I’ve been touring my second storytelling show over the last month or so – Every Time I Close My Eyes (All I See Is You). Regular readers will know this is my second tour (the autopsy of that tour is here) and I like to take a little bit of time to evaluate what I’ve done, in the near sober light of day.
I hope this is interesting – it’s not something I think the arts is good at – talking about what we’ve done after we’ve done it in a frank way* – so this is my effort to correct that and hopefully learn a little for the next show (yes a “next show”).
*I say frank rather than objective way – objective opinions of art are near impossible…
Part One – The Show
After last year’s show I was keen to do a follow up relatively quickly. This one was written over around 5 months between May and Nov 2022. I very much felt, as I was creating it, that it was solid but perhaps a bit unspectacular – don’t get me wrong it’s a nice show I think, but it doesn’t push the form or the audience as much as I think I’d like.
The multiple narratives work well with caveats – I think in retrospect I’d have liked a bit more of a meta-wrapper around the whole thing that links more intrinsically the 3/4 separate narratives. The recording isn’t as strong or as well created as the other scenes – I think the main narrative of “me and the old man” points the audience towards the inevitable death perhaps a little too early.
The AV and sound design is better than the last show – partly that’s experience and a better working knowledge of Show Cue Systems and also taking a more unified design approach. With AI imagery taking off I’ll probably lightly go down that route next time rather than stock imagery which can be a little limiting. I took some of the things that helped control an audience’s understanding of where we are from the last one and added to this – musical motifs, colours that match timelines etc… There’s a few lines that I’d probably cut next time, but also a few bits, particularly around the early-onset memory loss that feel a bit predictable (“kettle in the cupboard”).
Musically I’ve been playing with Muse Score 4 quite a lot recently and looking at how I break my reliance on royalty-free music – I like the idea of building a layered composition that tracks the whole show with different layers of the same score that combine and provide a greater coherence to the audio – maybe with live play-over (probably piano) on stage at the same time. I think that’s something I’ll do with the next show – practically speaking for this one I didn’t quite have the time or confidence to do it.
I was chatting to a mate of mine and I don’t think this show is my Hamlet or Midsummer Night’s Dream – but then nor is it Cymberline or Titus Andronicus – it’s in the middle, for me it is good without being great – it’s a Much Ado About Nothing (which isn’t necessarily a bad place to be for show #2).
Sales & Marketing
So sales were much stronger than last years – audiences averaged around 37.4 people (last year’s was 15.4 people – a decent improvement). The artwork was a little last minute and was done on AI without a huge amount of thought if I’m honest (very lazy). But I think it’s useful to tell the story and, particularly, tone with the artwork – this did that in a better way than the last show (which was much more self indulgent).
The copy was also less abstract and obscure – I’m a big fan of the Ronseal approach, I think setting expectations more effectively. I keep thinking about whether I would change the copy if it was a show I was just marketing (opposed to doing everything) and I think I’d change less about this – always tricky to be objective when you’re the auteur creator (so to speak).
The facebook ads I did were on fire, really high CTR and CPC which was promising and I saw numbers rise when I ran them. The most effective bit of “marketing” was in Huddersfield where I performed at their poetry/storytelling night the previous month. That probably was the best bit of marketing I could do – essentially giving people a live preview of the type of work (a top idea by the Lawrence Batley Theatre’s marketeers) . Prices were lower too – but not for sales/marketing reasons (I’ll come on to that!).
Lots better than last time. I think I’m getting a bit more stage confident with finding and playing the nuance that I write (but maybe missed in the last tour). It’s a tricky balance trying to find the light in the slightly darker moments – but it feels better!
I didn’t fully enjoy the last tour so I made some fairly major changes to help me and my mental health with this one. I should caveat that performing is my side-project and only by having a full-time job was I able to do this.
- Tickets were max £5 – Very deliberately, not because I don’t think it’s worth more, but because it lowers the pressure on me as a performer and makes it a more enjoyable activity to do. I’m not sure where I would pitch the show price-wise if it wasn’t me doing it – probably around the £10 sort of range. It’s a simple show and I think the relatively low-tech nature of it matches that price as a value proposition.
- Deals were all splits with no guarantees – Very deliberately, not because I don’t think venues should, in general, offer guarantees, but because it lowered the pressure on me, meant I didn’t feel as pressured (by myself) to hammer it every night, and I was less stressed. I hate letting people down and this reduced that significantly.
- Only 7 dates – Originally I’d only intended to do five performances, then Pwllheli and Sheffield came in late. I didn’t want to feel too anxious. In retrospect I think I may have got away with 10 in a more compacted period of time. But that’s a lesson for next time.
It’s worth mentioning that even with these in place I got some fairly horrible stress side-effects: headaches, anxiety cough, stomach problems and mild anxiety attacks. BUT I should also mention that they were considerably less bad than last times – so that is progress.
- Theatr Dwyfor (Pwllheli) – Lovely venue in west Wales, I was a bit worried that no-one would turn up but got a super nice audience (if quiet relative to the rest of the tour). Very high stage makes it slightly harder to connect with the audience. Fun though!
- Derelict Live (Preston) – Compered the first half where two local performers took centre stage (and were amazing) – this feels like a really great model for other venues and spoken word in general. It felt like such a lovely, group effort for this show and I loved compering and doing the intro to the acts in the first half. The Derelict team work so hard and really deserve a venue to call home. On the floor stage makes it so much easier and better to connect with audience. Genuinely lovely and young audience.
- 41 Monkgate (York) – Love this space, again a flat floor which helps with that connection and makes a real difference. There’s a curious thing I’ve noticed with venues having aisles in the centre of the seating blocks (where the best seats usually are) – same at Pwllheli – it’s an interesting choice as it increases capacity but possibly is less good performatively.
- Shakespeare North (Prescot) – As above really – I was on a bill with an outrageously talented performer which was a delight (who I hope will tour her show eventually as it was excellent and could be astonishing – I’d love to work on it). Similar with the centre aisle. A really lovely new venue, although the space isn’t necessarily designed as a studio theatre – it’s a converted rehearsal room.
- Chapter (Cardiff) – Had a lovely time (like last time). It’s worth saying that all the tech teams from all the venues were absolutely amazing – supportive, kind, funny and warm – exactly what you need when performing on your own. Chapter has the most wonderful bar and cafe. There’s a curious thing about doing unreserved seating for lots of smaller venues – understandable, but will be having an impact on early booking, dressing the auditorium and bar sales.
- Lawrence Batley Theatre (Huddersfield) – I don’t have favourite venues. I don’t. But. The LBT is my favourite venue. I’m not meant to have favourites. But I love it, the cellar has this beautiful vibe which amplifies laughter and has a brilliant sound balance that make it easy to perform in and play with levels better. Sold really, really well (for me) and it was an absolute delight.
- Theatre Deli (Sheffield) – A brand new venue – literally opened 3 months ago – it’s a bit of an oddity, it straddles the fringe/professional feel a little bit. It’s a big old room that’s eminently configurable and flexible and the bar is terrific and staff incredibly warm and friendly. They’ve gone heavy on the LED movers which, for me, is a mixed bag as you lose some of the light specificity perhaps? But was a nice time. A really quiet audience – the previous night had felt like playing a comedy club, and this felt a bit harder work perhaps? I think there’s a tipping point of around 50 people where for semi-comic shows you can get a rolling laugh a bit easier.
This is a little bit self indulgent. I thought I’d post some of the feedback I was sent – mostly so that when I’m working on the next show and feeling like a failure and having horrendous self-doubt, I’ve a little place to look and remind myself I might be, basically, competent.
Feel free to skip past thie…
Part Two – Five Marketing Thoughts
- Unallocated Seating
Lots of venues are doing this and I totally get it. But it is absolutely hampering early booking, managing seats, bar sales and audience enjoyment. Not always appropriate for flex seated venues though…
- Data Collection
One venue didn’t collect any data from a person buying tickets. This is madness. That needs to be our default. Also venues grouping together to share resource – e.g. shared website design, would make a massive amount of sense..
- Shared Ad Campaigns
Digital ad skill is a limited area – lots of boosting posts but not much thought as to measuring success or efficiency.
I didn’t get reviewed. Quite deliberately as I don’t think my ego could take a bad review. But I know that’s a thing that will hamper me in the future. Probably going to have to bite the bullet eventually.
The £5 ticket price probably isn’t sustainable. I’ll probably look at a PWYW model next time (£3/£5/£8/£12) to find a balance between me feeling comfortable and the venues (and me) making money. What was slightly astonishing was the venues who wouldn’t take the show because of the low ticket price even as a potential access tool.. Fascinating.
- Programmed or Curated?
There’s a difference and here’s an example. The programmed version was just booking my show. The curated version was booking my show either with lead in events (e.g. Huddersfield’s poetry night) or support acts (e.g. Derelict – although they weren’t support they were an equal part of the bill), or through clear programme pathways (e.g. York’s approach of seeming to always have a “next thing” in a series of events). I’m certain that the most valuable tool in a marketeers arsenal for this sort of work in curatorial rather than just ads.
Part Three – Conclusion
So. Sweet cash. Basically the show just broke even (currently it looks like a £5 loss which is a much, much smaller loss than I planned for) – by which I mean that after all the costs I didn’t lose anything/much. I didn’t pay myself for anything, but that’s okay as it’s not why I do these shows. Worth saying this so that people appreciate how incredibly hard it is for people (who don’t have full-time jobs to essentially subsidise themselves) to make art. If you know someone who makes and tours theatre shows then they’re not doing it for the dollar.
Part Four – The Next Show
The next show will be one of three ideas currently floating around.
I tend to make shows on my own but if any venues reading this think they sound interesting then get it touch, I’d love to make something “in association” – not for funding or anything like that, more to have a venue to open it at or to do a couple of previews – unlikely but I’m throwing it out there:
- We’re Not Getting A Dog
Love story, multi-narrative, essentially the next step after the previous two shows. It’s about not getting, and then getting, a dog.
- Truth And The Awkward Side-Effects Of Putting Up Signs
More of a conceptual show, heavily based off a stand up show I did around 7 years ago – very much a comedy I think. Probably the easiest show to do, but also probably the least emotionally rewarding.
- Jean Who Lives Next Door.
Is a really loose idea about building five cardboard houses from scratch and then telling the story semi-improvised, in the round. This is probably a bit too complicated for now. This will need the most work and will be the hardest to perform and most stressful.. Oh it’s about a single street’s dynamic and community and about end of life and new life.