Sam Freeman

Theatre | Comedy | Marketing

Theatre Marketing: A Brochure Conundrum

(This is part of a series of blogs I’ve mentally entitled “things that might be interesting at a marketing conference” – please retweet if you think this is interesting and comment at the bottom to let me know your thoughts! Thanks, Sam x)

(Click image to zoom)

I’ve recently started writing the new marketing strategy for the next 3 years for the organisation I work for (Theatr Clwyd – this blog though represents my views only and not the views of the organisation). The last strategy, linked in with the business plan had gone quite well, it’d been relatively SMART and going through it after two years I found myself ticking lots of things off. What I wasn’t ticking off however was a sense of achievement, a sense that there had been a fundamental sea change that was really pushing at and questions what we do.

As I started jotting down new ideas I found ideas that I, and I’m sure many people have written a thousand times before, and as I read the list as it was, it isn’t that bad, if I handed my notes in then people would undoubtedly nod. However it felt like something was missing at the core of what I was writing.

We’ve been working recently with TRGArts, an American company, similar to Baker Richards who do pricing consultancy. Like all consultancy it is, in part, about telling you things you know but don’t necessarily want to hear. It is infuriating in some parts (on-the-ground and in-the-sky thinking don’t always match), reassuring in others and also challenging. It’s made me think about how we work. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve not had chance to put anything into action aside from the TRG mandated ideas, and my own thinking has mostly taken place after a short cry and drive in my car, but overall its been a good thing.

And so as I looked at my list of notes I had a moment of shock when I realised that the thing that was missing,  the staple of theatre marketing, Old Familiar itself, was the humble season brochure.

Season brochures as all marketeers will tell you are three things. They’re a massive pain-in-the-arse to produce, they’re incredibly expensive and, crucially, they drive sales. We know they drive sales because we see it everytime we drop a brochure – sure, they’re supported with e-mails and launches –  but they are the workhorses of our marketing toolkit. They also occupy an odd position – unlike practically all other marketing materials – in that they demand the attention of people who normally would have nothing to do with marketing. Everyone has an opinion on how this, the shop front should look. What noone has an opinion on is how it should work.

It seemed to me, looking at that list that if the brochure is such a key bit of marketing for us (which is it), and if it brings in as much money as it does from our core audiences (which it does) then it should, at the very least have a bullet point in my marketing strategy. I’m a visual person so I started to sketch out how it currently works for us and how I’d like it to work in future – this is the image at the top of the page – the following bullet points explain how it works.

  • In the centre of the diagram are 12 circles – each representing a month – the orange circles are when we tend to programme heavily, the blue circles is the winter period where Panto and Christmas dominates (which feels like a slightly different time of year) and the pink circle is for August when we currently go dark.
  • There are two boxes surrounding some of the circles, these show when we tend to produce work that has the highest impact on the organisation – the most important for us to get audiences to. There’s a period in autumn and also spring. There isn’t one in the summer generally as it’s too hot. These boxes represent the times we need our brochure to work hardest for us. The other time is Christmas however the advance sales on this begins in March so it’s a year-round preoccupation.
  • The dotted line splits the ideas. Everything above the line is what we currently do. Everything below the line is what we could do if we wanted to work differently.
  • The small arrows are individual solus direct mails.
  • The small arrows with 3 multi coloured dots are grouped mailings which might contain genre-specific mailings.
  • The big arrows are season brochures with, in brackets, the number of pages they contain.
  • The green fading lines that emanate from the season brochure arrows represent where the brochure is most effective – so the closer to the drop date the more impact a brochure has.
  • Finally the line at the top and the bottom indicate which parts of the year are most and least supported by our brochure.

Please of course bare in mind that this is a small part of a much bigger picture – nothing works in isolation and this idea includes this – also that this is largely conceptual.

Top Half: Before

The top half of the diagram shows what we currently do. We send 3 brochures a year which are all 64 pages. They’re incredibly big because we work bilingually (if you think creating you brochure is tough and expensive then chat to us…) and we land them at the following times:

  • April – to get the summer season in, support the family arts festival, begin panto and autumn pre-sales.
  • July – for the autumn season and panto – if it goes in August we worry it gets ignored as it’s holiday o’clock, and September is too late to make an impact on shows in September and October.
  • November – for last minute panto sales (occasionally late programmed ice rinks) and to sell the spring subscription, again it’s battling against Christmas if it’s too late.

This strategy has a few issues. Firstly we leave ourselves with dead zone, where the brochures impact is reduced, it’s been out for a long time and sales off the back of it are at a minimum. These are annoyingly aligned with some of our best producing periods but moving the dates doesn’t help us as then we don’t have a sufficient lead time to get advance sales. As a result we balance out the brochure dead periods with increased solus mailings. It also means that the most supported time of year in brochure terms in July, which is also largely a time of little financial gain organisationally.

Bottom Half: After

This strategy looks at a hypothetic 6 brochure year, where we reduce the size of our brochures (we still trail things but not in as much depth – but more frequently), we make them specifically for mailing to already engaged audiences (after all they’re expensive, why throw them out into the abyss, we can also tailor the supporting messaging) and we try to reduce the number of solus mailings which have a lower ROI. The key here is that they’re for already engaged audiences and no longer a one-size fits all piece of print to cover multiple bases – we’d also look at what supports this in terms of distribution (that’s cheap and cheerful), and also digital.

The 6 brochure strategy has the potential to ensure we’ve no dead zones of brochure engagement throughout the year, that our key parts of the year are covered by multiple brochures and we serve shows in March and November better.

The print cost is comparable (64pg x 3 a year vs 32 pg x 6 a year), but design costs are more. The postage charges are more but then, hopefully so is ROI (and you’d redirect some of the postage costs into the brochures).

We’d be moving from a 3 season cycle to a more perpetual on-sale technique which means that some of the pain of producing brochures can be spread out, as and when a show is booked. There’s still an issue with how to make it less of a pain in the arse (arguably when it becomes such a frequently produced piece of print there’s a reduced focus on it to the same extent) although you’d hope that shows would appear in multiple brochures so you’d aim to move away from a “sign off” culture to a “I trust you to sell my show” culture. Interestingly we produce 12 film brochures a year which are turned around in 3 days to little or no ill effect. We’d also have the increased flexibility to be reactive: Artwork doesn’t work? Change it in the next brochure! Famous cast member added? Add it in the next brochure?

Major shows would appear 3 times, while smaller events, gigs where late booking is more common, would get exposure in a timely way (few people book for comedy club gigs 7 months in advance). You could also theme each brochure so they’d have a specific focus – not every brochure would contain info on everything the organisation does – it varies to give space and accepts that we don’t need to tell people that we do good community work 6 times a year.

So that idea. What do you think?

I’ve a few more images I’ve been designing up – interested?

Would I Book Myself?

It’s been a couple of months since I wrote anything on here – a few reasons really, hyper-busy at work, a few gigs and just generally feeling like I don’t want to write anything – suffice to say the numbers of visits my website has had has really dropped off (apart from in the Ukraine, where I am either incredibly popular or someone is desperate to break into my site). Anyway, it’s been 2 months, and I have something to say.

I had a gig tonight, it was okay, I was headlining and it was a paid gig. I wasn’t terrible, but I also wasn’t brilliant. But as I was driving home I felt, as I have a lot recently after gigging, a little hollow and, weirdly a little sad. I’ve been trying to put my finger on it for a while and here’s where I’ve ended up (in bullet point fashion).

  • I don’t like my set/material/musical comedy
    This won’t be a surprise to some people, I’ve known it for a while and been in denial about it I guess. It’s lowest common denominator, shock comedy hidden behind me trying to be quite affable. If I was watching I’d admire the commitment but not the art. That’s precisely the problem, it’s not art, it’s formulaic and, well, it’s not me. I was told that I have “a dirty mind” by a comedian I respect very much. That’s the nub of the problem, I can think it up but it’s not who I am, I can’t live the filth, fundamentally my beliefs are out of kilter with my stage performance.
  • It’s been 6 years of going nowhere
    I did a comedy course in 2012 and then started. I mentioned this to Louise yesterday and she, wisely, pointed out that I’d never really pushed for gigs or myself, it’d always been a hobby. The reality is I don’t want to do comedy clubs (at the moment, maybe I never have), or weekends at the store. Sure I like gigging and performing in front of people, and I feel compelled to do it regularly, but that’s once a fortnight not nightly. 6 years has taught me what I don’t want to be, and given me ideas of what I could do but I’ve not really heeded what I’ve learnt.
  • The only bit of stand up / comedy I’m actually proud of is Truth
    I’ve been thinking about the things I’ve been proud of in those 6 years and I can get to 2 things. The first is Truth (link), the show I wrote last year, did once, and then, after failing to get an Edinburgh venue, never did again, the second are my storytelling sets (but only outside the context of a comedy club). Sure I’ve enjoyed smashing the odd gig (I’ve died a fair few times as well), but those 2 things filled a hole, briefly, that gig smashing (or dying) never really came close to.
  • People laugh but say nothing after
    You might think I’m beating myself up a bit, but it’s about pride and feeling like I’m making something worthy of even being remembered. At the moment I come offstage and, while people have laughed, there’s no follow up, noone’s compelled to ask me about what I did, because it’s disposable, empty, there’s a moment of a laugh but then nothing more. The storytelling sets had that, the show had that – they had flaws and weren’t perfect but they weren’t throwaway.

Ultimately I asked myself would I book myself? Or, under what circumstances would I book myself?

Here’s my answer – “no I wouldn’t”.

Why not? Well it’s crass comedy, it’s quite well performed but that doesn’t make it good, it makes me stage comfortable. It’s not clever, it doesn’t change your perspective on the world, it’s, simply put, not the sort of thing I’d book or be arsed about watching. The only circumstance I’d book me is for a footballers dinner or as a contrast act to provide variation to the evening – the problem is I’d rather be the thing I contrast.

So where’s that leave me. Well, I’m going to knock the musical comedy on the head for a bit. Also stop doing anything paid (luckily my 2 paid gigs of the year have happened and everything else booked in is new material). I love playing piano, and singing, but I can do that at home. I’m going to gig less and only do new stuff that is me (even if it means that I die on stage much more). I’m going to try doing some different things to see what fits. Get back doing new stuff and taking risks, maybe do some non-stand up things, try and find out something I’d exceptional at and love, rather than something I can turn my hand to.

I’ve never had a deadline for when I’d stop doing comedy, it’s been a hobby, and if it’s ever going to not be one then I need to find my niche or where I feel fulfilled. 6 years to find out what you don’t want to do is, I think, money well spent, but only if you twist when you find yourself stuck.

Night x

Who has been the smartest football team of 2017/18

It occurred to me, and I imagine every football fan who doesn’t support a Manchester-based team this year that the odds have been stacked heavily in the favor of Man Utd and Man City. On a very simple level just by the amount that has been spend on the respective teams.  It got me thinking about the notion of buying success and also what success looks like.

In footballing terms it often feels like Transfer Expenditure = Success – that has a strong element of truth – think of Blackburn during the Walker years or when Chelsea first became a force under Abramovich – but then there’s also places where this isn’t true – Leicester winning the league under Ranieri.

The plaudits will, undoubtedly be out for Pep Guardiola, who has won the league with a team playing stylish football in a team that exudes style and panache. However does he deserve the plaudits over Klopp, or Benitez, or Sean Dyche? In a world where money is so important – after all, how many times have we berated a chairman for not spending – who really has made some smart moves? Who’s over and under achieving?

I took the net spend figures for the season for all the EPL teams to work out who has spent the most. Now obviously this doesn’t take into account historical team spend, wages etc… We would expect newly promoted teams to spend more to raise the quality of the team, after all Huddersfield have not been a EPL team before. What I’m saying is that all you’re about to read is flawed, okay?

So if we assume that the more you spend the better your team should do (which seems reasonable based on internet football forums about how to make a football team better) then the table should read like this…

Team Net Spend (£m)
Man City -£225
Man Utd -£156
Everton -£77
Chelsea -£69
Brighton -£65
Watford -£53
Huddersfield -£51
WBA -£48
Crystal Palace -£45
Leicester -£38
Bournemouth -£34
Tottenham -£20
Newcastle -£20
Stoke -£14
Liverpool -£7
Arsenal £3
Burnley £14
West Ham £16
Swansea £17
Southampton £31

We’d expect City and United at the top of the table and then Southampton and Swansea at the bottom. Curiously you also have Arsenal and Liverpool down the bottom too.

I then ranked all the teams by spend, took the actual league table and put that alongside it. Essentially to see whether our theory of Money = Success is correct. Inevitably it is not.

Spend Position League Position
Team Position Position
Man City 1 1
Man Utd 2 2
Everton 3 8
Chelsea 4 5
Brighton 5 13
Watford 6 12
Huddersfield 7 16
WBA 8 20
Crystal Palace 9 15
Leicester 10 9
Bournemouth 11 11
Tottenham 12 4
Newcastle 13 10
Stoke 14 19
Liverpool 15 3
Arsenal 16 6
Burnley 17 7
West Ham 18 14
Swansea 19 17
Southampton 20 18

Still some familiar names at the top and also the bottom.

So it would seem that we have it Pep has made the most of the extra cash and won the league. So is he the best manager?

I think maybe not. Pep has merely met expectations. Sure he’s won the league, but he’s done it with the biggest budget. What’s interesting are the people who’ve overachieved. The people who have made the cash transform into a higher points total than their budgets should really allow.

Spend Position League Position Difference in positions
Team Position Position Position
Liverpool 15 3 12
Arsenal 16 6 10
Burnley 17 7 10
Tottenham 12 4 8
West Ham 18 14 4
Newcastle 13 10 3
Swansea 19 17 2
Southampton 20 18 2
Leicester 10 9 1
Man City 1 1 0
Man Utd 2 2 0
Bournemouth 11 11 0
Chelsea 4 5 -1
Everton 3 8 -5
Stoke 14 19 -5
Watford 6 12 -6
Crystal Palace 9 15 -6
Brighton 5 13 -8
Huddersfield 7 16 -9
WBA 8 20 -12

So I added in a column to examine the difference between the two. What’s fascinating is that in this flawed chart Klopp is substantially the best manager, closely followed by “recent failure” Arsene Wenger and my favourite manager Sean Dyche.

Now of course this is hugely flawed. Liverpool and Arsenal have a longer history of major investment in the team than Burnley and the same goes for Brighton and Huddersfield so judging based on one season is pointless. Yet, as an indicator, I’d make a strong case for Sean Dyche as manager of the season, maybe even as a manager to turn to to maximise resources.

I’m tired now and as I read more into this the inherent flaws in my logic become ever more apparent.. Tweet me and let me know what you think, this seemed interesting to write at 11pm – the question is should i do more and do them properly? Night x

10 years ago (or the trials and tribulations of growing older)

I’ve recently been invited to go to a reunion with some people I went to university with. Different people have muted the university reunion over the past 8 years and, apart from going to visit specific people (usually Dan, Neil and Karen) I’ve not tended to go back that often – for the first few years after moving away because of some memories that made me sad and after getting over those simply time, distance and money.

This time however the right mix of circumstances has meant I’m going – albeit not to the official reunion, more a catch up and drinking session. It got me thinking about what has changed in the last 10 years, and, also, what hasn’t. Luckily, or, perhaps tragically, facebook keeps a pretty good record of some of the preoccupations of the time. So here are 10 things from 10 years ago (also, before you wet yourself laughing at my poor dress sense, check out some pictures of yourself at the time, I imagine none of us are bathed in glory)…

  • First up, I had a look through a lot of photos, going back pre-facebook and it would seem I've had the same haircut from the age of around 14. I'm not sure what made me think, "right a side parting is for life" but apparently it happened. I was a lot more uncomfortable with being skinny and had a habit of wearing clothes too big to hide that - the suit being a prime example.

 

13 thoughts I’ve had this week…

In no particular order:

  1. I’ve been feeding a pigeon that lives, on its own, in our back garden. I wonder if it’s anti-social, has been bullied by other pigeons or is a cock pigeon who all the other pigeons hate. Or maybe it’s because I keep feeding it. I feed the birds because my Nana who died last year would like it.
  2. We got a smart meter fitted. I now know the exact power usage of everything in my house. This has not made me happier, merely obsessive on finding where the errant 11w of power is being used when I switch everything off.
  3. I’m falling out of love with my comedy set again. It’s the fourth time (standup, storytelling, improv, music). I’m not sure I’ve found my voice. I do however love to play the piano – maybe just not for comedy.
  4. When will I give up on the comedy dream.
  5. The garage I use for my car is ace. They accidentally scraped my car when mending it and offered to respray it or do the work for free. I like this because the rest of my car looks like its had a grater run along the side.
  6. I find myself looking to buy a house but finding the notion absolutely terrifying, where to live? The solution is a houseboat which I think would be better.
  7. I have zero motivation to write anything (i need deadlines) and I find my own laziness infuriating – but I don’t think anything would be good. I think Edinburgh failure to get a venue has killed me a bit inside.
  8. I sometimes feel that with each passing day, week and month I’m becoming less interesting and more lost. I was sat amid 5 other comedians tonight and found myself with nothing to say, add or do, is this contentment or apathy?
  9. Analogue delay is better than digital delay and is interesting to play with on a tiny keyboard.
  10. Analogue delay doesn’t, however, make you better at music.
  11. I’ve always wanted a silly car (Mazda MX5 2005 or Audi TT 2003), yet my head tells me this is a stupid waste when people in some countries don’t have enough to eat.
  12. The Labour Party is at its most effective when it is violently consuming itself in a spiral of selfish single-mindedness. That’s why I’ve never joined, it seems regularly hateful.
  13. Most people are not exceptional – is it arrogant to assume that I must be good at something, does everyone think that or is my/societies real problem preventing Maslow’s self actualisation the awareness of being painfully close to the mean rather than star on some higher plain.

Fuck me that’s depressing.

Night x

My Ideal Theatre

In late December last year the playwright David Hare wrote an extended article for The Guardian offering his thoughts about what his vision for a perfect playhouse would be today. It’s a fascinating concept and a really interesting read (you can read it here). Some elements I struggled with and thought were a little naive – “Many theatre organisations are over-full with people who have nothing directly to do with putting on plays” –  whereas other elements made my heart swell with appreciation “computers will be centrally shut down at 4.30pm, so everyone can turn their attention to the night’s work”.

It got me thinking about the nature of theatre, particularly the theatre building. What would I want from a theatre? If I got a major lottery win and could start from scratch what would I want? What would be important to me? This blog aims to answer some of that… I’ve used many of David’s headings to focus this article and added a few of my own too..

If you find this interesting or would like to comment then please do below.

Location

The Playhouse (now the given name for any imaginary venue) will be based in a regional city – Liverpool or maybe Leeds – but it won’t be right in the centre. It’ll be within 25 minutes walk (10mins by taxi or 15min by bus) of the centre and will be on the edge of where the suburbs meets the city. It’s important that it’s close to some nice cafes, coffee shops, charity shops and, ideally, an independent DIY shop. I we were being extra needy, it’d back onto a park and be next to a lake (maybe a bit like Sefton Park). It’d be the kind of place where during the day joggers and dog walkers popped into for a coffee and at night people got drunk at before going for a snog in the park.

Sefton Park, Liverpol

Playing Space

This would be the easy bit – I have a theatre space that I have been utterly in love with since I first visited – Paines Plough’s Roundabout Theatre would be the main theatre – it would be identical with the only concessions being that a) it’s static and b) we install a set now and again. The space should absolutely be in the round – it’s a better experience for audiences, easier to direct in, makes writers work cleverly, keeps set costs down and is just better. It would however have a secondary space (of course) which would be a black box space similar to Theatr Clwyd’s Emlyn Williams Theatre and the National Theatre’s Dorfman Theatre – beautifully designed flexible space – used for workshops and for alternative touring work.

Artistic Policy

The Playhouse season would go from October to May and would have three elements – a produced season in-the-round, visiting small-scale shows and narrative-led comedy shows. The produced work would be mixed, with a different show every month with a maximum cast of 6 (not in rep though, I think people should be cast for parts specifically) – of the 8 plays a year 3 would be new work 4 would be revivals (contemporary classics) and 1 would be one I wrote (why the hell not). You’d expect to see the likes of Ayckbourn, Tim Firth, Godber, Chekhov, Caryl Churchill and never, and I cannot state this enough, never Shakespeare. Anyone dead for over 200 years will not have their work produced. The studio will have companies like Told By An Idiot, Vanishing Point, Les Deux Mondes and Puppet State. There will be a monthly family show, but largely family work will be focused around activities and fun days. The narrative-led comedy will be provided by Mark Watson, Daniel Kitson, Bridget Christie and other award-winning legends.

Actors

Every actor in the UK and beyond would be desperate to perform at The Playhouse. Conversations with agents would involve the agent pleading to let their high profile actor perform in the latest show. We will however largely (unless it’s Richard Harrington, Tim Key or Hayley Atwell) ignore their pleas. This will be a theatre for the undiscovered gem, for the new talent or the talent waiting to be discovered. I would, selfishly, choose to work with actors I think are amazing – Simon Hedger, Paul Stonehouse, Paul Osbourne, Susie Freeman, Hellie Cranney, Rosie Sheehy and Jamie Ballard would all be gainfully employed (should the right role appear).

Restaurants & Bars

There would be a single restaurant/bar at The Playhouse. A long bar, rustic and beautiful would have behind it an array of delicious beers, spirits and wines. There would be a coffee machine that produces the perfect crema but, people recognizing that coffee-flavoured foam isn’t as good as people make out would largely drink tea, from a pot. The aesthetic would be homemade, warm and friendly. The food would be hearty portions, big flavoured salads with chunks of carbs added on – meaty lasagna delivered by the chunk. There would be nothing bland and there would be lots of chocolate based deserts. Prices would be cheap – £1 for a cup of tea, £2 for a pint of bitter and £80 for a glass of champagne (to keep that demographic away). Yes, I’ve just described Mello Mello (RIP).

Audience & Community

The Playhouse would work throughout the community, particularly in care homes to ensure that those vulnerable people at the end of life see a kind face regularly. A family Christmas show would be free for schools to attend and during the summer term the theatre would be awash with young people performing onstage and participating in workshops. Every Monday performance would be free to those on Job Seekers Allowance and every ticket for senior managers of a) hedge funds, b) investment banks or c) banks would be £150 each. We would have a polaroid camera permanently available so that people could add their faces to our walls. At night rooms would transform into a homeless shelter. The Wifi would work. Nothing would be too much trouble.

 

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Part One

It is 7.35pm and rain is falling heavily. The road has transformed to a shallow ocean, tiny waves pushed from the tyres of the slowly moving traffic, gathering in rivers at the side of the road, flowing downhill, across tarmac and mud and into a ditch filled with misplaced cones, empty beer cans and a single shoe.

Exactly four miles further up the road there has been an accident, not a fatal accident, noone was injured, in fact at the accident exactly four miles up the road a man with a bald head, three tattoos, a BMW drivers club t-shirt, army fatigue shorts and rainwater dripping down his face has just shouted at a Priest calling them a “prick”.

Of course it could be very easy to read into this situation and come up with the wrong conclusion. It’s very easy to pass unnecessarily quick judgement on people you don’t know based purely on physical attributes. Without full knowledge of the exact circumstances and details of the incident you could easily draw the following incorrect assumptions.

Firstly you might assume that the man’s baldness and fondness for tattoos meant he was probably a neo-Nazi type fascist, someone whose hobbies include misogyny, casual racism and snooker. You might add that the army fatigue shorts were perhaps a reflection of his violent tendencies – maybe he’d been in prison for robbing a bank while slapping a woman. Indeed with those two assumptions in place alongside the fact that he’d shouted obscenities in the rain at a priest, the BMW drivers club t-shirt would merely be confirmation of initial suspicions that this man, this monster more likely, was one hundred percent “a bit of a cunt”.

Assumptions can, of course be misleading.

What was failed to be mentioned was that this probable meathead was currently sat on the floor with a cut and bloodied lip after being assaulted by Sandra, a Glasweigan priest in her mid fifties for asking for her insurance details after she’d swerved into the side of his mother’s new car spreading debris into the road but, thankfulfully, with no injuries.

What was also failed to be mentioned, but perhaps might have been guessed was that this story is not about Sandra. It is not about Sandra currently being handcuffed by a traffic officer, nor Graeme giving his statement, bloodied and regretting two of his three tattoos. The story is not even about Evelyn, Graeme’s mother, who had given Graeme the BMW t-shirt and army fatigue shorts the previous day for his birthday and had insisted that he wore them for their special day out.

It is not about any of them.

Instead it is about a man in a dark grey suit sat in standstill traffic, four miles from the scene of the accident, watching huge drops of rain hitting the windscreen as ineffective wipers move left to right. It’s about a man oblivious to Radio Four mumbling in the background, humid air steaming up the windows and the hunger building from three hours on the road. It’s about a man hoping, praying that he will be in time.

It’s about a man one hour away from home.

2080

It’s the 2nd Jan 2018 and I can’t sleep.

I have a hundred things going round my head and I can’t process them or make sense or decisions about them. Here’s a few of the weird things in my head:

  • If I don’t buy a house soon will I never buy a house?
  • I need to sort out the water bills to direct debit
  • I’ve not written anything of value for 4 years
  • I’m worried about work tomorrow and bizarrely it’s the prospect of HR forms that makes my blood run cold
  • I’d like a dog but am not in enough
  • I’d like a cat but am not in enough
  • I read an article about someone who really changes people’s lives and that felt far from me
  • Do I ever want kids?
  • I watched Trumbo and thought about having a moustache
  • I miss feeling inspired to write
  • I’m really unfit
  • I feel anxious a lot, like too much, stuff gets to me incredibly quickly, most notably anything about bills and money.

Most of all however I’ve been thinking about this:

I am 12,144 days old.
33¼ years.

This day in 2020 – I’ll be 35¼ years.
This day in 2030 – I’ll be 45¼ years.
This day in 2050 – I’ll be 65¼ years
This day in 2080 – I’ll be dust.

In 2080 my body will mix with soil and earth, my mind will have faded and gone and what will remain will be slowly evaporating memories, lost moments and quiet. I will have gone and I’ve no idea where. My mind, thoughts, spirit, feelings, insecurities will either dissolve like the chemical reactions they are, or, what? I’ve no idea what the purpose will have been, if life is a line and not a circle then what’s the master plan, what doors are opened, what difference is made, or are we all, fundamentally, at the very core of our being fighting for meaning in a universe where our existence will disappear in a flash. Will any of it matter?

I don’t know, I don’t think I’ll ever know and it scares the shit out of me.

Night x

Resolutions 2018

It’s that time again – the start of a new year, mild hangover, sleepy from fish ‘n’ chips and sat on the sofa watching Notting Hill – it’s a tale of all time. So firstly to assess last year’s resolutions…

2017 Resolutions

  1. Compere a gig regularly and get that key skill back. Nope
  2. Create 5 short videos that are funny and, crucially, good. Nope
  3. Write 10 new comedy songs and assemble them in an album. Nope
  4. Write a new play, about cricket and murder and send to theatres Nope
  5. Write a new hour-long storytelling show and perform it to wild acclaim. Nope
  6. Write a new stand up projection show about truth and perform it to muted acclaim. Yes, yes & yes
  7. Have piano lessons to make my songs better. Nope
  8. Go to Aberystwyth (the new series of Hinterland is due out soon) Nope
  9. Run a half marathon (ha ha ha ha ha ha ha) Nope
  10. Visit the following people: Bren & Miri, Matt & Dom, Steve & Emily, Suz & Jamie, Dan & Emily, Paul & Fran, Rachel, Nigel & Holly and Robbie and Mrs Robbie. 50% achieved.

So, overall, 1.5 out of 10, so not an entirely successful year for the old resolutions.

Anyway, and now on to this forthcoming year… As always if you’re reading this and you’d like to help me, force me, help motivate me with any of these then drop me a tweet or fb message!

2018 Resolutions

  1. Perform for two weeks at Edinburgh Festival – I’d like to do my show “Truth” at the fringe and hopefully get at least 1 review and maybe (maybe) 5 people a show (wild ambition)!
  2. Give one free day of theatre marketing consultancy to a theatre that needs a friendly helping hand and support.
  3. Write & perform a new storytelling show, it’ll be 5 stories all about love, loss and change.
  4. Go to the gym at least 15 times over 30 days so that I break my exercise-free existance and die less young by binge-fitnessing.
  5. Perform at 33 gigs throughout the year, essentially for 11 months of the year do 3 gigs a month… That’s how maths work.
  6. Write 6 really great blog posts about theatre, comedy, arts marketing or just life in general, but they’ve got to be phenomenal articles.
  7. Write and direct a WIP of a new comedy theatre show called The Don (a two-man amalgamation of The Godfather, Scarface, Reservoir Dogs etc..)
  8. Go to Aberystwyth where Hinterland was filmed. (If you’ve not seen Hinterland then seriously, take a look!)
  9. Raise £500 for charity through either gigging or by doing something silly?
  10. Write 5 new comedy songs to be used at comedy gigs (and recorded into an album)

So, there we go… Any takers?

Is Star Wars terrible?

Provocative isn’t it.

A month ago I would have clicked on this blog post with venom in my mind and one singular thought: this dickhead is wrong. I’d have insisted that not understanding Star Wars is like not understanding the concept of love, or hating cheesecake, essentially the domain of cold-hearted psychopaths.

But last week I saw The Last Jedi and it got me thinking about Star Wars, the films I have loved since I was 9 years old and whether that love affair might be finally fading. But first some thoughts on the latest films – of course including spoilers!

  1. Luke – I liked his fragility and his huge self doubt, the way that he’d isolated himself (that tantilising shot of the X-Wing underwater, sadly not followed up). But what had happened in the last 30 years, what had gone so very wrong? The problem was we didn’t have any of this answered – it felt like we walked in on a mentally ill man who’d had a breakdown and lost everything but without a proper explanation as to why? I wanted the origin story of that moment, of where he’d been, the things he’d seen – what motivated him to start a new Jedi order after the events at Endor? His character felt like a pencil sketch when I wanted an oil painting?
  2. Leia – Overlooking that moment in space where, with no prior warning, Leia develops a force-thruster in her hand, much like Luke I was hoping to find out more of the intervening years – also, and slightly awkwardly, it appeared that in the years since the second death star the rebellion had achieved… well, not much. Arguably if the baddies who built the planet destroying weapon are replaced by more zealoted baddies who built another planet destroying weapon you should really ask if the galaxy isn’t just a bit too fucked.
  3. Story – Essentially the story of a ship, very slowly, outrunning another ship until it ran out of fuel, yawn… It lacked imagination, the jeopardy felt almost artificial. Also if the First Order ships are a bit too slow to catch up with the rebellion ship then why don’t they try and jump ahead of it? Are they tactically inept?
  4. Rey – Her journey seems a little hollow. We set up the idea of her family being linked to Luke in the last film from her interaction with his lightsaber (we’re not sure why), they seem intrinsically connected, which is why it felt a waste for her to be from a family of “nobodies”. There’s also the tricky idea that she can develop all her force skills inside 10 days. In the earlier films it took decades to become a half decent Jedi, you’d even go to Jedi school – then Luke learnt over what felt like a few years (albeit with Yoda), and now Rey is a master in the space of what? 3 weeks?
  5. Lightsabers – So let’s chart the life of Luke’s blue lightsaber? It’s given to him by Obi Wan. He loses it on Bespin when his hand is chopped off. So where did Mas get it? What is its story? Also when Luke strides out to face Kylo on the planet surface he has a blue lightsaber, the same one that was destroyed moments earlier and the same one he’d lost and also not the green lightsaber he’d used from Return of the Jedi onwards and Kylo Ren doesn’t mention that at all (especially as it was a green lightsaber Kylo saw Luke with last…)? That’s not a clue?
  6. Snork – Great acting, clever character, actually an interesting and menacing evil character with tonnes of darkness and an almost slither. His death lost a brilliant character without ever explaining anything about him. He was powerful enough to easily beat Kylo and almost embarrass Rey in comparison, but he fails to notice the lightsaber next to him spinning?

I found myself writing this list and getting more pissed off, I could have written 40, 50 bullet points, until, in a moment of rare clarity, I thought why?

It is a family film after all, it’s science fiction, it doesn’t have to play by the rules, or explain itself, or how and why the rules of physics are routinely shattered. It’s also not aimed at me.

My main issue isn’t the film. The main issue is that it’s no longer for me.  I wanted a Star Wars film for me now, not the 9 year old me, but the 33 year old me, the one who can concentrate on plot and characterization, the one who loves True Detective and who has watched all of The West Wing four times and wants to watch it again to learn about the people. The necessity to open and close a character’s narrative arc within 2 hours 30 minutes, particularly in action films leaves me increasingly hollow.

I think that maybe the Star Wars I wanted wasn’t even a film at all? Maybe it was a 10 part TV series, made by HBO, with dialogue by Aaron Sorkin, something bleaker than ever before, something that rips apart the personalities of individuals and lays them bare. I wanted the new film to relate to the series in the same way that Jessica Jones relates to Marvel.

Is The Last Jedi a poor film? Yes I suspect, or maybe I’ve just grown out of it.

Film Review: Justice League

Life is about the choices we make, the friends we stand by and the moments where we courageously follow our hearts and take a leap of faith. Which is, I should say, a long way round to saying I decided to go to the cinema and not the gym tonight.

Let me answer your first question: the gym? No I have not been for almost three years, but I have the ambition to go, when I’m about to fall asleep, when I look in a mirror or, increasingly frequently when I ascend short flights of stairs. The problem is this ambition doesn’t readily translate into action, instead I search for distraction, and it was, with that firmly at the forefront of my mind, that I saw Justice League tonight.

Let me fill you in. It’s an epic battle between DC (comics) and Marvel (also comics) to produce films that have a strong residual essence of comics read by surprisingly few people and transform them into brands that can hit as large a demographic as possible. There are successes and there are failures – try and be too accessible and Batman and Robin excretes its way onto the screen – go the other way then you end up as The Dark Night Rises, where you crave a moment, a slither of joy or light.

So far Marvel have dominated this titanic battle with their successes from Iron Man through to Captain America: The Winter Soldier and Thor: Ragnorok with various highs and lows along the way. DC in the meantime have had a rougher ride, creating aesthetic-led films that have moments of genuine brilliance and then crumble away into excessively long, extreme CGI fight sequences. It’s been one of my huge frustrations – Man Of Steel used Kevin Costner and to a lesser extent Russell Crowe to build interesting father-son relationships with Clark Kent, similarly Wonderwoman created a conflicted, three-dimensional Diana at odds with the world – but they’ve been spoilt by a need to ramp up the action and to jump to a conclusion. Ben Affleck’s introduction as the latest Batman (a tall order after the particularly genre-defining portrayal by Christian Bale) in Dawn Of Justice was mishandled – Batman isn’t interesting, he hits people in a cape, Bruce Wayne isn’t interesting, he’s too rich for that – the fizz, that dynamism lies in the moment of conflict between those two selves – Affleck’s role has almost removed that, they feel increasingly like one person and it loses the heart of what makes superhero films hit the mark, that word I keep repeating: conflict.

Justice League is, like many of DC’s recent films, unbalanced but has moments which makes you ask if only.

The good: Gal Gadot is on good form as Wonderwoman without really sparkling – it feels like with an exception dramatic (rather than action) writer she could be incredible. Jason Mormoa as Aquaman has a rock ‘n’ roll presence that starts strongly and feels like an enigma wrapped inside a mystery, but the film never asks questions of the character – what maketh the man (or man-fish)? Ezra Miller (The Flash) takes the comic plaudits, gets the one-liners and physical moments that push him square and centre – he is the geeky audience encapsulated on screen. Ray Fisher as Cyborg gets a simmering glowering and glowing façade but seems to lack depth as a pale imitation of Ironman (to the purists, I’m sorry, I don’t know which came first).

What’s bad is, I think, three element: Depth, Affleck (or more specifically Batman) and conflict. Our direct comparison is Avengers Assemble in the Marvel universe. What worked incredibly well for that film (and series) was the way that it took time to reach Assembly point – we had to learn about all the components (and them about themselves) much more than in DC. That depth allows that number of characters to come into a single film and function, it even allows new players in (think Hawkeye) with minimal introduction because you can define them in relation to known quantities. That seems missing here – as if we’re so desperate to get to a fight that we forget people have to have a reason to fight (and be fought).

Ben Affleck as Batman doesn’t work. Sure it’s an older portrayal. Sure he’s seen and done a lot, but he’s built like a boxer not a street fighter, he’s almost arrogantly wealthy (something that predecessors never seemed to be), sponsored by Mercedes in what can only be the most glaringly obvious bit of product placement ever, for some obscure reason uses a horse to get to a Northern outpost rather than a helicopter and, and, well, he’s older okay, that’s what gets me. There’s moments when Bruce Wayne is casting admiring glances at Diana (Wonder Woman) and it feels uneasy, like the old bloke in a battered leather jacket in a nightclub buying twenty year olds drinks – it feels a little wrong – but hey, if she consents and he consents, if they both fully consent, if everyone consents, in writing, then they’re both grown adults – she is, after all, hundreds of years older than him and still not properly over the death of Captain Kirk (mk 2).

Most of all though it’s conflict – not enough emotional, too much physical. DC had opportunity to make the superhero films you get to think about, to get some true character actors, focus on purity of story, of removing CGI as much as possible – essentially following the model established by the Christopher Nolan brand of Batman films.

I guess it feels like DC made a choice, after life is about the choices we make, the friends we stand by and the moments where we courageously follow our hearts and take a leap of faith. Sometimes we nail it, sometimes we hit our fingers with a hammer, and sometimes we wonder if we should have gone to the gym instead.

Gig Report – Chorlton, Manchester

I realised on the drive back from tonight’s gig that I’d not written a gig report for a while. I think because my gigs have become so infrequent and I’ve been struggling with them (more on this later) I’ve not felt like writing them, and also I’ve just been so tired. Not tonight though, tonight I had 2 packs of Real McCoy’s on the way home, beef flavour as well, there was no dicking around. So with the equivalent of 3 Sunday lunches in my stomach (in crisp form) I write to you, dear reader, now.

So, some background, a few months ago I applied for a load of gigs and was met largely with a wall of silence. Then I got a call from a girl in Manchester asking me if I wanted to do a gig run by the radio station XSManchester. With literally no other gigs in my diary I decided I’d do it as my last gig, certainly in the immediate future, possibly forever.

If you’re a regular reader you’ll know I have a passionate yet brutal voice in my head that tells me that everything I do is shit (or, when it’s feeling more imaginative, a bag of balls). It’s a horrible self doubt that means I tend to see gigs as a collection of my own misjudgements, failures and inperfections rather than what they actually are. I can talk about it but I generally can’t think like that with any honesty. I’ve found gigging, or rather feeling confident enough to get gigs hard, really hard, occasionally I kick myself up the arse and book one or two and that’s been the way for a couple of years, a gig a month to keep me regular (gig fibre).

Interestingly this doesn’t effect me as much when I do solo shows (show here – first 15 are shit, rest is better) – I think it’s because it’s not a shared bill so the insecurity about being the worst doesn’t have a chance, instead I reconcile myself to the fact that they’ve made the mistake of coming to see me and me alone and well, they’ve only let themselves down. Anyway so the gig.

So gamely I turned up and realised very quickly that it wasn’t a normal gig but instead a heat of Manchester Comedian Of The Year judged by the previous year’s winner, a respected promoter and comedian Justin Lee Collins (more later). It was an odd gig. In retrospect I shouldn’t have done it. It was the day before my Nan’s funeral which I was cut up about and while I did okay the drive home was punctuated by tears and a fair whack of self pity. I’d left early as I knew there was a 4 hour drive early the next morning. But I thought nothing of it.

Fast forward to this week and I get a call saying I’ve been selected as a wildcard for the final. So tonight I found myself in the final of Manchester Comedian Of The Year. I was drawn to go on first and, in a room without a compere did 9 minutes and tried my best to punch up the room and, at the bare minimum, get people looking at the right direction at the stage. It was, I think okay in difficult circumstances, probably a gig I’d have been better compering than performing on, but considering I was opening I though, I’ve taken one for the team, sit back and relax knowing you’re out for the count.

It was tricky doing an opening set in a cold room for such a short period of time because I found myself falling onto the least nuanced of my material and trying to compere a bit (very light touch) to draw people in. Frustratingly I rushed and also found myself doing that dickhead thing of self-referencing the challenge (a cardinal no-no). Anyway I finished up and that was that.

It was a really strong lineup and so when it got to the end I drained my cup of tea grabbed my keys and got ready to go. Apart from I came third. It caught me a bit off guard, or rather, threw me a bit. I had mentally calculated that I’d come fifth or sixth at the gig so went up massively apprehensively, a little unsure (part of me wondering if they’d made a terrible error, maybe added something up incorrectly). I think I probably looked like an arrogant twat, nervously going up to say thanks and then fucking off as quick as possible, but my head was reconciled to the fact that I’d taken the bullet and like a lame horse would live out the rest of the gig in relative obscurity before a bolt gun to the head and off to the local abattoir.

I remember hearing a Daniel Kitson bit where he asks a girl to dance and she says yes and he talks about how he is unprepared for this eventuality. Having always done badly at competitions (and never even beaten the gong let alone win a gong show) I was unprepared. It was a bizarre feeling to have your inner monologue subverted by clapping and the promise of a £50 cheque (my career earnings now stand at £87.90).

Two things happened afterwards.

Firstly a woman from the audience in her late 50s (maybe early 60s) came up to me and, without batting an eyelid said “I think you were good enough for fifth at best”. She then informed me that my 70s TV Star song was terrible and would offend people before telling me a joke I should use instead (she’d seen it on facebook) about Jimmy Saville fixing it for someone to go camping with Gary Glitter. She also told me that I was mostly not funny and that I should keep trying.

Secondly I ended up having a conversation with Justin Lee Collins. During my set I’d made a joke at his expense (which I regret retrospectively, but he took with good humour) and so when he came over and was incredibly complimentary of my set (as he had been in the heats) I was really surprised. We should also remember that if anyone tells me they like something I’m doing I tend not to believe them (from the voice in the back of he head). But we got chatting.

So, a bit of history here, JLC started as a standup before turning to TV presenting and doing musical theatre. He was very successful but then in 2011 was convicted of harassment. I know there will be people reading this who at this point will be thinking “oh my god”. We chatted and I was struck by a few things.

Firstly that we live in a society that lets justice be served yet never forgives. I have a personal view that, most of the time, crime is a consequence of circumstance, situation and history. I have a friend with a conviction for drug dealing and he is not a bad person, he made a mistake, but he learnt from it and moved on – he is a person of humility, good humor but also someone who recognises his own error – something that is admirable and I am proud to call him a friend (he also knows lots about the nicknames for drugs – one is called Charlie, it might be the same as Beak but is different to Grass, Green and X – I literally have no idea what any of this means). If we judge people based on their mistakes rather than how they learnt from their mistakes what kind of society are we.

Secondly that online the comments directed at people from the anonymity of an avatar and a fake user name are vitriolic and uncontrolled. Social media has been such a good thing in so many ways but it fuels misinformation, distrust and turns people into people they’re not. I am sure I have tweeted things that are incorrect, taken aim at politicians for things they’ve done wrong (in my perception), but it is not a dialogue I’m having, it’s not a fact finding mission, it’s shouting in the dark. The problem is in a kingdom where outrage fuels interest and fact is flexible and often disputed how do you break that cycle without leaving a dark land of trolls to consume itself.

Finally that people can change. The JLC I met this evening was polite, humble, interested, honest and accepting. The cynic out there will say it might be a front. But if you do believe that then what does that say about humanity? What does it say about our ability to change and move on? What does it say about us, are we cynics or optimists?

I like to think that people can change, learn from their mistakes and grow as people. If I don’t believe that then I also can’t believe that I can change (unless I’m a massive hypocrite), can’t say goodbye to my self-critical voice in my head and grow and become the person I want to be.

I’m conscious that this has got overtly moral and questioning of our/my beliefs/attitudes, so I’ll finish with this, as I walked back to my seat tonight after finding out I was the THIRD BEST COMEDIAN IN MANCHESTER*, feeling slightly better about myself, a man shook my hand and said “lucky there mate”.

Not “unlucky”.
“Lucky”.

Night x

 

*This is a fact**
** Of those who entered***
***Not everyone entered****
****Noone seems to have noticed I am a) not from Manchester and b) don’t live in Manchester.

 

GIG REVIEW: Performing a show for the first time

So on Wednesday night this week I performed my new show, Truth, for the first time from start to stop. It’s always terrifying when you do anything new in front of any audience, what’s particularly galling is doing some solo hybrid comedy/theatre/storytelling, literally everything can go wrong. So did it?

Well…. No, not quite.

So I’d run elements of the story a couple of times at gigs in Warrington and Leeds so felt confident there was a basis of interest there – no point taking something dull and making it funny, at it’s core it has to at least prick interest. The previous Thursday I’d done the opening 25 mins of the show and it had been rip roaring. Wednesday was different, much quieter, much more nervy but still, for a first draft of a show, successful.

So what did I learn?

  • It’s hard gigging to an audience who know you. There’s an interesting thing about how you break expectation for audiences – things that seem quirky and different to a new audience will seem like recognisable tropes to people who know you better and will, of course get a different reaction.
  • I set the stage up wrong. I need to screen on my left and angled. It’s mostly about where I look and feel most comfortable, but also it’s about staging, I have to dominate rather than the screen.
  • It’s a slow burn. It took the audience 20 mins to get on board and even then I think there were at least 6 who weren’t (that’s okay at this point). Compereing off the top would help to get that warmth into the room a bit (but tricky when you know the majority).
  • It’s not stand up  nor is it storytelling. I need to decide which route to go down, or, perhaps, find a way of segmenting between the two, so that it feels more cohesive – the funny must drive the narrative and visa versa.
  • It needs more jokes. Obvious really, having not written any actual funnies in there it felt obvious where I was overreaching. Interestingly the onion bit about the kebab shop was really successful on Thu but died on Wed – probably because it feels like an attempted joke (and isn’t very good).

There was loads of other stuff too. The show ran at 55 minutes which was good, flowed coherently but lacked reinforcement and call backs to emphasis points that would payoff at the end. The ending split opinion a bit, I think I liked it but it needs to be more comprehensive and explain behind the curtain a bit more.

So the plan is…

This WIP was all about seeing if I had a tangible, workable idea. Yes I do. The next stage is booking a couple of previews further from home and repeating and editing as I go. I think I’m aiming for Edinburgh next year via a few fringe festivals so I’ve plenty of time. I need to think about character and costume (as it has an impact) and where I can simplify the powerpoint to balance the focus between screen and man.

SO… If by any chance you a) run a venue, b) run a gig or c) want to do a double header then let me know. I’ll do it on a bucket collection, I just want it to be good.

I’ve included 15 mins of the show below – because of it’s nature and structure I can’t put the full thing up as it’d ruin it. If you’d really like to see the full version then drop me a facebook or tweet me @mrfreeman1984 and I’ll send you the full video link. Oh and if you saw it and want to feed back then please do in the comments below – it’s really helpful!

Cheers!

Another week of Sam Freeman’s life

I’ve not written a proper “bloggy” post, I realised earlier today, for quite a while. I’ve tended to focus on things with actual purpose or focus, you know things like “my thoughts on marketing” or the classic “please come and see my show on Wednesday at 7pm at 81 Renshaw Street in Liverpool“.

I thought I’d try and avoid that today. Avoid it and simply talk about what goes through my head.

I appreciate that these sorts of blog posts are incredibly self indulgent and if you’re not a fan of that, well, tune out now.  I’ve bullet pointed all of these because, well, there’s clearly no good narrative structure or theme to link these together and it seemed easier. I’ve also added headings, because, well, I’m a writing legend who fundamentally understands that things need a break and clear markers.

  • Petits Filous are overrated
    For years I’ve believed that these tiny pots are full of yogurty joy, tiny foil sealed parcels of dairy filled delight. They’re not. They’re slightly shit, underflavoured shittubs of underwelming and often separating (what is that water on top?!?) disappointment. They’re not good because they sound slightly French, if you need that get a Creme Caramel.
  • Atomic Blonde, Fortitude and True Detective Season One are good, Fantastic Four is dogshit.
    I went to the cinema to see Atomic Blonde with super-low expectations, fully expecting a style over substance film with an obvious pull back and reveal at the end. It almost is all those things, but it’s saved by stylish cinematography, a stunning performance by Charlize Theron and a script that gives enough while never feeling rushed. I’ve also been watching Fortitude and True Detective again, both of which reminded me that the slow burn drama can be as watchable and compelling as shows with dragons. Then I watched the 2015 film of The Fantastic Four which, after a relatively good opening 30mins then spends the remainder of the film pissing on what had the potential to be an interesting franchise, undoubtedly there will be a follow up out soon.
  • I’m not ready for suburbia, I am ready for suburbia.
    I looked at a couple of houses this week in Bromborough and Bebington. We’ve been pondering moving towards the Wirral for a while, essentially we want a garden and a house less ridden with issues. I find myself at a weird point, I definitely don’t want to live in the centre of a city, but nor do I want to live in suburbia where the first thing estate agents tell you is the quality of the schools and the fact that the conservatory is great for entertaining. No it isn’t. So I think we’re settling on a different house that doesn’t make me actively sad.
  • Opinions
    I’ve been struck this week as to how irregularly I actually give my opinion. I am constantly tailoring my responses to make them “appropriate” to the context, but increasingly to prevent people from thinking I’m a massive dickhead.  I find myself softening what I say to avoid other people feeling bad, or, more regularly, so that I don’t sound like a cock (it’s all about me, I’m incredibly egocentric). I guess it’s a good thing, looking out for people’s feelings but at the same time I feel a frustration of holding back constantly (also that people must think I’m very inoffensive). But then noone likes a smartarse and if we spend the small amount of time in this world being disliked then life is going to go downhill mighty quickly. Swings & roundabouts.
  • We don’t all age at the same rate
    I have days where I wonder if I should be doing the grown up thing with my life like many of my contemporaries, birthing a mortgage, buying a child and getting walls I can paint and get insurance for; classic grown up fare. Then I have days where I notice that in many ways I’m more grown up than other people I know. Finally I think, does it actually matter. So long as you’re happy and non-regretful is there a right or wrong, or don’t we find that out until we’re sat alone in 40 years time wondering why we didn’t do things earlier.
  • Jogging hurts but makes you feel better
    We’ve been going jogging. 20 minutes every 3 days after which I feel like I’ve been brutally assaulted. However I’ve found it has made me a bit more chipper, so maybe exercise is the answer. Either that or an inhaler filled with endorphines. Maybe a little less painful.
  • Being a bit sad is okay
    I feel sad sometimes and it feels like a terrible thing to actually say. Now please don’t think I’m depressed, I’m not, it’s just I find myself getting waves of sadness that I can’t attribute to anything in particular. They go quite quickly and, y’know what, I wonder if, for me, they’re actually a good thing, I wonder if it’s a sign of conflict, ambition, of living life’s spectrum, or as a moment to search for something. I also wonder how many people also get it and are told that it’s terrible and that becomes more than what it is. I don’t know.
  • I’d like a dog but I don’t know my motivation for wanting one.
    I like dogs and while I’m not in the situation to have a dog I can’t decide where my increasing like of dogs comes from. Is is the 10 week old Golden Retriever puppy that now lives next door? Is it the adorable greyhounds at work that are very gentle and soft. Was it the 5 month old Welsh Terrier puppy under our table when we went for food. Or is it, just maybe, the constant indoctrination from my girlfriend with videos of puppies being adorable.

That’s it really, as always if you want to comment below (unless you’re Russian wanting me to buy viagra, seriously stop adding comments) then please do, and if you’re in Liverpool on Wednesday at 7pm with nothing to do come see my show at 81 Renshaw Street. I promise it’ll be okay.

Finally, if you enjoy reading this and would like me to e-mail every so often with things I’m doing then do so by clicking here.
Night x

10 things about being an arts marketing manager that I now know…

I’m not at the AMA conference this year, yet, despite the fact that I’ve a habit of being über critical of it, I find myself with a tinge of jealousy. People gathered round chatting about arts marketing, the challenges they face, the solutions they have come up with, a melting pot of arts geeks with fabulous shoes drinking white wine is, at points, glorious. While for the last few I’ve been to I’ve got more from the networking side than the speaker side I think they’re, broadly, a good learning experience and great for building confidence in what we do, how we do it and the possibilities that risk and experimentation offer.  While jealous I’m also excited that another of our marketing team is having her first AMA conference experience and so instead I find myself at work, tuning in via tweets.

My first AMA conference was around 2007 when as a fresh-faced Marketing Assistant I listened eagerly, took everything as gospel and drank so much I got hideously ill on the final day (which I disguised with Red Bull) after finding myself dancing in a Tikka Bar at 4am the previous night. I remember looking round at veterans of the conference and wanting to be them, to do the jobs they were doing. Now I find myself in that position and I wonder what I’d have told the 2007 flowery silk shirt wearing edition of myself to prepare him for the road ahead.

So, here’s the top 10 things I’d mention. If you’ve any to add then comment below.

  1. Don’t lose sleep over sales
    You’ll have a show, probably multiple shows that won’t sell. The one thing that won’t help is being tired, grumpy, staying up until 4am to run countless sales comparison reports and changing the formatting of an ever growing to do list. I can’t state this enough – it is a job – you need to find a balance between life and work and make sure there is a divide. I have seen arts marketeers have near breakdowns through worry. If you feel like this then talk to someone. If you think someone is feeling like this then talk to them. If people are racking up 20hrs of lieu time every week then it’s a sign. Fresh minds approaching what you’re doing beats tired ones every time.
  2. Lose sleep over sales
    Ignore point #1 completely sometimes. Sometimes you have to go hell for leather. Sometimes you have to [insert generic metaphor] or [insert another generic metaphor]. There are times when you’ll have to work late, where doing that extra will make a difference. But, and this is a big one, prioritise the easy wins (which mightn’t be what your creative director thinks or what the cast of the play thinks needs to be done – posters on the toilet doors of pubs can wait) and make sure you take the time off to balance it out.
  3. Knowing what didn’t work is hard
    After each show 40 people will have an opinion on why it did or didn’t work. In a wonderful marketing world you’d evaluate and work out exactly what did or didn’t succeed – in a venue with a fast-moving programme that is hard (or specifically, finding the time for it is hard) – it can be so tempting to get on board with the “wrong image”, “wrong copy”, “no names” bandwagon. Honestly, most of the times the thing for sure you can say is “it excited people” or “noone came”. If it’s the former then survey them, if it’s the latter then, well, wait until you hit a success and spot the differences.
  4. Make friends, stay friends
    This is dead easy. Meet as many people in the other venues near you as possible. Go for coffee, organise drinks, do a Christmas night out. I was incredibly lucky when I went to Liverpool in that Sarah Ogle from the Everyman took me for coffee and cake and we chatted about our respective venues for a couple of hours every month. It’s a support network that is essential, without it I would have found my job infinitely harder. Your problems are never unique, your venue isn’t a snowflake, or a special case, someone else will have experienced something similar – it’s just a question of finding them and asking them.
  5. If/When you fuck up admit it quickly
    Obvious. Seriously, it means you get problems solved quicker. Everyone has fucked up at some point. You’ll feel better having told someone and people will (generally) respect you more for ‘fessing up and taking responsibility.
  6. Pick your battles
    This blog is increasingly turning into Sun Tzu  but it is true in my experience. Most venues project a persona of being nimble, flight of foot and quick thinking – imagine them as a jet ski, dodging waves and errant surfers – in reality most are oil tankers – no one decision turns it round, instead hundreds of processes, steps and moments do. Also, most battles aren’t battles, they’re the start of a series of skirmishes.
  7. Rome wasn’t built in a day
    Thank you Paul Clay for hammering this into my face. Don’t try and change everything straight away. When I started at Unity I though, “well, on day one I’ll analyse, day two I’ll do the change, day three I’ll reap the bounty and on day four I’ll rest, three days faster than God.” Nope. Things take years. One year to move up a level. One year to move something from average to better than average. Ten to go from shit to perfect. Unless you have a huge team and infinite budget in which case knock yourself out.
  8. Noone remembers how things were, only how things could be.
    After you’ve been at a place for a year you’ll forget everything you’ve achieved. Write it down. It’ll be useful when you’re trying to value yourself and also if you need to remind people that, in fact, contrary to popular belief, things have changed.
  9. Don’t be a cock. Or at least try not to be.
    Obvious really. But people remember and everything will come back to haunt you (or save you) in the end.
  10. No-one dies because of theatre
    Sometimes we forget that we make theatre/art. We are in an incredibly privileged position. We should share our passion for what we do. We should be frustrated when things don’t go right. But there is more in the world than theatre. There is love, football, Danish furniture, The Wire, Coffee made by hipsters, birds singing, the sound of the sea crashing onto a beach, lust, sweaty nightclubs, cool bars, hungry children, warm embraces, loss, pub lunches next to rivers and much more… When you feel stressed, want to cry, feel a tear in the corner of your eye, remember this.
  11. And one for luck…
    If you look at something you did three years ago and you think it’s better than what you’re doing now then consider a career change. Constant improvement is what the arts deserve. Nothing more and nothing less.

Please share/like/retweet or comment if you enjoyed this or found this useful.
If you didn’t then shhhhhhhh, quiet time.

Creativity, Confidence and a Show

There are, it is said, two types of creative people. There are those who talk endlessly about the book they’re going to write and then there are those who write the book.

I’ve been feeling over the past year that I’ve been falling, increasingly heavily, into category one. Sure I’ve done gigs, created some new bits of comedy and written a script that could be, generously, described as “pretty poor” but ultimately I’ve not really taken that jump.

I guess there are two problems – firstly, when you work in a sector which is still relatively bipolar, broken into the “creative” and the “supportive”,  it can feel tricky if you’re on the supportive side to feel a confidence in your voice. Secondly, if you get out of the habit of being “creative” outside of your day-to-day, of trying to do the big project where there’s the major possibility of failure (by which I mean “artistic”) then you forget that failure is, arguably, in the early stages of creating something, far more useful than success.

Creativity and the confidence to create is also massively personality dependent. I have a friend who believes that everything they do will be great. They believe in their art, that they can create and fuck anyone who doesn’t believe them. I find it really hard. I naturally defer to others and will regularly venerate the achievements and abilities of other artists and will stay quiet (or more often be massively self-deprecating) about myself. That’s not to say I don’t talk about it (see para 2), I do, but I will try to avoid seeming like a dick even when my head is yelling “I could do it better in my sleep”.

Of course the proof is in the performance. You can’t just sit around waiting for someone to ask you to do something, you have to take the bull by the horns and actually do it. Sure I’d love to direct another play (ideally In A Forest Dark and Deep by Neil LaBute or A Steady Rain by Keith Huff – both of which I’d nail directorially) but realistically one has to be taken seriously to get those chances, and to do that you have to do as Samuel Beckett is famously quoted: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

SO. HERE GOES.

I’m doing a show. It’s a one-man theatre/comedy show about truth. It uses projection and tells a story of something that happened to me in the last year. At the bottom of this blog post is a link to book a free ticket (or click here). It’ll last about an hour and will not be good, it will have possibilities and, more importantly, will be out there.

Of course you might be thinking, “shit Sam, this is really misjudged” or “if it’s going to be shit I’ll give it a miss”. It won’t be shit (just not good). For reference here is a link to a show I did that was quite similar from a few years ago – click here.

So please come along (it’s on the 6 Sep at 81 Renshaw Street in Liverpool). Support me. Book a ticket now (it’s free) so that the pressure is really on for me to work hard at it. If it’s good then tell me, if it isn’t then tell me the following day.

I’m trying not to talk about the book, I hope you can sit down and have a read.

Fixed-term contracts in the arts

The Stage posted a poll on twitter today asking whether Theatre’s Artistic Directors should be on fixed-term contracts. It’s one of those notions I find really interesting, and also a question that I don’t think should be, necessarily, linked to just the Artistic Director (but that’s for another time).

I am also fully aware that I write this while wearing a metaphorical flak jacket. To answer your comments in advance.

  • Yes I’m wrong.
  • Yes you’re right.
  • Certainly that’s ridiculous
  • Absolutely, it’s an opinion and nothing more so ultimately doesn’t matter.

To answer the question posed to start. Yes I think that Artistic Directors should be on fixed-term contracts. I think that to keep arts organisations fresh the rejuvenation at the top should happen relatively regularly (across all the management team, ideally in rotation). It means that fresh thinking can be brought in, doctrine can be challenged and audiences can experience something new through the choices of what is, or is not programmed.

The trickier question becomes “how long”?

Well, I don’t know (I never claimed to have all the answers). We could all argue it depends on the person, the organisation and the location.

What about nine years? Is that a fair crack at it?
Let me break it down.

  • One year finding out about where you are and learning about your team
  • Two years finding out about where you want to be and what your team can do
  • Two years planting seeds
  • Four years of unprecedented success – Blooming amazing success…

I mean that feels fair? Doesn’t it?

You’re right, it’s ridiculous and doesn’t see the variation in the work that all the theatre’s do and the differing needs of them all. It also doesn’t recognise how the world doesn’t stay the same, how stability can be a very good thing or indeed how audiences are creatures of habit. Artistic Directors put up with all sorts of crap that most of us never see – adding job insecurity and an arbitrary timeline is not a helpful thing. So what’s the alternative?

  • Hand to hand combat: AD’s must kill a series of pretenders to the throne over a period of years until they themselves are slain. Imagine Rufus Norris standing over the slain body of Nick Hytner, clutching the all areas pass to the National Theatre in one hand and a bloodied copy of Assassins in the other. Also the first rule of Artistic Director Club is don’t talk about Artistic Director Club…
  • Reviews aggregatoring: Longevity is decided on the number of five star reviews received. For every 20 five star reviews another year is granted. Five stars from anything online only is a 1 month deduction while an appearance on the One Show is an extra four years. Critics become the most bribed people in the UK for giving both positive and negative reviews.
  • Hamlet Off: Every 5 years everyone who wants to be the Artistic Director must produce a one-woman version of Hamlet. If the show is staged in Manchester it must feature Maxine Peake and if it’s in London then it must be played by David Suchet (playing a double bluff). Each one will be watched by a school and the winner will be decided by the kids.

I wonder if The Stage would put that in a poll…

 

Return to cricket…

This week I did something a bit silly. Naturally with an opening like that (and imagining for a second that you’d started reading while also simultaneously circumventing this blog’s title) you’re thinking it’s probably drink related, or maybe you gigged in Preston or even tried to write a play.  In fact, none of these, instead I pretended to be 16 again.

I’ve had a few conversations about cricket recently, in particular village cricket. It started with a few conversations of shared anecdotes and then, when my mate Chris visited a few weeks ago, got back into my head. To give a little context, from the age of 9 to 16 I was obsessed with playing cricket. I wasn’t good, I wasn’t bad, but, like all cricket mad Yorkshire kids I was definitely the next Darren Gough.

I started, as all tall, skinny lad do, as a “fast bowler”, with a middling pace and a tendency to drift, far too often down the leg side. I then learnt to bat a bit and opened the batting from time to time, scoring fluke edges at a glacial rate while better players implored me to step on my wickets. I was not a great fielder, not a great tactician and not that keen on the exercise element. But I loved it nevertheless. I hurt my back and ended up bowling leg spin, the type of brutal leg spin that’s all wrist, rarely on target but would get ludicrous movement and for some obscure reason scare the shit out of batsmen who thought the good deliveries were deliberate. I was a strong junior player, then made the jump and was an incredibly average and often borderline poor senior player.

I stopped playing when I broke both my legs and walking wasn’t an option (a long story) and never really played again. I’d occasionally dabble, the odd nets session, but that was it. I focused on badminton for the next 15 years (until my shoulder finally packed in). So on an impulse  (Tues) I decided I buy a cricket ball and go to some quiet nets near where I live and see how I got on.

The first ball was tentative. What do you bowl to mark your great return? Is it a fast paced bouncer? Maybe an off break, or maybe underarm. I decided to go for a leg break – pick up where I left off and… and… well, it was actually pretty good. I swung an arm and dropped it 3ft in front of the crease on off stump (corridor of uncertainty), it gripped the astroturf and spun away 8 inches. Great I thought, let’s do a few more of them and then get in the England team.

The next half an hour was the most painful bowling experience ever. I tried spin, pace, even an optimistic attempt at swinging it. My head was all over the shot, arm started painfully then dropped with every delivery and knee hurt. One delivery I let go of so early that I’d have killed anyone stood behind me. If hawkeye had been involved it’d look like Devon Malcolm on acid, imagine that legendary Steve Harmison delivery at the start of his final ashes, but for every ball. It was as if my mind had focused on hitting, literally anything, but the wicket.

But then after 40 deliveries i started getting more consistency, hitting the mark more, going for line and length and as much speed as a 5 step run up can allow. I’d estimate from my point of view around 80 – 85mph. A batsman/casual observer might judge that to be around 18 – 22mph.

But did I enjoy it?

I kind of loved it. Sure my shoulder feels immensely tender right now and it’s smothered with deep heat that went out of date in 2013 (true), and yes I tried to put frozen peas on it and the result is a kitchen floor covered with frozen peas, and yes, clearly, I’m not good. But it was mind numbing, freeing and relaxing. Each one on target felt warm. Every bad delivery invoked a smile and shake of the head rather than anger or frustration. Non-pressurized cricket. Bliss.

I’ll be going again as soon as I lift my arm over head height again.

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