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.

Brexit and the Arts

The one things everyone’s mind at the moment in UK and around the world is what has become known as Brexit, the UK’s exit from the European Union. Every channel you turn to you can hear how Government has turned on themselves with ministers resigning left, right and centre. But what does this mean for our industry, what does it all mean for the arts?

It is known that the arts industry is one the largest proportions of stay voters through the campaign. For the industry to survive it needs policies like freedom of movement for people and equipment, the current set up also allows access to further funding that would not necessarily be otherwise available.

So what happens when Brexit deal is reached and article 50 is triggered, what will this mean for our industry?

  • Well the price of tickets will go up or the number of production will go down
  • Restriction on funding
  • Delays to projects where equipment is shared cross boarder
  • Worker rights may be affected cross boarder

So what are industry representatives and unions negotiating to be part of the deal? Well it looks something like this:

  • The continuation of free movement
  • An immigration system that works for both members and their families
  • Tariff free movement of equipment
  • Democratic oversight of negotiations
  • A voice in any negotiations regarding tax and state aid rules
  • Continued membership of Creative Europe
  • EU regulation on copyright to be brought into UK law
  • A continuation of European Employee protection in UK law

The organisations are working hard, there is no better time to join a union in the creative sector as now, the more people they have to back this, the better the outcome.

Remember, the UK was Hollywood’s choice of location to film blockbusters like Solo: A Star Wars Story, Mission: Impossible – Fallout and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. All of which contributed £1.7bn to the UK’s economy. But film makers are worried that recruitment of industry specialists will become harder if the deal on Brexit is not right.

Lord Puttnam, who produced Chariots of Fire and is president of the Film Distributors’ Association, has said more investment in home-grown films “with a distinctive British voice could help to deliver a form of national re-branding”.

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.

Access to Theatre for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing

Access to theatre for those with physical and mental needs seems to be on a positive increase. Recently we heard that The Prince Edward Theatre in London, currently home to Disney’s Aladdin has just received an award from being An Autism Friendly Theatre. This is wonderful news considering that for some who work in the industry there are issues surrounding pay and working condition.

But there’s another group of people beginning to benefit both on and off stage and that is deaf or people that are heard of hearing. With a population that sees 1 in 6 people having some sort of hearing issue with it expected to be around 15.6 million by 2035 I think this can be seen as good news.

As a hearing aid wearer myself I wrote my own experiences of living in a deaf world which you can check out by clicking here.

One of the best bits of technology ever invented to work in conjunction with hearing aids in a universal environment is known as the induction loop system. For those of you who don’t know what this is, if you go into most public buildings you may see a sign like this:

It basically means that the hearing aid wearers can change the program on their hearing aids, usually by just pressing a button and then I suppose the best way to describe is, that it works in the same way as Bluetooth. All hearing aids tune into this frequency and it cuts all the background noise to concentrates the user’s hearing on the voice(s) in front of them. So in theatre’s this means the noise of people commenting and the crumpling of packets are all cut out and wearers can only her  what’s on the stage and sounds of the performance.

The technology of these systems are improving all the time, with new systems coming out where users can tailor their experience to their own needs just by using their smart phone.

Also for theatre there has been a development in installed screens, projectors and tablets for members of the audience that are hard of hearing to read captions of what’s being said onstage, very much like the television’s subtitles. You can see more about this project by clicking here.

And of course there’s the ‘old fashion’ signing being employed at many performances these days. Personally I am not a sign user but I think it’s an incredible skill and even some of the biggest events in the world use it, for example the Olympics and not just for Paralympics use signing for the duration of the events. Do you remember back in 2000 at Sydney’s opening ceremony? As they sang the Olympic song for that year ‘Under the Southern Skies’ the chorus of that song saw the entire cast use sign language, you can check it out here on YouTube.

But now access to on stage and behind the scenes for those with hearing related problems are being developed by Deafinitely Theatre who have set up a new programme called The Hub, which is aimed to encourage training for deaf and hard of hearing talent to help them into mainstream theatre.

Currently the only place that offers any kind of specific course for deaf people in the arts is Scotland’s Royal Conservatoire. The Hub has been designed with a variety of workshops that cover many aspects of theatre including acting, writing and even stage management.

The courses are twelve months long with an additional two year one-on-one mentorship for participants. Long term The Hub hopes to establish full time courses for deaf people across the UK. The Hub is currently funded by Arts Council of England and partners with City Lit, RADA and London’s Royal Court Theatre.

You can find out more about The Hub by clicking here.