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)
All applications were unsuccessful.
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.
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 twitter comments) 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.
In summary: Loads done, loads to do.
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.
Time for me to make a contribution to the blog. I’ve decided to come out to the National Theatre café to write this entry and I shall explain why…
As I mentioned before, I’m not a natural writer – so I’ve decided to put myself ‘in role’ to try and get this bad boy written. I’ve come to the National Theatre café with the idea of assuming the identity of one of those arty/theatre-ry people that can often be seen here who, without hesitation/procrastination, sit tip-tapping away on their MacBooks with only a latte for company looking all intellectual, creative, and cool. I’ve got to be honest, I’m not really carrying it off not least because… 1) I don’t have a Mac (don’t like them and can’t use them) 2) I’m all squinty as my glasses broke the other day and I don’t have the money and/or time to get new ones sorted out just yet – so It’s squint or wear my prescription sunglasses inside the NT café… BUT… I’m about 180 words further along in writing this blog entry than I have been for the last eight weeks so I think it’s had the desired effect – although the fear of coming out with the one remaining working computer is also a driving factor of coming home with this blog ready to upload.
We’ve suffered a few challenges over at Handheld Arts recently – technical and otherwise. Alex managed to bring this netbook back from the dead after it threw a wobbler but the other 3 laptops and one PC that we have in the house are all in various states of decay which is not ideal when we are swamped by lots of admin based tasks at present and will shortly need to update the visual media for the show.
We also had the news that Ilana has decided not to join us for the Autumn tour, which comes as part of her wider decision to give up the whole theatre thing as, with turning 30, her imminent nuptials and the mooring to be paid on the boat that she owns – theatre just hasn’t provided her with the right ratio of effort to financial reward. Maybe in another company this declaration would have caused what I think is called a ‘shit-storm’, but the fact is I think we completely understood where she was coming from. I often used to think about how great it would be to finally be at the stage as a company/theatre maker where I would be off rehearsing and then touring our work – and part of those thoughts about touring included the idea that if I was touring our work then it would mean I was making my living out of doing Handheld Arts – ‘living the dream’ – if you like. Well, touring the show and receiving funding from the Arts Council England to do the show this year is a dream come true – the reality is that the wages I receive from this tour won’t reflect the hours and money that have gone into getting Paper Tom to this point. Sometimes, having to choose between having the central heating fixed and sorting out the plumbing for the sink so that I’m no longer in a position where I’m cleaning my teeth via the bath tap this December whilst wearing a minimum of three layers, and paying for your accommodation in Edinburgh (and needing to choose the later because you’ve already paid the venue and the fringe registration fee) takes it’s psychological toll on you and how you feel about wanting to make theatre as a career.
I was originally going to do a blog about the five and a half hour long chat Alex and I had with Ilana after hearing about her decision to not do the show. I’d thoughts of calling it “Breaking up is hard to do” and talk about the totally clichéd break-up moment that came at the end of that long chat where we all laughed together, got frustrated about the challenge of it all together, got depressed together and then just generally felt a little bit lost about all this theatre/life lark before we concluded with Ilana giving Alex and I an invitation to her wedding and me a box of chocolates (for my birthday) before I handed over a bag of her things that I had found at my house. It contained items from various visits and shows that she’d come over to make – a tupperware box, a tea cup and saucer, a pair of jeans, a top, some tracksuit bottoms, a pair of pyjamas – a toothbrush and some CDs and the cliché would have been complete. Having had a bit more time to think about it all though (and procrastinate – it is writing after all!), it seems that whilst breaking up is hard to do, it can prove even harder to stay together and keep going.
With this in mind I’m wondering how Alex and I will be feeling at the end of this process. We’re already beginning to feel quite overwhelmed at the moment and often find ourselves wondering whether Handheld Arts are at the beginning of something great or the end of it – I imagine only time and tour will tell us that. I think I’m managing to stay positive about it all though (it might not look that way from the face I’m pulling at the moment – it’s getting dark outside now which has intensified my squinting and left no room for the sunglasses option to see to get this finished) as I know what an achievement it is and how pleased we are to have made it this far with the labour of love show that is Paper Tom. To be taking it to the venues that we are, is something I was only able to imagine a year ago.
There is certainly an opportunity to feel positive about the challenge of taking on a bigger role in the performance by doubling up my part of Lucy with the character of Rachel (formerly played by Ilana). I’m usually very much an ‘ensemble’ style performer within shows – and I’m really happy with that. I l like to be a part of shows in performance but for me the real challenge, thrill and joy of performance is in its creation. I’ve always felt fortunate to be involved as a performer (and often musician) in shows that I was in – but not so in it that I wasn’t able sample a little of what the audience were getting from watching it (or maybe I’m just greedy and want to have my cake and eat it).
We met with our actors the other day to measure for costumes and to have a read through of the script to see how it worked with me playing both female characters, and it was fine. I didn’t really feel too weird if I’m honest – but I think that’s because it hasn’t really sunk in that I’ll be doing all female ‘acting’ bits now. It just felt like I was reading in, keeping Ilana’s seat warm. I imagine at the moment that it will only sink in at the start of the first show when I turn to do the special warm up ritual that Ilana and I had developed between ourselves for just us girls (it consisted of a rhythmic slapping/clapping rhyme, a chest bump and then a quick sniff of a vicks inhaler) and she won’t be there.
Part of this blog is to show that making a show is not just rehearsals & performances – there’s loads of different tasks that need doing to support the production. Boxing up publicity to send to venues is one of those things.
There’s an art to packing up all the different quantities of print. I think we might be closest to Mondrian in our approach.
It’s also time to start sourcing, collecting and replenishing props for the upcoming performances. Anyone who knows the show will understand why the offer below caught my eye. (If you happen to be reading this and haven’t seen the show it’s still a Eccellente deal you might want to take advantage of…)
Since I started working in small scale theatre in 2007 this seems like the toughest time for new work with the primary problem being getting audience in to see the work. Combining the presentation of new work with us being a new company and the challenges are even greater for us. We don’t have anyone famous off the telly performing in the show and Paper Tom isn’t adapted from an existing film or book. What we do have though is a great show that I am really excited and proud to be touring around England this November.
So with the Autumn tour now pretty much finalised, I’ve been sorting out the publicity print material (flyers & posters) for our venues. Throughout the lifespan of the show we have been searching for the magic words that translate into people booking tickets. There have been so many versions of the show blurb and at every point prior to performances it has been revised. I feel pressure to get these words right and always to make the most out of any given word limit as it potentially has a direct consequence on ticket sales.
Following our experience of performing Paper Tom at fringe festivals I have major doubts over how effective flyers and posters are in the fringe environment. For us they don’t seem to have done much to the overall marketing. Their cost hasn’t translated into an improved return in audience numbers. It just seems like they’re done to make everyone feel better, like you have a presence and exist and to also add colour to the insulated fringe environment. Our handmade customised ‘homing pigeons’ have proven more effective in getting attention for the show. Sarah-Jane gets more use out of the leftover flyers as business cards in the months following the performances.
As the tour is all made up of one off performances this adds to the pressure of getting things right first time. Programme and website blurb for each venue has all gone off and is now out there but with our tour flyers and posters it feels like another opportunity to reach our new potential audience.
The first version of our Paper Tom blurb was done to describe our work in development performance for Pulse Fringe in 2010. We had a storyboard and a rough idea of what the show was going to be about but we hadn’t even been in a rehearsal room when we had to submit our blurb for printing. Near the end of the initial devising process I remember us all looking at what was written and feeling a responsibility to make sure that what we were performing covered the key points in the blurb we submitted. Looking back this seems a bit silly now especially when it was a work in development but maybe doing this kept our focus on the original impetus that inspired us to make the piece in the first place.
Following our feedback from Pulse and the changes we made to the show we then went a bit Ronseal with the blurb (ie matter of fact – does exactly what it says on the tin). In retrospect this unfortunately presented the show as quite dark and perhaps off-putting to a casual fringe theatre audience. A review of the show from the Buxton Fringe even went as far as to say that the show “sounded at best depressing, at worst harrowing” and stated the show had “a much wider appeal than their publicity blurb suggests”. So following this we decided to soften the language a little even though I don’t think this would’ve made much a difference in getting more audience in. Theatre shows with a serious subject matter seem to have it tougher in a fringe festival environment.
Following our Buxton and Edinburgh Fringe performances we got some good review quotes we could start using. The benefit of having some good review quotes is that we can use those to say the things that I find awkward to put into the blurb – like how the production is presented and how it emotionally engages with the audience.
The focus of the blurb has always been to try to sell the show truthfully as best as possible but now I’m of a mindset of perhaps less is more. Instead of trying to encourage people to come the aim of the blurb is to also not put people off with what can seem like a heavy subject matter and show. It almost feels a bit like damage limitation. I think we’ve got it right this time but I also hope the environment outside of the fringe is more considered. I am cautiously optimistic that flyers and posters at the small to mid scale play a significant role and positive impact on sales unlike the fringe environments we have previously faced.