Will you bring your show to (insert UK town here)?
This year I embarked on booking my debut solo tour The Worst of Scottee, initially I was really excited to be taking my show on the road that was until I found out many UK venues just didn’t want it.
Trying to get venues to book my show before it hit Edinburgh was tricky and I understand why – they hadn’t seen it. 5 venues read the fancy pdf and took the educated plunge in booking my show, knowing that Chris Goode, Roundhouse and I wouldn’t make something rubbish (and even if we did, we’d make sure it was good before it got to them).
Trying to book a consecutive tour was tricky – apparently you can’t expect to mark off two weeks in your iCal and venues are able to accommodate you. Every fucker wants you to be a part of some festival their marketing department have dreamt up because apparently audiences won’t go to a theatre unless its part of some festival or season.
After Edinburgh’s five star reviews and awards three more UK theatres were willing to take the plunge but it seems its easier to get my show booked in Australia than it is Manchester.
Since the cuts regional producers and venues have become risk adverse, the cuts to the Arts have changed to landscape of UK touring but I don’t think they are all to blame.
There is a certain irony that since we’ve been under the reign of David, conservatism is rife in the arts. Arts Council England have cut National Portfolio organisations by 11% but most of these have cut their program by half – I’m not great at maths but something doesn’t add up here.
In addition regional venues are now offering much lower, unviable fees to touring companies or in some cases with a venue in Manchester we spoke to offered 60% of the box office sales with no accommodation or travel… after 3% charge for credit card transactions, printed materials and then some.
In short it’s become difficult to tour the country we call England. I’m currently working for one of the UK’s largest independent theatre companies who have shows touring only the US and OZ for the next year - even the big boys are finding it tricky to make the UK work.
I’ve always tried to make my work exist outside of London. At the start of my career I spent many a weekend on a Mega Bus, sleeping on friends of friends living room floors building regional audiences and trying out new ideas with Eat Your Heart Out. I’ve performed and continue to perform outside of London at various variety nights trying to get new audiences engaged with my work. Last year I spent all summer on a motorway directing Amy Lamé’s sell out UK tour, visiting the spaces we were trying to get The Worst of Scottee into. I’ve invested in social media advertising to build networks in the 5 major UK cities, I offer workshops to local universities and pull strings with radio friends to get onto as many different stations across the country as possible but many regional producers have a stock response that solo artists like to LOL over – ‘Sorry we don’t have an audience for your type of work’.
It pains me to read the emails and tweets that say ‘Why won’t you bring your show to Manchester?’ - I want my work to exist in my country but it’s harder than packing your bags and jumping on a Virgin train… the red tape is proving difficult to negotiate.
This blog might sound like a rant but I want it to be the start of a discussion – what can we do? How do we change this? There is life beyond the M25, it's just proving difficult to reach it.