Sam Freeman

Theatre | Comedy | Marketing

Category: Blog Post (page 1 of 12)

What next..?

Last week was, challenging. Basically I was meant to do a solo show in Liverpool and while I was there, sadly noone else was and a show is nothing without an audience. It made me think, question really, what I do. I’ve not written a play for 5 years and every time I write something I get angry with whatever I write (usually about 5,000 words in) and delete it. My stand up  isn’t great and the musical comedy stuff I’ve reached a point where my inherent lack of musical ability is a real glass ceiling. The stand up shows, which I love, I don’t have enough confidence will actually ever go anywhere. Finally directing is a dead end with my job as it is. So I feel like I need to work out what to do, something that I’m actually driven to do rather than something that just makes me furious. Of course this will read as reactionary but it’s not a particularly new feeling, just one I’ve not articulated really until now. I guess the question I’m asking is whether art and the pretentions of being able to make art has died a bit inside me. I think maybe it has. Maybe it’s just hibernating. In which case how do you revive it? How do you find that inspiration? Or is is just a little buried in feelings of weariness and an inability to turn off.

I’ve put below, the last script I was writing. I was about to delete it, angry that it’s not great, but instead I’m putting it below because it encapsulates the issue. It’s directionless. It doesn’t make a good point and when it does it’s either oblique or worn on a sleeve.

Read here (PDF): The Last Boy Scout

I’m doing a solo show in September

Hey Everyone,

This is a long post (sorry). Just over a year ago I wrote a show, “Truth” which I performed at 81 Renshaw Street on a double bill with my good friend Rob Thomas as a work-in-progress. The show lasted an hour and was a reasonable success, so much so that I decided that the following year I’d go to Edinburgh, win the panel prize, quit my job and become an urban comedy legend. Suffice to say I didn’t get a room in Edinburgh (100% bitter), was therefore ineligible to win the prize and am still working in marketing. Then about 3 months ago I was asked if I wanted to do the show in York by a mate, so I drove to York and people actually turned up to see it, annoyingly however this was massively undermined by the fact that the venue cancelled the gig for no apparent reason 30min before I was due to start. Only a 6 hour round trip but who’s counting.

SO that gets us here. My good friend Alastair Clark (and top beard grower) asked me if I wanted to do the show for Liverpool Comedy Festival this year which I duly agreed to. The problem is that there is a real risk that noone will turn up. I’ll be frank now, the show is good, it’s funny but if it had gone to Edinburgh then I would now be wallowing in thousands of pounds worth of debt. It’ll also, I think, be the second, and last time I perform the show, so a real opportunity to join the 23 people who saw its first performance and say “I walked close to the sun”.

It’s on the 18th of September at 9pm (yes it’s late), and it’s £5 to get in (or £7 if you see Jack Lewis Evans’ show as well – which is, and this is a press quote, “snappy” ★★★★ Wee Review).

So please, if you read this do one of 3 things:
1) Share this post and/or the event
2) Come to the gig (if you hate it I’ll buy you a pint afterwards)
3) Say you’ll attend on the event below (even if you don’t that’s ok).

So that’s about it really. Thank you for reading.

Lots of Love, Sam Xx

Are we all using the wrong tools?

Broad beans wot i grew

I’ve recently found out that I like gardening.

It’s relaxing, pulling out handfuls of weeds to leave a bare patch of earth looking like the set of Apocalypse Now, watering vegetables that steadfastly refuse to flower or fruit and trying to work out what the hell you do to keep things in pots alive. Two months ago my spade (handed down from generation to generation) snapped in half and since that moment I’ve been using a trowel to try and dig myself out of a metaphorical hole.

I found myself, about 4 months ago, thinking about data in a similar way to my efforts digging the garden. There must be an easier way.

The theatre I work for uses Spektrix (other systems available and will work in a similar way in terms of data export) and, while the reports are nice and user friendly I found myself needing something a bit more, well, spade-like. The issue with reports, particularly PDF downloads, is that they serve fairly singular tasks very well but don’t allow you to really explore and question data, not in a free flowing and speedy manner. You run a report, read a report, amend and repeat. Don’t get me wrong, it’s faster than most other systems I’ve used and is pretty good for basic applications but, greedily, I wanted more.

I was trying to do some analysis on the cinema we run, ask questions of the data to find out how programmes have changed and developed. What’s working and what isn’t and also, how we’re doing to date – better than last year? Worse? The same?

So I started off by downloading a row by row seat sales history for a show – pulling a range of data – from venue, date and genre, to days booked in advance, sales channel and event name. I threw it all into excel and… Well, a massive ball ache. Excel died pretty much instantly. The file size was huge (as an .xls) and the data I could gain from using smaller data samples was barely a step above my starting position.

But I gamely soldiered on, and through trial, error and some excessive swearing extracted some interesting data from a raw data file.

(fake data set)

(Full disclosure – I made a fake data set for all the charts in this document – sorry, some of the info in the real ones are sensitive and so I did some mocking up to show you what it looks like!)

So here’s what I ended up with (filled with a fake data set) – a clever, pivot table powered chart with filters based off a single large data table. So it could filter data quickly, provide answers to some questions and, visually, was workable.

The visual part is important because data is only as useful as its ability to persuade power to change or make a decision. This version has various basic dimensions and metrics but is limited by the cleanliness of the data underpinning it – my ability to make multiple pivot tables work together and also time. This took fucking hours, late at night, time that could be better spent writing blogs about brochures (which you should totally read btw – it won’t be at a conference any time soon and is interesting as a debate starter).

This chart looked at shows on a instance basis (each line is one performance of a show), interesting sure, but not actually that huge an upgrade from old reports. It’s also hamstrung by the challenges of updating and adding data. I’m not a programmer, or a mathematician, or a data scientist – I’m an enthusiastic amateur and geek who wants to make some charts to see if I can sell more tickets.

This table, while a little useful is essentially all just a bit tedious – I thought maybe the problem is the tool I’m using.

I’ve always used excel because it’s on every computer I use and, well, I’m quite geeky so its always made sense to use it. It can also do some really basic heatmapping (there’s a “how to” – click here – but beware, I did this 3 years ago so if you decide to do it there’s now definitely better ways) and data tables, but, if we’re being data led and trying to make decisions that are less gut reactions then maybe I need a better tool?

Typing in “data visualisation tools” I came across Tableau.

Now, before I start waxing lyrical about this I’d like to say that other systems are available, that while it’s relatively simple to use there is a learning curve and “yes, you should get me to come and show you how it works sometime” (or visit me, much easier, we can go for cake… yum).

Tableau claims to “help anyone see and understand their data. Connect to almost any database, drag and drop to create visualizations, and share with a click.” A bold claim, and, largely a claim that it delivers on.

There’s an important point to make before I go any further too. Why do this?
Everytime I talk to anyone in marketing the resource they’re missing is time. Not budget, or inspiration, or creativity. Time. We, as an industry, need to look at how we make efficiency savings, a minute at a time to allow us to do the jobs we’re meant to, to find time to make that difference. Our 40 hours a week needs to work harder and smarter.

Lecture over.

Tableau allows you to import a CSV file and then simply drag and drop dimensions and measures into visualisation. I currently have a CSV file that has nearly 1.5 million lines of data that is a) easy to update and b) is powering about 30 different, instantly update able and explorable graphs and charts.

I was originally going to go through a step-by-step process of what I did but instead I want to show you the results and talk through what they do… If you want to give it a go then please do (there’s a trial version of tableau available for free) and if you want to chat about it with me then drop me a tweet (@mrfreeman1984).

Here’s some of the things I’ve made – all easier and fast to filter… (I made a fake dataset for these too…)

(fake data set)

A basic sales dashboard, that can look across any venue, show, genre, date, time etc…

Q – how quickly can you find out average capacity across a series of shows, year on year? I can do it in 14 seconds…

(fake data set)

A really simple dashboard that looks at customer behaviour (this is the really basic one… I’m hiding the juicy dashboard for this).

Q – If you wanted to know the difference in audience % booking online between 3 different programmes of work across 5 financial years how fast can you find that out? 1 minute 30 sec?

(fake data set)

A really basic mapping exercise using the postcode area and districts that then looks at where you’re getting weaker and stronger, oh and can be filtered by venue, show, genre, date, time etc…

Q – In the postcode your venue is in is it getting more or less people this year, so far, than last year? 20 seconds to find out.

(fake data set)

And this is a bit of an odd mix of data… In this (fake) example we see that 2017 in March had loads more visitors from a few postcodes… Know why? Not a clue, but knowing it means I can start to find out..

Obviously I’m overplaying the speed thing, it takes a while to learn and get set up – but in comparison to excel and manual reports this is like using a tractor and plough in you back garden instead of a trowel and spoon.

So, in conclusion, ditch excel, try a specialist data visualisation software, explore and ask questions and buy me cake.

I hope this is food for thought. Please let me know how you get on.

Best, Sam

 

 

 

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?

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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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?

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.

Election Polling Data

A new poll has come out from YouGov surveying the carnage of the post-election landscape. It was incredibly interesting how over the course of the election how the polls changed and shifted towards Labour and then how the exit poll correctly predicted a hung parliament.  This new poll only offers basic details, nor does it have how the information was collated,cross tabs, long term comparative data or any specifics about the questions that were asked. But, despite this we can glean some things we’d expect and some things we maybe wouldn’t.

  • Conservative Voters Are Dying
    The older you are the more likely you are to vote Conservative. People aged 70+ are 3.5 times more likely to vote Tory, and, crucially, they are much more likely to vote. For all the talk of the youth surge impacting on the Corbyn vote the elderly are keeping the Conservatives in power. Put bluntly a cold winter helps the Labour vote. This is also reflected in the fact that the retired predominantly vote Tory while working people vote Labour. Coincidentally these people are also the people more likely to own a house and, in the polling data, house owners are more likely to be a Tory.
  • Every age is a little bit Liberal Democrat
    Curiously the Liberal Democrats have a pretty even spread across the age ranges which suggests their policies are cross generational (or at least the idea of being a Liberal is cross generational). They also poll considerably higher than UKIP voters which might lead you to think that we’re nationally a little less racist than we think.
  • Social Class has less impact on likely voting
    We imagine that Labour is for the poor and the Tory’s are for the rich. Turns out that’s not the case, the battle is not between rich and poor, it’s between young and old. Yes, there’s a slight slant but overall not massive differences.  The other socio-demographic area that seems to have a good impact is education…. 
  • Education makes you more liberal and left leaning
    Education makes people less likely to be a UKIP or Tory voter. A degree or higher increases you likelihood of voting for the Liberal Democrats by 100% and also increases your chances of voting Labour. All of which is undermined by the fact that everything/one is undoubtedly influenced by media consumption habits… which leads to…
  • The Daily Mail holds the keys to the kingdom
    The Mail has the biggest readership online and one of the biggest offline with 74% of their readers voting Conservative. A small shift in editorial direction could potentially decide things.

So how do they all win?

  • Labour
    Protect and get support from ages 50 – 69 year olds while maintaining the youth surge.
    Push for latter years learning initiatives for ages 40+
    Suggest increased funding for later life care (dying with dignity)
    Target social media at Daily Mail & Telegraph readers
    Pray for cold weather
  • Tory
    Write off all student loans (or promise to) (short term)
    Introduce Grammar Schools & limit HE & FE education (long term and counter productive)
    Protect press freedoms (aiming to turn The Guardian & The Independent’s editorial bias)
    Introduce Government backed low-interest mortgages.
    Find a candidate that’s dynamic enough to connect with younger voters
  • Liberals
    Align more closely with Labour’s youth policy and Tory senior policy.
    Brand as the Labour lite / Less cunty-Tory party.
  • Everyone Else
    Give up.
    Unless you’re UKIP, BNP or EDL, in which case fuck off first then give up.

6 things I thought watching “The Battle For Number 10”

I’ve been watching Sky’s coverage of Jeremy Paxman vs Theresa May vs Jeremy Corbyn. It’s been interesting watching it while also being logged into twitter and facebook – seeing both sides claim victory and the opposition’s calamitous performance – I would like to bet that in every comedy club in the UK this week we have a string of jokes all about it, most probably venomously anti-Tory and most probably pro-Corbyn.

Now before I go any further I will say that I am a progressive liberal, my opinions fall, in general, on Liberal, Labour and Green policies, so I am bias (please don’t comment to inform me of the fact, I’m well aware). I should also mention that I once did a quiz where it turned out I was 10% UKIP – I’m not sure which bit, but as a friend at the time pointed out, deep inside every well rounded liberal is a twat waiting to get out. I can only assume that my UKIPpiness has been muted by smashed avocado, sourdough and hand-churned butter from Waitrose.

Initially I thought I’d write about how each candidate answered the individual questions, after all, policy is what this should be all about, but The Guardian seemed to have that covered so maybe not worth my time. Then I wondered about writing something about Jeremy Paxman coming out of retirement but managed to do that on twitter..

So where did that leave me? I think with simple observations on what I saw and how I felt. So here are six things I thought while watching the show. Please comment if you’d like (I won’t reply) or retweet or share if that’s your thing.

  1. Corbyn came across as calm but missed moments
    Corbyn at points had a zen-like calm to his responses, batting away Paxman (JP) with ease at points. He seemed to make a smart decision by closing down questions he didn’t want to answer by staying calm, being concise and trying to make JP look aggressive and unreasonable. There was a point where I thought he had JP on the ropes and it felt like he missed an opportunity, I wanted him to send a few punches back and show a bit more steel, however that isn’t particularly his style and would have been off-principle. It was interesting how he seemed to speak a bit slower and quieter towards the end which made it tricker for JP to  interrupt him.
  2. May as defensive and a little fraught
    May came across as defensive and dealt with Paxman less easily – she fumbled a few replies and generally didn’t get JP on the ropes. She was, I think, given a harder time than the Labour leader, not in regards to the content (although curiously less references to things she’d done in the 80s, 90s & 00s), but in how aggressively Paxman pursued her and refused anything other than a soundbite answer (we’ll come back to this).  She was, I think, right not to put a figure on the cost of leaving the European Union but often failed to get her message across clearly, she needed to be concise, clear and structurally simple and also find nuance to her delivery to talk through Paxman (something Corbyn did more).
  3. Getting dressed right makes a difference.
    This is really shallow but I found it striking the change in Corbyn since he became Labour leader. As a society we are terrible for judging style over substance, but the reality is that we do. He looked sharper in a good suit – professional, responsible and more groomed. It’s little things like this that influence people – he has won the hearts and minds of those who know that’s not important – but for those he hasn’t he looked like he could lead a nation and not just a Geography expedition.
  4. It was all about the soundbite
    “Just let them speak” – The number of interruptions that both candidates had to endure was silly. I know Paxman is there to keep them in check and get the answers, but he was often pulling focus before anything had really been said. I found it interesting that when either one answered straight it killed the flow a bit. References to the IRA, Falklands and Monarchy felt dated and while have some relevance into the character of Corbyn they also made it about personality and not policy which felt like a waste. Paxman’s technique looked a little dated and a bit sensationalist (almost a parody of “Paxman”) – he didn’t so much set traps and wait for them to stumble into them than barge in with a baseball bat swinging wildly.  I wondered if Krishnan Guru-Murthy might have been a better choice to host?
  5. It’s a battle
    It occurred to me that tactically it’s a fine balance to succeed at a political interview, particularly with Paxman. If you go too defensive then you fail to get your point across, not defensive enough then the next interruption hits you with two or three examples of how you’ve failed. If you attack then you come across as a bully and aggressive. Try to hide something by talking around an issue and not answering the question leads to the pointed repetitions of the question. Big philosophical statements that change the entire narrative completely away from the question however do work. Corbyn talking about Social Injustice instead of the monarchy was a good example. Essentially fighting fire with fire (in terms of interviewee style) makes it all hotter. Trying to take away the heat is more effective.
  6. It was all too short and needed the candidates to face off.
    It all felt a bit rushed. There were clear points when Paxman looked like he’d been told to move on, the follow up question lacked bite (or just covered the same ground) and it felt like we covered not very much in a short amount of time and learnt very little. Multiple candidate debates featuring the top 6 candidates with each dedicated to a specific issue (defence, social care… etc..) would be much more informative. This wasn’t constructive debate or May v Corbyn. It was the candidates battling an interviewer who wanted to be impressive.

Right, that’s it. My thoughts, please disagree heartily (that’s okay), or agree (also okay).

Oh and this is my favourite tweet of the evening…

Insecurity

It’s 1:48am as I start writing this blog post.

But before I get to the point, the crux, the pips in the core of this particular apple I’m going to give you a bit of context. So tonight I had a bad gig, I was dog shit, absolutely crap, i wasn’t met by boos or active hatred, simply ambivalence. I’ve also been feeling like I can’t necessarily win at work at the mo – overwhelmed at some points and at others feeling like I’m trying to navigate a maze. Finally my creative work, plays, storytelling ‘n’ that isn’t happening at the moment.

That’s the context and we should also bare in mind that it’s 1:52am as I’m writing this post.

I’ve started to worry that I’m wasting my life. When I was younger I had such ambition. Being good wasn’t enough, I wanted to be the best, to beat everyone else into submission. Now I find myself being careful, not taking risks as much and accepting that there are people far better and more talented than me.

I wonder if part of the problem is calling. The idea of having “a calling” does, when you think about it, rely on a belief in fate, that there is a destination, predetermined for us all to arrive at. I’ve always thought my calling is theatre, but what if it’s not? What if it’s fishing? Or golf? Or plumbing? If we decide that we don’t believe in a pre-determined fate, then what we are left with are circumstances influenced by a set of moments and singular decisions to bring you to one place. What if instead of doing my GCSE work experience at the Stephen Joseph Theatre I’d done it for Cooplands Bakery? Would I be a baker now? Would I be marketing baking? Would I be happy marketing baking?

While reading this you should bare in mind it’s 2am as I’m writing this post.

I find myself fascinated by those who took big jumps in life, who risked it all. One of my favourite films is Into The Wild, about a young man who leaves his life behind to live in the wilderness. Isn’t that an esquisite idea, to escape, try and find meaning in something different, a different way of life and existance. I mean sure, he ended up dying of starvation and disease in an abandoned bus in Alaska, but until that point it’s pretty inspiring.

It’s now 2:03am.

Stuart Goldsmith on his podcast the Comedians Comedian often asks his guests if they’re happy. They often say contented and I find myself unsure whether that’s a good thing or not. Is contented acceptance of one’s place in life, a breath out that says my lot is here, an ungrasping of the need to succeed further, to reach beyond what is currently held? Is it a beautiful moment of self actualisation where life gains meaning? Is it a good or bad thing and who defines that good or bad?

2:09am.

Insecurity undoubtedly plays it’s part. That’s the problem. I know full well when I don’t apply for a gig, stop writing for fear of more rejection or don’t push myself to do something it’s the voices in my head stopping me. I know it’s a circular event, a self perpetuating event that goes round and round.

2:19am.

So what to do? Who knows. Maybe I’m content. Maybe I’m risk averse. Maybe I need to blow my world up to see what happens. Or maybe, just maybe, I need to go to sleep.

2:21am

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