It is all getting a little tense at Filskit HQ. There have been late nights, hysterical ideas and the obligatory panic purchasing of projectors. At the point of writing it is only one week until we pack the set into the car, bundle ourselves in, and set off at 5am to travel to the Take Off Festival. Hosted by Hullaballoo Theatre Company, the Take Off Festival is one of the major festivals of children’s theatre. We’re excited to not only be seeing a host of brilliant shows for young people, but also presenting a scratch performance of The Feather Catcher.
We’ll be putting our newest baby on show to over 100 children’s theatre programmers, arts directors, devisors, writers and makers. As if that wasn’t nerve-wracking enough, the other person on the scratch bill is the rather well known and brilliant Chris Goode. As you can probably imagine, we are both deliriously excited and utterly terrified. It feels like our dream job interview, X Factor audition and driving test all rolled into one.
In our experience, scratch events can be a great way for an emerging company to dip a toe into the theatre world. What makes scratch events so exciting and accessible, especially for new companies, is the element of risk involved. Programmers of scratch events are fully aware of this risk – the company may be unknown and the work not yet made, meaning quality control isn’t really an option. As an emerging company, though, someone taking a risk on your work can change everything.
When we began, we relied greatly on scratch events as an opportunity to put our work, our ideas and ourselves out into the world. Without a constant director, airing our work-in-progress gave us clear pointers on where to go with it. The problem that faces us now is that scratch events focused on theatre for young audiences are few and far between. Other scratch events can still be valuable, but in order for your work to develop into a high quality piece ready for your venues, you need the feedback from a relevant audience. This is why Take Off is different and why it is so important that we get it right.
So in the world of the scratch event, what – if anything – is right and what is wrong? It is true that all experience can be useful, even if it does result in comments like “Maybe that wasn’t funny”, or “Let’s never EVER do that again!” (both true stories). But how do you make the most of a scratch event? The most important thing is to be as prepared as possible. Much as this sounds like common sense, it’s easy to end up rushing for a scratch event, especially if it involves travelling to a far-flung corner of the UK. In preparing, it’s useful to think about why you’re attending the event. Do you want to promote your work? Well, show off your most polished sections. Are you trying out a new idea or concept? Then show the relevant bits, and go armed with questions to make sure the feedback you get is as useful as possible.
Whatever you hope to gain from sharing your work at such an early stage, be prepared to listen to what its audience have to say. This doesn’t mean following every piece of advice (otherwise we would be naked and punching through boxes for our latest work!). Rather, think about how the thoughts and responses of others can point to ways of improving, simplifying and expanding your work. This way, it’s allowed to develop from being your precious child to a fully fledged show ready to take on the world.
We will let you know how we get on at Take Off – if we make it to Durham OK!