Founder of national touring company, New Old Friends, Feargus Woods Dunlop writes about the power of social media and how it really can change your life. It did his.

If you scroll through the New OldFriends’ Twitter feed for August 2015 you will see a stream of shameless plugs, promotional and candid photographs, quote-tweeted reviews, and even that mostheinous of showbiz social media faux-pas: retweeted public praise (including family & friends) for our show The Falcon’s Malteser. But nestled in amongst all the hyperbole, desperation and (latterly) elation of having a successful Fringe show, is the following tweet from 10:21am on August 17.

That morning, Tim Ford (at that point Artistic Director of the Lichfield Garrick) found himself with one of those tricky empty windows in between shows. He tweeted out into the ether asking if any artists or colleagues were near the Pleasance Courtyard and fancied a chat. A mini-Twitter storm of replies ensued into which I lobbed the (not very hopeful) above tweet. But, to my surprise Tim came back and said yes.

I had a quick chat with my colleague, Heather about what I could pitch Tim, but more importantly about whether I could get away without showering (I could. Just) and headed out to meet him. We had an utterly mundane and utterly life-changing chat; we had coffee, exchanged shows we’d liked & hated, detailed why we love theatre and lots of other typical theatrical small talk. I failed to pitch a single one of the detailed shows H & I had mapped out in our thirty second power meeting, but Tim sensed a shared passion for entertainment in me (and Heather too when they met later). He moved his schedule around a bit to see our show, enjoyed it, and we stayed in touch.

All of this was lovely. We’d made a new friend and hoped we might be able to rely on him for a touring date in Lichfield. Then we were invited to Gala Night for Lichfield Garrick’s panto and the moment the red velvet rope which let us in to the VIP area (complete with free drinks) was lifted, the 3-hour trip was worth it, but more was to come. Tim spotted our arrival and broke off his conversation to whisk us away to see the studio. Away from the dignitaries, still clutching our free drinks lest our brief interlude as imposter VIPs was over, Tim casually mentioned he would like us to create him an alternative adult Christmas show in the studio for the following year. We couldn’t believe it.

We have always been very fortunate to have the support of our local venue, Theatre Royal Bath, but here was a regional theatre asking to co-produce a brand-new original comedy play with us. All because of Tim’s vision, his dedication to making use of every single minute of his Fringe, and the removal of barriers by social media.

The resulting show was Crimes Against Christmas; a comedy thriller where Agatha Christie’s Then There Were None meets Twelve Days Of Christmas (Lords leaping, ladies dancing, maids milking their way to their deaths etc). It was a hit, which led to 2017’s Crimes on the Christmas Express and inturn to 2018’s sell-out national mid-scale tour of Crimes Under the Sun. A new studio show, Crimes of the Christmas Pudding is currently playing at the Garrick and we’re in rehearsals for our biggest tour to date: Crimes on the Nile.

The ‘Crimes’ series has been a runaway success for us, selling tens of thousands of tickets and establishing New Old Friends as a national midsale touring presence. A simple social media interaction with an Artistic Director brave enough to try new things has been instrumental in growing our company to where we are now. We’re employing more artists, producing more work, having our very own dedicated rehearsal/officespace, and supporting ourselves financially just with New Old Friends.

Our story is an example that amongst the vitriol, trolling and gifs, social media can be a social place and a power for good. Before that tweet we’d never spoken to Tim Ford and had no links with Lichfield Garrick. Tim is now a great friend, colleague and creative inspiration and we’re proud to have gained a loyal following in Lichfield who support our work. We’re very keen to support other theatre companies, which is why we actively participate in things like #OVConnect on Twitter and also tweet our own call outs offering advice & support. They’re genuine, take us up.

There have been many other steps and supporters before and since, but that little tweet back in 2015 has echoed loudly throughout our company’s development.

For more information or to book tickets for Crimes on the Nile, visit the New Old Friends’ website.