Tristan Bernays, writer and performer of The Bread & the Beer, is preparing for his first UK tour. Here he shares some advice for anyone brave enough – and stupid enough – to plan their first UK Tour.
So – the Edinburgh Festival. Wasn’t that crazy? You just spent a month working your arse off non-stop every day: performing, promoting and partying. You’re tired and ill and broke ,and the last thing you should do is go back on the road with your show. But that is exactly what you’re planning to do.
Because, if you find yourself with an amazing show that audiences and critics loved, you’d be an idiot not to take that show on tour. In 2013, I performed my one-man show The Bread & The Beer at the Edinburgh Festival and, after receiving four star reviews from papers like The Scotsman, I’m setting off on my first UK Tour. I’ll be performing at Soho Theatre (London), Bike Shed Theatre (Exeter), The Lowry (Manchester) and Bridport Arts Centre (Dorset).
After Edinburgh, touring seemed liked the next logical progression for an upcoming artist in my position: getting your name and your work seen all over the country, proving not only your artistic merit but your bankability and your professionalism. It’s an important step. Plus, I’d survived Edinburgh – I could handle a measly UK tour, right?
Well, having done both, I can honestly say that Edinburgh and a UK tour are totally different beasts and they need to be tackled in totally different ways. So, for those of you thinking about taking a show on the road next year, here is a totally honest and hopefully useful guide of how to prepare your first ever UK tour. Enjoy!
The first thing you need is a tour pack: a handy and very stylish document which tells theatres and programmers everything they need to know about the show. It should contain:
- Info about the show (plot, what it’s about, who it’s aimed at etc.)
- Images and video (professional images are a must, as is a full recording of the show)
- Audience feedback
- Info about the company (cast and creative bios etc.)
- Links to websites, Youtube clips etc.
- Technical requirements
Remember, this tour pack may be the first thing that a programmer will see, so make sure it looks professional. Put in the time, effort and, if needs be, money to make it look smart.
So, you’ve contacted Soho Theatre and Manchester Royal Exchange and West Yorkshire Playhouse, sent them the tour pack and now you’re waiting to hear back from them. You may well be waiting a long time.
Most touring and receiving houses are busy venues with dozens of new shows coming in and out each week. Organsing a programme like that can be manically complex. It’s likely you may not hear anything for weeks, maybe months – don’t worry!
The squeaky wheel
“The squeaky gets the most oil”
That said, yes, you do have to be patient (see above) but if you don’t speak up, you won’t get anything. You may have fight for a theatre’s attention, gently reminding them you exist. However, it is a balancing act. Stay quiet too long, and the lead may go cold and the programmer will forget about you; keep pestering them and they might get pissed off with you. So, what to do?
My advice is be insistent but polite. Courteous, regular e-mails every 3-4 weeks checking to see how things are going and gently nudging them to see if they’ve made a decision can help. In the end, however, you will ultimately have to gauge each programmer individually.
By now, offers should be trickling in and you will have something beginning to look like a tour. Congratulations! Have a beer, celebrate then onto the next stage:
Roles and responsibilities
Sometimes deadlines sneak up on us, jobs should have been done but weren’t and people aren’t exactly sure who’s doing what. In the end, it was sometimes a manic scrabble to get the job done in time. How can you avoid this? Make sure everyone knows their roles and responsibilities. Decide who is doing what from the outset and stick to it.
Here’s the key areas of work. Decide who is going to be responsible for each area. Ideally it will be one person per area, but in all likelihood you may have to double up:
- Phone the Marketing Department and introduce the company and the show.
- Send the copy, images and confirm relevant info (dates, times, prices etc.)
- Get posters and fliers printed and delivered to the venue
- Start an online publicity campaign using Twitter, Facebook et al.
- Phone the Press Office and introduce the company and the show.
- Write a new press release and send it to the press team for advice.
- Contact to local papers, online magazines and theatre bloggers to pitch the show for features and articles. If you don’t know who to contact, ask the press department for suggestions – they will be glad to help.
- Put the show on listings websites such as Time Out
- You will need to re-rehearse the show, maybe even bring in new actors – book a rehearsal space and give yourself plenty of time. It needs to be as good (if not better) then when you did it at Edinburgh.
- Get the technical team back in to make sure it looks good – fix set and props, rejig lighting and sound.
- Liaise with the Technical Dept. and make sure all your technical requirements can be met. Don’t turn up on the day and find out that your set won’t fit in the theatre.
- Book accommodation and travel.
- Work out how the set, props and costumes will be getting from venue to venue. Will you need to hire a van? Who can drive out of your team?
- Manage the industry invitation list (agents, producers, programmers etc.) – you will only get a fixed amount of comps so be careful.
- It probably will get out of hand. That is a fact. Accept it and get over it.
- However, with careful planning and budgeting, you can limit going over budget – think of it like damage control.
- Choose the best person with numbers and keep the figures regularly updated.
Finally, and most importantly: remember that you have to do this for each and every venue. Edinburgh was easy by comparison (one place, one time, one group of staff) – now you got to do the same thing maybe seven times over. Leave yourself plenty of time to do this.
The only time the show has threatened to go belly up was because people hadn’t been communicating. My team are freelancers based all over the country with busy and conflicting schedules, and it’s hard to keep in touch. Sometimes, we’ve each felt completely isolated and thought “I’m the only one doing any bloody work here!” It’s important to have regular meetings (if not face to face, use Skype or phones) to keep everyone posted on what you’ve done and what needs doing.
Have a check list online (something like Googledocs). Write down who is in charge of what, what needs doing and what has been done. That way people can tick off what they have done and everyone is kept in the loop.
For a very long time things with the tour will be quietly coasting along and then suddenly someone will scream “OH MY GOD SOHO THEATRE HAVE JUST OFFERED US THREE DAYS IN JUNE, WE NEED TO GET A CONTRACT TO THEM ASAP, DO IT NOOOOOOOOOOOW!” and all hell will break loose. Organising tours is bouts of extreme quiet interspersed by frenetic and stressful work. This will increase as you get closer to the start of the tour. But if you plan and prep, these stressful moments can be contained as much as possible.
Look After Yourself And Each Other
Organising a tour can be very stressful. Not just the peak moments of stress but the constant daily weight of worries (“Why isn’t that theatre calling back? I need to call the printers. And I still need to write that article. Aaaaaah!”). Look after your physical and mental health. If you are a wreck before the tour begins then it’s all been for nothing, so exercise, eat well, see your friends and try to relax. And most importantly: you’re a team, so make sure you look after each other too.
One Last Thing
Remember why you’re doing this: to make theatre, whether it’s entertaining or challenging or thought-provoking. And after all that hard work and stress of getting the tour on the road, you will get the chance to do what you love and share it with a willing and excited audience. And that will make it all worthwhile.
Tristan Bernays is a writer and performer from London. He will be performing The Bread & The Beer at Soho Theatre 2-4 June, before heading off on his first UK tour.
For tickets to other shows, visit: www.thebreadandthebeer.com