The Royal Variety Performance

The Royal Variety Performance is an annual command performance usually held in one of the theatres on Shaftsbury Avenue in London; it is usually recorded in November and then televised to the nation in December. 2018’s command performance was performed on the 19th November and at the time of writing the date for the production to be televised is yet to be announced.

The performance is one of a kind with its life spanning more than 104 years with a total of 88 performances with hundreds of performers and artists taking part and attracting more than 100 million TV viewers each year. It’s about the best of the best of British talent, which is what A Ticket 2 Ride Entertainment’s project The New Greatest Show is about, finding world class talent in working class community then take that talent right through to the international stage. More information on that project can be found on the front page of this blog on the right hand menu.

It was by request of the head of state that the Royal Variety Performance was first brought to life in 1912 in the presence of King George V and Queen Mary at the Palace Theatre in London. This was just a year after the original planned performance that was meant to take place in the year of the king’s coronation to be staged at the Empire Theatre, Edinburgh. However the building caught fire months before the show was scheduled to be staged. The King would declare that all profits would go to the Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund, which is what the charity was known as back then.

It was some years later before the next production would be staged, as the events of Great War unfolding and taking many people into service including entertainers and artists. 1919 was to see the second command performance, this time at The Coliseum Theatre in London with the music director Edward Elgar.

It wasn’t until 1921 that the King suggested that the Royal Variety Performance would become an annual event, and was held at the Hippodrome in November and in 1923 returned to Coliseum Theatre. After a year break in 1924, The Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square would become the home of the command performance until 1926, with the Alhambra being demolished in 1936 to make way for what is now The Odeon Cinema on Leicester Square.

In 1927 the command performance was to take to take up residence at the Victoria Palace Theatre and in 1928 it would return to Coliseum before enjoying seven successful years at the London Palladium. It would be first broadcast nationally by the BBC in 1930.

The final performance that King George V attended was in 1935 which was his and Queen Mary’s Silver Jubilee. The king died 3 months later in January 1936 and the final performance at the London Palladium for the time being would be in the presence of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth in 1937.

The command performance never has found a full time home with its increasing popularity; the next 7 years found the command performance bouncing between the The Coliseum and The London Palladium. 1951 the back and forth between the same venues was broken with a stint at the Victoria Palace Theatre, the first performance that was not in front of the head of the Monarch. It would also be the last opportunity that King George VI would have to enjoy this production, however he was too ill attend, so Queen Elizabeth and Princess Margaret took his place.

1952 would be the first command performance in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II in her position as head of state accompanied by Prince Philip. Over the next few years it would enjoy its success at many homes across the country, including Blackpool Opera House and Manchester’s Palace Theatre.  Most recently the command performance has taken residency at the Royal Albert Hall in London. It was 1955 that this annual event begun to be televised on regular bases.

The Royal Variety Charity was it is known today is based in Twickenham, Middlesex. It is dedicated to giving support to those who have professionally served the entertainment industry and find themselves sick, impoverished or elderly.

The charity is believed to be one of the few charities in the UK that has an unbroken line of patronage from the reigning monarch since George V in the early twentieth century. Queen Elizabeth II is the current sole life-patron of the charity.

Established in 1908, the charity was originally called the Variety Artistes’ Benevolent Fund, and then in 1971 the Entertainment Artistes’ Benevolent Fund and then in June 2015, was officially awarded the title and name of the Royal Variety Charity.

The charity provides residential and nursing care for eldely entertainers at its own care home, Brinsworth House in Twickenham and also provides a nationwide grant scheme for those living in their own homes, of any age, living anywhere in the UK.

So for the entertainment industry is it an important annual event on ITV in December.

Carnival Theatre

It seems appropriate that I write about Carnival today as it is my local town’s annual Guy Fawkes carnival, the largest night carnival of its kind in Europe.

But what is carnival? Where did it come from? Whose brainchild was it?

Well like most forms of early theatre that have survived the test of time, Carnival comes from the world of religion. The origins of carnival is about celebration which took place in Italy just before the lent period, on what those in the UK call Shove Tuesday and what’s known as Fat Tuesday in the Caribbean.

So it all starts in Italy spread through Europe and spread farther afield with the discovery of the New World some of the best parties happen on the Caribbean islands now. Today most towns around the world have some form of carnival in celebration of something or other.

In some places it is a hot competition, like in Bridgwater, Somerset, UK. A tradition that dates back to King James I. Everyone knows the story of Guy Fawkes and his fellow conspirators who failed to blow up the Houses of Parliament. But did you know that the annual celebration to commemorate this was not just by chance, it was a decree by the king that the people should party on the 5th November.

Bridgwater’s night carnival takes place in November every year, and takes the lead as the carnival moves from town to town through Somerset. It takes the whole year to make the floats or carts, people team up in up in clubs to make their creations for the parade through the town, ending with an amazing display of squibbing. This is very unique firework display through the town, and it something that can only be fully appreciated in person.

Let us know about your carnival, what you celebrate and if the competition is stiff for the best floats.

 

National Novel Writing Month

The month of November is known as National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), it is an opportunity for anyone with an interest in writing novels to take the plunge and see if they can write fifty thousand (50,000) words (the length of a stardard novel) in 30 days.

Now any writer will tell you that the hardest part of writing, it writing. As a blog writer and someone who trying to right their first novel I can vouch for this. So let’s just be clear on a few things when writing a novel in a month. This is not about you writing a polished novel ready for sale to the world in 30 days. This is about encouraging as many people to write as possible, old and young. However if you are someone who would like a manuscript to be published, and you have been saying for too long ‘I’m going to write a book’ then this is the perfect opportunity to get your first draft of that story down on paper. The thirty day challenge should give you the motivation to get it done as you can record your word count on the NaNoWriMo website (see below) and measure your own success against others.

NaNoWriMo is a really great way helps with work ethics as you have a word target each day of about 1,667 and then the deadline to finish by the end of the month and with prizes up for grabs there’s an incentive (as if you don’t need any more of one along side wanting to be published). Can you hit your target by the end of the month and still have a manuscript that makes some sort of sense?

Whether a story is classed as a novel is determined by the word count. For works under 7500 words this is a short story, between 7500 and 17499 is a Novelette, works that are between 17500 and 39999 are classified as Novella’s and a Novel is 40000 upwards. So the target for NaNoWriMo pushes writers to achieve above the minimum word count for a novel, there are writers who set their word count to over 100,000; but the choice is your own.

National Novel Writing Month is not only a great way to bring out the writer in you, but it is also a great opportunity to spent time writing with other people. The writer’s career can be very isolated at times when you are sat at the computer all day wrapped in the world of characters and the wolrd you have created.

Writing a story of any length needs some level of planning and those who participate in NaNoWriMo usually take the month of October to prepare. This way writing becomes a lot easier and getting the 50000 words is like a breeze (they wish).

But preparing for this month long challenge involves things like getting a title, an outline of the plot, character profiles, a chapter and scene break down and anything else which could be classed as essential to the writing. If you are writing fantasy then maybe a map of the world you plan to create, and any rules or laws that that readers would need to know about.

There are many variations of the event with camp NaNoWriMo earlier in the year, which is a chance to camp with other writers as you complete the writing marathon. These all happen in April and in June.

So if you are planning to take part this year’s NaNoWriMo then let us know, we would love to know what you are writing and how you get on.

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.