conference. Here he talks about how the conference opened his eyes to the opportunities Rural Touring presents to theatre makers.

Making work for Rural Touring

The National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) 2018 was a bit of a crash course for me. Despite working in the Arts as a theatre director (Clown Funeral Theatre Company) and Youth Arts worker (C&T Digital Theatre/EMERGE Festival Walsall), I was only faintly familiar with rural touring. The closest I’d had to a rural touring experience was the odd variety night or youth theatre show at the Village Hall in Nuneham Courtenay, a cluster of about 40 houses in the Oxfordshire countryside, and a Robbie Williams tribute act at the Cockadoo, the local Chinese restaurant. To be thrown into a world of music, dance, theatre, poetry and comedy running all over the country was an exciting wake-up call!

This year’s NRTF featured around 30 touring schemes from across the country, representing everywhere from pubs in Cumbria to community centres in the Black Country to village halls in Cornwall. We were treated to live music every evening, no less than 22 showcase performances spanning dance, theatre, poetry and storytelling, as well as meetings, networking opportunities and buffets aplenty. Amongst all this, I was struck by the extraordinary enthusiasm for such a variety of performances amongst delegates at the conference, and it didn’t take long to appreciate the amount of work every scheme and promoter puts into finding acts that they trust. That really is a key word – trust – as many promoters are volunteers, having gained a reputation amongst their community for putting on good acts that people are happy to pay to see.

So how do artists make work for a rural touring context? As a theatre-maker myself, I’m used to making shows that can move from studio to studio, rely on similar lighting rigs, powerful PA system and a black box space. Although these spaces do exist in rural touring schemes, performers are often equally faced with the task of showing their work in a theatre one night, and a library the next. Rather than seeing this as a daunting task, as I might have done before this conference, the attitudes of performers to the rural touring circuit has been exciting to see, with adapting work to new spaces being seen as an opportunity rather than a challenge.

Fiona Coffey described the atmosphere of rural touring performances as having a uniquely ‘live’ atmosphere. When the audience all know each, and come to the same village hall every weekend to catch-up, chat, and celebrate the week, it creates a community energy that performances can build off. Fiona talked about how she actively tried to create an immersive, fun dimension to all her shows, which allows her to take part in the community energy of rural touring. This is a great example of artists building their work to suit a rural touring audience.

Some artists, such as Little Earthquake and Pentabus Theatre, have gone one step further. Little Earthquake described how a number of their previous shows had been created by actively going into community centres in rural areas, and holding workshops and discussions about what communities actually want to see. Their latest show, ‘I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost’, was a highlight of the showcase for its fantastic humour and intriguing premise (a story about Co-Director Gareth’s relationship with a ghost called Bernie), and their showcase performance made sure to mention that their show featured an interval, greeting with cheers and applause by promoters in the audience. I was unaware of the importance of intervals to venues, but it is absolutely essential in many locations, as interval bar sales are the main source of income during these events. Pentabus, on the other hand, used their showcase to seek out rural collaborators around the coasts of Britain, as they wanted local people to feed into and feature in ‘One Side Lies The Sea’, their latest performance. Not only does this help to create connections amongst rural touring schemes across Britain, but it uses rural touring as a way to help local communities create artistic work.

Building shows for audiences is one way to go, but some promoters and performers were keen to celebrate another method: make work that is good, and adaptable. Music is a wonderful artform for rural touring, because it can generally be done just about anywhere, and a good musician can move around the country, taking the same songs to venue after venue, and receive fantastic responses from audiences who are able to talk, drink, eat and join in with the shows. Musicians don’t necessarily need or make their songs for an audience, or for a particular venue, it just needs to be good. Venues also often find cheap ways of improving their acoustics, such as hanging curtains and putting up soft pinboards, which is much simpler than installing a lighting rig for a specific piece of theatre. But anyone can take this approach, for as long as the work you make is enjoyable and adaptable, it can be suitable for rural touring… and it’s a fantastic opportunity to reach new audiences if you do! Rural audiences aren’t necessarily looking for a particular kind of show, they just want to see something good, and they appreciate variety in their programming.

This has been a wonderful learning experience, and I can’t thank NRTF highly enough for the opportunities I’ve had over the last few days. The next time I make work, I will be considering right from the start how to make it suitable for rural touring, and I encourage every artist I know to think about the potential that it can open up for them.

Directors Journal – Rural Touring Dance Initiative Meeting

Friday, September 14, 2018

Directors Journal is a behind the scenes insight into what the director of the NRTF, Holly Lombardo is working on. Offering more information on our projects and the long-term goals of the NRTF. This week Holly catches up with the Rural Touring Dance Initiative.

What: Rural Touring Dance Initiative Meeting

Where: The Place London

When: September 2018

Today I went to The Place in London to meet with the partners of the Rural Touring Dance Initiative project; Alison Lord, Take Arts, Director of Dance, Eddie Nixon Artistic Director of The Place and Ed Collier Co-Director of China plate. 

We met to discuss the partnership and how each partner feeds into the actions and outcomes. Each one of us brings something unique and different skills, which makes up a team with expertise and experience to make the RTDI the best it can be. The NRTF has gone through a new structure while RTDI1 was wrapping up and the new RTDI2 launched, this was the first opportunity to talk about how the new structure will support outcomes.

It was a chance to reflect on RTDI1 and what an incredible season of work it was. RTDI2 is about building on the success of the first project and create a legacy for dance in rural venues and communities. 

Rural Touring Dance Initiative is an Arts Council England and Foyle Foundation funded Project that encourages audience’s to try new genres of work & broaden horizons while bringing communities together through dance. It also offers opportunities for dance companies to tour in a new and innovative way out of city black-box venues and into new spaces all over the country. 

We had some very constructive and positive conversations and gave me a chance to finally meet Alison and Eddie. We are going forward together on this project and we will see some amazing outcomes in the future. I am looking forward to working with everyone on the Rural Touring Dance Initiative.

To find out more about the Rural Touring Dance Initiative click here.