To Adapt or Not to Adapt

‘Adaptations’ of current or new works is like a Tribute Band, it is a good way to keep the work the alive and reach a wider audience but it is a terrible waste of someone’s talent. But unlike the tribute bands adaptations can just be ways for the creator to cash in on their work.

But really, do we need something to be adapted from book onto the stage and film? (It’s a question, not a statement). Is this not just conforming to Burger Kings slogan of ‘Have it your way’? In an age where we are supposed to be encouraging children to read and campaigning to keep local libraries and theatres open, is this really helping the cause? Surely it would be time better use of creative time to make something new rather than keep copying what the consumer already knows.

I understand that creators want their work to be seen by the biggest audience possible, but surely by creating something just for theatre or writing a book that is authentically good, then reviews and conversations it brings would  bring an audience in, if people want to view the work then they need to get out and purchase the book or buy the tickets. It seems that we are just making it easier and easier to access the hard work that our creators by making their projects cheaper so that people can just pick them up at the price which can so often make the creative industry a cheap charity, which it should never become.

I am not talking about this because of the adaptation concept is new, the whole idea came from the ancient Greeks when they would act out stories from manuscripts to encourage understanding in time before reading and writing was compulsory. It’s the sear amount of works being adapted today, it seems to be more popular to adapt than risking new works, especially when the adapting is often work that has only just hit the market, I often ask myself would some works stand the test of time? Will it still be that popular in 100 years from now or would most people have forgotten about it?

Some of the oldest works that still inspire us today like Shakespeare, his work has been adapted into every form of the arts over the years and sometimes it’s to help interpretation where the language was very different 400 years ago in England. But people seem to continue to find new things within it and that is what I wonder about some of the newer works that are adapted today, its only then that you know you have work that is it truly special.

Another example of the best form of adaptations used to inspire is that of PT Barnum, known as the Greatest Showman that America ever produced. There are films that portray his life, but there are also stage and screen productions which take snippets of this work or just one aspect of what he stood for. The latest production on screen The Greatest Showman centred on inspiring and encouraged people to chase their dreams regardless of their backgrounds, those who wouldn’t normally get the chance to enjoy society.

Remember that adaptation can be hard when bringing a book to life on stage or screen, because writers are given so much freedom in creating the world, so getting an exact replication of someone’s (or even readers) imagination is hard to recreate on stage, if bits are missed out or not quite up to expectation then disappoint for the overall work can come and that then can puts a down on the creator’s future hard work. This is not to say that there are some amazing adaptations but like the work inspiring the desire to adapt, the end result needs to be pretty spectacular too.

Volunteering and Theatre

So keeping with this theme of discovering the running of theatre, today I am going to be talking volunteers. A few years back I completed a course ‘managing volunteers’ with the emphasis on theatre, since then I have either managed volunteers or indeed been a volunteer helping in theatre or other organisation and have come to realise just how hard it can be keeping a balance sometimes between keep a volunteer happy and ensuring organisation continues to operate as it should.

Keeping a volunteer interested is one of the hardest things to achieve long term.  But with the right training, level of communication and of course reward schemes there should be no reason why you shouldn’t retain a volunteer for four or five years plus.

I have volunteered for many organisations over the years, not just theatre. So these are my top 5 tips to recruit and retain volunteers:

1. Be clear about objectives

First and foremost be consistent in your approach in the running of your organisation or at least look organised, know what’s going on and when it’s supposed to go on. There is nothing more off putting for anyone giving their time up free then to be keep being told plans have changed (whether that’s a week, a month, 6 months or more) or indeed not knowing of plans. There is nothing more irritating then not knowing where the organisation is going.

The principle is the same if you had paid staff, nobody will take your organisation seriously if they don’t know where you are going. This leads me to my point…

2. Communicate

Communication is so important though at the same time with GDPR that came in on the 25th May 2018 you have to careful on data usage. Making sure your database is always up to date is so important, there is nothing more annoying then receiving an email asking for help when you have moved 100 miles away, or putting your name down to ask and then never hearing a thing.

Have a monthly newsletter for volunteers, but make it interesting, maybe ask for volunteer input to the letter. It only needs to be the equivalent of one side of A4 paper.

The best way to communicate to make them feel involved is to meet with them. Have volunteer meetings every four to six weeks. It is important that communication is two way, therefore bringing them together periodically means they get to tell you things, talk with each other about problems they have. You will never get them all together in one room but you will get a good selection, maybe take it as an opportunity to share plans that the board have for the theatre.

But as volunteer’s feedback, always remember you are not obliged to put their thoughts into action if it doesn’t see fit. Also never fall into the notion that volunteers run the organisation, it’s the board and staff that run it, volunteers are there to help and that is all they put their name down for. So their feedback is welcome, but it’s not required. This sounds harsh, but the reality is that if you let the volunteers think they run the show then the organisation will lose its key and central story.

3. Training and Protocols

Theatre without a doubt is one of the most dangerous places to work so training should be paramount and it should never stop at just be about the role they are doing (Usher, steward, house manager, publicity). You are not paying these individuals but if you expect them to deal with the public and keep things safe and calm in the event of an emergency then you need to invest a little in them.

I haven’t yet been with a theatre that has actually physically taken volunteers through an emergency procedure; I have only ever been talked through it. And some theatres don’t have paid staff on site for every event because it’s not always possible, but this does not remove their responsibility as primary custodians of that venue.

Whatever level you manager volunteers at, either as a paid staff member or as a volunteer it is still your responsibility to validate and refresh that training. For example if you are letting one volunteer train another, which is perfectly acceptable as it is often that individual that will know the job best. But if you have asked for all tickets to be broken and stubs kept then you’ll need to ensure this is being done by the newer volunteers and make sure they know why.

Just because you have a volunteer organisation, this should not stop you from wanting to invest in the people who help you. Look out for individuals who really shine in the in their roles, maybe you could find opportunities for them to have proper professional training, as technicians, box office, publicity team. Their volunteer experience could the key step into the career they really want to  be in.

4. Review and Discipline

As a volunteer organisation you may think that formally reviewing the performance of your volunteers is not so important. But it is because it is the performance of your volunteers that reflect how your organisation is perceived from those outside. It can be the key to keeping some of them or an opportunity to get rid of some. Everybody needs some kind of validation and appraisal, volunteers are no different.

Unlike employees you don’t need to do this annually, maybe every couple of years or so. The Scout Association reviews their leaders once every 5 years. It is a chance for you to give them one to one time where they have your undivided attention, they may use it to air issues they think are present in the running of the organisation, you may want to spend time talking about something they did that has caught your attention, good or bad, that needs to be brought up. Talk about how you as an organisation could develop the individual, yes they maybe volunteers but if you look for ways to develop them they may stay longer, find better ways to help you.

On the other side of this coin is discipline when a volunteer does something wrong or crosses the line. There seems to be this fear that because they give their time free, reprimanding them will scare them off. The truth is that it quite the opposite, like a review, we all need to know when we have strayed off the path. And genuine volunteers really won’t mind being picked up on mistakes, in fact you are more likely to earn their respect. But this is where consistency comes in, if you reprimand one, and then you must reprimand all making the same mistake. It is the hardest parts of managing and enforce when working with volunteers but you should never put the reputation of your organisation in jeopardy or allow it be compromised in ay way.

It openly shows that your organisation has self respect and that is what will build your volunteer force alone.

5. Don’t forget to say thank you

Many people take up volunteering for the social side of thing, but this is often the hardest part to volunteering as you are so focuses on what has be done that getting to know the people who you are working with can go a miss, especially if you are working solo. There are times when you don’t hear from other volunteers for a few weeks maybe shifts don’t coincide often or you are off on holiday or they are sick.

As the organisation you can help this in a very subtle way, ensuring rotas are mixed as much as possible, organising volunteer social events, at the same time you will be making these individuals feel appreciated.

If you really want to make individuals feel special why not celebrate birthdays and anniversaries with them. Get someone to organise a card to be signed by as many people as possible.

As with the training look for those who are really keen to be involved and maybe pay for an excursion for them that ultimately benefits your organisation, maybe it’s to go look at another theatre to spend times with volunteers or learn how that theatre operated a particular part of their business.

Ultimately volunteering is about just giving time and the reward should be the satisfaction, the customers faces from the experience they have helped to create. But sometimes the reward can come in the thank you received from the organisation they are with.

What makes a welcoming theatre?

UK Theatre are asking you to vote for your favourite venue.

There are many things that shape your experience when you visit a theatre; a friendly chat with box office staff, enjoying a delicious coffee in the cafe, feeling like you’re part of your local community, or being entertained by the panto! 

The public vote gives you the chance to celebrate your local theatre and all it does to welcome you.

TO VOTE, select the region that your chosen theatre is in between 12pm on 7 August and 12pm on 18 September. You will be redirected to a list of eligible venues in this region and can vote for your chosen theatre. Vote to be in with a chance of winning £250 worth of Theatre Tokens.

A list of venues can be found by clicking here

Voting for 2018 has already opened and will close at 12noon on Tuesday 18 September 2018.

How is the vote calculated?  
The voting is being monitored by the Electoral Reform Services. To ensure that smaller theatres are not at a disadvantage, a formula is applied which divides the number of votes by seating capacity.

Bridging the Gap

The term ‘generation gap’ is usually used in reference to the change in attitude and understanding towards something normally brought about by miscommunication. We have this is theatre often, but that is not what this post is about. But I am going to use the term for a different context in which I refer to gap where work becomes easy and difficult to find in our industry.

The Arts continues to suffer with limitations on jobs, even with campaigns on diversity there still seems to be two age groups that suffer more, the ‘early years’ or beginners and youngsters of the industry and the older actor and this can often lean heavily towards females.

At the beginning of the year I wrote a piece on this blog about diversity, and I think as new work emerges we will see productions giving a better representation of both ethical and age range in our society. But it’s hard and as there is a lot of sigma and ‘old school’ legacy to be turned around and questions to be answered. Then there’s the question of ‘What is an acceptable ratio of age group and BAME to have on stage before a production is condemned not diverse enough? Without this measure there will always be issues of diversity.

But the bigger question is this, do we have enough experienced actors in the underrepresented areas of society to be on stage?

It is always natural for those just beginning, especially young people, to find it hard to get work but at the same time have expectations to achieve high. Whilst it is important that the standard is kept high, training is often expensive and unfordable to many that talent that remains in shadows of our society and so often miss out. Should it not be offered to all not just those with money or those who have parents that are famous enough to know the right people and sometimes these people don’t receive formal training and get jobs simply because of who they know, is this right?

Retirement from the arts is a rare thing. So the number of older actors out there are plentiful. If you look at some of the UK’s best loved actors who are no longer with us, most of them came from harsh backgrounds but they all worked hard and kept going for as long as they could. But today there seems to be less work for older actors, especially females, they seem to end up having to take a back seat from acting and become directors as a way of staying in the industry and that is not always a comfortable or easy role for many.

So it seems that unless you are associated to someone famous you’re not qualified enough, the same is true if you’re young and starting out, and if you’re over a certain age you are over qualified. So unless you are between 25 and 50 then work is not easy. Though this is not to say that actors don’t get work that come from harsh backgrounds or who are outside of this age group, there are plenty of actors that are doing so well, working so hard. But if it was so good the diversity campaigns wouldn’t have job.

Somehow we need to expand the gap to include all ages and all sexes, after all that is what this industry is surely about.

This is Theatre (It’s coming home!)

So England may not be bringing the World Cup home this year, but with Gareth Southgates positivity they did England so proud getting to the semi-finals and in four years’ time maybe they will bring football home.

So with that said, is it not a good time now for theatre to come home? It is not time that this industry returns to its rightful place in our communities? Is it not time we to show the world what we are really capable of?

Can you imagine a huge amount of publicity and hype with people chanting ‘It’s coming home’ for an international theatrical production? And even though there may be no big celebrity bill boarded, businesses big and small a cuing up to sponsor, helping to promote by put adverts on anything from milk bottles to lorries and supply products to the event just because of it’s the highest quality reputation. Tickets become rare and sell out up to 6 months before the show hits town because of its a spectacle that is possibly a once in a lifetime chance to both the participant and spectate on home ground.


The Inspiration

I think without a doubt one of the most powerful songs produced in 2017 that everyone resonate with is ‘This is me’ from The Greatest Showman. Now this film wasn’t just about entertaining the viewers or celebrating the work of one of America’s greatest showmen. As the Huffpost puts it in their review, ‘it’s about courage and acceptance’.

This is not a review for that film, but as I watched this amazing spectacular unfold before me, it really brought home the perspective of 21st century theatre. Disclaimer: Please be assured this has absolutely no reflection of amazing work of those theatre makers out there doing their best to keep theatre alive.

I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say

‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts

The creative arts struggles to bring people into the industry with drama being dropped from the EBacc (English Baccalaureate) in the UK, drama schools are becoming more and more expensive and funding is drying up fast.

When was the last time you saw a theatre production adverted on television? Or even seen a production on TV? I’m talking about a production like the first 20 minutes or so of the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies before they do the flags, flame, parading the athletes and speeches. Yet you can see an international sports event daily on any channel you turn and yet they still have the same issues surrounding EBacc in UK schools and fans are so hyped up.

I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are

We continually hear how less funding is available and that new works are far too risky (I have written posts on this). This industry pours nearly £6billion a year to the UK economy alone, but it can’t offer job security or consistently good working conditions. Then there’s a constant conversation about diversity and legation saying for example how theatres should be more eco-friendly, yet it’s clear that law makers have no idea of actual statics of how none friendly our buildings really are. And so the list of complaints just goes on.

What I worry about is that while all these issues continue to be talked about, the film industry continues to grow all the time, while theatre is being left behind and the idea of losing live theatre is terrifying.

Look out ’cause here I come

I’m not scared to be seen

I make no apologies

As the director of The Greatest Showman, Michael Gracey said, “The idea of doing an original film is a terrifying alpha concept, the idea of doing an original musical that was just pure insanity.” and when the film hit the big screen it earned nearly £50,000 at box office in the UK alone on release day.

Creating theatre is hard. Working with original ideas is terrifying, wanting to fill a space the size of Wembley Stadium on an international scale it’s just pure insanity.

So here’s the dream, to create live shows that come somewhere between the high energy of the movie Fame which empowers and encourages those taking part of all backgrounds in the performance to continually work a high standards with the ease like an Andre Rieu concert, mixed with the emotional impact produced by The Greatest Showman that inspires spectators not only to be humming the tunes for weeks after they have seen the show, but feel empowered and encouraged to go out and achieve their own dreams.

I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious

A live international spectaculars that are performed for just one or two nights, maybe a long weekend in each location, a production that means cast and crew alike must always be top of their game. So it becomes competitive and though it’s not a competition like the X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent it something everyone will want on their CV.

Venues competing to play host to the smaller projects that lead to the big event as it will benefit through publicity and everyone become everyone’s partner.

This is not just going to be a one off event with its high energy and high pace, this the UK taking the international stage to show the world what it really means to produce theatre and then invite the world to participate. But this is not about one man trying to work a miracle, there’s a lot of work to make this production happen. It’s going to take communities, Unions, theatres, and a lot of dedicated people to put theatre back where it belongs.

The arts has no boundaries, this project is aimed to making arts accessible for everyone regardless of age, gender, class, ethnic or cultural background and it will remove the limitations of disabilities, as everyone has the same opportunities to be a part of it, only their dedication to their craft will stand in their way.

But most importantly it will help to raise those vital funds to look after our beautiful theatres, to ensure grants can still be given in support of the industry and of course for those crucial creative art project which so much benefit our communities can still continue.

So we are looking for singers, writers, dancers, actors, directors, creators, musicians, choreographers, costume designers, makeup artists, technical, and special acts from all walks of life to help create a brand new Greatest Show on Earth, to regenerate the arts industry we all love so much and do what President Trumps say, “Make [Theatre] great again”.

Also if you know people or businesses who may be interested investing in this project at all levels from local to international then again please do pass the word round.

So if you are interested in getting involved in this project or just finding out more please add your email address to our mailing list by clicking here, follow us on social media using the buttons at the top of the page. But most importantly talk to others about it and if you know someone who might be interested in being part of this project the please forward this post on using the ‘Spread the Love’ buttons at the top or side of the post.

Here’s to the Greatest Show in this Country has ever produced and possibly the Greatest Show on Earth!