filskit programmers

Whilst perusing Twitter and Facebook, looking for a good topic to spark this week’s blog we discovered a piece by AYT’s own Jake Orr, in which he poses the question “What is the purpose of Theatre? Who is it for?” and this got us thinking…

We totally agree that theatre must be made with the audience in mind, whilst at Drama School we were sent to see far too many self-indulgent, boring performances that left us feeling frustrated and angry that we had spent our money on such rubbish. As a company specialising in making work for children, if we didn’t have our 3-year-old audience in mind at all times we could run into serious trouble, especially as children have no problem telling you when they are bored, even if it is in the middle of the performance. But before you can reach your target audience there is a barrier that you need to consider, one which they neglect to tell you about upon leaving Drama School: the programmers. Whether you want to tour to arts venues or appear in festivals, the programmer is the gateway between you and your beloved audience. This makes us wonder, as young companies, in our desperation to get our work out there and get the gigs, do we start to make work for the programmers instead of our audience?

On the one hand, it could be seen as a pointless exercise to make work that no-one will programme, as then you will never reach your audience and will continue to make piece after piece that only a handful of people will ever see. We did this with our first piece after graduating and have to say that it was a stressful time. Some might argue that if no-one will put on your work, put it on yourself, but this can be more costly than it sounds. A few years ago we met some soon-to-be-graduates considering paying in excess of £2000 to hire a venue and put on a show themselves; in our minds this is a risky business strategy as there is no guarantee that you will make that money back and could end up being seriously out of pocket.

On the other hand, there is even less point in making work that you aren’t passionate about just because you think it will get programmed (we’re guilty of this one too). It’s easy to fall in to this trap, especially when you are competing with bigger, more established companies for slots. You see what kind of work is being programmed in your dream venues and you can’t help but think that there must be a recipe for success that you can follow. For example you could say that the recipe for a programmable children’s show must include songs, bubbles, a child protagonist and be based on a Julia Donaldson book, but that’s simply not true. If the arts professionals watching you see that you are trying to second guess what they want and aren’t fired up about what you are presenting then the likelihood is it still won’t get programmed.

As young companies we need to find a middle ground by creating something that we are passionate about, which reflects our individuality as a company and is created for our audience, whilst also appealing to the programmers.

It’s really easy for us as artists to say that our work is great and that people should come and see it. But in our experience, being programmed into a festival or venue give your work an extra mark of quality, someone else has seen it and said “yes, this is good I want it in my programme”.

Image: sunset’s trumpet: plate from the children’s story “Mr. EveNing” (1991)