Sam Freeman

Theatre | Comedy | Marketing

Category: Other (page 1 of 2)

Things I can control, things I cannot & everything in between…


“In an era of stress and anxiety, when the present seems unstable and the future unlikely, the natural response is to retreat and withdraw from reality, taking recourse either in fantasies of the future or in modified visions of a half-imagined past.”

Alan Moore

I was reading through a few of my posts on here, wondering what to write next and I noticed that my posts largely fall into 3 categories.

  • Serious posts about arts marketing
  • Non-serious posts about arts marketing
  • Posts about comedy and/or health and well-being

I’ve been reading lots of articles about mental health over the last few months, in part because I have friends who have mental health issues, in part because the challenges we all face interest me and, in part because I have my own from time-to-time.

It’s not something I talk about tremendously often, or, at the very least, something I try not to, certainly it’s something I find faintly embarrassing, like someone who enjoys the music of Toploader or supports Manchester United but has never seen a game at Old Trafford. 

On Lark Lane in Liverpool last week, I was watching the football with a mate, and, after the classic initial greetings, observations on the pros & cons of Klopp’s gegenpressing and the merits of James Milner (England’s best player) my mate turned to me, and with a wry smile said, “how are you actually beneath all the facade and deflection?”

“Yeah, fine”

Which is both true and also not true. 

Yes I am, largely fine. Life isn’t bad by any stretch, I’m really happy at home, I have my health, and Newcastle have won two games in a row. Also I don’t deflect. It feels like complaining about life is, frankly, a little churlish. I have a good job, friends, family, a new nephew who is the cutest child ever and sure Brexit is round the corner and Jeremy “The Saviour” Corbyn is being a bit of wet blanket at the moment with his principles and steadfast beliefs (who likes winning anyway), but overall, it’s all okay. 

I’ve also just watched Peter Jackson’s They Shall Not Grow Old, which is about the men and boys of World War One, a beautiful documentary and work of art, that I think really connected me with that generation. 

It’s fascinating watching the men on horses, riding through the mud to be able to think that members of my family (particularly my great uncle Rich – of whom we have a picture of him in uniform and on horseback) went through that. The past has never felt so close. My only sadness is that my Nana (who died a year or so ago) never got chance to see it as I’m sure she’d have got more out of it than I did. 

I sometimes feel a bit stupid writing this blog, but I write it because there’s stuff I’m comfortable saying (very little of genuine emotional value) and things I’m comfortable writing. I think detaching a bit, via this, helps in many ways, helps to make that disconnect that allows me to actually write about what I feel or think. It’s also not always read. a good proportion of what I write on here is live and visible but never actually shared more widely, it’s the process of writing which offers the partial catharsis.

So what’s been on my mind?

I guess a couple of things. The future (shocker) and also creativity. The future relates to general things to do with not having kids, or owning a house, or being able to actually make proper roots. And the creativity thing is to do with a crippling doubt I have about anything creative I do.

The creativity thing is an odd one. I suspect that working for a creative organisation in the role I do is possibly the worst things for it. Theatre’s divide into creatives and non-creatives, so despite having professionally directed and made small shows, I feel, pretty frequently, creatively inferior. It’s noone’s fault, it’s very much my own insecurity, and my inability to push for doing creative projects links to that. There’s a comfort zone I’m in. And I don’t count my marketing work as creative.

Yet I’m not always sure it’s an inferiority complex or insecurity. It’s a safety, risk averse thing too (bizarre when you consider the stand up thing). But that’s not really what this post is about (we’ll save that for another time).

Truth be told I’ve been having an issue with anxiety in the last few months, I think maybe 8 or 9 months, probably a little longer and it’s been getting worse recently.

What do I mean by anxiety?

At the gentle end I find it hard to turn off, I constantly feel like I should be doing something better, or solving a problem. There’s a negative streak that starts to hit after that, a relentless pessimism, that I try and hide as best I can. At the harder end, it can mean me curled up on the floor in my house, finding it hard to breath, as if someone is standing on my chest, my head thumping and spinning and tears rolling down my face.

The gentle end has been years, the harder end has been more frequent recently, and in the last 3 month really much more.

Get a grip. 
You need to learn to relax.
It’s not worth getting stressed about.
There’s nothing you can do right now.


It’s really hard not just to say fuck off. 
As if it’s that frigging easy. 

It’s a cycle of thoughts and actions that make it worse. Combinations of tiredness, trying to work my way out of it, constant needs to check and double check, self-blame for everything, and trying to be what is expected.

So there we go.

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

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.

 

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…

Rejection letters: what they say and what they mean…

I spent the last year writing a play.
It’s good.
I wrote it.
It must be.
Surely.

Sadly no-one agrees.

Lots of people say you should take rejection with a pinch of salt. I say no. Take that salt, add some lemon juice and squeeze it onto the gaping wound where you heart once beat. So here’s my guide to reading a rejection letter as a jilted playwright.

WHAT THEY SAY vs WHAT THEY MEAN

“Thank you for submitting your play”
“Thank you for testing our recently upgraded website”

“I’m afraid that on this occasion your play was not selected for further development.”
“Because we’ve already commissioned writers for the next 30 years we’ve no room at the inn.”

“we are not currently in a position to offer further feedback on your work”
“Christ alive, reading it was bad enough, I don’t want to have to consider your feelings. Also, if it turns out I was wrong I’ll look like a right dick”

“We ask therefore, that you respect a twelve month interval before sending us another script.”
“Please fuck off”

“Please be considerate of other writers”
“Please fuck off and get out of the way of writers who are better than you. Ones who we know.”

“We hope that you will not be disheartened by this decision”
“Have you considered killing yourself? That’s how we felt when reading your script, someone should pay for the 4 pages I read”

“We would also encourage you to send your script to other new writing venues such as the Royal Court Theatre and the National Theatre”
“But only if you are based in London”

“We wish you all the best with your future writing.”
“Have you considered another career choice?”

“Firstly we would like to apologise for having taken so long to respond to you, it has been a particularly busy few months”
“Sorry, our role as a company devoted to new writing has taken a backseat to workshops”

“Whilst we thoroughly enjoyed reading your play, it is not one that we wish to pursue into production at this time”
“If this play was a person it would have a terminal disease. And be on fire. In a desert.”

“Best wishes, Admin Placement”
“Best Wishes, Admin Placement”

You won’t believe what he looks like today…

Seriously now.

Grow the fuck up and read the news.

Oh, and join my e-mail list.

Drowning under the weight of a thousand e-mails

When I first started writing this blog it was to have a voice. “I’ve interesting things to say” I thought, “on interesting matters”. So I started to write and it turned out very quickly that I had nothing interesting to say when I tried to write something interesting. Instead it came across as someone trying to write something profound and deep and, well, failing.

Then I moved on to writing reviews after I was offered a couple of things for free, that quickly progressed to ideas, then reviews of gigs, marketing thoughts and general musings. None of which particular interesting, but there nonetheless, building slowly to create a distorted picture of a digital me.

Part of the reason I kept the blog I think was from a sense of finding the process of writing about what’s going on in my life quite cathartic. Never with the intention of anyone reading it (which naturally begs the question “why a blog then?”) and certainly not as a cry for help, but more as a space for me to pop down what’s in my head and start that process of mentally building solutions. So if you’re reading this, then no, I don’t want to talk about it, the point of this is so I don’t have to (or have to less).

I’ve been struggling at work recently with a feeling of drowning, of being utterly overwhelmed. At first it felt like the natural beginnings of a new job but now increasingly feels like the norm. Part of the issue I think it the deluge of e-mail that we face on a daily basis. I had a moment today where i decided to try and clear my inbox. In an hour I cleared 23 e-mails. Unfortunately in that hour I received 24 e-mails. A net gain of +1 e-mail.

80% of the e-mails I receive are things that require a quick answer. It’s the 20% that’s the challenge. The ones that must be crafted, reworked to create something that causes least offense with the smallest chance of misinterpretation. It’s exhausting. Imagine writing 4 formal postal letters in an hour and you’d go mad, yet that’s what we do.

I’ve also been working away from my desk a bit in a separate office this week. It’s an odd experience being away from my team. I feel distant, but, at the same time, find i’m more focused and efficient and am able to tailor my working environment to suit me and work in a way that is best for my needs and style. The business world talks about the need for Open Plan lives, but I genuinely think that’s naive as a one-stop solution for everyone – it’s about making individuals work better to support the greater machine, rather than making the machine more uniform for ease of setting it up and our own sense of order.

I’ve been pondering if there’s a solution, a way to work more efficiently, and this is what I’ve, this evening, come up with (with help from the internet). Some of these require compromise, but all are about the greater good of getting more done in the time I have.

  • E-mail is meant to be fast and dirty so let’s make them just that, faster, quicker and shorter.
  • Offices are not bad things. Sometimes a closed door is what you need.
  • Send less e-mail. Only send an e-mail if it is strictly necessary.
  • E-mail shouldn’t be constantly on, that’s what your phone is for. Instead it should be 2 hours a day and switched off in between.
  • Voicemails are pointless. Let’s kill them off, people will ring back.
  • Ignore any e-mails cc’d to me. CC is for info, it’s not urgent. Put it on a pile for “in case it’s needed”
  • Triage e-mails into urgent, none urgent and general info.
  • Use What’s App Web or Google Hangouts for internal communications as a shorthand system to replace quick e-mails.

 

When Ideas Come Thick & Fast

I’ve just got back from a week at Edinburgh Fringe, supposedly a holiday, but, invariably the combination of sprinting venue to venue in the driving rain, up flights of steps, shoving teenagers flyering their student production of 4:48 Psychosis out of the way and into the path of oncoming unicyclists advertising their one man Lord Of The Flies show can, on occasion, be a little tiring.

It was a lot of fun, nice to see some familiar faces. It was also the first year that our viewing became much more heavily theatre rather than stand-up. In part it was where we were staying, closer to Summerhall than my traditional hangouts of The Stand. As most of you know I’ve tended to do a theatre show every couple of years to “keep my hand in” the creative side and so, as it’s been 2 years that urge is coming back.

I’ve been writing a play for about 6 months called Opposition which I’ve nearly finished that will scratch that itch, invariably until a huge pile of rejection letters cascades through my letterbox. To sell it slightly – it’s the story of a humble MP who against the odds become leader of the opposition, fighting their cause with honesty and integrity – it’s the story of how people can be broken and how power is concentrated so that the democracy we have is different to the democracy we believe we own. When I started writing it seemed to voyage into the land of fantasy, but gradually over the last 6 months that fantasy has become increasing more real to the extent where, unlike anytime in my life, I think I’ve written something in tune with the zeitgeist. Will it ever be produced? Probably not.

The trip to Edinburgh however was great as it opens your mind to things you could be doing, and it was there that thoughts kept popping in my head. I’d like to share a few of them here – maybe you want to talk to me about one, or be gently encouraging, or simply ask to read the first page.

  • A story cycle called “12 stories about love”. It’s 12 short 5 minute stories about love, all which link. Accompanied by a double bass and acoustic guitar, improvising a soundtrack to it.
  • Stand up with a keyboard playing silly songs.
  • A projection show about self, about who we are, perceptions of who we are and how we discover our faults. So about love then. And excel. And possibly about death and what we want to do before we die.

I’ve not really written about why I moved away from wanting to create work in the last 2 years. It was, in truth, a couple of reasons. Firstly it felt like opportunity wasn’t there – producing Gaffer on a shoestring was a lot of fun. It was the intention to do the Liverpool run and then, after a short break, tour the show. We had strong indications that it might be able to tour to Sweden and it felt amazing. Then the rights were pulled by the writer and that was that. There was no follow up, a change in artistic leadership shortly after and the trust you’ve earned as a creative to do that sort of project is gone, helped on its way my my own lack of fight I suspect.

I think I’ve always imagined that I’ve got a thick skin and can endure disappointment well, what I now realise is that creatively, whether it’s standup, theatre or storytelling, I also don’t believe that I belong there. This sounds like an incredibly negative post, but I think it’s about self identification and the bravery to say what you are when it’s not what you do.

A good friend of mine once, rather astutely pointed out that the difference between a normal person and a consultant is that the latter says they’re a consultant and the former believes it. This same person also, astutely (they were having a very astute day), noted that the difference between them and us is they do not say. Admittedly we were watching the football at the time, but still, the point stands. Artists describe themselves as artists and do. They don’t say they’re writing a book, they’re doing.

As I get older I wonder where I shall end up, why/how/should we make that jump to something that’s not where we’re at, should it be done with a safety net or without. I wonder about happiness and what it even is – it’s not like the movies nor is it a constant, but how do we know when we’ve peaked, or should we never believe that? Maybe happiness is raising your average contentment to a point where you’re indifferent and unwilling to break the status quo? I wonder where I am on that scale, and whether being on a scale is good or bad. All the questions life doesn’t prepare you to answer.

Or maybe I just need a holiday on a beach somewhere.

Night x

AMA Reflection 2016

It’s become a bit of a tradition that on the way home from the AMA conference I gather my thoughts and write a blog post about the events and things it has raised. Luckily this year’s conference was in Edinburgh so I’ve a full 4 hours until I get home to do “thought gathering” – I’m sure when the AMA is eventually held in Liverpool it’ll put a stop to this (35 mins is too quick a journey!). I want to start with a few thoughts about what was said at the conference and what thoughts I had as a result and then move on to the conference itself.

This year’s theme was “On A Mission To Matter” – a worthy theme – looked at organisational relevance. My thoughts however, although vaguely linked to the theme were more about the broader role of marketing and theatre itself. My notes from yesterday can be found by clicking here and there’s a few bullet points about today’s sessions below.

  • Plan or Canvas?
    Should we be creating plans that work on a 3 – 5 year basis or look at a more canvas approach which places values at the centre rather than the achievement of statistical or financial values? I’m not sure. I think there is probably an issue in the arts with the length of arts funding and how planning is achieved. It’s often said in politics that the first few years of a Presidency they can actually achieve something but then all their time becomes devoted to re-election. I wonder if, with a 3 year funding cycle, organisations can spend the 3rd year worrying about re-election rather than action – also whether the current revenue model where organisations are fulfilling requirements of the funders means that we have organisations being too broad in their remit to guarantee funding. Is specialism better than breadth? I suspect they should compliment but I’m not sure it’s seen very often.
  • Inclusiveness
    I wrote a lot of notes which were about breaking down barriers – both internally and externally. How do we keep those on-board happy but change effectively to make our artform or venue less scary. It made me think about classical music. I don’t attend classical music because when I read about it I feel stupid. I worry that I won’t understand what’s happening, what’s good or bad, what the difference between a sonata and a requiem is, or even if those words are real. How do we break that down?
  • Welcome & Inclusivity
    We should be welcoming (well duh!). When people arrive does a member of staff say hello, ask people if they’re okay? Do we take their coats? Smile? For those people who regularly engage with us do we differentiate between the artforms they see. If they watch only amateur work are they less valuable to us? I’ve always though there should be an equality with art – Shakespeare is no more worthy than standup, Classical isn’t better than folk. But do we see it like that? Do we treat our audiences like that? And if we want true equality then how do we balance this against the financial realities of our organisation? What does inclusivity for a 21st Century theatre look like? Is it just Am Dram? Is it Yoga, drama classes for the over 60s, a community music stage, open mic? Is it about having a stance and sticking to it? Theatre didn’t speak with a voice pro or anti Brexit (it’s tricky I appreciate with funding). Is that the leadership theatre should be offering? Social, moral, political, artistic leadership? Or at the very least how should we facilitate the debate?
  • Serious R&D
    I’ve written about this before – how do we give ourselves scope to experiment? Do we specify budgets for experimentation and R&D? The creative side of an organisation does this a lot? Scratch performances, commissions, open dress rehearsals – does that need to be a specific budget line in the administrative side? What if the organisation wanted to go cloud based? How would we test? How do we place organisational learning at the core of what we do? For a while I’ve wanted to visit other arts organisations internationally to find out how they work first-hand? What value would this bring long-term?
  • Digital Product
    We need more and it needs to be broader. Digital shouldn’t be hived away as part of the marketing mix. Podcasts, vodcasts, blogs, Q&As, Live Streams, Video, & Galleries online should be part of the programming mix as an acceptance that how we consume media has fundamentally changed and that provision of these experiences could develop audience of the future to connect with us? We need to be segmented and targeted in what we create too – we want young people to come to the theatre – let’s go for engaging digitally and then for bums on seats?
  • Are our audience dying?
    This was mentioned a few times. Do we regularly check our audience demographic? Is it getting younger or older? The younger generation, the one currently being screwed by the entire world, will have a lower disposable income and more opportunities to engage with the arts in a way that’s not sat in a theatre seat. We need enough of them excited about what we do and quickly. Consider this – over 60s get a discount – granted they’re not working, but they’re also time rich, are more likely to have better pensions, have lower outgoings, might own a house and aren’t bringing up a family, don’t have to pay for childcare, had free university as an option – but get a discount. Is age an appropriate line for discounting?

And the conference… Well, I’m going to copy and paste what I wrote last year.

The conference was, I must say, a little disappointing, despite what I have written and learnt, that’s not to say bad, just a little underwhelming. It felt a bit tired at points, a little traditional and a little slow paced.  However I thought it was worth going to. This seems a little negative, but, I still gained ideas and felt refreshed (in a work sense) by the conference, and that is of great value in itself.

What would make it better? Shorter seminars (90 mins is a stretched 45 mins – let’s be concise) and more of them, 8 seminar sessions should be a minimum over 2 days – which would also help with networking. Short sharp keynote speeches – an hour is too long to be consistently inspirational, funny, empathetic and dynamic. Round table events on key subjects, issues, groups (touring companies round table) – perhaps programmes & strands of work? Maybe even exhibitors sharing seminars – let’s seem them fight it out.

This year the same applied. If I could change it then I’d add the following sessions…

Down the Pan: Learning from Failure
2:30pm – Thursday – (40 min)
Four Marketing Director’s talk about their greatest failures. From creating totally white leaflets to papering all but one seat, we talk about the errors, what happened next and what advice they’d give.

Now That’s What I Call Adwords
11am – Wednesday – (40 min)
A blast through Google adwords, running your first campaign, the difference between display ads and search, and some of the features you never knew were there.  When I say “Ad” you say “Words”!

Survey ManKey: A quick guide to the perfect survey
4pm – Wednesday – (40 min)
All the Artistic Director cares about is whether they enjoyed the show – what else should we ask? A guide to questions you might ask, information you might receive and things you might change as a result.

Little By Little: Top tips for a marketing oasis.
11am – Thursday – (45 min)
What are the tiny changes that can make a big difference – bring a notebook as 10 top marketing professionals give you 1 minute quick fixes for your organisation. Top tip #45 – Never use the phrase “world-class” to describe something shit.

Obviously I’ve written them to be funny(ish) but on a serious note, I’d go to all these and might even run one or two..

AMA Conference Notes & Thoughts – Day #1

I’m up in Edinburgh for this year’s Arts Marketing Association conference which is this year about relevance, or, as they’ve catchily titled it, On A Mission To Matter. I’m going to write up more extensively once the conference as ended but here’s a few bits and pieces I’ve thought about today.

  • What is the role of theatre?
    In the subsidised work is it acceptable for our mission to be purely art-form focused. Certainly many organisation have something that’s about giving (or inflicting) the arts upon people, like a harsh matron, forcing children to have their medicine. What if the art was more secondary – as a tool for social cohesion rather than social cohesion being a side effect of the arts. How would that effect process, roles and responsibility and how art is created?
  • Impact statements?
    It seems we write endless statements – mission, aims & objectives, artistic – the impact one, what we want to do to the world around us seems like a more progressive version that places the greater good above organisational and individual need.
  • What does good look like?
    How can we use data to monitor sales more effectively and use conditional formatting to help focus departmental attention – its one where I have a few reports that do this but one combined one would be great.
  • Audiences
    Our main focus should be to identify what puts people off about our organisation and fix them. That sounds dead simple. I wonder if sometimes we forget that.
  • Marketing isn’t flyers, marketing is dead?
    Lots of individual conversations about how marketing depts are changing the role of what it means to do marketing to enact organisational change and the barriers that come up (“it’s not your department”) – how do we use data to drive decisions and how do we manage organisational improvement in a practical way – there’s also a lot of talk about understaffing and unrealistic expectations of what can be achieved and also the quality level that can be achieved. Seems we need a chat about efficiency and using technology and IT systems to enable workflow rather than disrupt it.
  • Come in
    How do we welcome people into the theatre. Interesting how in restaurants if we’re not doted upon and shown where to go we get pissy but often in theatre we leave people to their own devices and intuition. Should we have a maitre dee (sp?) role to meet, greet and seat people?
  • Tonica
    Look like a really good company to get working on digital analysis. Do we spend too much on design and function while failing to pay for robust evaluation and analysis. How many theatres have someone who does solely analysis but across the entire organisation? Is it the missing link?
  • Dashboards
    How do we create and use dashboards to monitor organisational performance and how do we make these easier and simpler to assemble? I did one for Unity Theatre while working there and am wondering if it’s time to look at one for Theatr Clwyd.
  • Audiences
    Do we appeal to ego and the idea of aspirational living enough? How do we analyse space and function to find the best fit. For example if you’ve a stunning view is that where the tables for daytime food should live?
  • Food
    Simple question – would people instagram their meals? If not then it’s possibly not good enough?
  • Rules
    How do we identify the unmentioned rules that we abide by, challenge them and then, if necessary change them? Is it about personnel shift or is it about the way organisations operate in a less siloed way?

Dear David Cameron

Dear David,

I rent a house and the wall outside was chipped, cracking and looked a state.

So I sanded it down with the help of a friend, removed the dirt, the flaking paint and weeds. I bought paint and painted it so it looked fresh and new. My next door neighbour saw me outside painting and said “oh have you bought the house?” “No” I said, continuing to paint “we’re just renting”. “Is it worth it if you’re renting” he asked looking a little confused. I paused for a second and then said “Just because I’m passing through doesn’t mean I can’t make it nicer on the way”.

This will be the last time I write to you I’m afraid, our acquaintance must come to an end, I fear you, like many of your contemporaries will be consigned to the history books, mere headings, subtitles and footnotes in the annals of politics, talked about in hushed, nervous tones. But I want you to know that you won’t be forgotten, time may weary you, the years may pass, but I will remember you and what you have done and stood for.

Now I know that the chances are you will never read this – I know this because I monitor the people who read my posts and I know I have a core audience of about 13 people – it’s statistically unlikely – in many ways simply writing this would be a waste of time if it wasn’t so cathartic, so freeing, so important to say the things I’m about to say.

I want to ask you what you have done with my country.

I was brought up to believe this was a country where knowledge, learning, education was incredibly important. Instead I find a nation where the young are burden with mountains of debt from trying to achieve more, better, to reach higher. Where experts are not listened to and unsupported opinion reigns strongly while fact and critical thinking is left to die by the wayside. Where education is increasingly narrowed, where the only thing between a joyless experience of learning is the dedication of overworked, underpaid, under appreciated teachers. Where initiative, innovation and experimentation are taken from the hands of expert educators.

I was brought up to believe that we were an inclusive nation. Where we cared for those less fortunate, where we opened a door to help a neighbour, where we comforted those downtrodden and offered them safe haven. I thought we wanted to help people get off the streets and into safe, secure homes rather than put people there. I thought we’d look after the poorest, rather than take away all they have while scapegoating them. I thought we believed that every member of this country was equal, regardless of whether they lived in a Conservative, Labour or Liberal area. That everyone deserved the best, not those simply in the right constituencies.

I thought we were dreamers. A land of James Dyson’s, Clive Sinclair’s, of eccentrics who wanted to push the barriers. Make the air cleaner, roads safer, land greener and sky bluer. But all I see are huge corporations sucking, draining country. All I see are obscene amounts of money passing from state to individuals. All I see is the bullying tactics of media moguls, changing the very direction of travel with a headline, a poster, a hateful word.

We fought evil. Racism had no place, we thought in bigger pictures, we thought about ideals, about how the greater good was the unity of all, to help bring the liberalism and British beliefs to other shores, not to lose them on our own. We would challenge lies feverishly and without mercy. We were the nation who recognised the early signs of right wing racism and offered support, helped, we never thought we see it here.

I thought that Britain’s place in the world was to make the world a better place – to make it happier, safer, more caring and stable – all achieved with a stiff upper lip and a fundamental belief that if we all worked for the betterment of others then our own happiness would be secured.

So what went wrong?

Maybe those beliefs were all lies. Maybe it’s an imaginary view of an imaginary place that never really existed. Maybe I was the only one who wanted them, maybe society isn’t ready to work out what comes next after the greed, the selfish self-gratification and capitalism. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I know the answers, I’d just hoped we were prepared to try and find better answers rather than fall backwards to the failed solutions of days gone by.

And so I ask you David, what did you do, what did you really do? In that rose-tinted world where experts, facts and truth were cornerstones of British values – did you leave this place a better place than you found it?

So David, if you want to chat, have a coffee, talk about it all, then tweet me @mrfreeman1984, let’s work out what you do now to make amends, or maybe we could just sand and paint a wall and leave it a little better than before – just see how that feels.

Best, Sam.

Brexit: What next?

It happened.

I woke up this morning and felt sick, a wave of almost grief coming over me, that was swiftly followed by anger and then sadness. The UK has voted to leave the EU. It feels like the worst decision that has ever happened, it quite likely is a massively bad decision, but it is a decision nonetheless.

My immediate thought as the markets crashed were, selfishly, how will it effect me, what for the future and what should we learn from this.

There is a reality that the UK is considerably more conservative and right leaning than many people generally think. While this is a devastating result we should, perhaps, not be terribly surprised. Bare in mind that while UKIP only has 1 seat in parliament (0.2% of the seats) they received 12.7% of the popular vote at the last election. Certainly the first-past-the-post system has insulated us from this right-leaning part of the nation. We should also be aware that more people voted for UKIP than the Lib Dems, SNP and Green Parties – they are the third most popular party in the UK.

However, and I say this with an incredibly heavy heart, what we have witnessed is democracy in action – yes, we may hate the result – yes, the older generations have forced change on younger generations they didn’t want – yes, Nigel Farage is still being a smug, arrogant, arsehole. But democracy has been served – elected officials placing the fate of the nation in their own hands – rightly or wrongly – the people have spoken.

So where do we go next? My initial thought was back to bed, screw the lot of them. But that’s not terribly helpful and despite everything I still have to go to work. I thought I’d jot down my thoughts.

  • While there is conservatism strongly represented in older generations, younger people are more liberal than ever which gives me hope for the future.
  • UKIP have been a single issue party. There is a huge question about where they go next? Without a convenient scapegoat will they disappear? And if they do (and God I hope they do), who will take those voters.
  • There will be considerable economic impact as a result of this vote – this will undoubtedly effect the poor and young working people. But it will also hit the older generations, pensions, housing and more. There will, possibly be a reduction in house prices across the UK – whether there will be any jobs for people, or if inflation goes wild, that’s another matter. Eventually, everything will balance out. Simply put business works better in stability so stability is key.
  • We should examine the core of what our democracy is and how we conduct it. We rejected Alternative Vote and voted in one of the most right-wing, anti-poor, aggressive governments of the past 30 years. We also rejected accepting the considered views of our elected officials to put this subject to referendum. Was that a good idea? We won’t know for years.
  • I’ve read that lots of people said “I’ll leave the country” or have suggested that Scotland or Northern Ireland should hold independence votes. I desperately hope that doesn’t happen. I still believe we’re better together – the question is can we find a shared vision of the future that describes what we want to be in positive, aspirational tones, or are we stuck in the blame game with no exit in  sight.
  • We need to address the issues of misleading the public and hate crimes. Both have been committed by leading Brexiteers (and a few Remainers) during this hateful campaign. Will those people be brought to justice. When we ignore overt racism and the twisting of fact (or just bare-faced lies) where does that leave our nation?
  • The media must take some blame for this – again, when papers can publish lies and hate crimes, when they can aggressively destroy people, and take sides, we should ask the question about where news (impartial) ends and entertainment begins and how we and the masses can ensure the difference is obvious.

This is the start of a new journey – a new and terrifying journey. For hundreds of years we have been Great Britain, the United Kingdom. We need politics to find a new message, a new goal, perhaps even a written constitution so that we stop making a mockery of the words Great and United and live them.

Today is a hard day, the start of many hard days, it can seem bleak and dark, but it’s our duty to find that light, find our future and make our nation everything it promises but doesn’t yet deliver.

TV Review: Community

Viewing habits have completely changed.

Whereas once upon a time we’d anxiously plan our forthcoming unmissable shows in the Radio Times, carefully highlighting the key programmes and negotiating with family members for sole use of the television, and, or VHS, now we’re all on-demand, streamed and downloaded.

We’ve also lost, to an extent, that long drawn out process of watching a series. No longer do we (with a couple of exceptions) patiently tune in at a set time, watch and then curse that it’d be a whole week until the cliffhanger was resolved. Now I binge watch like a terrible addict, unwilling to sleep, desperate to know the next twist, a culture of “just one more episode” or “I’ll be up to bed after just… oh yes, another hour gone.” We overlook that we can pause shows, the whole story arcs have to be taken in, we’ve moved on from Last Of The Summer Wine to a world where episodes are episodic as part of a broader narrative rather than stand alone.

In the past 12 months I’ve watched the following shows: The Bridge (amazing), Hinterland (amazing), Line Of Duty (amazing), Making a Murderer (intriguing), Love (overrated but still good) and Breaking Bad (amazing). However I felt like I was needing a break, after all there are only so many shows about murder, deception, corruption and despair you can take, sometimes you need something fun.

Let me introduce Community.

It was one of those shows that popped up on Netflix, the type which looks like it might star Adam Sandler and thus be of no inherent value*. It wasn’t helped by Netflix’s categorisation of the show – “suggested for you” – no, fuck you Netflix, you don’t know me, I make my own choices in this world and don’t need your help.

Apparently I do.

Community is a show about an arrogant former lawyer (Jeff), fired from his job for faking his degree and qualifications, going to community college to retake the exams and, well, get back to lawyering. It’s about the study group he becomes part of and his journey towards humility**.

Let me start by saying the first 4 episodes are slow burners. There’s a lot of character work, the progression seems slow and the apparent lead, named Jeff Winger (played by Joel McHale) is unbelievably unlikable. It all feels very staged and a little bit like a sitcom by numbers. However don’t let that draw you into a false sense of security that this is another shit American TV comedy. Once you get past episode four you hit a clever, rich and silly series. It’s not serious, deep or going to change the world but it’s funny and experimental and is so heavily littered with pop-culture references that it constantly surprises.

The point where it really flies is where the focus moves from Jeff to the other cast members and becomes a more ensemble show. The cast includes Chevy Chase (who nails the role as the unintentionally racist, homophobic, elderly rich guy), Gillian Jacobs (who, despite having a story that starts around her being wooed by Jeff, develops a really interesting and rounded character), Danny Pudi (as Abed, my favourite character who acts as the vehicle to bring film and TV references into the series) in a great double act with Donald Glover (the ex-sports star) with reoccurring cameos from Ken Jeong and John Oliver.

So why watch?

It uses physical comedy better than many shows out at the moment – at a time where someone falling over is generally not added as a joke here it is included – included and done well. The film references – so far I’ve seen Apollo 13, Dawn Of The Dead, Battle Royale and Mean Girls – all clever, not always subtle, but always respectful of the source add a cool, weirdly alternative dynamic. It’s also fun, and light. It’s the pudding of the TV world. You don’t need it, it’s not going to fill you up or give you nourishment, but everyone will be happier with it.

*harsh, but he is criminally badly used as an actor, someone get him doing realism and he’ll be great.
**this is in no way a spoiler, it’s pretty damn obvious.

Forks in the road

Preamble
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about where I am in my life.

It was all sparked by an invitation to the 10 year university reunion and as I looked at the names and faces on the list I started to ponder, what have I done with my life. Not that this is an unusual feeling, not by any stretch, I imagine everyone regardless of their relative success has daily moments of this. I think it’s that we imagine what we thought we’d do and then compare it to what we have done and we focus on what’s missing rather than what is there.

Facebook isn’t helping this whole thing either, it’s sending me daily reminders of what I was doing 8 years ago and it’s a reminder firstly that I should have gotten my hair cut more regularly but also that the dreams I had, certainly in relation to my career, have not panned out how I imagined. That’s not to say that there haven’t been good moments, directing Gaffer and Floating, performing stand up (and most importantly meeting Lou) have been some of the best things to have happened.

But while there have been great moments I don’t seem to feel like I’m making progress with my work and creatively.

Problem Section
The directing opportunities have somewhat vanished – the chances to put on new shows after the success of the last one have dampened – most regularly I think by a lack of ambition or imagination in getting them off the ground which I find infuriating. But equally I’ve not been independent enough, I’ve not created enough work by myself, self financing or self producing enough work. Part of it is time, but part of it is something else.

I know from my playwriting that I got one bad review for a show 5 years ago and pretty much stopped writing. It was a brutal, harsh review written by someone who was clearly a bit of a prick, but it got right inside my head. Instead of moving on, getting on with the next show, the next idea, I just stopped, bitter that something hadn’t been handed to me. And why should it be?

With stand up I had a bad gig outside of Liverpool for a promoter I really respect (following someone who got a standing ovation) and couldn’t get my own inferiority out of my mind. There’s an extent to which I would never have won in that situation, and also an extent that the material needed tweaking. But what’s worse is that since then I’ve not applied for any gig with progression. Even though I suspect I’m a very competent MC, I’ve not made that jump and had the confidence to say I can do this.

I was looking for the cause of this and I think perhaps there is a huge element of fear holds me back in some situations. In work but also directing, playwrighting, comedy and storytelling. I have this fear of being shit and people knowing. Being found out as an imposter. Again not a new story, and one that, invariably everyone feels from time to time.

I appreciate that this all seems rather glum, and please, rest assured I’m not reaching for the gin bottle as I type this. Instead I wanted to talk, optimistically, about how I’m trying to get over it.

Solution Section
I made a graph. That’s it really. I’ve realised that what I struggle with (as much as the fear of failure) is an inability to see progress being made. When I’m writing something that’s 10,000 or 24,000 words long then 100, or 200 words can feel like such a small step, steps that you can’t really see build. So for two of the projects I’ve made a word count graph – so that I can see my targeted achievement against my actual. It’s geeky but (so far) it’s really worked in keeping me writing regularly on both projects.

graphI created an ideas board of things I’m working on and these are all things with defined dates to achieve them by. I’ve started having meetings with potential collaborators, and, importantly, I’m now focusing on projects that are not reliant on people in positions of power to approve or disapprove, they can all just happen because I want them to.

I realised that I don’t want to gig at weekend clubs, that’s not something I’m interested in (certainly not as anything other than MC) and that I can create comedy that is good, albeit not stand up in a different forum. So my storytelling will become my live performance outlet supplemented by MCing my gig in Liverpool, as will creating videos and podcasts. The stand up I want to do is storytelling and projection based (a la Will Adamsdale, Dan Bye and Dave Gorman) and relies more heavily on understanding of structure, plot and narrative as it does stand up – so feels possible for my skillset.

Finally I think I need to be braver. There are thousands and possibly millions of people who “have a book in them”, or “could do stand up” or “would love to act”, but ultimately that means jack shit unless you do. Equally, unless you do, unless you strive to do the things rather than talk about them then why should your opinion (and that is all it is) matter to me. Of course, the proof is in the action – check back here in 12 months to see if it’s worked or not I suppose.

Reality Check
And finally I have time.

I worry all the time about being left behind, not achieving what I want, or the placing of arbitary timelines on success. I wanted to be an Artistic Director by the time I was 30. That didn’t work out. But only the 30 bit. Ambitions are all achieveable but we have to be in the right place, at the right time, with the right knowledge and circumstances to achieve it.

Not everyone is a child prodigy, not everyone has made it by 30. Alan Rickman was 46 when he got his first major film, Ang Lee became a full-time director at 38, Samuel L Jackson’s breakout role was at the age of 43, Stan Lee created his first successful comic at 39 (Fantastic 4), Colonel Sanders was 62 when he first franchised KFC and Harry Berstein’s first book was published when he was 96.

See, I’ve got ages yet.

Night xx

 

The right (& fight) to experiment in arts organisations

The last couple of weeks have been tough for me professionally at work. It’s the classic story, too much happening all at the same time, a feeling of helplessness, being overwhelmed and needing to find some order, some way of making sense of what appears unexplainable and undecipherable chaos. I think this is a pretty common feeling not just across arts marketeers but also everyone who works in the arts (or should that simply be everyone who works).

I found myself on the bus home with ideas, frustrations and conversations rushing around my head and I wondered if life couldn’t all be a bit, well, easier.

One thing I’ve noticed in the arts (my only real point of reference) is that for a creative industry we are remarkably uncreative when it comes to working practice and experimentation when it doesn’t directly involve the art form.  I started to wonder whether, if we were starting from scratch tomorrow, whether we’d continue to work in that way?

I also had a meeting with a consultant last week and two things were apparent. Firstly that I would be helpless without that consultancy and secondly that experience was the necessity in resolving that helplessness. Apart from are those both true? Now I have had time to digest and step away from the sales pitch environment the first section (“helpless”) I can identify as the sign of an amazing sales pitch and the creation of need.  The second element, experience, can be incredibly true, but it reminded me that experience can also be defined differently – baggage – and that it can be difficult to sometimes tell the difference.

In our working lives we often continue to work in a particular way because experience has taught us it’s the best way. But this experience is probably not entirely ours, I’d like to bet we’ve never really challenged the concept it’s built on. Let’s take office working – we’re often told (explicitly or implicitly) that working in an office is the best environment for work – but is it – maybe in the 1980s when connectivity was a challenge, but is it still true? If you need silence to concentrate and a radio is blaring out 90s classics is that the best place to work? If your mind works in diagrams and moodboards but you can’t put drawings and ideas on the wall is that the best place to work? Or does it take away from the experience and erode the joy in achieving our work goals? Of finishing that project? Of creating something great.

So I’ve written down the things that would help me work better (and some possible solutions). See what you think? What would your list be? Chances are different, it’s personal preference to make the work experience better. Maybe comment at the bottom?

  1. Space, space, space
    I have the world’s smallest desk. It’s about 1 meter wide and I feel hemmed in all the time. I like to be able to spread out, look at things at the same time, compare and contrast. At the moment it feels impossible without intruding. It’s also the same in a virtual sense. I have a single monitor that although widescreen doesn’t make it easy to move between projects which often use simultaneous workspaces. I long for a wall, blank wall space which i can write directly on, stick ideas on, make moodcharts, add photos, themes, an actual pinterest board in real life. When I think I stare blankly into space, searching for inspiration. They help.
  2. The end of paper
    Paper, everything is on bloody paper. I make notes at a meeting, or pop an idea down and end up with reams of notes, all unattributed, all unlinked to projects, all potential goldmines (or coppermines) untapped. What I want is all my notes digitally held – notes written on a tablet, added to project files, conversations placed in the same place. We’re incredibly wedded to microsoft office but what about collaboration software? We use wunderlist and it’s great in many ways, it helps me keep an eye on what my team is up to but also when I feel like I’ve not achieved I can look at what has been done, it’s motivating to an extent. I want work syncronised. I want to get files when I’m not at my desk. I want 100% access 100% of the time. That’s not to say that I’ll use it. But if I’m in a meeting I want to be able to open what i need at that moment. Oh an if we could kill off outlook too for something that doesn’t erode my soul that’d be great too…
  3. A change of scenery
    My desk has a tiny window to the left and a tiny window to the right but no view at all. The Brontës had the splendor of moorlands to write in, Wordsworth had hills, even Dan Brown’s desk overlooks something. We need to find a space that inspires. A perfect view mightn’t always be possible but what can I do to make it more inspiring?
  4. Personal development time
    I think sometimes we need time to step back, take a deep breath in, try new things and move outside the day-to-day. I was incredibly lucky under three Marketing Manager (Rachel Chapman, Antony Dunn and Abbigail Ollive – all three ace marketeers) that they gave me the freedom to learn new things, try ideas, do silly things like social media (at the time a new thing) and develop new skills and in areas I didn’t expect. How can we continue this throughout our careers, so that learning and the simple joy of discovery and growth is inbuilt in our work ethic?
  5. Guilt free breaks
    Okay, this is 100% me. I feel bad about taking breaks. There was a theatre I worked in where all the tea breaks were synchronized so that in the morning everyone would have 20 mins break together. It’s slightly authoritarian in one way, a bit like the school bell, but actually is this the space where the communication and ideas can happen? We can still talk about work but actually connect, throw ideas, laugh, unwind for a moment? What if the tea break was where every good idea came from and we’d never found it out? How many great ideas have come from meetings and how many have come while chatting over coffee? What if that break was paid because we recognised it helped morale, and was a space for conversations and networking?

That’s it from me – just barely scratching the surface. Some starter ideas and thoughts there to consider. You may hate them, you may love them, you may be indifferent. If you’ve liked this blog post please share the post on twitter or facebook and leave a comment below – follow me on twitter or facebook, oh and join my mailing list!
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P.S. In other news I’ve hit a peak of creativity outside work. Currently I’m working on (deep breath) a new proper play, new storytelling show, a half hour TV pilot which we’re filming in Feb, new projection stand up show and a semi-improvised show which combines every Gangster/Crime film ever (possibly also with GTA5) in an epic 1 hour 2-hander. If you want to know more about any of these then get in touch! Best, Sam.

Translating the brand (part one)

***These are just a few thoughts I’ve had, you may disagree with them but if you do then please share why at the bottom or tweet me***

I’ve recently started work on the early stages of a capital redevelopment and the re-branding opportunity that accompanies it for my theatre. We’ve a limited budget that needs to be spread thinly and so I’ve started examining this myself rather than get consultant in. I am aware, it should be noted, that my perspective is compromised, but I’ve done this before, albeit in a different way to the ideas below and I think it is still fully acceptable to do this in house (but importantly with support), also the ideas are still in development. I’m also a firm believer that with rebranding there’s no real wrong or right way to do it, you find out if it works in implementation (and even then I think it takes a while to come to fruition or disaster). Some methods may mitigate these risks but they’re still options not rules.

Capital redevelopment and re-branding  should go hand-in-hand, it’s an opportunity to create a good, well-managed, high-quality cohesive experience for both customers and artists. However it is not a simple process and, over the past few months we’ve stumbled upon some interesting, and I’m sure you will find familiar questions. Continue reading

A travellers guide to… Bruges

Welcome to Bruge. Or should we call it Brugge? Or perhaps Bruggge?* In this short guide I will give you, the eager reader, travel enthusiast and ornithologist the tools and skills necessary to traverse a short-trip to Belgium’s answer to Bradford, the Venice of the North. We’ll examine money saving tips, great taste experiences and, well, tips.

  1. Monday to Friday Bruge is like London in the opening of 28 Days Later.
    Don’t bother going to the cinema to see the latest Hollywood blockbuster about a plague that wipes out large swaths of humanity leaving the streets deserted. Instead fly to Belgium and visit Bruge midweek in late November. You’ll wander the streets for hours looking for someone, anyone, to confirm that life does exist in the city and that isn’t in fact a beautiful city filled with romance and incredible architecture that has been overrun some weeks earlier by a Zombie apocalypse or, well worse. You’ll spend the weekdays wishing it was, just, well, maybe a little busier. However on weekends it becomes invariably overrun by English people on day trips to buy chocolate and who get wingy because they don’t do “proper pints”. Be careful what you wish for.
  2. Drink half what you would usually and drink it slowly in a safe place.
    On the matter of drinking it is safe to say that Belgian Beer is approximately 120 times stronger than any substance known to man, stronger than drinking Turps mixed with Meth mixed with protein shakes. But unlike ProteinTurpMeth it’s delightful. It’s like a kindly stranger who invites you to their warm, happy, house that’s tastefully decorated has impeccable manners yet is slightly quirky. Then ten minutes later assaults you so that your head wobbles and you think, “surely I can’t be pissed”. You are. Go home and sleep. The best beer I found was the unfiltered Zot Blonde – drink it here…
  3. All You Can Eat Ribs are a con.
    There’s a great restaurant call Ribs and Beer in Bruge. It was complicated to work out the type of food and drink they served at first, but, after an hour or so of translating the menu with a handy Flemish-English dictionary we discovered they sell both Ribs, and in a twist into the unexpected, Beer. They sell all you can eat ribs, they’re delicious, the meat falls from the bone like a footballer being gently tapped falls to the ground. But all you can eat? I managed one rack of ribs. They were huge, covered in sticky smokey amazing sauce. The guy on the table next to me managed 3 racks. I can only assume he’s now dead. They’re a con. Or amazing. I can’t decide.
  4. Deciding on a good restaurant.
    Avoid – Anywhere with laminated menus outside, anywhere on the main square, anywhere that claims to be “classic Belgian”, anywhere that feels it needs to show you what food there is with laminated menus, places that offer English breakfasts or where there are flags outside to show you what menu languages they have.
  5. Deciding where to visit.
    Find a group of English people, you’ll recognise them as they’ll be crowded round a chocolate shop claiming that “it’s not as good value as Thorntons” or that they can’t wait to get a good fryup, or just spouting some casual racism**. Listen to where they plan to go, just for 3 minutes and go the opposite direction. The solution to this is to visit on a weekday then there will be no problem as the streets will be deserted. One place you must visit however is Oliver’s chocolate shop who do delightful hot chocolate. It’s a family run place, Dad makes ’em, Mum and Son run the shops – their website is here….
  6. Waffles & cakes
    Belgian Waffles are great, get them with hot melted chocolate poured on top and two scoops of ice cream and let diabetes take hold. Alternatively head to the brilliant Patisserie Academie on Acadamiestraat and check out their amazing cakes including a cherry slice (I ate 2, both amazing) and the profiteroles (a heart attack on a plate), which are equally good for clogging the old arteries.
  7. Cobbles.
    Don’t wear heels. Just don’t bother. Bruge is 100% cobbled. There are areas of the city where the cobbles aren’t just limited to the floor they also start to go up the sides of buildings or into canals. Take some nice, comfy trainers, or shoes with grip (cobbles get slippy!). It’ll make the trip loads easier and that 15 minute dash from the hotel to the restaurant (The Park Restaurant is highly recommended) considerably easier. ALSO remember, everywhere in Bruges is exactly 15 minutes away***, so no need to get a taxi at all.

Hope this all helps and enjoy your future trip to Bruges.

* “Bruge” if you’re English, “Brugge” if you’re “European” and appreciate that the people living in the city might spell the name of the city more correctly than you.
**irony anyone?
***This is not a fact, but a pretty true, but you might have to walk slower or run to achieve it.

Marketing DIY: Intermediate Heat Mapping (Genre)

In the last Marketing DIY post (here) we talked about how you can do a basic heat mapping of your auditorium. We took basic data contained within your database to look at how long prior to booking people actually booked their tickets, used this as a basic measure of demand and then mapped it using conditional formatting to get an insight into how the booking of an auditorium works. Simple, not perfect, but useful.

But what do you do next? I gave a few examples of ideas you might have to increase revenue, but there’s probably more data you need to examine (particularly in regional reps where you have a broad variance in programming) before you should make your decisions about how to do your pricing. One example, which I’m going to touch on here might be variance in genre.

Let’s start with our hunch. I go to the theatre a lot and know that the experience of going to a comedy night varies from a theatre show – some people just hate that direct contact, they want to avoid being “picked on“. Equally, I have a suspicion that families always want the front row and that, in a rather more silly example, for circus shows that people love the side seats. So far, just a hunch, so how do we test it?

For this example for ease of explanation and to make it a little easier to write this blog post I’ve created some data based on an entirely fake 9 seat venue called “Sam’s Theatre”. The venue has had 4 shows in this example – comedy, drama, dance and physical theatre.

1

In my sample data the addition of the genre column (which is an event attribute) means that we can start to slice and examine the data in different ways. Our first port of call is, like in the previous post to put the data into a pivot table. As you can see on the right we have our fields of information, so by row we’re looking at the individual seat (this is what we use to build our heatmap). The values we’re looking at is the day’s prior to booking – in the values box there’s a dropdown called Value Field Settings and set the Summarise Value Field by Average.

2

So we’ve essentially got what we had before and we can build our heatmap using conditional formatting.

3

So here’s our heatmap which is the averages of all our data from across my (admittedly limited) four show season. What we can do next is use a tool in the pivot table to examine the data in different ways (pivot table tools > options) called the slicer. This allows us to look at slices of data. In our example above we have currently two unused columns of information – show title and genre. The effect is to only look at portions of data and to give us a visual representation of what is happening.

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5

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So let’s imagine that we’ve used a few years data, across multiple shows. Now this information becomes useful in setting pricing going forward and potentially identifying where demand might be, where price boundaries are and how we can increase yields. Conclusions in this example might be:

  • Comedy: Could we increase prices of middle row and reduce back row price?
  • Dance: the side seats are less important, can we reduce prices of these, or should the middle be more expensive?
  • Drama: 3 price bands might be a good idea? Perhaps we could look at then how we incentive customers to trade up?
  • Physical Theatre: the back row could be cheaper but no point discounting the sides?

This, as I’m sure you’ll realise, a really brutalist and unsubtle example.

Even when using much bigger data sets it’s important to bear in mind the many other factors to look at when examining pricing. How does it fit in with brand, organisational ideology, programming etc… There’s also things like clarity for an audience, organisation, staff, maybe there are errors in the dataset, perhaps there was one show where seats were booked consistently months in advance. As a result this should be a guide rather than a definitive answer to all pricing questions I think.

This is all the pretty basic end of what’s possible to look at and explore – if you’d like to know more, bounce ideas or even a little bit of (and I’m loath to use the word) consultancy, then drop me a tweet @mrfreeman1984 or contact me through my contact form (or at darklaughs(at)outlook.com).

Best, Sam

 

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Thanks for reading this. If you’d like to receive infrequent e-mails about my upcoming gigs, things I’ve made or simply fun things then please sign up below (I won’t share your deets and you can unsubscribe at any time).Either that or follow me on facebook or twitter. Thanks!