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.