On Tour Thoughts: Sales, Stigma and Frank Bruno

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.

Watford Gap Services: Coffee o’clock

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?

Sting (popularity in Harpenden unknown) and Frank Bruno (not very popular in Harpenden)

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.

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