Hosting a show for The Rude Mechanical Theatre Co
- Are there opportunities? – Generally these days we don’t go out and look for outdoor venues, but sometimes individuals approach us and tell us that their community would like to host us and we always follow it up. It may just turn out to be the perfect venue! And what makes a ‘perfect venue’? Not necessarily one that is very pretty, nor for that matter, maybe surprisingly, one where we can break even financially. The most perfect venue is where the community – And we primarily do our outdoor shows for communities, mainly rural, but sometimes urban – really want us to be there and we are able to make a difference in their lives by giving them the chance to have a good laugh, but also to think (because we can be provocative too). We won’t know even after one performance that it is going to work for your community; it usually takes two or three visits for people to get into our rather bonkers style! And if it doesn’t work we won’t come back, but we are always looking to make it a long term relationship. We have been going to certain venues every year for 21 years.
How does it work?
There are theoretically three ways in which you could host a show for us:
- You could buy us in – A performance costs us £2,500, or thereabouts. We wouldn’t charge you that because we are subsidised; the fee would depend on our budget for that year and how many grants we get, but a ball park figure would be £1,750. We have done a few buy in’s, but we don’t look for them. If it feels right we will sometimes do it, but it is not our favoured method. For you to choose this method you would have to feel you can at least make enough money to cover your costs & you would still have to pay us something if it is rained off. So, not a good option really.
- We could split the income – We could have an arrangement in which we split the income (usually 65% – 35% in our favour). This is more viable but we only do it at venues where we are comfortable that enough profit will be made to cover our costs, which usually means country houses or commercial gardens. We wouldn’t do it with a village.
- TARA (Take all/risk all) – Or you could have the arrangement which almost all our shows have, especially in the villages, which is what we call TARA (‘take all, risk all’).
More about TARA
- Ideal for communities – It is a practical method which assumes most communities don’t have the money to buy us in, that the likely attendance is not going to be over 250, and that what the community get out of it is the joy of having top professional and original theatre in their community – in exchange for a bit of good will on your part. And our teams are very experienced actors who regularly work in top theatres around the land, including the West End.
- There’s no cost to the community organisers – Unlike with most rural touring schemes you are not charged anything as a community! We carry all the risk that people will turn up, but we also take all the box office. The more the income has to be split among different parties the harder it is to make the event financially viable, and, although that isn’t the important thing for us, it is obviously something that needs to be thought about. We are a professional company, so we have to pay our team proper wages, but we are also a charity and a ‘company limited by guarantee’, that is a ‘not for profit’ organisation. We can only at the very best break even at the end of a season and have to be supported by grants. Because we are making brand new theatre we can never be commercial. That’s the way it is. We can only make it work by taking all the income. But see ‘Admin fees’ below.
- Raising money for your causes – If communities are looking to raise money they probably won’t raise much using this agreement, but if the event is seen as an end in itself, something good for the community, an occasion for them to be together and enjoy a top professional show, then that essentially is what it is about. Having the experience is the benefit. However, communities sometimes hold raffles, or provide refreshments to raise money, which is fine by us.
- Costs – We also pay for any genuine costs, such as hire of the village hall (if required), insurance, etc, and provide all advertising (flyers & posters of various sizes, article in the parish mag, adverts in journals, press previews, etc). It should be borne in mind when charging us rent (for example, for the village hall or field) that the higher the costs the less likely it is that we can make it work. But, of course, you won’t be required to pay out anything.
Some practical issues
- Accommodation – One of the problems of working in rural communities is that B&B is often very expensive, or involves having to travel long distances after the show to find a hotel. If we are about an hour or two from home base in Eastbourne, then we come back to base anyway. If we are further away we have to stay over. Most communities are happy to put us up overnight. The hosts get to come free to the show (two tickets per host), but it is also fun to have actors in the home. We have been hosted by some people for years and bit by bit they have become friends. If you cannot or don’t want to do it, then we can try and find a Travelodge, which sometimes works out. It makes it financially less viable, but that is ok if we feel we are really making a difference to the community concerned. If you would be happy to host us then there are usually seven of us (two or three women and four or five men). The team will need separate rooms and they need to be proper beds not lilos or couches. But note that for many of our venues we don’t stay over.
- The local organiser (‘gatekeeper/advocate’) – We will not take on a new venue unless there’s at least one gatekeeper/advocate organising things locally, so there is no point asking us to do a show in a village or town where you don’t live & have no contacts. Critically we need someone who is a ‘gatekeeper’ into the village: that is, knows lots of people in the community & is known by lots of people – and they need to be an ‘advocate’: that is, like our work already, or, if they haven’t seen us before, be prepared to take the risk the community will like it & encourage them to come along. We have found from experience that most people will not come to a performance of a play they haven’t heard of, especially if they haven’t heard of the Company doing it either, & there are no famous actors in it. They need someone whose opinion they trust to tell them they are going to have a good time. So we need at least one person in your community who knows a lot of people and whose opinion is listened to (the gatekeeper) to be our advocate. Better still a host group of influential people who will promote the show! Ask yourself the key question: ‘Is this going to be good for my community?’
- What would the local organiser have to do? – Firstly, negotiate permission to use the site on our behalf. Then spread the word through the grape-vine (More on marketing below), provide a local box office and if necessary overnight accommodation. The latter would not be the case if we are within an hour or two’s travel from our base in Eastbourne. Our hosts usually genuinely enjoy having actors in their homes. It’s fun! All this is where good will on your part comes in. Without the imput of really enthusiastic individuals who want their community to have a good time it simply won’t work. All key local organisers can come free, of course, as well as overnight hosts (two tickets per household). Also, they automatically become Friends of the Company – unless they don’t want to of course.
More on getting an audience
- Marketing – We’ll send you a marketing guide separately and nearer the time, but it really isn’t onerous, or time consuming, especially if there are several people to do it. Key things are getting an article in the parish mag, putting posters up (literally only a few), sending out e-flyers (if you have an emailing list), contacting key local group leaders (such as the leaders of a drama club, or U3A, etc) with details & getting a conversation going on Facebook & other social media – if you can. Not everyone does social media; we know that. If you can’t do it, maybe someone else in your village can. If not then we will find a way. We will contact the press (unless you have personal contacts). More another time.
- ‘Admin fee’ – A handful of venues (about five or six, out of 50+) actually make more than it costs us to put the show on and then we sometimes offer an ‘admin fee’ of about £50 – £100 if they have an organisation to sustain and have worked really hard for us, but usually they understand that we are not a commercial enterprise, but live a hand to mouth existence and have high costs (primarily so we can pay the actors proper Equity rates).
Where will we perform & what will happen on the day?
- The site – This needs to be grass and the minimum size of about two tennis courts (to include audience and the performance). The ideal space will be able to exclude non-paying members of the public (such as a small public park with gates, a private garden, or a primary school field), but we can set up in open public spaces too (such as a recreation ground or village green) because we can enclose the area with a fence. We would need to do a site visit before committing to taking the venue on.
- On the day – We arrive usually at about 3.30/4.00 on the day to set up. Some venues give us food, especially if we are a long way from shops. But this isn’t essential; only if you’d like to. We would need gates opened if they are usually locked. The public can arrive from 6.00 for picnics. The show begins at 7.30 in most places, but sometimes 7.00 or 7.15 is possible if more suitable for you. Starting early means the show isn’t in complete darkness at the end, which sounds good, but it means you miss our on the magical experience of our gaslights, which are very special. There’ll be a twenty minutes interval about 8.40 or so – and usually the show is finished by 10.00 (give or take 15 minutes either way). If we are staying overnight we do a ‘semi-get-out’, when valuable equipment is taken down and locked in our vans (which takes about twenty to thirty minutes), or if we are travelling we will pack up and be gone by about 11.00. If we are staying over the team like to go to the pub, ideally with their hosts.
- Access – We need access for our vans and pageant wagon (mobile stage). It is crucial therefore that there is a wide enough gate in & a key available.
- Toilets – We need toilets for ourselves and the public not too far away. We will sometimes hire them in, but this undermines financial viability a bit (which need not matter as explained above, but the more financial add-on’s there are the harder it becomes). Often the village hall is enough.
- Power supply – We light with gas, so don’t need an electricity supply, although access to a 13A socket is useful to charge people’s phones & to make a cup of tea.
- Seating – The public bring their own chairs or rugs to sit on.
- Refreshments – We encourage the public to bring wine and picnics, unless you want to provide food & refreshments. In our experience only limited fundraising can be achieved in relation to the effort, but you could certainly try.
- Raffles – If you want to raise money with a raffle, that’s fine by us. Usually the tickets are drawn towards the end of the interval by a member of the cast.
- Cancellation – We don’t perform in heavy or persistent rain because of damage to musical instruments. If we are close to the interval or the end of the play we may try and keep going until it is too much. If we are rained off before we start we will try & re-schedule it & customers can then choose to use their tickets for the re-scheduled show or somewhere else, or they can have a refund. If we start & are well into the play we don’t do refunds but customers can go to another venue (with a few exclusions) for free.
- Box office – Most people buy tickets online from our website, or if they can’t negotiate the site we can do it by email. However, a local box office, especially in villages, is very helpful (a local shop, post office, library, etc). Some people like to pop into somewhere while they are out shopping (especially older people who are not comfortable with buying on the Internet). This means persuading someone in the community to do it – or we often have a ‘walking box office’, someone who looks after the ticket book & sells directly to people.
- Ticket prices – We set the prices, although, because we work in a very wide area (right across Southern England), prices may vary (for economic, social and historic reasons). People may think at first that our prices are too high, but this is because village events are usually cheap & they do not expect the quality they will be getting – and which they would pay much more for at a theatre in a town (where they might see exactly the same actors). We are against the subsidising of ticket prices in rural areas because it reinforces people’s expectations of poorer quality. In fact we have found people sometimes don’t attend shows with subsidised prices because they have lower expectations of the quality. We do a reduced rate for people who come as a large group (10 or more), but this has to be done by contacting our office. We also have an informal policy of ‘pay what you can’ for people in genuine hardship. They only have to ask us. Prices for the current tour will be discussed with you separately, but there will be concessions for seniors, students, children (See our children’s policy), family groups and large groups.
- Temporary Event Notices – Since 2007 companies and/or venues were required to apply for an entertainment licence to perform in public places. The Government happily abandoned this requirement in April 2013 for small venues like ours. So no licence is required.
- Public liability insurance – We provide this to a value of £5 million, the standard rate for most district councils, and perfectly adequate.
- Our policy on children – Our shows are aimed at adults. They are not ‘family shows’ (that is ‘watered down’); we don’t want to be inhibited by the fact that there are children in the audience. However, the shows are often enjoyed by children and it would be a shame to ban them altogether. The important guidelines are: If they can’t sit for two hours without needing to speak out loud or run about, they shouldn’t be there. The plays are sometimes bawdy and can occasionally include ‘mild language’, but most children won’t even notice. So it’s down to the parents, who should seek advice from us if they want to bring children & are concerned. Plays will vary. Children have to sit with their parents and must not run about. If people bring babies they will be asked to leave if the baby is noisy; however much we love them, the play is not for them and we don’t want other people distracted. Children under 7 are not charged.
- Dogs – Dogs are permitted as long as they don’t start barking. If they do the owners will be asked to take them out.
- Friends of The Rudes – Our local hosts are invited to become Friends of the Rudes if they wish. There is no charge for this. You will receive our newsletters & be kept generally in touch with what we are up to.
CONTACT US – If it’s something you would like to do then email us at email@example.com.
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