Now Showing Blog: Ask not what your community can do for you….?

As a new “season” starts for theatres up and down the country so does it too for the national network of community promoters who bring professional work into their shared spaces just like the group who work with Ideas Test under the Now Showing strand.

Most of the people involved in organising the work on the ground are volunteers with the backing of organisations like Applause in Kent, Medway and Sussex. You can see some of the events happening locally with promoters we support in Swale and Medway in our What’s On calendar.

The average amount of time spent by a group on promoting an event is 40 hours, more than a whole working week. There are, according to studies run by the National Rural Touring Forum, an average of 10,000 volunteers actively working on live performances in community spaces across England and Wales alone.

In parts of Scotland this kind of promotion is even more widespread. The Touring Network support 60 small-scale venues to promote more than 700 events each year in the Highlands and Islands. That can mean 11 events a year run by local people for local people!

So why do so many people invest that time in these activities and what do they feel it brings them in return?

The National Theatre of Scotland take their projects out to the schools, sports centres and memorial halls in the Touring Network because the volunteers who run them are essential to connecting the work to the audiences.

Kent is known as The Garden of England of course but it still always surprises me that over 85% of land is classified as rural across Kent and Medway. A third of businesses are based in rural areas and yet the transport links can be difficult from villages into towns in the evening. For some people locally the art that comes to the communities can be the only art they can practically access.

In towns there may well be an established theatre and the term “rural touring” can seem out of place. Yet the same support networks and the professional artists they employ are set up to introduce theatre or music events to people in familiar spaces where local organisers can decide what audiences will feel comfortable to try, when they are likely to attend and what they are able to pay.

If we analyse the time spent by volunteers on each event – those 40 hours per performance – you can start to see the way that the activity acts as a catalyst for communication and broadens understanding of shared needs from the outset.

  • Each promoting group has to meet and agree on the content, the timing, the ticket pricing. To do this for a successful performance there must be a sense of what local people want!
  • One volunteer will act as the key contact and liaise with providers such as Applause but report back to their committee to check progress over the 3 month planning period
  • The team at Applause and “on the ground” organize the professionally printed tickets, posters and fliers, the social media and PR. The local group negotiate where the publicity can go – and having social and business amenities involved can be essential to reach the audience
  • The tickets are booked ahead through a voluntarily manned Box Office via a phone line and often a physical space such as a shop or school
  • At the performance the artist joins in the preparations very much “under the same sky” as they are rarely separated from the audience by a traditional stage. Many shows are played out on the floor, a few performances will turn the space around and sit the audience on a small stage to make an improvised “circle”. Actors and musicians often chat with the crowd long after the advertised end of the show
  • People talk about what they’ve seen for weeks afterwards and often leave events asking “when is the next one?”

Ideas Test will be working on a new programme of touring work in 2017 and we want your input as we start planning now. Some promoting groups have run a couple of events with this invaluable administrative back up and financial match and then started to augment their programme themselves to build a theatre or music “club” with 3 events per season. They make their own relationships with artists they have seen and use the experiences they had to write direct contracts and carry out marketing with ingenious local knowledge. One promoter sent her leaflets out with the milkman and the novelty alone brought new people through the door for the show! We can help source and fund ideas you may have to run live events too, we want to be sure that we run a programme that you are keen to get involved with.

In the end promoters can and should ask “What can my community do for me?” The neighbours can come and share in the sense of pride and “self-esteem” that they gain from making something happen themselves. And the wider community of people who are very willing to support with ideas, links, practical advice and finance can be found in arts organisations such as Ideas Test and Applause, local councils and funding bodies.

For more information about how to get involved and ideas about new projects for the New Year contact Beth at bethan@ideastest.co.uk