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Guest blog: Love Bites – Honing your brand as a start-up theatre company

Posted on 01 May 2013 by Katy Davies

Love bites

Katy Davies works in media and PR for The Love Bites Plays. Here she gives some thoughts on how the company approaches their brand identity.

Setting your company apart as ‘different’ or ‘new’ in what is essentially an extremely competitive market can be challenging. Like us, if you’re not a West End show, chances are you won’t have a huge number of tickets to give away for press nights with the promise of outlets promoting your brand on various websites and newsletters. You may just be looking to break even! So, first and foremost, you have to think about your audience – the people going to pay to see your show. I’m talking about getting them through the door, and not by producing crowd-pleasing, safe theatre. They have to invest something in you before they buy a ticket: a belief in what you are trying to achieve. It’s generally not enough to be ‘different’ – everyone has something new. It is only by making an effort to engage in communication and to provoke an emotional response that you get a sense of how people relate to your brand. Some of this you can influence, some of this you cannot.

The media is a key audience for your brand. We place huge importance on grass roots support – depending on which venue we’re in we approach local bloggers, people who may or may not be theatre reviewers, and get them to come down to see the show and then hear what they think. Read as much as you can of trade and consumer press – get to know journalists, what they like, what they don’t; be familiar with regular features in publications and know what channels could place your brand. Do your research – invite other theatre companies to your show, get them to cross-promote on social media and blog about shows you have seen. Sign up to newsletters and mailing lists of theatre companies you admire and see what works well for them.

These ideas are nothing new. If you are having trouble honing your brand, ask yourself these questions: when did you start out? What was your original intention? How has the external environment changed? If you started as a student company five years ago, maybe it’s time for a brand refresh. Have a look at what else is out there to see what’s working well, and what isn’t, and adjust accordingly. What are people saying about you – or what aren’t they?

The Love Bites Plays brand is something we’ve tried to integrate across marketing communications since we came into being five years ago. The name of the company came directly from the format of each show – short, bite-sized plays about love, enacted over an evening. So immediately we wanted our brand to reflect the collaborative nature of what we do. We commission new artwork for each event. We use different illustrators to give a fresh response to the show. We want the brand to reflect the uniqueness of the diversity that each show has to offer. We get buy-in from our collaborators (past, present and future): playwrights, actors, illustrators – you have to start building relationships internally before you can even think about presenting your brand to external audiences. If your collaborators aren’t kept in the loop, feel valued and part of something, you’re going to have a tough time convincing people who’ve never heard of you to come and see your show. Slowly but surely, you will build up a loyal base.

Social media offers instantaneous, free feedback about what you’re doing. If you’re not getting hits on your blog, either you’re not marketing it effectively or people don’t find it interesting enough. Perhaps it is too corporate or doesn’t get under the skin of what people want to hear. It’s important to talk with your audience and not at them.

Try stuff out – if it works, great. If it doesn’t, try something new.

The next Love Bites Plays show, The Apartment, is at Etcetera Theatre 9 – 11 May.

Image: Joly Braime

Katy Davies

Katy Davies

Katy works in communications for a national charity by day and spends her spare time managing PR for Love Bites. She is a member of the CIPR. Follow Katy on twitter @_K_T___ / @lovebitesplays or visit www.thelovebitesplays.com

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A Younger Theatre and TheatreCraft present Team Live Blog

Posted on 19 November 2012 by A Younger Theatre

For this year’s TheatreCraft event at the Royal Opera House, A Younger Theatre will be live blogging and tweeting from the event and workshops. We’re on the hunt for a team of live bloggers to join us. Know your blogger from your social media, and want to support AYT? Find out how to apply below.

A Younger Theatre seeks bloggers to document TheatreCraft 2012
30th November, Royal Opera House

AYT is looking for a team of young people to document this year’s TheatreCraft event at the Royal Opera House on 30th November. As a media partner for the 2012 TheatreCraft event AYT will be live blogging and tweeting from the Royal Opera House, talking to participants and offering snapshots from the workshops on offer.

This is an excellent opportunity for anyone interested in digital marketing and journalism. Please note: This opportunity is open to 26 year olds and under and is undertaken on a voluntary basis.

Working with AYT Scotland Editor and National Theatre of Scotland Digital Associate Eve Nicol, the AYT bloggers will get first hand experience of digital documentation of an event, publishing content to the AYT website and interacting with AYT readers through social networks.

We’re looking for digitally minded people who have a passion for theatre and journalism, who have excellent writing skills and know their social media and blogs. Is that you?

Download the application form
This opportunity is open to 26 year olds and under. You must be available on the 30th November throughout the day. This opportunity is on a voluntary basis. Deadline for applications 27th November at 5pm.

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre

A Younger Theatre (AYT) is a platform for young people to express their views on theatre and performance. The site is maintained, edited and published by under 26 year olds who all have a passion for theatre.

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The Wicked Stage: Gotta Find My Purpose

Posted on 06 September 2012 by Sarah Green

As September rolls around it often means the start of new adventures for us youngsters. I am no exception, and as I go back to university for my masters, I find myself in a reflective mood. Quite often in our lives we find ourselves lost or at a crossroads. As a child my dream job was to be a farmer’s wife, but growing up in a large city I soon changed my mind. Then at secondary school I found drama was an actual lesson and, even more crazily, people did it as a job – bonkers! So from age 11 I was set on what I wanted to do: everything in my life was now aimed at making me a famous movie actress. Yes, I wanted fame over ability; the upside was that as a teenager I did have talent.

Like on shows such as X Factor, there comes that gut wrenching moment when someone tells you are not good enough – for me it was being turned down for drama school. I was told that many people didn’t get in on their first attempt and they often only accepted people who were older (I was 17 at the time of auditioning) but I heard none of it. It didn’t kill me stone dead as a performer but it did stop me trying – if I didn’t push for it then I couldn’t get hurt, right? So I went to get a degree in musical theatre. I think I frustrated my teachers there; they could see talent but I daren’t stretch myself to actually be good. However, this raised the question: what should I do with my life now?

They say retrospect is a marvellous thing, and it is. During my second year I felt truly lost; I no longer wanted to be in the spotlight but had yet to find a replacement. I couldn’t sever my ties with theatre completely because I still lived and breathed it. In the end all it took was one module where we had to pick a famous musical theatre creative and say why they were an innovator. This was the first time I discovered research and found I was good at honing in on important facts. It was amazing to find this whole other area that I had never even contemplated – an area where I initially thought, I’m not intelligent enough to do this, am I? By third year I had started to despise being on stage more and more, so that by our final show I was purposely hiding at the back, which is not hard to do at five foot tall (apologies to the director if you read this) – so it was great to have found new positives.

Now I am the happiest I have ever been and writing a bi-monthly blog that I never thought I was clever enough to do. When you are having doubts it’s great to not feel alone – as Broadway Girl explains in her blog, “tweeting and writing about theatre has brought me back into the community I lost when I was in college.” I may not be the performer my child-self wanted, but I have found so many other areas within theatre to channel my abilities into, which feels pretty amazing and made all that doubting seem worthwhile. So to everyone continuing their education or entering the world of work, bon chance and a big break-a-leg from me.

Image credit: Jose Carlos Norte.

Sarah Green

Sarah Green

Sarah is a musical theatre graduate now studying for her Masters in theatre practice with hopes of going onto a PHD. She has been writing for A Younger Theatre since September 2011 on all things musical theatre related.

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Behind the Scenes: the Guardian’s Open Weekend

Posted on 28 March 2012 by Sarah Williams

This weekend saw the Guardian open its doors to readers for its first ever Guardian Open Weekend. Just some of the theatrical highlights on offer saw Richard Norton-Taylor and Nicolas Kent talk to Lyn Gardner, Jez Butterworth in conversation with Andrew Dickson and, in an entertaining role reversal, critic Michael Billington being interviewed by Sir David Hare.

But first-off, a lively discussion on the subject of ‘What Can the Arts Offer in an Age of Austerity?’ On the panel were the Guardian’s Claire Armistead (Literary Editor), Melissa Denes (Arts Editor) and Mark Brown (Arts Correspondent), as well as author and founder of Poems on the Underground Judith Chernaik. Perhaps unsurprisingly, speakers and audience alike spoke overwhelmingly in defence of the arts (in particular the need to safeguard access to them), but there was still room for animated debate. Armistead paid lip service to pertinent arguments against cultural spending (“why pay for art in hospitals if you can’t afford hip replacements?”) and Chernaik emphasised that art has always survived – and always will – without government support. She namechecked artists who have overcome much more than austerity, from war to the Great Depression. Significantly, she also questioned the notion that the arts really are experiencing austerity (a word falsely applied by this government?) given the money consistently spent by audiences and consumers of the arts today.

Other points of contention arose with regard to how funding has been spent previously. One audience member referred to the large grants paid to institutions such as the Royal Opera House where high ticket prices might limit access to the well-off; others questioned whether funding really has succeeded in permeating beyond major cities. Brown’s commentary on the regenerative effects of funding in areas such as Margate (with its Turner Contemporary) was disputed by an audience member who questioned whether a gallery visited primarily by a “London weekend crowd” really benefitted local people, even in monetary terms. Another went so far as to suggest that, rather than the arts being starved by austerity, Britain seemed historically to need to be “battered down” to start producing worthwhile art.

Debate was rife elsewhere in the Guardian towers, too, but so it seemed was a fascination with occasions in which it might be lacking. In their separate talks, both Michael Billington and Nicolas Kent addressed the idea of “preaching to the converted” with both in fact defending the case for doing so. “What’s the problem with it?” Billington asked, commenting on whether political plays have made a real difference to society; “it happens in churches up and down the country”. Kent spoke of audiences at the Tricycle, stating that “if people feel passionately about something and you can reactivate their passion… that can be very useful. It’s reassuring to know that as a society we care about these issues.”

He also highlighted the way in which the Tricycle’s particular brand of political theatre, the “tribunal play”, presents an audience with evidence distilled in the purest form, allowing them to examine it for themselves. In the case of Justifying War: Scenes from the Hutton Inquiry (2003) he described how the audience arrived at “the opposite conclusion to Lord Hutton, as did the nation”.

So what does theatre have to offer that journalism cannot? Gardner pointed discussion towards the tension between the two media. For many plays, it seems largely a case of access and coverage. Trials and enquiries occurring behind a courtroom’s closed doors could be steno-graphed, distilled and staged to reach a wider audience. Norton-Taylor (also the Guardian’s Security Editor) described the “butterfly-mindedness” of many news editors, which often prevents stories from receiving the in-depth, continued exploration they deserve. As a journalist, he finds an audience that engages with a subject for two or three consecutive hours immensely satisfying.

However, plays can also offer a certain visceral detail impossible to the journalist. Norton-Taylor emphasised the significance of details such as body language, which the written reporter cannot describe but which his actors endeavoured to recreate with accuracy. For this same reason, Kent said he was uninterested in creating a play about the Leveson Inquiry, because it has been televised throughout and “at some point someone will string together an overview”. This statement was challenged by audience members entreating Kent to reconsider, and some thinking aloud from Norton-Taylor also suggested that Leveson could perhaps yet find itself in the Tricycle’s limelight. “I feel a play coming,” said Kent.

For playwright Butterworth, the premise upon which the creative process begins is perhaps less easily definable. Sometimes triggered by note making, it nonetheless essentially results from strange moments of inspiration, or thoughts which elicit a physical response: “I only follow ideas which give me goosebumps”, he said. One such moment occurred while driving, when a line familiar to Jerusalem fans suddenly popped into his head: “I, Rooster Byron, hereby place a curse upon the Kennet and Avon council”. He stopped the car and asked himself “what on earth was that?”, but felt a burst of excitement. However the roots of Jerusalem actually extend much earlier to a 2004 Royal Court read-through of a play set in a wood. Wryly describing this as “the most painful experience of my life”, Butterworth explained how this early attempt “wanted to be itself so badly, it wasn’t”. He never returned to that script in writing Jerusalem, but observes that the trouble he encountered has given him a curious new determination: “I no longer follow the things I want to write. I follow the things I don’t want to write.”

Butterworth also spoke fondly of his early connection with theatre; a desire to “go to Cambridge [University] and write plays” was fuelled by watching his older brother in a production of Brian Friel’s Translations there. Playwriting really was his sole focus as he admitted to having attended just one lecture in three years, and reflected fondly upon being quite literally chased by his head of studies Tom Morris (Director of War Horse) for an essay he would never write.

But there is also a kind of writing that Butterworth has avoided as a reader, upon Harold Pinter’s advice: reviews. Butterworth’s explanation invites controversy: “Harold worked out that there wasn’t a single person reviewing for the nationals who wouldn’t swap places with him in a heartbeat, and there wasn’t a single playwright whose work was being produced who would swap places with them.”

However, what arose most clearly from the interview was in fact Butterworth’s humility. On working with actors such as Mark Rylance to rewrite a script, Butterworth emphasised that the most important work happens inside the rehearsal room. He said that attempts to “forensically” assign parts of a performed play to a particular hand were ridiculous, because a play,  like a child, is a thing in itself: “I never feel even that the words I write belong to me, so why would anything else?”

For David Hare, criticism possessed potentially more irritating tendencies. Referring to a critic who had regularly mistaken not only the name of a play but also the theatre in which it was staged, he declared, “there seems to be a basic level of reporting about theatre criticism – that you get the facts right – and an awful lot of critics can’t seem to get over that bar”.  Not a charge he levelled at Billington, but he did suggest that his interviewee tended to be “soft on actors”. Billington partially accepted this, saying he had been moved by the (often tearful) effect of harsh criticism upon the people who must, after all, “make this thing live night after night”. To which Hare countered that he has himself likewise “picked playwrights out of the gutter”.

Billington also responded defensively to Hare’s suggestion that he had “a certain idea of how a play should be staged”. He explained that while he felt a critic was duty-bound to place plays into a context based on their experience and expertise, he also tried always to approach each production with the “innocence and wide-eyed enthusiasm” of a first-time theatregoer. He celebrated the “democratisation of criticism” through the recent boom in websites, blogs and social media. This idea also featured earlier in the weekend in the discussion ‘What Defines the Guardian?’ with Editor Alan Rusbridger. A critic like Billington, says Rusbridger, writes his professional review, but the show has likely been watched by nine hundred or so others. “Are their views unimportant? The answer is so obvious.”

Wholly representative of the Guardian’s current policy of “open journalism”, this sentence encapsulated the theme of the weekend overall. So let’s watch, react and talk about theatre, but just remember (for Hare’s sake) to get those all-important facts right.

Sarah Williams was at the Guardian’s Open Weekend, 24 – 25 March 2012. For more information, visit the website here.

Image credit: the Guardian

Sarah Williams

Sarah Williams

Sarah has an MA in theatre from RADA and King's College London and has written for publications including A Younger Theatre and The Guardian.

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