Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Let’s help each other to tour work better / How can we help each other tour work better?

There was also a further Breakout Session on Co-producing and Co-commissioning which has its own report here.

Who Called The Session:

Simon Pittman

Who Attended:

Loren O’Dair, Jo Crowley, Nir Paldi, Annie Rigby, Sarah Johnson, Rajini Shah, Will Reynolds, Poppy Burton Morgan, Annie Fitzmenice, Sarah Corbett, Mark Courtice, Jamie Zubairi, Steve Ryan, Bill Buffery, Shikra Ogra, Vicky Graham, Dan Woods and others.


I’ve listed below quotes of things said along with a summary of the topics discussed...

   Confirming dates v’s getting funding secured are both rather reliant on each other.
   Scheduling is key - thinking back from when performances will start through brochure deadlines, marketing, print, PR, booking accom. travel etc right back to when one therefore needs to have submitted funding apps for a result and booking performance dates.
   Create a project Gantt Chart / project map - good for funding applications too. e.g. “you can see for the project map that there is x months of work prior to when this starts that will ensure the project happens and achieves it’s aims”
   It’s not the end of the work if tour dates have to be pushed back but we saw value in working various budgets / models of the tour to be sure that one version will definitely happen. It is a problem if one pulls a tour with poor notice for a venue and can burn bridges.

Tour Booking:
   The value of a tour booker was discussed - Learn - do it your self, be OK with getting a ‘no’ and discuss with the venue what is stopping them taking you so you can either help to fix, adapt or plan for the future
   Clarify with a presenter / venue that they fundamentally want it - then you can clarify when / how / or when a        decision can be made
   Don’t be afraid to keep calling
   “A tour booker is only useful if you are working with them regularly as they are the ones who forge a key relationship with the venue - they build it on your behalf”
   Work with / choose partnerships on the person - why they are and how you relate to each other and to the company / project
   Allow people to say ‘no’ to you if that is what they are trying to do and focus on unpicking with them why they are saying ‘no’
   “A major asset is making sure you develop a strong, valued relationship with each venue / company” (Nir)
   “In general - when it is dragging out it’s a ‘No’” - however, others contradicted this idea by saying - you need to find out what is really holding them back. I have personally booked dates with people after long drawn out process due to their organisational re-structuring etc, and in one case have gained a co-commission for a project after a year of contact but very little discussion.
   Understand the venues situation - complimenting program, other issues, focus for work
   calling and particularly taking time to visit venues really changes the game
   Mark Courtice said “I’ve been on both sides of being the booker and the venue and it’s an awful job that you will put off as long as possible”. Remember this. This is what you do get from a tour booker -  they will just keep at it.
   “Learn to cope with the fact that you will be told no”
   “No’s are good if they are quick and honest - this happens much more clearly in international touring and help you to get on with using time better.
   Know your Geography! or make sure your booker does! Timings, costs, efforts, the environment can all be massively helped if you work geographically as much as possible.
   Also good when negotiating with venues to say things like “it’s this price because we need to stay over” / “can you help us with this?” for example and the venue might be able to help you in other ways to make a visit viable
   Clarify what you know about a show - be clear about what is certain about what you do know (e.g. how you can market it, how it will be similar to previous work, your track record, elements of the performance, scale and tech requirements etc), be honest and open about that which is not set down for new pieces. For example you might say to the venue “this is the nature of the journey we are going on and how it is developing; this can be something we feed to your audience base as it is a strength or pull for the work”

   Vicky Graham also asked “what is the best thing to ask a venue for? Are there people to ask about what this should be?” and brought up co-productions and co-commissions - this is covered in another session that followed later on Sunday and report can be found in this document.

   Create your own map of the venues and their booking lead times (including brochure deadlines and programming deadlines)
   Get commitment from venues if you can’t get dates agreed pre-funding applications - “can I put you down as a pencilled / confirmed date subject to the funding app’s success?”
   “Just so you know, i’ve put you down on this initial tour schedule in our ACE application” (said to venues one of the group has had a longer relationship with)

   Saying “this is going to happen” is key to touring - plan 3 scaled versions of the project (with or without your key funding, often from the Arts Council) and we discussed that this will feed through into everything you are doing: one’s determination reflects in the way you write and talk about the project and in your relationship with venues and the discussions you are able to then facilitate.
   “Have a contingency plan in place and two budgets - if you get the money and if you don’t” (Jo)

Working with Venues / Venues in general
   “Get venues to SEE YOUR WORK”.
   Showcasing really helps
   Be sure you are both talking the same language
   meet venues if you are in the area or seeing a show there.
   “I have found there is more a problem with the system of communication - often there is a good reason for a date with a venue to not be happening but I just don’t hear about it”
   “saying thank you for coming to showings / performances in subsequent letters reminds me I’ve come to see your work and to talk further!”
   Venues often know they should take a show because others are talking it, not because they know you /  your work - get people talking about it
   There may be a reason if it’s not working with a venue. Evaluate:
            Wrong Time?
            Wrong Show?
            Wrong audience?
   Small scale touring - knowing the capacity and capability of the network of spaces and how well your show will fit into the majority is very important if you want to realistically book a 10 date tour for example
   Small spaces tend to need a longer lead time for booking but there is no rule - The House Network lists both venues and producing independents across the South and South East
   It is important for venues to talk to each other
   Partnerships need to between both venues and artists but we also discussed the need for this to happen more amongst independent producers
   Once you have worked with a venue and toured to them ask them:
“Why did you book us?”  - Find our their aims and objectives so that you can continue to work more effectively with them.
   think about what one can do to present self to venues / or work with venues to help them reduce risk in programming your work.
   Understanding when it is OK to loose money from touring to certain venues in tours if it is covered by other areas and enables you to build a new relationship with that audience / venue in the long term / or in exchange for other types of support in kind.
   Ask a venue “why aren’t we coming to you?” “What do you need in order to book us?”
   “We would love to add your venue to the list”
   Nir told us about the BE Festival -  an award can be won which includes dates at 4 or 5 venues across the area as a result
   When booking with a venue there are areas and problems to consider and plan for:
            E.g. Is there and SM there who will work on the show? Be sure to be specific about the costs and what is offered, Beware of assuming a venue will market your show as you would expect - what other priorities do the have? What time and effort can they / will they want to put in?
   Accommodation: find ways of making this personal and tailored to the individuals working with you and everyone will feel rested and more able to commit their best energy into the work
   Don’t forget travel lodge and Premier inn! - at least you know what you are getting
   Be aware that as a touring producer / artist you need to help different members of a venue’s team to work effectively with you - ask “what can we do for you and what can you do for us? (marketing, technical, administration, selling, planning, developing audience and even further funding)

I thought I’d add a little extra note on this (in very simple terms) as it took me ages to know what certain terms meant when I started:
   Guarantee: A venue pays the producer a fixed fee for a production and keeps all the box office: e.g.: Venue guarantees to affectively buy your show in for £750 for a performance. You know you are getting the money (why Arts Council like this in a budget)
   Split: an agreed split of the total box office takings (after booking fees and tax usually). For example: 60/40 split suggests the producer gets 60% of the box office and the venue takes 40% (Usually written in the producers favour)
   ‘A split against a guarantee’: E.g. We’ll offer you a 60/40 split against a £400 guarantee’ means that the venue will guarantee you £400 for the show regardless, or pay you 60% of the box office if it is greater that £400.
   ‘1st / 2nd Calls’ etc: This might suggest that the venue has agreed to give you the first £300 of the box office and they then take the 2nd part - also helps to ensure certain cash flow etc.
   “50% houses”: We might estimate a guarantee based on a reasonable estimate that a show could sell around 50% of that venues capacity at a certain average ticket price.
   ‘Pencilled’: we have reserved the date but you need to confirm it and we both could change it!
   Mark also noted that he has offered a ‘sensitivity analysis’ on deal sheets - based on how many people turn up to the show at each stage of the selling. This means that producers can then state to funders etc something like “both us and the theatre have agreed this and this means we expect that we will each get £x on a 55% house.
   We discussed that there has been a definite move towards splits over guarantees from venues and that the Arts Council need to recognise this when assessing funding applications for tours as a split no longer means a venue is “lazy”.

As an independent producer / company
A lot was said about independent producers can help each other and communicate:
   Companies and producers with lots of experience can help younger companies etc by taking them under their wing for a longer term dialogue
   Perhaps more established companies should be looking at pairing up with younger touring companies to share networks and resources and a supportive dialogue - the idea of nurturing was emphasised
   “It’s not just young/emerging companies who have questions to ask - established ones do too”
   How to change culture to one of collaboration rather than one of ‘do it alone’?
   Some people expressed a problem with the idea of mentoring as it is a bit one-way: dialogue is potentially more interesting to the experienced people
   Talk to appropriate ‘mentors’ as young professionals and say to them “you’ll get this out of a dialogue. E.g. We’ll ask ‘why?’, they might share how they’ve met others doing it differently, the ‘mentor’ gets an injection of an outside view
   Remembering that mentors should be approached on the quality of the dialogue, time you can spend with each other, the difficult questions they’ll ask as opposed to who’ll get your work put on or help you meet famous people!
   We can all look to share our knowledge, contacts, resources and good practice with each other.
   Jo talked about her and 9 other like minded producers frequently meeting to discuss practice and also sharing good examples of funding applications, even carefully edited contracts could be shared.
   Maybe we should go and talk to the Arts Council as a consortium of independent producers and see how we can field this ongoing conversation so that independent producers can help each other on a long term conversation...
   ETT already have a history of supporting emerging companies

   Find out how not to tour
   learning how to adapt and grow is key to making a tour happening and avoiding putting dates back and back - don’t stop because something happened or someone has dropped out from your company / schedule - work out how to do things differently
   Work out what each show you are making is best suited for -  it’s good to do both touring and non-touring work.
   Don’t compromise your show - the work is key to whatever happens
   develop long relationships with people and remember they move: develop relationships with individual programmers - it’s great when they move venues because you end up with contacts at both
   Make your first touring show the best it can possibly be at what ever scale you have chosen to work - this is the first relationship and impression you’ll make with future partnerships with venues
   know when to let go of a piece and start the next - each piece feeds the next one anyway
   The idea of having a repertoire is becoming more and more valued - make projects work for you - find ways to work that allow you to bring back existing work and be developing the next - many venues re-book shows that did well their venue as audiences didn’t get a chance to see it / you were doing only one-night-stands
   Mark: “As an industry we are increasingly profligate - I believe in making everything to work for itself in the long term”
   Keeping a show alive can be tricky but if you plan for this outcome it is a great way to keep your work out there and reaching audiences: maintain ongoing relationships with cast and crew in down time, film rehearsals and show material. Keeping show available and ready to go also offers chance to make the most of one off opportunities and to improve and develop pieces at a later date.
   “You’ll know in your water if it’s unfinished business”
   We also talked about building longer term relationships with creative and actors to this aim - then a company can be touring a show and working with that company to develop the next piece.
   One person described their business model as a planet around which various people orbit and spin and jump on to the planet when they want to / are needed
   Find people well placed to help broker relationships with venues / co-producers whether that be venues, other producers or mentors.
   We discussed the need to be sure that independent companies and producers don’t become lost within this new culture of consortiums plus we discussed the need to understand supply / demand and ensure a conversation is happening with venues and producers about the local community and theatre landscape.

   Remembering your Duty of Care to your company members when scheduling, booking and planning to ensure you and they have a fair life / work balance. Many said this should run through everything you do and how you plan.
   Things like booing train tickets really early when you know dates because you can get first class tickets for people at prices (£9 or something) can save money and also say to company “we like you and want you to keep working with us!”

Marketing related stuff
   Create trailers and production images early can really help to sell a piece but be sure that the image will be truthful and a fair indication of what an audience will get at the performance.
   “Show copy can be a triumph of vagueness”
   “You can challenge people with the show, but don’t challenge them with the marketing and publicity” - get them to come and don’t ‘lie’ with images etc
   “don’t promise something in an image that isn’t in the show”
   “Is print important?” - many said yes; “90% of the time I don’t go online and read more if”
   “I want something to read in the interval and what to be able to think about a venue’s programming whilst I’m there”
   Some venue have said to me “if you are not in our printed brochure you won’t get an audience”
   IDEA: Jo has seen people projecting trailers of their show in Edinburgh onto backpacks whilst walking around. V. Cool!
   Think about finding local advocates or Ambassadors for your work/company in return for something back.
   Using Twitter to connect with people within the local theatre culture to advertise the show for you / to work as online Ambassadors
   If a venue takes the risk by offering a good guarantee or put;s their name to the show through support or commission then they are going to be more invested in working to sell the show with you.

   Think about your process of evaluating and recording your touring process and artistic work continuously - it helps massively with future funding and also will help you to be harsh with self to get better at what you do / locate areas for improvement:
            How to do it better
            exchange information with venues
            gather stats and data on costs, miles covered, print distribution, audience numbers, income etc       
            evaluation from company members and audience members

More was discussed on deals, contracts, co-productions and co-commissions in the break out session noted elsewhere.

Vicky G and I will send an email to cc all who attended the sessions together to share emails and stay in touch.


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