The Greatest Show On Earth: The Story Continues….


This email comes to you on the back end of an email that was sent out on the 28th July 2018 click here to read the original post. If you would like to subscribe to the emails click here.

PT Barnum revolutionised the arts industry in the mid 1800s making it popular through his side shows and museum full of curiosities. But he didn’t create his fortune from the rich and famous, he found the talent in his own community, the communities we travelled too. Whilst we might say that he exploited these individuals there was one who made a larger fortune then him, General Tom Thumb. Today we still have people on the margins of society and that it is also where some of the real talent lives.

In August 2018 we heard Equity’s new president, Maureen Beattie call out to the industry saying, to ‘wake up and make an effort’ as well as her comments on the dimishing opportunities for the working class. So this project from AT2R is about just that, encouraging the industry to make an effort as well as opening the door for the working class.

The Greatest Show on Earth project comes at four different levels Community, Theatre, National and International. In this newsletter we are going to give an outline on each of these levels, next month we will look at the financing of this project.

Community Spirit

A full day of an open mic style mixed with a little Michael Barrymore’s ‘My kind of People’ (for those who remember that). An outdoor performance centred on some portable staging with a PA system in the centre of town encouraging as many people to participate on stage as possible. This can happen as many times as the community wants.

The key to this programme is to draw out the talent that can draw a crowd or two that hides in our communities, individuals or groups are all welcome. It’s like a community style fringe event, where people can show off new and original works as well a new spin on old and well known works.

Work can range from songs, skits or sketches, dance, prose, comedy or speciality acts. The more mixed these events become the better, it is so important that is doesn’t just become solely music and concert style.

Lighting the Beacons

This is about raising money and the profile of local and regional theatres. In each county a nominated theatre (The Greatest Show Beacon) plays host to an event mixed from the talent from the Community Spirit Events in the area becoming the county’s very own ‘Greatest Show Ever’.

This is also the point where we meet creators, the people who work behind the scenes making the magic happen. Make up, set designs, techies and those who create the event on paper before it comes alive on the stage.

There is one ‘Lighting the Beacon’ production a per year in each county. Whilst all the performers and creators are from the same county as the theatre, the project tours as it makes its way through the UK just like the Olympic the flame stopping in each county to light a beacon.

The Greatest Show in the Country

So just like the Olympic flame making its way to the games, once each theatre has enjoyed high standards of local talent, The Greatest Show in the Country takes place just once a year, bringing together and showcasing talent from across the entire UK. The whole production is just like that first 20 minutes of the opening an closing ceremony of the Olympic Games, with a theme and storyline.

This production would take place in a different venue each year in London, Birmingham, Cardiff, Edinburgh, in venues the size of Wembley.

The Greatest Show on Earth

Travelling all five continents every year, possibly returning to its home (the UK) once every five years, but even that is not guaranteed. Again it’s just like that first 20 minutes of the opening an closing ceremony of the Olympic Games, with a theme and storyline.

This brings together the best of the best talent from right across the world into one arena with support from local groups and businesses.

Must Take a Break

The Greatest Show on Earth is about giving as many people and venues the opportunity to show odd their talents. So there is a statutory period that would permit individuals taking part. Whether artist, crew or venues a maximum for two years in the project then a minimum of a five year break must be taken before returning.

Why? You can’t stay top of any game you need to enjoy many experiences and opportunities to grow in your talent. So two years is a good amount of time to get your teeth into the project and five years is enough to take other opportunities and a new generation to be wowed by your work.

The Greatest Show on Earth project is not just about putting the arts at the top of their game, but keeping them there.

Keep sharing and talking about this project in your office, in your community, in the your groups and…

Here’s to the Greatest Show in the Country, to The Greatest Show on Earth!

To Adapt or Not to Adapt

‘Adaptations’ of current or new works is like a Tribute Band, it is a good way to keep the work the alive and reach a wider audience but it is a terrible waste of someone’s talent. But unlike the tribute bands adaptations can just be ways for the creator to cash in on their work.

But really, do we need something to be adapted from book onto the stage and film? (It’s a question, not a statement). Is this not just conforming to Burger Kings slogan of ‘Have it your way’? In an age where we are supposed to be encouraging children to read and campaigning to keep local libraries and theatres open, is this really helping the cause? Surely it would be time better use of creative time to make something new rather than keep copying what the consumer already knows.

I understand that creators want their work to be seen by the biggest audience possible, but surely by creating something just for theatre or writing a book that is authentically good, then reviews and conversations it brings would  bring an audience in, if people want to view the work then they need to get out and purchase the book or buy the tickets. It seems that we are just making it easier and easier to access the hard work that our creators by making their projects cheaper so that people can just pick them up at the price which can so often make the creative industry a cheap charity, which it should never become.

I am not talking about this because of the adaptation concept is new, the whole idea came from the ancient Greeks when they would act out stories from manuscripts to encourage understanding in time before reading and writing was compulsory. It’s the sear amount of works being adapted today, it seems to be more popular to adapt than risking new works, especially when the adapting is often work that has only just hit the market, I often ask myself would some works stand the test of time? Will it still be that popular in 100 years from now or would most people have forgotten about it?

Some of the oldest works that still inspire us today like Shakespeare, his work has been adapted into every form of the arts over the years and sometimes it’s to help interpretation where the language was very different 400 years ago in England. But people seem to continue to find new things within it and that is what I wonder about some of the newer works that are adapted today, its only then that you know you have work that is it truly special.

Another example of the best form of adaptations used to inspire is that of PT Barnum, known as the Greatest Showman that America ever produced. There are films that portray his life, but there are also stage and screen productions which take snippets of this work or just one aspect of what he stood for. The latest production on screen The Greatest Showman centred on inspiring and encouraged people to chase their dreams regardless of their backgrounds, those who wouldn’t normally get the chance to enjoy society.

Remember that adaptation can be hard when bringing a book to life on stage or screen, because writers are given so much freedom in creating the world, so getting an exact replication of someone’s (or even readers) imagination is hard to recreate on stage, if bits are missed out or not quite up to expectation then disappoint for the overall work can come and that then can puts a down on the creator’s future hard work. This is not to say that there are some amazing adaptations but like the work inspiring the desire to adapt, the end result needs to be pretty spectacular too.

Volunteering and Theatre

So keeping with this theme of discovering the running of theatre, today I am going to be talking volunteers. A few years back I completed a course ‘managing volunteers’ with the emphasis on theatre, since then I have either managed volunteers or indeed been a volunteer helping in theatre or other organisation and have come to realise just how hard it can be keeping a balance sometimes between keep a volunteer happy and ensuring organisation continues to operate as it should.

Keeping a volunteer interested is one of the hardest things to achieve long term.  But with the right training, level of communication and of course reward schemes there should be no reason why you shouldn’t retain a volunteer for four or five years plus.

I have volunteered for many organisations over the years, not just theatre. So these are my top 5 tips to recruit and retain volunteers:

1. Be clear about objectives

First and foremost be consistent in your approach in the running of your organisation or at least look organised, know what’s going on and when it’s supposed to go on. There is nothing more off putting for anyone giving their time up free then to be keep being told plans have changed (whether that’s a week, a month, 6 months or more) or indeed not knowing of plans. There is nothing more irritating then not knowing where the organisation is going.

The principle is the same if you had paid staff, nobody will take your organisation seriously if they don’t know where you are going. This leads me to my point…

2. Communicate

Communication is so important though at the same time with GDPR that came in on the 25th May 2018 you have to careful on data usage. Making sure your database is always up to date is so important, there is nothing more annoying then receiving an email asking for help when you have moved 100 miles away, or putting your name down to ask and then never hearing a thing.

Have a monthly newsletter for volunteers, but make it interesting, maybe ask for volunteer input to the letter. It only needs to be the equivalent of one side of A4 paper.

The best way to communicate to make them feel involved is to meet with them. Have volunteer meetings every four to six weeks. It is important that communication is two way, therefore bringing them together periodically means they get to tell you things, talk with each other about problems they have. You will never get them all together in one room but you will get a good selection, maybe take it as an opportunity to share plans that the board have for the theatre.

But as volunteer’s feedback, always remember you are not obliged to put their thoughts into action if it doesn’t see fit. Also never fall into the notion that volunteers run the organisation, it’s the board and staff that run it, volunteers are there to help and that is all they put their name down for. So their feedback is welcome, but it’s not required. This sounds harsh, but the reality is that if you let the volunteers think they run the show then the organisation will lose its key and central story.

3. Training and Protocols

Theatre without a doubt is one of the most dangerous places to work so training should be paramount and it should never stop at just be about the role they are doing (Usher, steward, house manager, publicity). You are not paying these individuals but if you expect them to deal with the public and keep things safe and calm in the event of an emergency then you need to invest a little in them.

I haven’t yet been with a theatre that has actually physically taken volunteers through an emergency procedure; I have only ever been talked through it. And some theatres don’t have paid staff on site for every event because it’s not always possible, but this does not remove their responsibility as primary custodians of that venue.

Whatever level you manager volunteers at, either as a paid staff member or as a volunteer it is still your responsibility to validate and refresh that training. For example if you are letting one volunteer train another, which is perfectly acceptable as it is often that individual that will know the job best. But if you have asked for all tickets to be broken and stubs kept then you’ll need to ensure this is being done by the newer volunteers and make sure they know why.

Just because you have a volunteer organisation, this should not stop you from wanting to invest in the people who help you. Look out for individuals who really shine in the in their roles, maybe you could find opportunities for them to have proper professional training, as technicians, box office, publicity team. Their volunteer experience could the key step into the career they really want to  be in.

4. Review and Discipline

As a volunteer organisation you may think that formally reviewing the performance of your volunteers is not so important. But it is because it is the performance of your volunteers that reflect how your organisation is perceived from those outside. It can be the key to keeping some of them or an opportunity to get rid of some. Everybody needs some kind of validation and appraisal, volunteers are no different.

Unlike employees you don’t need to do this annually, maybe every couple of years or so. The Scout Association reviews their leaders once every 5 years. It is a chance for you to give them one to one time where they have your undivided attention, they may use it to air issues they think are present in the running of the organisation, you may want to spend time talking about something they did that has caught your attention, good or bad, that needs to be brought up. Talk about how you as an organisation could develop the individual, yes they maybe volunteers but if you look for ways to develop them they may stay longer, find better ways to help you.

On the other side of this coin is discipline when a volunteer does something wrong or crosses the line. There seems to be this fear that because they give their time free, reprimanding them will scare them off. The truth is that it quite the opposite, like a review, we all need to know when we have strayed off the path. And genuine volunteers really won’t mind being picked up on mistakes, in fact you are more likely to earn their respect. But this is where consistency comes in, if you reprimand one, and then you must reprimand all making the same mistake. It is the hardest parts of managing and enforce when working with volunteers but you should never put the reputation of your organisation in jeopardy or allow it be compromised in ay way.

It openly shows that your organisation has self respect and that is what will build your volunteer force alone.

5. Don’t forget to say thank you

Many people take up volunteering for the social side of thing, but this is often the hardest part to volunteering as you are so focuses on what has be done that getting to know the people who you are working with can go a miss, especially if you are working solo. There are times when you don’t hear from other volunteers for a few weeks maybe shifts don’t coincide often or you are off on holiday or they are sick.

As the organisation you can help this in a very subtle way, ensuring rotas are mixed as much as possible, organising volunteer social events, at the same time you will be making these individuals feel appreciated.

If you really want to make individuals feel special why not celebrate birthdays and anniversaries with them. Get someone to organise a card to be signed by as many people as possible.

As with the training look for those who are really keen to be involved and maybe pay for an excursion for them that ultimately benefits your organisation, maybe it’s to go look at another theatre to spend times with volunteers or learn how that theatre operated a particular part of their business.

Ultimately volunteering is about just giving time and the reward should be the satisfaction, the customers faces from the experience they have helped to create. But sometimes the reward can come in the thank you received from the organisation they are with.

What makes a welcoming theatre?

UK Theatre are asking you to vote for your favourite venue.

There are many things that shape your experience when you visit a theatre; a friendly chat with box office staff, enjoying a delicious coffee in the cafe, feeling like you’re part of your local community, or being entertained by the panto! 

The public vote gives you the chance to celebrate your local theatre and all it does to welcome you.

TO VOTE, select the region that your chosen theatre is in between 12pm on 7 August and 12pm on 18 September. You will be redirected to a list of eligible venues in this region and can vote for your chosen theatre. Vote to be in with a chance of winning £250 worth of Theatre Tokens.

A list of venues can be found by clicking here

Voting for 2018 has already opened and will close at 12noon on Tuesday 18 September 2018.

How is the vote calculated?  
The voting is being monitored by the Electoral Reform Services. To ensure that smaller theatres are not at a disadvantage, a formula is applied which divides the number of votes by seating capacity.

Bridging the Gap

The term ‘generation gap’ is usually used in reference to the change in attitude and understanding towards something normally brought about by miscommunication. We have this is theatre often, but that is not what this post is about. But I am going to use the term for a different context in which I refer to gap where work becomes easy and difficult to find in our industry.

The Arts continues to suffer with limitations on jobs, even with campaigns on diversity there still seems to be two age groups that suffer more, the ‘early years’ or beginners and youngsters of the industry and the older actor and this can often lean heavily towards females.

At the beginning of the year I wrote a piece on this blog about diversity, and I think as new work emerges we will see productions giving a better representation of both ethical and age range in our society. But it’s hard and as there is a lot of sigma and ‘old school’ legacy to be turned around and questions to be answered. Then there’s the question of ‘What is an acceptable ratio of age group and BAME to have on stage before a production is condemned not diverse enough? Without this measure there will always be issues of diversity.

But the bigger question is this, do we have enough experienced actors in the underrepresented areas of society to be on stage?

It is always natural for those just beginning, especially young people, to find it hard to get work but at the same time have expectations to achieve high. Whilst it is important that the standard is kept high, training is often expensive and unfordable to many that talent that remains in shadows of our society and so often miss out. Should it not be offered to all not just those with money or those who have parents that are famous enough to know the right people and sometimes these people don’t receive formal training and get jobs simply because of who they know, is this right?

Retirement from the arts is a rare thing. So the number of older actors out there are plentiful. If you look at some of the UK’s best loved actors who are no longer with us, most of them came from harsh backgrounds but they all worked hard and kept going for as long as they could. But today there seems to be less work for older actors, especially females, they seem to end up having to take a back seat from acting and become directors as a way of staying in the industry and that is not always a comfortable or easy role for many.

So it seems that unless you are associated to someone famous you’re not qualified enough, the same is true if you’re young and starting out, and if you’re over a certain age you are over qualified. So unless you are between 25 and 50 then work is not easy. Though this is not to say that actors don’t get work that come from harsh backgrounds or who are outside of this age group, there are plenty of actors that are doing so well, working so hard. But if it was so good the diversity campaigns wouldn’t have job.

Somehow we need to expand the gap to include all ages and all sexes, after all that is what this industry is surely about.