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Taking a show on tour

Here are a few questions that you could, or should, ask yourself when considering taking your poetry show on tour.

One-person shows
•    Do you have the material and experience to sustain a full show by yourself?
•    Have you tried the show out on audiences already? What was their reaction? (This does not mean you have read your poems to a gathering of friends).
•    Is the show rehearsed until you know it inside out?
•    Have you sought advice from someone with experience of putting on similar shows before?
•    How familiar are you with the technical aspects of the show? (Lighting, staging, costume, props – if necessary)

Multi-person shows
•    Is the show rehearsed until you know it inside out?
•    Have you tried the show out on audiences already? What was their reaction?
•    Have you sought advice from someone with experience of putting on similar shows before?
•    How familiar are you with the technical aspects of the show? (Lighting, staging, costume, props – if necessary)
•    Have you considered how the number of people in the show will affect the budget?

Multi-media shows
•    Is the show rehearsed until you know it inside out?
•    Have you tried the show out on audiences already? What was their reaction?
•    Have you sought advice from someone with experience of putting on similar shows before?
•    How familiar are you with the technical aspects of the show - audio/visual requirements, lighting, staging, props etc - and is all of this transportable within your proposed budget? Consider that you may need to employ and rehearse your own technician for each performance, to work with the venue’s technical people.

Getting the gigs
You may have a producer for your show, who would deal with all of the aspects of taking your show on tour, but if you are doing it yourself, here are some useful things to bear in mind.

Funding the show
There are funding bodies that will help you with the financial requirements of touring your show. The first-stop live literature funders are Arts Council England - here you will find all sorts of advice as well as the application forms to fill in and notes on how to fill in the forms. These forms are daunting, but there is help and advice available from Arts Council staff.

Remember that the Arts Council will need proof that at the very least 10% or more of your funding is from other sources – this can be funding in kind, fees, share of ticket sales or money from other arts funders. 

Selling the show
In order get a tour, you will need to convince promoters that your show is worth putting on at their venue or during their festival. A comprehensive and accurate promotional package is the best way to do this.

The package should include:
1. Clear information on who you are, your CV(s) and a good promotional photo of you.
2. Some samples of your work (live audio or video samples are essential if you are a performance poet).
3. Testimonials from promoters and/or live literature organisers (with contact details, so that the testimonials can be verified) and/or press cuttings and reviews of your live work.
3. An outline of what the show entails, the show format including technical requirements and brief details of the type of publicity material that you will be producing to promote the show at each venue.
4. A clear indication of the cost of the show to the promoter/venue, including whether your fee includes accommodation and travel costs.

If you can package the above up in an eye-catching and professional looking format, all the better. Sending a few scraps of hand-written A4 will not impress!
A website about the show is also useful, giving potential promoters the opportunity to browse sound and video files of the show.

Who to approach
There are plenty of Literature and Poetry Festivals happening throughout the UK, a comprehensive list of which can be found on the British Council site. This listing includes the festival dates, a brief outline of what goes on, a weblink for more information and the main contact for the festival.

You will also have to do a lot of digging - using the internet to find venues/theatres willing to consider one-off live literature events.

Send your promotional material to festival organisers or venues about 6 months before their festival starts or you want to tour, as that is the time that they will be planning their schedule.

Send a hard copy of your promo material through the post and then a couple of weeks later make a follow-up phone call to ensure your package has been received (and to remind the organiser that you exist!). It will be worth making contact with festival planners/organisers or venue programmers and calling them up every now and again if you haven’t heard anything, until you get a clear yes or no to your proposal.

Be diplomatic, though, promoters are human too and may not respond well to badgering or aggression!

Remember that you may have to approach at 30 venues/promoters to achieve 10 bookings.

Publicity material
All venues/promoters will expect you to provide publicity material in the form of A3 colour posters and smaller format fliers. Make sure that you budget for this cost and the cost of mailing them to venues.

Festivals and promoters will usually require press release material about the show as well as publicity photos of the performers.

Before you can apply for funding or you decide on how much you are going to charge venues/promoters per performance you need to have a clear idea of what your total costs of providing the show to each venue are.

You need to have a clear idea about:
•    fees for performers.
•    fees for technicians (if needed).
•    travel costs.
•    accommodation costs.
•    marketing and publicity material costs.
•    administration costs (the time to organise the tour and the costs of phones etc.).
•    insurance.
•    equipment hire/wear and tear.
•    production costs.

Your show should be regularly rehearsed so that you know it inside out and back to front and can therefore relax on stage and do your show justice.

If possible include funding for a director for your show.

You may have a clear idea of how you want things to be, but you cannot watch yourself perform, and a director will be able to guide you through your rehearsals and spot subtle alterations or make suggestions that would benefit your show.

(Employing a director also gives another artist a bit of work!)

Shaping the tour
It is advisable to organise your dates relatively close together, both geographically and chronologically.

This may not be possible, as you are somewhat at the mercy of the venue and festival promoters; however, there may be room for negotiation.

Having events close chronologically means that your show should keep its freshness, or even improve, as you progress from date to date and will avoid you having to rehearse between dates.

Geographically, try not to have too great a distance between consecutive shows (e.g. Newcastle one night and Penzance the next) as the travel will tire you out.
Ideally a tour of, say, 12 venues (the Arts Council required number of shows that constitutes a tour) should be spread over no more than 3 weeks (21 days).

Technical stuff
Creating a multi-media show can be fun and exciting, however the more platforms you use for presenting your work (film, audio, projections etc), the more chances there are of things going wrong!

It is imperative that you try and use exactly the same equipment when touring your show as you do when you rehearse your show before the tour. This will mean that you will be familiar with the equipment and can use it efficiently and proficiently.

You will probably find, however, that no 2 venues have the same set up regarding equipment such as projectors or sound.

It is vital that you talk to the technical staff at the venues well before your show and explain to them clearly and precisely what equipment you have and how you are going to use it, and get a clear picture of what equipment they have and how it links with yours.

The technical staff at the venues should be happy to discuss these matters with you well before the show, as it makes their lives easier if they know what you are bringing along and what you need.

It is also extremely important to arrange a decent ‘get-in’ time for each event. This is the period before the show during which you set up your stage, props and equipment. You need to have a clear idea of how long you will need for get in and then add half an hour to an hour for unexpected hitches, changing and pre-show relaxing/nerves.

For a technically complex show, you should consider travelling with your own rehearsed technician to work with the local technical staff.

Bear in mind that you will probably not only be conveying yourself/selves to each venue, but also your overnight clothes, any equipment that you need for the show and any product (CD’s or books) that you may want to sell.

It is probably advisable to have a vehicle of your own for the tour (as opposed to relying on public transport) so either using your own vehicle of hiring one would seem to be the best options. Remember to include car hire, petrol and wear and tear on the vehicle costs in your budget.

Some festivals and organisers will provide accommodation as part of the package they offer you; sometimes you will have to book into B&B’s or hotels near the theatres and sometimes you will be sleeping in spare rooms provided by poet-friendly households.

Booking rooms will add a lot to your budget, so be aware of that; if you are ok with sleeping on floors and in spare beds, then clearly that is the cheaper option and should be considered. The cost saved by using friends’ beds could perhaps be included as ‘in-kind’ payment in your budget as part of the 10% match funding you need to raise if applying for arts council funds.

Many venues/promoters will require you to have insurance cover for public liability, and employer’s liability. In addition it is probably wise to have cover for equipment and property that you will be taking to the venues. There are only a few specialist insurance companies that offer policies for travelling performance shows.

NODA Insurance (www.nodainsurance.co.uk) is experienced at working with small theatre groups but there are others. The cost of this insurance is significant and should be budgeted for.

If you are using your own vehicle, you may incur extra motor insurance premium, should you add another driver to the existing policy.

Written from experiences learned by Peter Hunter and David Johnson when they took their multi-media show Tales from a Paralalia Universe on a UK tour in 2006 - from www.poetrycan.co.uk

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