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.


Health and Safety in the Arts

Here is another episode from the series of ‘How to in the Arts…’. This post we are looking at the Health and Safety in theatre and the arts. This is obviously one of, if not the, most important part of running theatre as it can be the most costly if things go wrong.

For the purpose of this post theatre is defined as anything where a live performance is created, whether the audience is paying or not, from street theatre right up the stadium and big arena productions.

I have been involved in the Health and Safety for many years for several businesses ranging from completing checklist as a worker to creating the companies Health and Safety strategies. I recently completed an official IOSH Creative Industry Passport course with BECTU and Creative Skillset which refreshed and reestablished what I already knew.

So here are my top 5 bits of advice for theatre or any creative professional on Health and Safety when surviving in the arts industry:

1. Ensure it is written down

So often management try and get rid of staff for breaching Health and Safety as the individual is seen as a liability to the company, but in fact the liability is often on the company simply because they had not got the procedure in writing in the first place. The aim of Health and Safety is remove assumption and grey areas from the line of work, so one of the best way to do this is to simply write it down and make sure staff, crew and freelance are all aware of it and know where to find information if they are not sure. Even better get them to sign to say they have read and understood.

2. Training is never too expensive

While most theatres and industry personnel may feel confident to train their own staff in house, never be afraid to invest in some professional training by sending individuals on external courses. This does two things, firstly it will raise the morale of the individual as they feel appreciated because you value them enough to invest in their learning. Secondly the training will pay for itself as it will mean less accidents, less injuries, less time off as things are being done not just efficiently but safely too. There are far more courses and expertise available external to your business then what you can offer. To help decide what people need to be trained on look at their job role, CV and your business risk assessments. A great example of some training the arts fail to complete although it is stated in almost all risk assessments is that of Manual Handling. Something that most industry professional look for when taking on freelance and contractors and even staff is the IOSH Creative Industry Passport training provided by BECTU.

3. Don’t be afraid to say NO

This is really important, it is the employer’s responsibility to ensure everyone who works for them, including contractors and freelances are safe in doing their required job. So if you see something that you feel is not safe then say. If you are required to go up a bit scaffold and you don’t think it looks safe then you have a right to ask to inspect risk assessments and other appropriate paperwork that declares the structures safety. Also be clear beforehand what exactly it is that you are required to do, this relates to the first point, don’t assume. The last thing you want to do is turn up to a theatre assuming that the rig is on electric motors only to find you have to climb up and lower bars by hand or worse still they don’t move at all and you have to hand ball lights up and down ladders. Ask for risk assessments and any other relevant paperwork before you sign the contract.

4. Be Prepared

The Scout motto is Be Prepared. This leads on from point 3 as a freelance ask the right questions before you take on a job, you are entitled to see paperwork relating to Health and Safety. Find out exactly what you are being required to do, the more information you get before the day the better prepared you will be, theatre is by far the most dangerous place of work. Most of the crew are freelance or work with touring companies that go from one venue to the next, safety should never be compromised and anything can happen so you need to know what is what, who you are working with. Better still write your own risk assessments for your line of work, then you can align them with those of the company and venue’s assessments as part of the negotiations.

5. Take Ownership

Whether you are management, staff, volunteer, contractor or freelance, make every task you do your own, take the responsibility to make the area safe. Communicate your thoughts and ideas about safety in the area you are working, because safety is everyone’s job regardless of grade or role. If something goes wrong or looks like it may go wrong tell someone, don’t just assume someone else has said something. When I was overseeing the health and safety strategy for a business I always said that I would rather be told about the same problem by every person on site, and that may well be 50 or more times, but that is better than nobody say anything and an accident happens. Things can only be sorted and changed if people speak up. The human condition means we are always looking to put blame on someone else, but sometime a fault in the first instance may not be anyone’s fault, it only becomes someone’s fault when they do notice and fail to report it. We often fail to see our own mistakes which could simply be not saying anything when something looks wrong.

So there you have it, Health and Safety in a nutshell. Remember if things do go wrong and you end up in court on the grounds of neglect of Health and Safety in the workplace, whether a company or an individual you are guilty until proven innocent, the reverse of criminal law. Judges will often use the view of an everyday passer-by to determine fault, then set the penalty and sentence on what could have been the worst possible outcome, and that is not going to be pretty if it could have been fatality.

Health and Safety is everyone’s responsibility and only a team can produce a production worth paying to see.

This is Theatre (It’s coming home!)

So England may not be bringing the World Cup home this year, but with Gareth Southgate’s positivity the team did England so proud getting to the semi-finals and in four years’ time maybe they will bring football home.

So with that said, is it not a good time now for theatre to come home? It is not time that this industry returns to its rightful place in our communities? Is it not time we should show the world what we are really capable of?

Can you imagine a huge amount of publicity and hype with people chanting ‘It’s coming home’ for an international theatrical production? And even though there may be no big celebrity bill boarded, businesses big and small all cuing up to sponsor, helping to promote by put adverts on anything from milk bottles to lorries and supply products to the event just because of it’s the highest quality reputation. Tickets become rare and sell out up to 6 months before the show hits town all because of its a spectacle that is possibly a once in a lifetime chance to both the participant and spectator on home ground.

The Inspiration

I think without a doubt one of the most powerful songs produced in 2017 that everyone resonate with is ‘This is me’ from The Greatest Showman. Now this film wasn’t just about entertaining the viewers or celebrating the work of one of America’s greatest showmen. As the Huffpost puts it in their review, ‘it’s about courage and acceptance’.

This is not a review for that film, but as I watched this amazing spectacular unfold before me, it really brought home the perspective of 21st century theatre. Disclaimer: Please be assured this has absolutely no reflection of amazing work of those theatre makers out there doing their best to keep theatre alive.

I am not a stranger to the dark
Hide away, they say

‘Cause we don’t want your broken parts

The creative arts struggles to bring people into the industry with drama being dropped from the EBacc (English Baccalaureate) in the UK, drama schools are becoming more and more expensive and funding is drying up fast.

When was the last time you saw a theatre production adverted on television? Or even seen a production on TV? I’m talking about a production on the scale that matches 20 minutes or so of the Olympic opening and closing ceremonies before they do the flags, flame, parading the athletes and speeches. But you can see an international sports event daily on any channel you turn and yet they still have the same issues surrounding EBacc in UK schools but fans are still so hyped up.

I’ve learned to be ashamed of all my scars
Run away, they say
No one’ll love you as you are

We continually hear how less availability of funding and that new works are far too risky (I have written posts on this blog about it). This industry pours nearly £6billion a year to the UK economy alone, but it can’t offer job security or consistently good working conditions. Then there’s a constant conversation about diversity and legislation being made on how theatres should be more eco-friendly, yet it’s clear that law makers have no idea of the actual statics of how none friendly our buildings really are. And so the list of complaints just goes on.

What I worry about is that while all these issues continue to be talked about, the film industry continues to grow all the time, while live theatre is being left behind and the idea of losing live theatre is terrifying.

Look out ’cause here I come

I’m not scared to be seen

I make no apologies

As the director of The Greatest Showman, Michael Gracey said, “The idea of doing an original film is a terrifying alpha concept, the idea of doing an original musical that was just pure insanity.” and when the film hit the big screen it earned nearly £50,000 at box office in the UK alone on release day.

Creating theatre is hard. Working with original ideas is terrifying, wanting to fill a space the size of Wembley Stadium on an international scale it’s just pure insanity.

So here’s the dream, to create live shows that come somewhere between the high energy of the movie Fame which empowers and encourages those taking part of all backgrounds in the performance to continually work a high standards, though seemingly ease like an Andre Rieu concert for the audienece, mixed with the emotional impact produced by The Greatest Showman that inspires spectators and artists alike not only to be humming the tunes for weeks after the show, but feel empowered and encouraged to go out and achieve their own dreams.

I won’t let them break me down to dust
I know that there’s a place for us
For we are glorious

A live international spectaculars that are performed for just one or two nights, maybe a long weekend in each location, a production that means cast and crew alike must always be top of their game. So it becomes competitive and though it’s not a competition like the X Factor or Britain’s Got Talent it something everyone will want on their CV.

Venues competing to play host to the smaller projects within this program that lead to the big event because they know they will benefit through publicity and everyone become everyone’s partner.

This is not just going to be a one off event with its high energy and high pace, this the UK’s opportunity to take the international stage to show the world what it really means to produce theatre and then invite the world to participate. But this is not about one man trying to work a miracle, there’s a lot of work to make this production happen. It’s going to take communities, Unions, theatres and a lot of dedicated people to put theatre back where it belongs.

The arts has no boundaries, this project is aimed to making arts accessible for everyone regardless of age, gender, class, ethnic or cultural background and it will remove the limitations of disabilities, as everyone has the same opportunities to be a part of it, only the dedication to their craft will stand in their way.

But most importantly it will help to raise those vital funds to look after our beautiful theatres, to ensure grants can still be given in support of the industry and of course for those crucial creative art project which so much benefit our communities to continue.

So we are looking for singers, writers, dancers, actors, directors, creators, musicians, choreographers, costume designers, makeup artists, technical, and special acts from all walks of life to help create a brand new Greatest Show on Earth, to regenerate the arts industry we all love so much and do what President Trumps say, “Make [Theatre] great again”.

Also if you know people or businesses who may be interested investing in this project at all levels from local to international then again please do pass the word round.

So if you are interested in getting involved in this project or just want to find out more please add your email address to our mailing list by clicking here, follow us on social media using the buttons at the top of the page. But most importantly talk to others about it and if you know someone who might be interested in being part of this project the please forward this post by using the ‘Spread the Love’ buttons at the top or side of the post.

Here’s to the Greatest Show in this Country has ever produced The Greatest Show on Earth!

Tickets Please!!

So for this post I decided I would start to indulge into the world of theatre protocols, or at least ideology of it and what better place to start then that of tickets.

These are what are used to prove people have paid for admission into the performance and they can be sourced from anywhere the company chooses to sell them. Unfortunately there have been issues around reselling. As a general rule when buying tickets from any seller, whether first had or second hand, they should always be bought at face value and the production company will always be happy to provide a list of authorised dealers.

But as Production Company or theatre there are some important rules to follow when selling for your upcoming performance and if they are not already in your ticket terms and conditions then maybe you should consider.

These are just some of the common protocols when it comes to ticket management of the arts industry. First and foremost when selling tickets it is so important that you take some form of contact details, though as a general rule there are no refund, if the show is cancelled or postpones it is only common decency to let those current tickets holder know these updates before an announcement goes to press.

So what should the protocol be for tickets don’t get used after sale?

These need to retained at the box office for resale and become the last tickets to be sold on the night and if they are sold the customer will receive a refund.

Allowing customer to resell their own tickets in the venue on the night should be discouraged, because if you think about it if someone shows a ticket without a stub how do you know if it’s come from box office or from a customer to customer resale? Also it means box office always have an accurate count of how many people are in and exactly how many tickets are left to be sold.

As for uncollected tickets, protocol should usually be to wait until the interval to resell these. But just check they are not duplicate of tickets that have already been collected or resold – human error is easy, and if there is multi location to pick tickets up from and a customer decides to pick their ticket up before performance night and someone may have forgot to mark is the system is printed or collected. Any tickets sold at the interval (usually this notion is very rare as nobody really only want to see half a show) but the name on the ticket that is resold should be recorded and if they ring up wanted a refund that is the only other that is able to be given.

Accuracy of ticket sales attendance should be paramount this why its good practise to only print uncollected tickets on the actual night, even if the customer has requested to pick them at the venue, there is nothing to say they won’t pick them up before the night, especially if there are multi collection points.

Finally knowing exactly how many people are in your venue during the performance is important. The number of venues that don’t count stubs from tickets or have other ways of knowing exactly how many people are in the venue is surprising. If there is an incident that involves the emergency services you will need to be able to account for everyone on site, you may not know everyone individually but the exact numbers are important and not just staff and volunteers, at the time of an evacuation will the services need to re-enter the building or not?

Ticket management can be so hard, but it is so important, because paid staff or volunteers you are responsible for every person in that building during events, you need to know who is there and who is not. But this is not just for profit purposes, if there is an area of the auditorium that is closed off then those seats need to be excluded from the ticket sale numbers.

Visiting Conditions

Working in a tidy and organised area is something that is a must for me if I am going to be in any way creative, motivated or productive visual and feel of my space is vital. If you go to someone’s house as a visitor you’d expect there to be level of hygiene and organisation at the very least in the areas ‘designated’ for visitors. So I think there should be at the very least the same expectation of theatres.

Most theatres spend a lot of money making front of house look pretty for the public as first impressions is so important when it comes to strategies to bring punters back week after week, show after show and this is understandable as it’s the audience that bring the revenue. But that revenue can only come in if there is production companies will to put on shows.

Many of our theatres, for whatever reason, seem to be neglecting their backstage areas. For some this is purely they don’t have time or resources to sort it. For others they are just hoarders of stuff, keeping everything just in case it is needed again in thirty years or so from now, well that’s what it seems anyway.

Theatre is, by far, are one of the most dangerous workplaces in the world, which makes housekeeping so much more important and with the EU threatening to pass legislation that could see every light from the rig replaced, theatres need to be tidy and organised it’s even more important as this will be a huge job. Personally I have worked in theatres where stage level backstage is fine, but the gantries have been the issue, with cables, lights and gels just left all over the place after use.

Over the years one of biggest lessons I have learnt is that if you ‘tidy as you go’ then even the big spring clean becomes an easy job not needing a huge team of people or time as its near enough done. Maybe the carpet’s need a wash or a new coat of paint on the stage is required these all become quick jobs as extra time is not wasted by having to do things that could have been done weeks ago.

And this is not just about housekeeping, it’s also about keeping things maintained. A simple quick fix is not always the answer, especially when it potentially put people at risk where the rain is coming in close to a lighting rig or into a high traffic area of backstage where the dangers of slipping are greater as artist and crew dash around frantically during performances for costume and set changes.

Ensuring audience members come back is one thing, but keeping your incoming tour companies happy is even more important, because when they decide not to come back and go to your competition instead there will be a risk of closure for your venue, bad reputations get round quickly with word of mouth.

These problems with conditions backstage have got so bad that actors union Equity have motioned at their Annual Representative conference to take action to tackle these problems.

With more young and less able people involved in theatre it becomes more apparent that safety should be paramount. As for crew not only should their safety be considered, but also welfare, basic things like kettles, fridges and microwaves should all be provided as it’s so often the crew that will do the longest shifts during touring so all the basic facilities should be functional.