How to Showcase

Friday, June 7, 2019

Hi-Vis: NRTF Conference Showcasing
Have you ever performed in a showcase? What did you learn from it? Did you feel it showed your production in the best light?

It’s really important to remember that the primary purpose of these events, as far as a showcasing artist is concerned, is not just about showing how brilliant your work is (although obviously, you want to show your work off in a good light) — it’s about demonstrating to your audience that you know what rural touring audiences, promoters, and schemes want and need, and that you’re capable of delivering it for them.
In the short, medium and long term, that is what will help you establish or extend good working relationships with the sector — inspiring confidence among the people who need to feel they can trust you — who need to feel that you really get how rural touring works. Your audience at an NRTF Conference is roughly made up of 70% rural touring scheme staff, 20% sector stakeholders (largely Arts Council England, with some other organisations represented as well, depending on the overall emphasis and strategic priorities of the event) and 10% actual venue and village hall promoters. So on the whole, you’re performing to a room mostly full of people who will be looking to book work for their venue or scheme: and they don’t have the time, money or patience to take a risk on artists who don’t convince them that they know what they’re doing.

The worst thing an artist can do is to simply come on stage, present a 20-minute extract of their show and then go off stage again. It’s almost impossible for anyone to really get a sense of the quality or experience of the whole show that way — but more importantly, it doesn’t give anyone a chance to get a sense of you as an artist/company, of your values, or of whether you really understand how rural touring works. It’s your job to make sure they do. So look on the showcase as more of a performed pitch than a straightforward performance. Being yourself, talking directly to the audience (or getting someone else to do that for/with you, such as your producer, director or another company member), framing or contextualizing the extract you’re showing in some way — they’re all good ways to help with that relationship building.

You also want to make sure that the audience knows some basic common sense stuff: what stage the show is at in development; when the show is available for touring; if you’re already touring with or have previously toured with any rural schemes (because if one scheme has worked with you and trusts you, others are more likely to do so themselves); show your understanding of the creative challenges which rural venues may pose by making it clear that you’re already technically self-sufficient, or flexible in your stage dimensions or staging format, or whatever else you can do to make your show work in as many different shapes and sizes of venue as possible.

If your production has an interval, you MUST make sure the audience knows that. And if you’re doing a one-hour-straight-through kind of show, you need to start thinking RIGHT NOW about what else you can do to make it into a full evening out for the audience. The rural circuit is more focused on the social aspect of arts attendance than on the art alone, and your job is to provide your audience with a great night out. A post-show Q&A is one option but the likelihood is you’ll need to be more creative than that…! 

2019 Showcase –

8 reasons to attend this years conference if you’re a promoter…

Friday, May 10, 2019

Tickets for this years NRTF conference are now on sale. We know, we know, we’ve mentioned it a thousand times already on social media, but no doubt one or two of you will have missed the news.

In the past, we’ve alternated every other year between a conference and a showcase, but this year we’re combining the two to give you the chance to see work that you may wish to programme in the future as well as the space to catch up with peers, colleagues and sector news.
If you’re a promoter and you’ve never been to one of our conferences or showcases before and are worried that the conference might not be for you, then we’re here to assure you it is, so without further ado here are 8 reasons you should attend this year’s conference as a promoter.

1. It’s a place to meet other promoters from across the country…
Being a promoter is a busy job, and chances are most of the time you’re so focussed on your next event, that other than at menu launch parties (if your scheme has them) you have very few opportunities to meet other promoters. The conference is an excellent opportunity to meet other like-minded people from across the country. A chance to support and bounce ideas off one another, and invaluable headspace for thinking about promoting as a whole. Meeting people in the same boat as you can really recharge the batteries, and helps you build your own support network.

2. You’ll be provoked to think differently…
With meeting lots of new people, comes lots of new ideas. Whether it’s a fellow promoter suggesting new ways of advertising your event or one of our fantastic showcases that lets you see the world in a slightly different way, the conference is a chance to be provoked. We all know that promoting and audiences are forever changing, and our thinking should be too.

3. It’s a reminder that what we all do matters…
When you’re in the thick of it, trying your hardest to sell tickets, and work out the logistics of putting on an event it can be easy to forget why we all do what we do. But leaving your home turf and surrounding yourself with like-minded people, seeing new shows, and hearing about what rural touring beyond your area is doing, is just the reminder we all need, that what we do, matters.

4. It’s a chance to raise concerns, challenges, and find solutions together…
It’s not always smooth sailing, and you may have some concerns about rural touring, upcoming shows, or the national picture. This is where the conference side of this event comes in. We want to share with you, but we also want to hear from you. Our ‘Big Conversations’ will address some critical areas of concerns you may have and there will be plenty of time to have big conversations of your own.

5. You’ll get to see shows you might want to programme in the future – and ones you may never have considered…
When it comes to booking shows you want to be confident you’re bringing the very best to your venue, and the best way to do that is to see the work for yourself beforehand. This year we’ve listened to your feedback from previous showcases and programmed a fantastic range of work, that is either already rural touring ready or is in the process of being made. There will also be a range of work that you may have never considered before. We always want to be bringing the best new artists and work into the sector, and we know you do too.

6. There’s a session specifically about developing partnerships and audiences…
Worried that the conference will be aimed solely at schemes? It won’t be. Every session will have something valuable for promoters in it. Whether that’s our CONCERTA session all about our national social impact study, or one of our big conversations, there will be key learning and conversation points for everyone. And on top of that, we have a session specifically for promoters, by promoters, all about building partnerships and developing your audiences – something we know is never far from any promoters mind!

7. It’s a chance to hear about national projects and future opportunities…
A lot is going on in the world of rural touring. From the Rural Touring Dance Initiative to Applauses Outdoor project. The conference is a great chance to hear about new projects and opportunities that may come your way and the all-important learning that has come from them. 

8. The National Rural Touring Awards…
And of course, we couldn’t write a blog post about the conference without mentioning the annual National Rural Touring Awards. You’ve been nominating the shows, artists, projects and people that deserve national recognition, and the award ceremony will take place on the second night of the conference. A chance not only to celebrate our award nominees and winners but the work that we all do to make sure rural communities have the same access to art as their urban counterparts. We’ll raise a drink to that!

And that’s it, 8 reasons you should attend this years conference/showcase if you’re a promoter. We’re sure we’ve missed some, so if you’ve previously attended an NRTF conference, let us know in the comments below, or on Facebook, what was the best thing you go out of it. And if you haven’t already, be sure to book your conference tickets here: by scrolling to the bottom of the page, and completing the information required.

How To Get Your Show Rural Touring: The Importance of Doing Your Homework

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

The most frequently asked question we get here at the NRTF from artists is ‘How do I get my show programmed for rural touring?’ and our biggest piece of advice is always the same: do your homework.

This piece of advice works on all levels – whether you’re brand new to rural touring or have years of experience under your belt – just like the rest of the arts world, the sector is ever-evolving, so there will always be something new to learn that will help you get your show on the road.

But let’s start, as they say, at the very beginning.

If you’re brand new to rural touring, make sure you really really understand what is required of a rural touring show. The best way to do this? Go out and see shows that are already doing what you want to do. Look at how they fit in the spaces, look at the audiences they are attracting, speak to the companies doing the work. You will need to be self-sufficient. Your tech requirements will need to be fulfilled by you, and even then, it’s best to keep it as simple as possible. 

Speak to the promoter at the event, ask them what they like booking, what they don’t (remember each promoter and venue is different, so don’t just speak to one!). Ask them what things they consider when taking a show, and what makes their life easier. Incorporate this into your thinking as early on in your process as possible and we promise it will pay off.

Introduce yourself to your local scheme (if you go and see something relatively close to you, there is likely to be someone from the scheme in the audience). Not sure where your nearest scheme is? Take a look at our map.

All schemes are invested in developing new work and introducing new companies to the sector – they’re full of advice and will often give you as much time as they can to help. It’s always good for them to know you’ve already started exploring the sector for yourself. Take on board what they say i.e. just because a cast of 12 might be small scale to you, it doesn’t mean it’s small for the scheme. Work out these definitions early on and your life will be much smoother down the line! 

Don’t forget you can download ‘Eyes Wide Open’ an introduction to rural touring for artists for free when you become a member of the NRTF- it’s a great way to begin arming yourself with the knowledge you need.

Once you’ve done all this, and feel your show is the right fit, remember not all schemes’ programme in the same way. Look beyond your local scheme. Take the time to look at the type of work individual schemes are programming, when they programme and how they want you to submit your work for their menu. Some schemes have very specific forms they want you to fill in while others are happy to take tour packs. One of the most important things you can do? Find out the name of the person programming, and personalise emails. Blanket emails while efficient, can set off alarm bells, whereas a more personalised email highlights that you’ve done your homework and probably really understand rural touring. Think of it like you would contact different individual venues – you wouldn’t email a music venue if you were a theatre company, or a dance house if you were a storyteller. Putting in the work upfront pays off in the long run.

A note on tour packs – even if you find schemes want you to fill in a specific form, it’s a good idea to put a tour pack together anyway. For a start, it means you then have all the information you need for the form in one place, and also it’s likely that the scheme and promoters will want to see it further down the line. Not sure what to put in your tour pack? We have a free infographic for that….

A top tip for artists who have rural toured in the past, but don’t seem to be getting as many bookings now, maybe it’s time to refresh what you’re providing schemes with and how you approach them. Go back into your tour pack and ask ‘What is missing?’ Has something changed in how the schemes you’ve worked within the past are operating now? Is there a new programmer or are they currently focusing on a particular type of work?  If you’ve already toured extensively in one region maybe try somewhere new and go back to those other schemes when you have new work to offer them. Schemes want to support high-quality artists, and a good show can easily tour for more than one season, it’s not unusual for a scheme to reprogramme work that has gone down particularly well, but at the same time schemes and venues also want to offer their audiences a variety of work. 

If your work is quite niche or specialist, it’s a good idea to look at what is already happening in the sector. Many schemes will have separate projects which help develop work in specific areas. For example ‘The Inn Crowd’ which looks specifically at spoken word artists, or our very own Rural Touring Dance Initiative. These projects support not only you as an artist, but the schemes in programming you, and the promoters in developing an audience for your work – they can be a great way into rural touring.

The rural touring sector is wide and varied, and there is a lot going on behind the scenes, to develop new work, to support artists and to continue to programme high-quality shows for audiences across the UK. Arming yourself with as much knowledge as possible and then staying in touch with what schemes are working on is the best way to get your show programmed for rural touring. Well, that, and making sure the show is as good as it can be in the first place 😉

Remember the NRTF is here to support everyone involved in Rural Touring. We have some top tip videos on our website to help you do your homework in bite-sized chunks, and by becoming a member you can access our resources, and discussion boards which are a great way to introduce yourselves, ask questions and keep up to date with what is happening in the world of rural touring.

Each year we run ‘Introductions to Rural Touring’ at Brighton and Edinburgh Fringe, so keep an eye out for the confirmed dates for this year’s events.

Do you have a burning rural touring question you’d like answered on our blog? A golden piece of advice to give, or a story to share? Drop Stephie an email and we’ll get to work!

Rural Touring Recipes: Spice Lentil Soup

Friday, March 1, 2019

“A good stand by for promoters, especially when faced with a  range of dietary requirements and limited time to eat before a performance …”

Here it is! The first of our Rural Touring Recipes. This hearty recipe for Spiced Lentil soup comes from Highlights Promoter Sally Seed.

Sally Seed has been a Highlights Rural Touring Scheme volunteer promoter for Orton Market Hall in Cumbria for about 12 years. She’s hosted lots of one-man and one-woman shows as well as children’s theatre groups and larger bands – sometimes as many as 8 or more. Lasagne and spicy sausage casserole have been favourites for an early evening meal in the past and vegetarian versions are possible of both but, if it’s getting complicated and needs to be kept simple, she’s found that a soup recipe from her son’s cookery lessons at school is a great stand-by.

Spiced Lentil Soup – serves 6-8

  • 30ml vegetable oil
  • 2 onions – chopped
  • 2 carrots – diced
  • 4 celery sticks – chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves – crushed
  • 15ml curry powder
  • 5ml ground coriander
  • 100g red lentils
  • 1 tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 750 ml vegetable stock
  • Seasoning salt and pepper
  • 25g creamed coconut

1. Heat oil in a large pan and cook the onions, carrots and celery over a low heat for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

2. Stir in the garlic and spices and cook for another minute or two.

3. Add the lentils, tomatoes and stock, cover the pan and simmer for about 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.

4. Remove from the heat, stir in the coconut until it melts and adjust the seasoning to taste.

5. Liquidise or blend until smooth. This recipe also freezes well if you need to make it in advance. I’ve served this with local fresh bread (even a gluten-free bread on a couple of occasions) and cheese (vegan or otherwise) and it always seems to be appreciated with requests for seconds.

We’re looking for more Rural Touring recipes to help promoters feed casts and themselves before the show! Especially things that can be prepared in advance and cater for special dietary requirements!

Do you have a recipe for the perfect pie or hearty hot pot? We want to hear from you:

Attending a Menu Launch Party

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Attending a Promoters’ show menu launch event is a bit like opening a box of chocolates. You know your eyes will light up as you get to see everything, you know you’ll get a bit of guidance, but then you know you’ll be left to just sit back, feel spoilt, and get to pick the ones you really like.

This was the happy position I found myself in at the delightfully named Bardon Mill and Henshaw Village Hall (was there an argument over which name came first ?) in Northumberland last month, where two dozen Highlights Promoters got together for their twice-yearly meeting. A chance to mingle, to make face to face contact with Highlights HQ staff, and to discover which shows had been selected to be offered up to be booked for the Spring. Highlights cover a huge area, stretching from the Lake District to the Northumberland coast – and usually, they run four Promoters evenings every six months so that everyone has got a chance to get to one.

 But actually, for me, what’s just as important is the chance to be able to say hello to all the other Promoters. It can be quite a lonely role at times, acting as cheerleader, front of house, box office and bed and breakfast host, let alone setting out the chairs and tables and making sure the heating’s switched on. The opportunity to compare notes, see which Past shows worked and which didn’t, and let off a bit of steam about hire charges, raffle prizes and wobbly tables can definitely be good for the soul. And it’s also a chance to pinch a good idea or two. And to nose around another village hall.

And it’s nice to be a little bit spoilt. A few tasty cakes and buns go a long way to making the evening feel special. And to hear words of thanks from Highlights HQ really matters too, because they know how much work goes into being a Promoter. Equally, there is a lot of reciprocated respect, love and admiration from Promoters for rural touring scheme staff who go above and beyond to make everything happen across the UK’s 30 rural touring schemes.

So all hail to the Promoter menu launches. If you’re a Promoter like me, try to get along to them whenever you can because they’re about so much more than just the new season. And if you’re a Scheme director – my advice always – never skimp on the food….

Audiences across the North are guaranteed a great Spring 2019 offer – I know because I’ve seen it .
Tom Speight Highlights Promoter and NRTF Chair

Top Tip for Promoters: Talk us through your apprehension

Friday, October 12, 2018

This week’s top tip comes from Carn to Cove Scheme Manager, Claire Marshall and is aimed at venues and promoters.

The main points are:

  • If you’re worried about taking a show for any reason talk to your Scheme
  • Schemes are here to make things work for everyone involved
  • Schemes can’t help if they don’t know there is a problem

For all our Rural Touring Tops Tips, for artists, promoters, venues and schemes click here.

Rural Touring Top Tips for Artists: Shane Shambuhu

Friday, September 7, 2018

‘Be Flexible’ is a key piece of advice when it comes to Rural Touring. From working in spaces of all shapes and sizes to understanding the importance of an interval and a raffle. For a really successful rural tour, you need to be prepared to adapt – and see this as an opportunity for pushing your work further, not a limitation! 

But Nick Cassenbaum, one of our New Directions Showcase artists from this year says it much more succinctly than I do!

To see all our Top Tips for Artists watch our Youtube playlist here