NEW AWARDS: Unsung Heroes

Theatre website WhatsOnStage has launched new awards to celebrate the offstage work of venues and staff to improve the theatregoing experience.

The WhatsOffStage Awards include prizes for a front-of-house team, food and drink, and accessibility, as well as for theatres that are child-friendly or community-driven.

As with the existing WhatsOnStage Awards, winners for the offstage awards will be voted for by the public. Voting is already open, and nominations can be submitted until October 5.

Sita McIntosh, chief operating officer of WhatsOnStage, said the awards would be “a huge round of applause for all those unsung heroes who make the theatregoing experience the best it can possibly be”.

She added: “We are delighted to announce the first ever WhatsOffStage Awards this year. We want to celebrate areas of the industry that don’t always receive the recognition they deserve but which are instrumental in ensuring audiences and communities are able to engage with and enjoy live theatre.”

Categories also include best box office, best stage door, best theatre website and favourite theatre.

Votes can be cast here.

Funding the Greatest Show on Earth

“Nobody ever lost a dollar by underestimating the taste of the [American] public.”

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This month we are talking the finances for the Greatest Show on Earth. This project is not about one company making millions it’s about creating opportunities for those who may not otherwise get a chance, as well as raising vital funds for Arts Industry Charities to help them continue their work in supporting the industry. It’s all about about touching souls and changing lives, but most importantly to inspire hearts and minds.

In the UK alone over £10billion is donated to charities across the country a year, but only 2% of money raised goes into the Arts and yet the industry puts over £6billion into the UK economy as a predominant not for profit organisation.

Each of the projects as laid down in last month’s email (click here to view) are meant to be just one off performances per year. However, if the demand is great enough and you know you can fill the theatre for 2 nights, 3 nights or even four and maybe not every night you have the same acts, there is nothing restricting you from making a long weekend out of Lighting the Beacon. As long as you use the weekend allocated to you by AT2R, as we discourage having Lighting the Beacon events in more than one location at the same time.

The same goes for Community Spirit, the plan is that it would be a single event per year. But because we don’t allocate dates for this project and as long as it happens before your Lighting the Beacon then just go for it. Maybe its was felt it could be integrated into a local arts festival or maybe you can see opportunities more than once in year, go for it! Get it out there it is so important that as many people are given the opportunity to perform and be part of this project.

The point being that the more money you put into the Greatest Show on Earth project, the more money you as organisations, individuals and venues will get out of it.

The only rule when it comes to money is that everything has to go through the Greatest Show on Earth’s central account. This is because of the way this project runs we need to have a paper trail of every penny in and out. So where venues usually sort out percentage of ticket sales this would be done by AT2R and we would then you’d be credited accordingly.

However this said, if you wanted your own account at Community Spirit level or even Lighting the Beacon that would be fine but money still needs to come into central first then you would credited accordingly. But please be aware that there will be strict terms and conditions for all accounts that are separate from the central account which will include the account being subject to an unlimited number of unannounced audits through the year.

So where will the money be coming in from? Well mainly from ticket and merchandise sales, but we all know that the arts can’t survive on just these, so we are looking for investors, sponsors, grants and partners to work with us and of course some good old fund raising.

Here’s the important thing when it comes to investors, partner, sponsors and grants if these are found at local level and they only wish to support the local event being that just Community Spirit and/or Lighting the Beacon then that is absolutely fine! National and international sponsors and investors are expected to support the project in it’s entirety, though they can focus in one area if they wish.

Finally at every level right up to the Greatest Show on Earth there is an opportunity for people to donate money either during or at the end of the event that will be in support of three charities The Theatre Trust, Playing Sane and for Lighting the Beacon and Community Spirit there will be a nominated local charity/organisation at each event that money will be donated too.

You may remember read above ‘the more money you put into the project, the more money you get out’ well that’s because all who partake in these projects will receive a share in the overall profits. So looking into each of these projects, before any profit is dealt with the budget for the production must be covered in full; this may seem obvious I know, but let’s look at what is included in the budget for each production:

Production Materials:

  • Stationary (pen and paper)
  • Meals for team on get in and get out days
  • Scenery (paint)
  • Technicians (tapes)
  • Wardrobe consumables (cotton)
  • Special effects (pyrotechnics)

(This list is not exhaustible but every item has to be within good reason)

Things that are excluded:

  • Theatre bar takings
  • Any theatre specific merchandise
  • Venue hire charge
  • Venue staff wages

And all expenses are paid out with valid receipts only, a very small budget because this about the people not the material things. So you might have an old set in your scenery dock that might be appropriate for Lighting the Beacon, alternatively you may choose not to dress the stage.

At the beginning suppliers of hired in equipment may have to go into the budget to meet the invoice cost, but the aim will be to have them taking a slice of the profits which would cover their invoice, hopefully plus extra.

Community Spirit will charge a nominal amount to each performer to cover costs, sell merchandise, maybe refreshments and the sale of tickets to Lighting the Beacon can all be done at this event. All profit from this event will be put back for the next Community Spirit event.

After all these expenses have been paid for Lighting the Beacon the profits would be split down as follows:

13% direct to the venue

54% will be shared between cast, crew, creative team (Excludes current paid theatre staff)

12% will be shared between suppliers

  5% will be shared between investors

  3% to go towards the budgets for the Greatest Show on Earth (for the first 5 years, thereafter this is divided between the venue and investors)

  3% towards budget for the next Lighting the Beacon

10% A Ticket 2 Ride (As the company that has sole interest in the project)

(N.B. These figures are a guide only)

And finally a share of 11% from every Greatest Show on Earth and Greatest Show in the Country is put into the local projects, both Community Spirit and Lighting the Beacon.

This project is not all about profit, it about opportunity for those who may not otherwise get them. It’s about getting as many people involved as possible in the industry, it’s about bringing the industry together to become self-sustaining.

Here’s to the Greatest Show in the Country, to The Greatest Show on Earth!

 

Losing to the Digital Age?!

A survey conducted by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sports showed that around 77% of adults in England have engaged with the Arts the 12 months prior to filling in the survey. A similar survey conducted by the same department focusing on film where 84% of adults engage with digital media (film and TV).

So what is happening within the arts? Why are people disengaging from the industry? Let’s just have a look a few more of the statics from the survey before unpacking some thoughts around this as many show a trend and changes within generations.

Young people (aged 16-24) are far more into the digital age then those who are 65 year plus. 78% of young people go to the movies and an unsurprising 92% enjoy watching TV. While only 69% of older people will go to the movies and 70% watch TV. Whilst when it comes to live arts, with the exemption of music the story is quite the reverse.

Live arts for this survey included everything from exhibitions to theatre and participating in some way or other in free time or voluntarily. There seemed to be a higher proportion of individuals who participate in creative arts rather than attending an arts presentation.

For the digital age there is a great thirst for getting on TV or in films, as this seems to be looked on as something that requires less skill then live arts. Being an extra in a film could mean just walking down a street, whilst being in a TV show could potentially win you thousands of pounds. The world of soap operas gives people the escape from the real world while being able to identify with the storylines of characters and dealing with social issues. Cinemas have performances at convenient times and repeat films over a month’s period or so and if you still miss it you can just pick up a DVD or download the movie online.

A recent article in The Stage said this down turn in the engagement of the arts is due to lack of interest, rising cost and accessibility for those with disabilities or long term illness. This maybe the case, but there has to be a reason for it surely? Yes digital technology is still new and exciting and is making head way on improving, but surely the live arts knew this would happen and would do the same to keep up with new competing market?

Well the first reason I am going to put is the lack of opportunities in the key years, school. As I keep on about the disappointment in the fact the arts have been dropped from EBacc in the UK. This mean that schools are justified to not put funding towards these subjects as it will not benefit them in the exam tables.

So with schools putting less funding toward the arts subject there are less trips out to theatres for children who may not otherwise get that opportunity and less ways for them to be creative during the key learning years. So if young people aren’t able to experience theatre and the arts then how else will interest be aroused?

Also there’s a lack of interest due to lack of encouragement to take the arts up as a career, I know this is about arts as a hobby, but if the group you are with or an individual you are associated with really wants to be in the arts but is not encouraged then that in itself will have a ripple effect. The reason there is a lack of encouragement in career towards the arts is because it is looked on a ‘not a proper’ job. So the negativity this message gives has a spiral effect for those engaging from a hobby side of it.

The lack of interest from disabled and those suffering from long term illnesses may be just that they are not aware of what theatres are doing to enhance the experience for them. How many people know that the Prince Edward theatre in London has autism friendly performances? Is it commonly known that theatres are now required to have things like induction loops for the hard of hearing or ensure they are wheelchair friendly? These facilities are just automatically assumed to known about as most were done through changes to the law.

Rising cost of entry fees is such a common theme and this is why funding has always been important to the arts as it was initiated to bring ticket costs down. The fact that the commercial side of the sector still has high prices making businesses and producer’s multi-millionaires is another story. But the reason they commercial theatre gets funded is the very reason ‘not for profit’ theatre requires grants and funding for organisations like Arts Council.

It won’t matter how much the program is adapted or much is invest in facilities interest won’t aroused until you get the people in past the threshold. When was the last time your theatre held some kind of open day? Where people can just come through the door, no tickets and have mooch round? See what facilities you have, see what programme and workshops you put on. It can even be an opportunity to allow them to suggest their own idea for programmes. If they have suggested it, it may just trigger their engagement.

But on the whole if theatre is under represented by funding and opportunity then how can it thrive and arouse engagement?

Are the arts being systematically destroyed?

It seems unsurprising that as young people absorb and begin the new chapter of their life after receiving exam results, that we hear of a drop in entries for GCSE Arts this year.

School is the starting place, the birth place of decisions made by young people to with the rest of their life. It has always been said that individuals can only make an informed decision about anything if the all the information is there to look at. Putting the Arts on the side lines in the curriculum forcing schools to invest less money in the subjects is not fair way of ensuring its survival.

The arts are one of a handful of subjects whereby individuals can potentially start their career at school, the subject is almost like the job during education. As they progress through the years of education they learn to perfect their craft and as they graduate they have something that has been part of them for 20 years before they are thrown out into the ‘real world’.

By the same token many who have taken the arts in school have seen as a ways of improving their confidence for their own chosen career which may have nothing to do with the arts at all. No other subject can be used to improve communication skills and ways on handling certain situations.

There is no other subject in school that can give someone life skills that are inter transferable to any job and career. English only teaches you to read and write, maths teaches you the numbers, but neither will teach you confidence or communication skills needed to make a successful career.

In Wales GPs are putting the arts and social gatherings on prescription. With mental health issues coming more and more to the top of the social agenda it is so important that we teach our children how to communicate and express themselves as that is one of the best way to fight mental health.

Communication and confidence to be around people and be in new situations are key to fighting the increasing crime rate, the increase in teenage pregnancies, the increase in bullying, the increase in violence, the increase drug addiction, the increase alcoholism, the increase of those who are workaholics, the increase in self harming, and the increase in teen suicides which are all rooted in mental health.

The arts are about self-expressions, when words cannot be found then maybe draw, write, paint, dance, or compose music. But unless it is encouraged from a young age it may not come easy to some later in life. Having the arts as a hobby is just like having sports or the outdoors, it helps to calm the mind, everyone is different and will be take to different things to help them see things from a different perceptive, that everything is ok and everything is fine.

As one poem on Pinterst says:

Theatre is science,

Theatre is mathematical,

Theatre is a foreign language,

Theatre is history,

Theatre is physical education

Theatre is business,

Theatre is technology

Theatre is economics

Theatre is taught in schools

Not because you are expected to major in theatre

Not because you are expected to perform all through your life

Not so you can relax

Not so you can have fun

But

So you will recognise beauty

So you will be sensitive

So you will be closer to an infinite beyond this world

So you will have more love

More compassion

More good

In short

More life

Of what value will it be to make prosperous living

Unless you know how to live?

That is why theatre is in our schools.

Did They Get It Or Not???

For those of you who are regular readers of this blog will know that I usually come on here, pick a topic, complain bitterly give an idea to a solution. But today I want to praise our industry especially organisations like the National Theatre and the RSC (Royal Shakespeare Company).

It doesn’t matter what business or industry you work, from retail to the arts, if you go for an interview or an audition you then have to wait 2 or 3 weeks to get an outcome and if you’re not successful you just have to assume as the chances of receiving a ‘physical’ rejection in the form of letter or email is rare, not to mention rude, but most can be discouraging and stressful.

It also goes for writers for magazines, papers, publishers and theatres, a lot of work has been put into the effort and then not only do you not hear any feedback, or even a rejection, sometimes you don’t even get an acknowledgment that it has been received.

The most common reason employers give for this behavior is that ‘the response was over whelming, it’s too costly and timely to write to everyone, both successful and unsuccessful’. About 25 to 30 years ago this would have been true, when emails were just coming into wider use and even then the only costings would have been someone adding names and addresses to the top of a letter as most, if not all businesses use some form of templates for letters and with the new data protection laws they will have a specific databases for interviewee personal data.

For any business to succeed a need for individuals to believe in them and most businesses usually start with good intentions but somehow turn arrogant as success materialises and a search of cutting costs in to seek profit. Can you imagine how well businesses would do if every person who failed to get a job and didn’t receive a formal rejection letter was legally allowed to give the company a bad name, there would be some quick changes to policies.

The #yesorno campaign is about encouraging employers of all industries to let candidates know either way after an interview or audition. The whole interview or audition itself is a complete terrifying experience as individuals put so much of themselves into their work in front of the panel. Not to mention the expense of getting there, the babysitter, the time sat in traffic, that really early start after busy night at work the night before. Then the waiting experience afterward is even worse, it’s a whole mix of feelings and can lead to anxiety and if experienced enough can lead to depression and more mental health problems.

Just having the common courtesy to drop someone a note, no matter how short or simple, it doesn’t have to give specific feedback it just needs to confirm they were not successful. The gesture can make all the difference to someone’s life. It can be uplifting, empowering, but most importantly it helps them to put closure to the experience making it easier to move on the next. But above all this the organisation’s reputation and the reasons why individuals apply to work with them remains in tacked in the interviewees mind.