Monday, 7 February 2011


Issue: How can we make the process of tour-booking better for artists and companies?

Convener(s): Simon Day

Participants: `Martin McLean, Jorgen Tjon, Kate Hall, Thursa, Fionn Gill, Olga Petrakova, Katie Roberst, Matthew Austin, Rachel Brisco, Lucy Oliver-Harnsen, Bill Bankes-Jones, Simon Pittman, Marie Juliet, Joey Morse, Liz Chen, Zane Herma, Eleanor Klidingfield, Jo Crowley, Katie Duffy, Flavia Fraser-Cannon, Alfie Massey, Emma Dedkin, Simon Bedford and others

Summary of discussion, conclusions and/or recommendations:

Question has come about for me after experience of booking a regional tour following a successful Edinburgh. Although our small company (The Plasticine Men) have a good outcome, I found the process baffling. Why was so much work being duplicated? How are you supposed to conduct so many conversations at once and come up with a coherent schedule at the end of it? I thought that there must surely be a better way to do things…

It quickly became apparent that there were broadly three types of people represented in the discussion. Small companies relatively inexperienced at booking tours, experienced producers/organisations working with more established companies, and directors/programmers of venues.

The main thrust identified that the building of relationships was key, and that effective tours are many months, sometimes years in the planning, with communication between the venues and the companies/producers that they trust.

The question for me then moved on to whether small companies starting out with an ambition to tour, and without those relationships in place, should essentially aspire to find someone with that track-record to work with. The impassioned response from those people (I’ll call them ‘producers’ as a catch all term for now) was an unequivocal ‘NO!’. All the producers were forthright in recognizing the value of their own experience and knowledge, and in expressing a genuine willingness to share it with those individuals and companies who displayed the initiative to ask for it; it was offered that they share a responsibility, even an obligation, to do so, and underlined that there really wasn’t a right way and a wrong way. Examples were given of where this may have happened, through various ad hoc relationships and mentoring opportunities, or specific regional initiatives for instance.

Where certain regions had formal initiatives that linked venues’ programming, it was put that all venues operate within ‘invisible’ structures of recommendations. The model of co-commission, or associate venues was also put forward as a good way to facilitate touring opportunities after Edinburgh.

The discussion concluded with those individuals professing to possess valuable knowledge and experience that they would be willing to share, providing their contact details so that I could get back to them if I decided to move ahead with a plan to create a resource of some kind.

Other points raised/discussed

There was some discussion around the merits of a web-based resource to enable emerging companies to identify and communicate with venues, with many points well made on either side of the argument:

Each new ‘intake’ of aspiring companies essentially duplicate eachother’s work every year in building their own databases. Company’s/producers may be protective of information that they’ve put a lot of effort in to collate.
Much of the information that needs to be gathered is public-domain, just not all in one place. The information is already out there, on the web and in the Performing Artists’ Yearbook.
A system akin to universities clearing system could help smaller companies fill available slots. This may also help communication when the ‘merry go round’ of bookings is set in motion where a company bails on one London fringe venue in favour of another one, and leaves a gap that should be filled. Web resources are only as useful as how much they’re used, and need extensive maintenance.
Theatre is lagging behind a little in comparison to say, music industry, in utilising potential of web and information systems. Information, systems etc. can never replace the importance of relationship building.
Resource could be a logistical tool to help rather than an attempt to replace the building of relationships.
A central resource could be very useful for producers having to find the right venues for groups with specific access requirements.
In globalised world, resource could offer global perspective for international touring.

• Defining WHY you want to tour to a particular venue is crucial.
• Questions were asked of what may be learned from models and structures of other countries. Consensus seemed to be that there were as many approaches as there are countries, and that whatever happens, we shouldn’t go the way of the Americans!
• It was put that although funding cuts’ affect on the key relationships and programming was still an unknown quantity, that already venues may be seen to be becoming more risk averse, and reluctant to offer favourable deals.

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