One research material we have been looking at a lot is Towards Retirement. Its a 64 page advice booklet produced by the Department of Health and Social Security for civil service employees to help prepare for retirement. This booklet was issued to civil service employees in the years approaching retirement age.
The publication date of this booklet looks to be early 1970’s, the most recent year referenced is 1969 but it mentions £’s so it is published after decimalisation in 1971.
It is written in a very practical tone and there are lots of illustrations in the booklet that also provide strong imagery from the era and echo some of the imagery we created in our earlier development.
The drawing on the cover of the booklet has a golf club with patent written on it – a spooky co-incidence indeed with Arthur Pedrick and his 4 golf patents.
Colour TV / Interlude Films / Testcard F / Intermission Programmes / Trade Test Colour Films
Television is often regarded as a companion to the retired. Pedricks colour TV was a beloved possession and there are references in his patent applications to TV programmes he watched (The World About Us: “the Year of the Green Centre” BBC2 31.3.74) in GB1411354A and TV itself is described as a “window on the world” in GB1420426A. The repeated broadcast of Trade Test Colour Films broadcast on BBC2 between 1967 and 1973 also seem a likely influence/trigger on his patent ideas as many of these films share similar themes with his patents.
Interlude Films were made to fill in gaps in the TV schedule, intervals in plays and to also cover frequent technical faults and broadcast breakdowns. The Potters Wheel is perhaps the most iconic of these films. Interludes were sometimes more popular than the regular programming and epitomise a gentler age.
In Patent Application GB1439297A “Initiating A Controlled Fusion Reaction Using Deuterium And Tritium Pellets In Imploding Bullets Fed With Powerful Laser Beam Pulses” (1974) Pedrick cites his inability to raise the financial backing necessary to realise his patents as his Ginger Cat has found it impossible to break into the TV advertising “closed shop” of Tinned Cat Foods, and in fact “Ginger” prefers ordinary Corned Beef to most brands of Cat Food.
TV related patents:
GB1256350A “Television Using Colours Produced By Light Ray Scan Of Prismatic Surfaces On Screens Of Glass Or Other Suitable Materials” (1970)
GB1334503A “Coloured Light Ray Scanning System For NTSC PAL Colour TV Transmissions” (1972)
GB1348477A “Colour Television Using Lightray Created Images” (1973)
GB1391569A “Miniature Image Producing Spectacles And Binoculars” (1973)
We have now come to the end of our second period of Research and Development on Patent Pedrick – our new performance work devised around maverick inventor Arthur Paul Pedrick.
This follows on from our initial development last Summer that ended in a scratch performance of 18 mins at The Little Angel HATCH festival last September. From that initial work I’ve thought that there are clues to making the show are in Arthur’s patents. However, I’ve found 163 of them and it has not been possible in the research time to read through 15 years of his work (I’ve read most of them) and also look into the other areas opening up for research such as the music of Lonnie Donegan, the history of the testcard, BBC interlude films, trade test colour films, 1960’s Airplane crashes, light music, testcard music, 60s/70s cat food advertising, the 3 day week, Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer, the Apollo space program, Einstein and relativity theory, Harrods Exotic Pets dept…
The research for this production has been immense, exhausting and overwhelming at times. But going back into a devising environment you never know exactly what is going to be useful or what kernel of info could be needed. I find quite often a little detail can unlock something much bigger or link up a theme – both often needed in a devising situation – but getting all the little details takes a lot of time.
Sarah-Jane and I stood in Barking Tesco the night before our first devising day as the gods of the reduced section tempted us with party poppers. Could they be useful? Would they be useful? Should we get them? And through the interrogation of the value of these party poppers we unlocked an idea for a recurring motif that will form a strong part of the visual narrative. We got the reduced party poppers (and clubcard points).
We spent seven devising days at Studio 3 Arts. Below are some photos from that time.
In my research on Arthur Paul Pedrick I never found a definitive list of all of the patents Arthur had approved. The Wikipedia article on A P Pedrick at present wrongly states that he “filed for 162 United Kingdom patents between 1962 and his death in 1976″. Through lots and lots of searching on Espacenet and looking up his self references I found 163 of his UK patents. I don’t know for sure that’s all of them but I will still list them here for the benefit of anyone else out there who is looking for a list of Pedrick Patents. They are a real range of serious to silly and show an incredible appetite for invention and imagination that I am massively jealous of. Some of the patent titles alone I love, particularly #73, #121 and of course #153 the legendary GB1426698A.
GB918327A Inflatable air cushioned transporting sledge
GB1022374A Marine cargo trains with hydrodynamic drag reduction by air separation layer and propulsion by nuclear powered towing craft in relation to the international transport of Food and other Supplies in Bulk
GB1031309A Apparatus for growing crops on sea areas
GB1032689A Improvements in radio controlled nuclear energy propelled marine towing craft
GB1038320A Apparatus for growing and watering crops on sea areas
GB1042541A Distillation of sea water employing nuclear energy
GB1047735A Arrangements For The Transfer of Fresh Water from One Location on the Earth’s Surface to Another at a Different Latitude, for the Purpose of Irrigation, with Pumping Energy Derived from the Effect of the Earth’s Rotation about the Polar Axis
GB1047736A Improvements in the irrigation of large tracts of land
GB1053508A Improvements in “Floating Fields” and “Farms” with Desalination of Sea Water by Energy from Fluid Fuels
GB1066049A Improvements in the propulsion of marine and supra marine vessels or craft
GB1066050A Improvements in means of propulsion for marine and supra marine vessels or craft
GB1067703A Submarine cargo trains, with arrangements for the use of obsolete or surplus nuclear submarines
GB1080189A Sea bed anchorage device
GB1085459A Improvements in gas turbine jet engines particularly for vertical take off and landing delta wing sub and supersonic aircraft
GB1086697A Emergency descent arrangements in rear jet mounted subsonic and supersonic aircraft
GB1096897A Machine for producing spheres of compacted material, particularly snow, for transfer by pipe line to a desert area, for the irrigation thereof
GB1098212A Air cargo trains, for use in an integrated world transport system using standard freight containers
GB1111845A Improvements in hypersonic VTOL aircraft
GB1117054A Gas turbine heated hot air buoyant airships
GB1119948A Laser ray beam gun, or concentrator, for use in polar regions, accelerating crop growth, and promoting nuclear fusion reactions
GB1121630A Improvements in the Flight Direction and Location of Golf Balls
GB1130107A Desalination of sea water by reverse osmosis using tidal energy
GB1132199A Floating cities for relieving population pressures on the land masses
GB1134312A Improvements in sailing ships
GB1141138A Desalination of sea water, using reverse osmosis, in vessels submerged at depths for sufficient hydrostatic pressure
GB1153249A Tower With Revolving Restaurants and Other Amenities
GB1155660A Survival Capsules for marine use
GB1174717A Coupling for Lengths of Pipe Line
GB1175916A Hot Air Bomb, or Internal Combustion Boiler, particularly for Producing Underwater Bubbles, for use, especially, in Polar Regions
GB1192139A Improvements in the Design of Golf Clubs
GB1195946A Fan or Multi-Swing Wings, to Reduce Wing Loading in large Multi-Seat Passenger Aircraft to Make Possible “Pancake” Emergency Landings, Using a Stabilising Parachute, and to enable an Aircraft, Convertible to an Automobile to be Stored in an Automobile Garage
GB1203136A Improvements In The Irrigation Of Deserts By Snow Piped From Polar Regions For The Purpose Of Minimising The Impending World Famine
GB1203166A Swinging, or Suspended, Multi-Deck Cities
GB1204639A Internal Combustion Capsules
GB1204648A Improvements in Semi-Buoyant Tubes
GB1204649A Cruciform, Kite and Parachute Aircraft
GB1205200A Improvements in Artificial Respiratory Devices for Purposes Similar to those Fulfilled by Devices of the Type Known as “Iron Lungs”
GB1206260A Wave Length Selective Light Screens
GB1206580A Sonar Pulse Emitting Submarine Cable For Guidance of Surface and Submarine Vessels, and their Detection with Special Reference to an Investigation of the Loch Ness Monster
GB1207698A Generator of Electricity from Waves of Gaseous Plasma, Preferably Produced by Lazer Beam Initiated Nuclear Fusion Reactions
GB1209290A Improvements in the Design, Structure, and Safety of Large Aircraft
GB1211937A Airscrew Sailing Ships
GB1215611A Prime Mover or Motor, Operable by any Pressurised Fluid, Particularly for Incorporation in the Wheel Structures of Automotive Vehicles
GB1237189A Emergency Landing System, Particularly for Aircraft with High Aspect Ratio Wings
GB1237190A Apparatus for Towing by Ships for Removal of Oil Slicks and Other Forms of Buoyant Pollutants from a Water Surface
GB1246069A Improvements in Polarising Spectacles based on a Double Helix Structure of Light and other Electromagnetic Waves
GB1251780A Improvements in Tees, or Devices for Supporting Golf Balls prior to a Driving Stroke Particularly for Practicing a Golf Swing
GB1254810A Improvements in Bumper Bars or End Guard Members to Destroy the Rectangularity of Planform of an Automobile, to Reduce the Injurious Effects of Impacts with other Automobiles, or Objects
GB1255915A Fluid Pressure Motor, Particularly for Automobile Propulsion
GB1256350A Television using Colours Produced by Light Ray Scan of Prismatic Surfaces on Screens of Glass or other Suitable Materials
GB1280928A Apparatus for the Comparison of Coded Pressure Pulse Registrations for Use in Filing Systems in Space to Improve the efficiency of the International Patent System and Application to the Recognition of “Voice Prints” to operate Devices by Words of Command
GB1282391A Improvements in Laser Beam Compression Guns
GB1287207A Improvements in Semi-Buoyant Tubes
GB1299270A Apparatus for Perforating Material with Very Small Holes Using Electrode Spark Discharge in an Evacuated Space in Magnetic Fields Between Like Magnetic Poles
GB1311140A Minute Particle, or “True Atom”, Beam Microscope Intended Primarily for High Magnification of Living Cells, or Biological Structures, Particularly for Cancer Research
GB1317330A Converting Electrical Energy to Kinetic Energy in Massive Fly Wheels for Reconversion to Electrical Energy to Meet Peak Demands in National Electricity Supply Systems
GB1319510A Improvements in Steam Jet Reactive Marine Propulsion Units
GB1325996A Massive Steam Driven Flywheels for Combined Electricity Generation and Desalination Plant, Particularly for the Irrigation of Littoral Areas of Deserts
GB1331655A Improvements in the Design of Saucer Shaped Flying Machines
GB1331862A Arrangements for Establishing a Pipe Line Across Deep Snow, Subject to Frequent Fresh Snow Falls, in a Manner Such that the Pipe Line will be Retained on the Surface of the Snow Layer
GB1332025A Improvements in the Construction of Automobiles
GB1340664A Variable Speed Magnetic Motor with Minimal Servicing or Maintenance Requirements
GB1345288A Improvements in Aerial Ships Supported by Vacuum Balls or Other Forms of Evacuated Vessels
GB1346165A Generating Electricity by Burning Oil or Gas on the Seabed
GB1348477A Colour Television Using Light Ray Created Images
GB1350746A Using Warning Lights to Prevent Motorists Bashing into, and Killing Each Other, Particularly on High Speed Motorways in Fog
GB1350885A Arrangements for Using Wasted Energy
GB1351926A Improvements in Tea Strainers
GB1353727A Apparatus for Producing Electricity from Thermonuclear Reactions
GB1357769A Reactor for Release of Energy from Nuclei of Atoms by Centrifugal Disintegration without a Chain Reaction
GB1361962A Earth Orbital Bombs as Nuclear Deterrents
GB1366285A A Control System for Regulating the Speed of Deuterium-Tritium Tip Bullets Required to Implode upon One Another to Produce A Controlled Nuclear Fusion Reaction
GB1374399A An Electron-microscope for Use on Living Cells
GB1388367A A Process for Producing Hydrogen and Electricity from Sea, River or Lake Water
GB1388517A Electrically Operated Index and Comparison System
GB1391569A Miniature-Image Producing Spectacles And Binoculars
GB1394639A Improvements in Automobiles Driven from the Back Seat
GB1395137A Photo-Electric Generator, Particularly for Recharging the Batteries of Earth Orbital Space Satellites by Laser Beams, with a Possible Explanation of Colour Sight
GB1405575A Propelling Automobiles without using Petrol, or Gasolene
GB1405737A Large Flat Based Aircraft, Capable of Hovering Flight, Particularly for the Transport of Lengths of Pipe Line
GB1405739A Vtol Aircraft of Cruciform Shape with Parachute Landing Capability in an Emergency
GB1408689A Improvements in Arrangements for Examining or Drilling the Seabed
GB1409210A A Plant for the Thermonuclear Fusion of Deuterium Obtained from Sea Water
GB1411203A Using Gas Turbines to Generate Electricity from any Waste Combustible Materials to Overcome the ‘Energy Crisis’
GB1411354A Using Electrostatic Levitation to Reduce the Resistance to the High Speed Movement of Ice or Oil Filled Balls in Tubes, with an Explanation of the Enigma of the Nucleus of the ‘Splittable Atom’
GB1414286A Nuclear Power Plant with Emergency Ejection of Reactor Core
GB1414601A Using the Pull of a Beam of Light on a Liquid Surface to Explain Colour Sight, with the Provision of a Chromatic Selection Device
GB1415487A Reducing the Tendency of a Golf Ball to Slice or Hook, by Electrostatic Forces
GB1415629A Improvements in ‘True Atom’ or Graviton Beam Microscopes, Particularly for Cancer Research
GB1416666A Sea Bed Crawling Submarine Craft
GB1420426A Electricity Generation by Nuclear Fission Reactor and Closed Cycle Gas Turbines, with Core Automatically Shut Down by Coolant Flow Failure and Dropped out of Plant for Sealing if Temperature is Excessive
GB1420589A Improvements in Nuclear Fission Reactors with Arrangements for Ejecting the Core in an Emergency
GB1421240A Improvements in Mortarless Brick Work to Reduce House Building Costs
GB1421521A Improvements in Centrifugal Nucleon Disintergration or CND Reactors
GB1421712A Improvements in Centrifugal Nucleon Disintergration or ‘Streaked Nuclei’ Reactors
GB1424509A Improvements in Streaking Nuclear Reactors
GB1426580A Using Magnetic Coils to Produce Periodically Applied Forces to Maintain the High Speed Movement of Bodies and Vehicles, Particularly in Tubes Evacuated of Air
GB1426698A Photon Push-Pull Radiation Detector for use in Chromatically Selective Cat Flap Control and 1,000 Megaton, Earth-Orbital, Peace-Keeping Bomb
GB1426983A Nuclear Reactor for Release of Nuclear Energy, without a Chain Reaction using the Simultaneous Implosion of Three, or more, Atomic Nuclei
GB1428297A Apparatus for Maintaining the High Speed Movement of Bodies in a Tube
GB1438618A Improvements in ‘True Atom’ or Graviton Particle Beam Microscopes, Particularly for Cancer Research
GB1439086A Large Flat Based Low Flying Aircraft Using Fasces, or Bundles of Bodies of Existing Large Aircraft, such as the Boeing 747
GB1439297A Improvements in Arrangements for Initiating A Controlled Fusion Reaction Using Deuterium And Tritium Pellets In Imploding Bullets Fed With Powerful Laser Beam Pulses
GB1439440A Internal Combustion Engine Operative on Encapsulated Fuels
GB1442869A Apparatus for Inflation in an Emergency to Provide Additional Buoyancy for Boats, Yachts or Ships in Danger of Sinking or Capsizing
GB1447848A Using Neutron Beams for a Microscope for Cancer Research or for Cancer Surgery
GB1447940A Improvements in Construction and Propulsion of Ships, Carrying Oil, or Bulk Cargoes
GB1453920A Apparatus for Extinguishing Fires in High Rise Block Buildings of Uniform Transverse Cross-Section, or Plan
In 2010 I had the idea for a new theatre show that would be based around the 1997 Man vs Machine chess match between Garry Kasparov and the IBM supercomputer Deep Blue. We had been successful that Autumn in Arts Council GFtA funding for a 2 week research and development of our first show Paper Tom and I was optimistic of following up that period of development with the start of development on a new show. At that point it had taken a year to get our first show mostly made and I thought it was important and the right move to get the ball rolling on the next show to follow that up. The aim of this parallel development was to be able to capitalise on any impetus and opportunity that might be enabled or unlocked by our first production Paper Tom.
So in Jan 10th 2011 I submitted another GftA application to research and develop Deep Blue (£6,732). I also applied for the company to return to the Pulse festival and show Deep Blue as a work-in-development.
I was really positive about the potential of this work and felt that the timing was right. Things were falling into place content wise as the story I wanted to explore in 1997 was still developing in the present. While these applications were in decision limbo IBM unveiled their latest Man vs Machine contest on an American gameshow “Jeopardy” and broadcast the shows in the USA over three nights in February (14th, 15th &16th)
So our development window closed and we worked on presenting Paper Tom at the Buxton and Edinburgh Fringe.
Following a horrendous time at Edinburgh (that’s another story) we were all seriously broken and broke. A call out for scratch work for the BAC on the theme of Machines was put out. Deep Blue I thought was ideal so I dusted myself down and wrote a proposal and it was successful.
The 10 minute scratch performance wasn’t so good and the minimal support and resources really restricted our ambition in that scratch environment. We went into it knowing that the minimum we would get from it was a credit that could hopefully be used as a stepping stone to take the work forward to a proper period of development. That was pretty much all we got from it.
Due to the short application to performance turnaround we had no time to privately fundraise or get funding in place for this work. We were completely skint from Edinburgh. I didn’t want to get external performers in for the scratch as there was no money to pay them so I ended up performing the work myself. (my first performance since I was the Artful Dodger in Oliver at primary school.) I’m still sore about my carefully constructed split channel sound design being half muted for most of the performance but these things unfortunately happen in rough and immediate environments.
Despite this bad experience Deep Blue had to start somewhere and at least the ball was now rolling. I applied to present the next stage of development of this new work at CPT Sprint Festival 2012. This application was successful but again we were informed of this success with not enough time to get any funding in place. Faced with making the work on buttons and in a short timeframe I decided it was best not to present something under these conditions again and decided not to take part in Sprint. At the time I was also tour booking Paper Tom and committing to presenting these performances during 2012. I knew I needed what little money I had to make the Paper Tom tour happen if I was unsuccessful with ACE tour funding as I was already having to sign off on performances. There is a limit to how far a company making and producing new work without core funding can stretch. With the tour being booked in and approaching we were at our limit. All future work was now shelved until after our Paper Tom tour.
So with the tour completed I looked to start again on the next show. I thought it would work well to return to this years Pulse Festival and present an advanced work-in-development of Deep Blue. In 2010 we successfully performed our first development of Paper Tom at Pulse and I have been keen to return to this festival as it offers a high amount of in-kind support that makes things a lot easier for companies like us who operate purely on a project by project basis.
Again due to deadlines put in place by the organisers of Pulse I needed to get funding in place before I would get a decision. So I followed this up with a funding application to the Arts Council to research and develop Deep Blue (£7,332). This application was made with participation in Pulse as a question mark and with viable alternatives presented. I had made the application not dependent on Pulse, which was a good thing as 2 weeks ago I was informed that my application to perform at Pulse was unsuccessful.
The last two weeks in funding limbo have felt really odd as I’ve awaited the impending decision to make our next show.
I’ve seen some really good new shows this month play to too small audiences. We ourselves have struggled with low audiences but that is how it is at the moment. New work needs an even greater level of subsidy to the artists making it as the performance fees or box office splits don’t stretch enough to support the development of new work.
Today I got the funding decision from the Arts Council.
It’s a real mixture of emotions. It has been a show I have really wanted to make and I put everything I had into that last Arts Council application but I will now have to move on. Two productions by other companies about Kasparaov and Deep Blue are now happening or on the way. The Machine will have a 10 week run at the Donmar Warehouse this summer followed up by a run in New York. This show has a near identical premise to my planned production and kills off the last prospects of this idea being viable for us to develop further. I can’t compete with this production but I can take some comfort that the story of Deep Blue is being told by others. I think my ideas and efforts over the last two years are now justified in the proposals that I have submitted to try and make this show happen for us but it is also a big frustration at being unable to secure money or significant resources to do the show I wanted to do.
A lot has been written in recent weeks about the current state of new writing in theatre. The in battalions report was a long, depressing but interesting read. I wonder how much more compelling the report would’ve been had it extended its scope and included all new theatre / performance work. What I’m seeing and experiencing is that new collaborative and devised work is in a worse situation than new writing.
So today after 2 ½ years of trying to make Deep Blue happen I will stop trying and I will draw a line through it. Our next show is not happening.
On the tour along with a show programme we enclosed a feedback form for our audiences to fill in. We did this at everywhere we went to apart from the Broadway Barking. At the Broadway we instead spent 3 hours informally evaluating in the bar after the show talking to everyone we could. It was also the first tour date and a preview of sorts and for those reasons we didn’t provide feedback forms. This performance actually turned out to be our largest audience and I now regret not providing forms for it. Going into that performance we thought the audience would be entirely made up of friends and family or friends of friends and family but there were actually some *real* people there.
*real* people = people with no personal connection to the production.
Now of course this info I’m about to present isn’t fully representative of our tour audiences as the sample is only made up of people who filled out the form and returned it. So that filter is already in place before any analysis is made on the collected data. However, I am keen to share this info and my conclusions – or you can make you own from what is presented – on our experience of small scale touring.
The form of the form
Construction of these forms is important and you have to be realistic in how much time people are prepared to spend filling out an evaluation form after the show.
I mean, after a show who really wants to fill one of these out? But these forms play a critical role in us understanding our audience and the impact of our work better. When the show is finished and the tour is over this is one of the few tangible things we have left and arguably our strongest asset in justifying this work and any future work.
We printed the form onto A5 paper to make it less intimidating and look simple to complete but hopefully not too small to cause readability issues. There is a mixture of quantitative and qualitative data but the bias is definitely on tick box answers as we have found audiences are more likely to answer those questions. It’s a delicate balance between form simplicity and detailed content to get quality information back. We would like to ask more questions on the form but to get something useful back is better than nothing.
Our main aim with this feedback was to understand and prove who our audience is, what made them come to see our show and what they thought about it.
Do not underestimate the challenge of getting feedback forms filled in and returned. Time spent liaising with front of house is crucial as they play the most important part in collecting and asking people to complete the forms. Their persistence and persuasion really pays off in forms returned. Also provide pens.
These numbers should really be looked at in relation to the audience size but I still don’t have the official numbers for every performance yet. I think a good guide from our experience is if you get 50% forms back from the audience then you have done well.
We looked at age, perhaps a sensitive area for some but it actually turned out to be the only question that everyone answered! (People often leave bits blank on forms) So the age group I would rightly or wrongly assume is the least interested in new work (60+) was the biggest group to attend the show. I do think this age group is more inclined to fill in a form but I also think this age group is more resilient in the current challenging climate of theatre attendance (or lack of).
Now if I take out the two venues we visited that had a strong focus in attracting younger audiences (The Gulbenkian and Garage) our demographics shift up even further with 76% of the audience aged 47 and over.
Ipsos Mori figures produced for the Society of London Theatre in 2010 showed that women make up 68% of the theatregoing audience. Our gender attendance results were fairly close to that split at 63%.
In isolation I don’t think the question of “How much live theatre do you see a year?” provides a great deal of insight but it is useful when cross referenced with other demographic data and/or satisfaction scoring. Further insight would’ve been good on how much theatre people see is new work/writing but we were unable to go to this depth within our constraints of the form. It does show that we managed to reach some people with our new work who don’t see much theatre. We also talked with some people who saw the show in Barking who had never seen any theatre shows before.
We decided to have a score out of 7 because we thought it offered more flexibility of answer and a greater insight than a traditional rating out of 5 would. Taking into account all ratings over the whole tour the average audience rating score is 6.18 out of 7. I interpret this as a high level of satisfaction and to mean that we sold the show appropriately and delivered or exceeded upon audience expectations. This audience satisfaction is the strongest evidence we have to prove the quality of our work. It was consistent throughout the tour with maybe a slight increase in audience response as the tour went on. I’m proud that over a 1/3 of responses gave the show a maximum 7 out of 7 and that every tour performance collected 7 ratings.
It was just unfortunate for us that one of the few who didn’t like the show was a reviewer. He wrote that the performance “feels too stylised to draw the audience in” but I have 26 forms (plus twittercomments) from the audience that night that all say otherwise…? This review is also one of the few tangible assets left to represent the tour.
We have limited marketing resources and we want to see what works best and where we should concentrate our efforts. It very much looks like the venue brochure listing is super important to get right and I think if our production was featured more prominently in some brochures then perhaps we would’ve had an increase in audience size. That would probably be the case for every show though…
Personal recommendation was the other large influence on our audience attendance. We put the tour schedule on the programme with a hope that people would recommend the show to others for later dates. We did see an increase in personal recommendations as the tour went on and again that is a testament to the positive audience response to the production.
I’m not surprised that flyers and posters don’t seem to do much because at some venues we couldn’t easily spot them ourselves (and we were actively looking for them!). Reviews don’t seem to do much and I have long suspected that to be the case for small scale theatre but I can’t write them off entirely because I think they play a key part in programmers booking the show in the first place.
We went live on BBC London and talked about the show for close to 20 mins before our first show of the tour at Barking and we were also name checked in Lyn Gardners theatre picks for the last week of the tour. Now this activity gives confidence and ammunition to the venues and to us in promoting the show but in reality neither of these seemed to translate into ticket sales. I suspect this activity only preaches to the converted and firms up audience who already have the intention of attending.
Favourite bit of the show?
The aim of this was to see what aspects people liked and recognise about our work to possibly inform our future practice. Secondary to this was to see the weaknesses in our work by what was least mentioned. I have roughly grouped common aspects from comments into categories (although this probably wont mean much to you unless you’ve seen the show). The waltz / battle dance and the projection ‘transformation’ sequence were the most popular bits of the show and have always been so with audiences. It was good to see the acting also recognised as we did concentrate on improving this aspect the most during our rehearsal period.
We asked ‘Would you see a new theatre show by Handheld Arts?’. This question was to bluntly gauge the audience appetite for more of our work. We only provided a binary option (Yes or No) for this. This hypothetical question depends on so many variables and that is why I didn’t think having ‘maybe’ option was useful to us. However some people made their own box on the form to fit their answer – so 3x ‘maybes’ and 1x ‘I bloody hope so!’ are included. It’s very positive that we didn’t get any ‘no’ responses.
Additional follow up questions I think are needed to understand this in sufficient depth such as ‘Come on now, would you really see a new show by us?’ and ‘What do you want to see – new work or an adaptation?’. But first it is up to us to decide on if we do another show and what it is…
Right. I’ve missed out quite a bit of stuff since I’ve last posted & hopefully I will be able to add some insight to what we have done the past few weeks but the bigger the backlog the harder it feels to write about it all now so here are some current thoughts.
There are now only two more performances left of the tour: Washington tomorrow and then Buxton on Saturday. I like the symmetry of the final performance being in Buxton as that is where we previewed the show in 2011 as part of the Buxton Fringe prior to going to Edinburgh. We really struggled for audience at the fringe so it will be interesting to see if we are able to attract a larger audience at the same space outside of the fringe festival environment. This is perhaps our first glimpse at building an audience although from a half empty perspective I think our initial audience was so meagre that an impact may not be possible. We shall soon see.
Building audiences for new work takes commitment and I think returning to venues is important in achieving this but to do this I think we need to have relationships with programmers. This has been a massive challenge for us and is seemingly out of our control. Out of the 8 venues we have toured to so far this year only at 3 of them has the person who booked our show actually watched our performance in their space. I also invited 25 programmers and producers to performances on the tour to see the work of the company. Most didn’t respond and only 1 said they would come and see a show (and they didn’t turn up in the end). If programmers won’t book your work unless they’ve seen it but also won’t see it when you invite them to it then how do you actually get your work put on at theatres and arts centres? It seems that emerging theatre makers of new work are currently trapped into throwing money at fringe festivals and then only able to make compromised work built under limited technical time and resources.
I can’t help but question that if the people who book shows don’t even watch shows then how do they expect audiences to turn up and see stuff. How can they then understand from just raw attendance data alone an audience reaction to work?
I really want to understand what has worked and what hasn’t and that is why we have provided feedback forms with our programmes and tried as much as we can to get audience members to fill them in. It does take persistence to collect this information but I think it is an essential tool in understanding further the impact of our new work. So far only 1 venue we have been to have had their own audience feedback forms in place so venues don’t seem so keen to do this themselves. We usually have a chat with the the front of house staff as well and maybe venues collect the overall feedback informally from them but even if that is the case then I think that is not enough if the problem of selling new work is to be solved.
I am more than willing to share our audience information with the marketing people of each venue (where they exist). But the thing with feedback is that you can only give it to people who want it. So far from the tour we have 120 forms and I will collate and share that data in a future blog. I feel transparency is important and I would like to share our data with anyone who wants it and can use it. I am keen to put real figures into the public domain as they may restore some sanity and guidance to others.
On this Autumn tour our lowest audience so far has been 20 (at Harpenden) but that was apparently still 20 more than Frank Bruno got who we found out only had 1 ticket on reserve earlier in the year at the venue. Who would’ve thought that Frank Bruno is an even tougher sell than new work?
There is the feeling that low ticket sales and audience attendance reflect badly on the company and their work. It feels like this failure of sales rests on the presenting company and the venue seems to escape from the stigma. Maybe I would feel less likely to share our data if our audience response was shit and was full of people saying how shit the show was but thankfully that has not been the case. So far we have had three forms rating the performance 4 out of 7 (our lowest scores so far). Every other rating has been 5, 6 or 7. The average looks like it is probably going to be around 6 which I think can be judged as an extremely positive response.
At a D&D we attended a session about the difficultly of presenting challenging work we talked to an experienced ex programmer of a venue who said to us that marketing is not our problem but it doesn’t feel that way. We are the ones who have to face an 3/4 empty auditorium and the dread of low sales as we approach the show as well as the stress of managing reduced income from box office splits.
Final two site visits this week. On Tuesday we headed off to Norwich for a look around The Garage. We didn’t make the Dartford toll this time and so ended up paying a whacking £2.00 to head East for the day – but it was completely worth it! the sun was shining, The Venue is ace and the on site coffee was very nice (I even got to hug the poorly sick “Scooby” who gave us a tour of the space and the rest of the venue!). Another huge plus point to this venue is that we have SOLD OUT!!!! That’s right people – Handheld Arts, a new(ish) company on their first tour have a sold out show – and whats more, Scooby informed us that the show had actually sold out even before the posters went up! He actually apologised for there only being a few posters up saying that as we had sold out they needed to highlight other shows more. I am more than happy about this situation – particularly as the two Paper Tom posters that I spotted at The Garage were two more than I spotted at some of the other venues that we have visited and where we are far from sold out!
The following day we paid a visit to The Gulbenkian Theatre, which is part of the University of Kent in Canterbury. This is one of the larger venues that we are performing in. We were shown around the space by Jake (the most dapper technical manager I have ever encountered!) before snatching a bit of time with Jess from the marketing department to see what we can do to get a few more bums on seats.
This week Sarah-Jane and I headed up North to visit three more of our Paper Tom tour venues. The 900 mile round trip started early as we left Croydon at 5:30am and just made it through the Dartford Toll with only 8 seconds to go before it started charging at 6am. We made it to the venue in Halifax bang on schedule for 10:30 and had a good look around. First impressions: It’s a very very wide space.
Next up to visit was Arts Centre Washington. No wing space here but good backstage crossover space. More importantly it has a real cosy vibe that as soon as we walked into it we looked at each other and smiled as it just felt right. Why do some spaces just make you instantly feel that way?
Final stop on the road trip up North was Salford to visit the Lowry studio. I have been here before for a couple of nights with a show in 2008 but I definitely needed to see the space again to refresh my memory. I don’t think it has changed much and is kind of how I half remembered it. After looking at the space in the morning we stayed on to see the studio show that night which was The Alchemystorium by Gomito Productions. It was on in Edinburgh the same year as our show but we didn’t manage to catch it then so it was good to take this opportunity to see it out on tour. It is really useful to check out the spaces but it is even better seeing them in action and in show conditions (and even more so when you get to see a good show too!). After watching the show we headed back to London and despite diversions, the rain, and the massive to-do list we made during dinner we really enjoyed our road trip up North.
Yesterday Sarah-Jane and I combined the delivery of the last bits of print with a couple of site visits to venues. First up as we traveled through torrential rain Eastbound on the M25 was Harpenden Public Halls. This is one of the bigger sized venues we are taking the show to. They were setting up for an antiques auction when we arrived but we got to have a good look around on stage and back stage. Opened in the 1938 there are some nice echoes and a warm feeling of history to the Eric Morecambe Hall. (This feeling of history was maybe perhaps accentuated by the various antiques being laid out in the auditorium). We’ve never had a stage curtain situation before and I’m not quite sure yet how we will technically do the bits of projection for the show so I will need to have a little think about that over the next weeks.
We then went on to the Riverhouse Arts Centre in Walton-on-Thames. It’s a really lovely place with a great programme of events and activities.
It was lovely to get out to have a look around these venues prior to our performances and lovely to meet the people behind the scenes and the emails. Hopefully we can visit some more over the next few weeks before rehearsals start.