Category Archives: Touring

fibs, damned fibs and statistics

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.

Paper Tom Autumn 2012 Tour feedback form
Paper Tom Autumn 2012 Tour feedback form

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.

Forms returned

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.

Collected feedback forms (154 in total)
Collected feedback forms (154 in total)

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).

Breakdown of our audience age groups

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.

Audience Age breakdown with Gulbenkian and Garage data excluded

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%.

Audience: Male or Female?

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.

How much live theatre do you see a year?
How much live theatre do you see a year?


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.

Q: Please rate the production of ‘Paper Tom’ (1 = Very Poor) (7 = Exceptional)

Average audience performance rating by venueIt 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.

What made you come to see Paper Tom?

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.

Favourite bit or aspect of the show?
Favourite bit or aspect of the show?

Future work?

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.

Would you see a new theatre show by Handheld Arts?

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…

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.

Site Visits: East/South East

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!

Going in for a hug with Scooby

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.

Site Visits: The North

Square Chapel: You could probably fit 3 double decker buses in here. You wouldn’t however be able to squeeze them up through the stairs.

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.

Arts Centre Washington: Sarah-Jane is upstaged by a chair

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?

The Lowry Studio: A rare studio space where you can actually see the outside world (until the blinds come down).

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.

Site visits

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.

Harpenden Public Halls (Never before have we had so much wing space)

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.

Riverhouse Barn Arts Centre (Audience + Paper Tom goes in here)

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.

Farewell Fringe

It was a long final day in Exeter for us. Our last show started 45 mins late due to the previous show overrunning. This was a bit frustrating when we knew we were heading back to London that night and that delay would impact on our return time. So after the show we did the get-out & packed it into the tour bus. We had a quick farewell drink and then hit the road under guidance from Sheila (the name of Sarah-Jane’s Satnav).

Celebratory drinks at the Bike Shed

Sheila wasn’t a great fan of the final 3 junctions of the M4 being closed – neither were any of us to be honest but we could accept the situation, unlike Sheila who persisted to try & get us back on to the closed M4. So at 2am we found ourselves heading straight into Central London.

Paper Tom arrives in the West End

We definitely need to update Sheila before we set off on tour in Autumn.

After dropping everyone else off Sarah-Jane and me finally got back home at 4:30am. We then unloaded everything from the tour bus and grabbed a couple of hours sleep before setting off to return the vehicle to the hire company.

At the Ignite festival

We are now reaching the end of our 3 performance run in Exeter as part of the Ignite Festival. This morning we waved goodbye to the Travelodge and in 3 hours we will be performing our last Paper Tom of the run. Audiences have been small so far but the show has been well received.

Tech time at The Bike Shed Theatre

It’s been a rapid process with only 4 days of rehearsal for these 3 performances. There has been so much to do with only so much time to do it in. It has been a real case of fighting fires at times for me balancing this activity with ongoing Autumn tour admin. Overall things have gone well and we’ve managed to blow the dust off the show and pick up another strong 5 star review that builds momentum nicely for our Autumn tour.