Gavin Stride, Director of Farnham Maltings and house, shares his thoughts on exclusion causes in regional venues, and what the future could hold if these were removed.
In an age when it has become ever more obvious that we need to collaborate with others if we are to achieve our own ambitions it seems extraordinary that venues are still trying to insist on exclusion clauses when booking a small scale production into their community. Why do we still have exclusion clauses? My hunch is that they spring from a misguided belief that it’s possible to ‘own’ an audience – in much the same way that venues can believe they own the box-office data about an audience drawn by a particular show or company. (it is perfectly possible to share this information if the venue has the will)
A number of things occur to me. Firstly, wouldn’t it be better if we worked at building the total theatre audience rather than working like supermarkets competing for ‘our’ share? I am sometimes told that ‘if such and such venue books the show our audience is smaller’. But this is still based on a competitive model. In our own contract we ask companies to let us know if they get a booking from a neighbouring venue, but not so we can stop it. Rather that we can cross market the two opportunities to see the same show or, even better, to make use of any potential word of mouth coming from the first performance to promote the second. I delight at the idea that an actor of front of house manager might step forward at the end of a performance to tell an audience that if they liked the show to tell their friends it is at such and such a venue later in the run.
In a more collaborative culture the audience gets to choose which venue and which date they see a show. Why not promote both events to both audiences more actively. We are often talking about communities of maybe 40,000 trying to attract 100 people to a piece of contemporary theatre. Perhaps we should be more confident that we can reach a few more people than 0.25% of the potential audience.
Might it also be born from an underlying anxiety that if the audience prefers the experience of another offer they might migrate? Well if a neighbouring venue is caring for the audience better maybe we should focus on improving our own offer – or at least identifying what is unique about what each offers. (again, from our own experience we cant compete with the local multiplex cinema on choice for film but we can treat people more personally, offer tea in cups, get rid of the adverts, have an interval…..
Many arts centres present, maybe, 6 to 10 shows a season for a single night. so what happens to all those people who can’t make it that night? The suggestion appears to be tough. if you can’t come when we want you we are going to stop you seeing the show anywhere else.
Why don’t we imagine a model in which we promote the work of our own and every neighbouring venues programme to each others audiences? And if the same work crops up in a number of places make more of it. Indeed many local newspapers are syndicated local versions of the same paper so promoting a number of opportunities to see work would be a good thing.
Its hard enough for companies to book a tour. Being told that they cant perform within 20 miles of a venue if they want the booking makes a difficult job harder, it misses the opportunity for work of mouth, for greater choice for the communities and for sharing the challenge (and costs) of audience development.
ACE has conditionalised NPO funding to insist that each better shares information about their audience. how about encouraging us all to abandon restrictions on trade?