Summertime can be a period of slowing down at theatres as audiences head off on their holidays. For other venues, it becomes their busiest time with families flocking to take part in activities and organisations breaking free of their venues running incredible festivals. It is also a time when some of the biggest theatre conferences and events take place and are great opportunities to catch up with other venue professionals and hear from arts & culture leaders.
For smaller venues in our network, financial and time constraints limit access to these big events so this year, we offered bursaries to two of the biggest conferences exclusively for venues with less than 10 members of staff. We were wowed by the number and quality of the applications we received from individuals wanting to go to the UK Theatre Summit and Arts Marketing Association Conference this year but were able to pick 4 for each conference to represent the network.
Below they share their personal experiences at the events and let us know their takeaways which they will bring back to their organisations.
UK Theatre Summit
John Terry, Director of The Theatre, Chipping Norton
The Summit was a great opportunity to meet new house network venue members, and to catch up with other venue and company leaders from across the sector. There was plenty to talk about, although at times it rather felt that the elephant in the room – the current financial state of most of the organisations there – was being rather brushed over. There was some fantastic practical insights on plans for a nation-wide access register, which sounds very exciting, and some interesting and challenging discussions about what really constitutes ‘new’ work in this day and age. A discussion of the state of the UK touring sector provided an interesting picture of how differently one activity can be perceived, with some speakers advocating business as usual, and others passionately calling for change – whether in terms of creativity, viability or environmental sustainability.
More than anything, it is a comforting reminder of how similar the problems we face are, no matter the scale at which we are working.
Serina Mall, Assistant Hospitality Manager, Hanger Farm Arts & Minstead Trust
I found the summit incredibly insightful and enjoyed learning about different aspects that I would never normally hear about.
I really enjoyed and benefitted from the networking opportunities and were able to build stronger connection. For example, we met James, who is our customer success officer from Ticketsolve and have since had him come and visit us. I also met other programmers and venue managers who offered loads of great advice. I still have so much to learn and hearing from professionals with so much experience is so helpful to me.
I attended talks including the Mind the skills gap, stem not steam and the decline in arts in schools and Love your local theatre. The last one especially was great as it was related to our theatre. The talk included information as to how it isn’t just regional and national theatre that can benefit from the funding and schemes. It was reassuring to know that the local theatre is still considered. Since then I have researched into the lottery scheme.
Overall, I had a lovely time and it was my first time attending an event like this. I would never have been able to without the help of house, so I’m super grateful. It’s so rewarding and so lovely to be able to show off Minstead Trust and Hanger Farm as a venue, but also for my personal career journey. I am always looking to expand my network to progress in my career. These events are the perfect way to keep me motivated and very inspired.
Nicole Alison, Commercial Arts Director, Hemsted Park
The first panel discussing co-producing new work and creating new models for working was an interesting discussion as the panel talked through many of the challenges they’d found around co-producing and the positives and challenges that go along with it. Sarah Verghese (Producer, Nouveau Riche) talked passionately about the level of support received throughout the process of creating for black boys and how co-producing the work with multiple venues really enabled Nouveau Riche to exceed all of their original goals and the partnerships really benefitted them both financially and administratively. My takeaway from this discussion was a deeper appreciation of the need for co-production in order for new work to reach its full potential. Venues, organisations and producers are interested in creating these partnerships, but without any real structured approach to this that fits across the board for all in the industry, finding and nurturing these partnerships can be extremely difficult.
It's a risky business: producing shows during an economic crisis was a very interesting discussion. Initially, it began with a focus whether we should or shouldn’t continue to produce shows in this economic crisis and if so, how can we navigate the challenges. Quickly the discussion moved on and focused on the Climate Crisis and why the industry isn’t doing more in leading the campaign to address the climate crisis globally. Coming away from this discussion I felt it was good to discuss the climate crisis and hear various members of the panels thoughts and ideas about what measures they and their organisations had been taking, much of which many of the audience members could take away and share with our respective organisations…
The final discussion I attended was the National ticketing initiatives: Love Your Local Theatre & beyond, a ticketing initiative for audiences in order to encourage more theatre attendance. There was interesting insight here into how the last campaign was achieve and its level of success. There was also some indication of how this will work again for future campaigns.
Overall, I enjoyed the experience of the summit and found it highly interesting. Often, I felt that the topics of discussion did not apply to my organisation and maybe even other smaller or newly established venues. However, having a good picture of the current sectors concerns, challenges and success stories was incredibly inspiring, informative and encouraging.
AMA Conference 2023
Hannah Smith, Commercial Manager, Sheringham Little Theatre
Although the actual AMA conference was full of great opportunities to network, I found the socials just as helpful with meeting new people and sharing knowledge. I went to the Tetley social on the Thursday evening on my own and although I felt uncharacteristically shy to begin with, I was able to network and make some good contacts.
I also found that having the comfort and support of the House delegates made the whole experience so much less daunting and more enjoyable.
We were able to talk to each other about our respective issues/problems and offered each other advice and solution. I do feel now that I’ve got a real support network of people who understand and are there to help if I need it. I hope we will all remain in touch, I loved spending time with each and every one of you.
I found the session on ‘Growing Audience Loyalty post-pandemic’ particularly interesting. I got lots of ideas about growing our ticket sales but found their advice about attracting and keeping new audiences with targeted offers to encourage multi-ticket purchases really helpful. In fact, I’ve already implemented it at Sheringham in our Summer Rep season.
I also really enjoyed the keynote on the Friday by Dom Dwight from Taylors of Harrogate. I think we sometimes underestimate our audiences because of our demographic, there’s a tendency to make our social media a bit ‘stuffy’. Hearing Dom talk about engaging with their audience on a human level made me realise that we need to take a leaf out of their book at our theatre.
The ‘Using meta to increase audience reach’ was the session that I think I’ve learnt the most from. I have taken lots of advice from the session and have already changed the parameters of the market that we are targeting on facebook to get a better ‘reach’. I will also be contacting the digital culture network to get some advice on data analytics.
However, I think my favourite session was the ‘Exploring emotion and audience behaviour’ with Ron Evans. I found his research on audience reactions using wrist bands to shows absolutely fascinating. Even though I would be unable to replicate that sort of research here at SLT, he suggested other tools and methods that I would be able to implement here, such as ‘emotional prompt cards’ to show reactions after shows.
I absolutely loved my time at the conference. I feel honoured that I was chosen to have a spot and I am very grateful for the whole experience.
Sarah Brandon, Marketing Officer, New Theatre Royal Portsmouth
The AMA Conference was an unforgettable experience and played a pivotal role in my development, both personal and professional. The sessions were all inspiring and gave me further insight into the wider field of arts marketing.
Being able to attend the conference on a bursary with House meant a great deal to me and my organisation as we are a small team and don’t have a large budget. Not only this but being a part of the House delegation made the whole experience much less overwhelming as I had people I was familiar with going into it. This also meant I was more confident overall and felt better equipped to speak to new people. I was very appreciative of Jonathon from the House network organising a pre-conference video call, a WhatsApp group and especially a dinner on Wednesday night so I felt I had 5 new friends to experience the conference with. We’ll definitely stay in touch and I hope to see them again at the conference next year.
The food was wonderful and considerate - the fact that the food at the conference was all vegan meant that I didn’t have to worry about the kitchen running out of an option before I had the chance to eat, as has often happened at events! The delegate dinner I went to was also brilliant and I was so grateful to the organisers to have chosen such a lovely place in an intimate setting to give me the chance to sit down with a small group to talk.
Bruno Rebelo, Digital Marketing Co-ordinator, The Culture Trust, Luton
During my recent experience at the AMA, I acquired a wealth of knowledge, significantly enhancing my skillset. The key takeaway, however, was learning to maximise and empower myself with the tools I had at my disposal. A standout moment was the AI discussion, brimming with innovative concepts that have since been incorporated into my work, enrichening it tremendously.
Coming from The Culture Trust, I initially felt apprehensive, being the sole representative of my organisation. However, my participation in the house delegation eased my anxiety considerably. Our group allowed me to engage in enlightening conversations, exchange ideas, and solidify my stance as a Digital Marketer. The camaraderie and shared insights provided me with a newfound confidence and assurance in my role.
In retrospect, the conference was a remarkable experience. The ability to absorb so much knowledge over a mere span of two days was very gratifying. I am eagerly looking forward to leveraging the insights I've gathered and applying them to my work. More than anything else, this experience has left me feeling more competent, enthusiastic, and invigorated about my future in Digital Marketing. The conference was not just an educational platform, but also a catalyst for my personal and professional growth, igniting a spark that I can't wait to further explore.
Courtney Charlton, Marketing Officer, The Woodville Theatre
At first, I didn’t know what to expect, thinking we were such a small, staffed theatre where resources were always hard to come by, but by the end of the AMA conference I was impressed by how much information I was able to use and implement.
I came to recognise that “Audiences at the Heart” was not just the title of this year’s conference but what I felt like should be the key mission of all theatres, discussing how if you not only know your community but work with them, let them know they have been seen and heard, then you will be able to market and select your shows/events/workshops.. One of my takes aways was, marketing should not be based upon your ticket sales but how you are seen as a theatre/brand and the sales shall follow. A second is to ask yourself, who is your audience (locally, who lives around you? what networks do you have around you? facilities, workers, what is your community) as opposed to who is your ‘target’ audience (tick boxes of age, sex, and interests.
I left the AMA Conference feeling inspired, elated, and ready to make changes, Trust is key, with your team, with yourself and your abilities. Working out what can you achieve realistically with your allocated time and resources and small long-term successes are more effective than big show statements.
Marketing is ever growing as AMA & House have both showed me, from the written word of Print to Digital thru to using AI (which we were shown at AMA & to not be afraid of change, embrace new ideas). Us Marketeers are happy to grow within this everchanging industry, AMA & House have made me feel excited about myself and The Woodville’s future.