Without ever quite stating it explicitly, Paines Plough Future of Small Scale Touring (#FSST) did point to some possible futures.
Opening the conference, James Grieve (Paines Plough) said small scale touring was ‘really hard’ and economically unviable. RSA chair Vikki Heywood put it another way: ‘Cost of the tour plus cost of the work plus cost of the venue = loss’. Throw in declining programming budgets, ‘the local authority graph of doom’ (Heywood again, more here), fewer slots, fewer venues taking risks it was no wonder later in the day, one of the delegates asked:
‘Small scale touring just does not work…why are we perpetuating the myth!’ #fsst
@lyngardner ‘s blog for The Guardian sums up some of the underlying tensions, frustrations and at times anger that rippled through the room.
I couldn’t help but be struck by something else. Four perhaps obvious but never the less important and forward looking strands that for me emerged throughout the day.
Creation and touring, not just creation
Presentations from Battersea Arts Centre (Collaborative Touring Network ), Fuel (In Our Neighbourhood ), house as well as from the effervescent Tim and Harry from Marine Theatre pointed at schemes which both supported the development of new work (through offering time and space) as well as, crucially, providing opportunities for that work to be seen at a network of venues or festivals. Schemes that combined the opportunity to create with a network for that work then to be seen within.
Playing in the audiences spaces
Chris O’Connell (Theatre Absolute ), the National Theatre of Scotland , and even Eastern Angles‘ own touring model point to the increasing possibility of cutting out the middleman and by -passing the traditional venue hierarchy. Going ‘straight to audience’ in effect takes work direct (to coin Vikki Heywood’s phrase) ‘to the audiences places’, whether that be a community hall, a pub or indeed an old fish shop.
‘@guardianstage: Why theatre works perfectly in pubs http://gu.com/p/3m82t/tw’ @lyngardner’
Online tools for marketing and box office make this so much more possible than, say, 10 years ago (the pre-Facebook age). Why shouldn’t an emerging artist or company build their own touring network (some already do).
Increasing and meaningful connection to audiences
At one point a tweeter asked what could small-scale theatre makers learn from other industries and, specifically, the music industry. Sholeh Johnson from Julie’s Bicycle referenced the touring model of Amanda Palmer and the newish functionality within Songkick Detour (which allows audiences to crowd fund gigs). What did Lady Gaga do when as an unknown she was refused air play? She (or rather her much eulogised ex-manager Troy Carter) mobilised her fan base, marketing her music direct to fans through social media, ultimately building her own social media site . At Eastern Angles a proportion of our ‘fans’ are, in fact, our promoters. They sell out their events (our shows) with the fore runner to social media; good old word of mouth; ‘you will come, won’t you’.
Meaningful connection with your audiences, as NTS Dear Scotland programme and Slung Low’s Alan Lane suggests here can mean so much more than just attending or promoting.
The new philanthropy could look very different on the small scale. I wonder if the entertaining (and lean, slide link below) Jon Bedford of @justgiving and @@aweareyimby could build a crowd funding site which recognised volunteer and in kind support alongside cash contributions?
As China Plate (who coordinate the NRTF) pointed out, there was a lot of talk about rural touring across the day. You almost felt that rural touring was becoming the new rock’n’roll. Matt Fenton (Director, Contact Theatre ) noted rural touring is the only way these days to get a 60 date small-scale tour. By mere co-incidence Eastern Angles’ next show is exactly 60 dates (in 50 venues) across the East of England (see here).
Based in the remote Scottish Highlands, The Touring Networks online tool Tourbook might prove to be a proto-type, resource for linking artists with local promoters. It’s an environmentally friendly model too. Julie’s Bicycle research suggests that:-
‘Touring to rural audiences 30% more sustainable than them travelling to city venues. Plus the beer is cheaper. What’s not to like? #fsst’ @ElizabethFreest
#FSST going to the theatre is 80% more environmentally friendly than staying at home to watch the telly #fact @ChippedRedNails
And, as Arts Alive added, ‘there is often cake too’.
With or without cake, none of these futures are easy. None address Heywood’s impossible financial equation. But then wasn’t it ever thus? And as the conference continually asserted the value in the small-scale isn’t just in the financials.
Alongside the frustrations and the anger there was optimism in the room, there were ideas, there were ways forward made.
Links and Resources from #fsst
arts agility blog, referenced by Jon Bedford
Culture Segments (Morris Hargreaves MacIntyre)