I bumped into some old friends today…

Actually, that’s not quite true. They bumped into me. And some of them came and found me deliberately, because they saw that the Just So Stories was up here, so they dropped by the venue to say hello to me.

Now, we are talking about some seriously talented people here. They’ve been working their comedy sketch show pretty much since we left Drama School, and they’ve got pretty big over the last couple of years. Not telly big – yet – but they have a top line management company looking after them, they’re well known on the London, Edinburgh and Summer Festival comedy circuits. The festival is absolutely plastered with their posters alongside all the comedians you’ve definitely heard of. They’ll be on your screens somewhere very soon, I have no doubt.

We had a good hug, checked in with each other, and generally had a good chuckle together. We agreed to meet in Brookes Bar at the Pleasance one night after their show and have a beer or two together. They, and I, went away with smiles on our faces, pleased to meet old friends again, and to still be privileged enough to be working in the industry.

And then I reflected a little on what we’re doing here. I do other jobs, because I have to. I don’t have another job on the side at the moment, but I’m lucky enough to have a wife who is supportive and understanding of my career choices, so we’re scraping through financially. However, if I don’t get something soon that pays then I won’t be able to service my debts, and that would be a Very Bad Thing.

Turns out that my old friends do other jobs too. I’d made the rather foolish assumption that because they had a decent manager backing them, that their posters were everywhere and they had prime slots all over the place, that they’d “Made It”.

They have made it, of course. Simply re-read the above paragraph to check. They have definitely arrived, and it won’t be long until they need only to do the job they love, and no other. They are serving the last of their time before the mast. Until then, however, they are still doing other ‘normal’ jobs in between, to pay the rent and bills.

I thought about that, and about something that Mrs B and I regularly talk about. She won’t let me give up, you see. She believes in me so much that she simply won’t allow me to give up. I am, most assuredly, an incredibly lucky man.

What we talk about, and she constantly reminds me of, is Helsinki Bus Station Theory. Go and read it now, and then come back to me…

Have you read it? If so, good. If not, please believe me and go and read it now, before I carry on!

At this point I’m going to assume that you’ve read it, and I shall continue…

There have been nights over the last decade when I have lain awake, a single parent staring at the ceiling, wondering how I would feed myself and my teenage daughter. I have worked in jobs I detested. At my lowest point, I had a breakdown in the seasonal goods aisle in ASDA, surrounded by fairy lights (having convinced myself that they were all that was needed to turn a show around that was clearly going down the pan in a very ‘full flush toilet button’ kind of way), and had to call Piers to get him to talk me out of the shop because I was no longer able to think or function. And yet, still, here I am – doing the only work I really know how to do. All I have to say to anyone reading this post, after bumping into my old friends after we’ve all been flogging away at this game for years now, is this:

Stay On The Bus.

Stay On The Bus, or risk forever being unsure if you could have “Made It” or not. If you Stay On The Bus, then at least eventually you’ll know for sure whether you could have achieved your dreams or not, and you won’t end up as a crumpled figure in the corner of a pub, forever reflecting on what, perhaps, you could have been.

Mrs B, whenever times get tough or I have doubt in my own abilities, simply tells me – in no uncertain terms – to Stay On The Bus.

I’d love for you to take a quick look at your lives, if you can spare me a moment. Someone, somewhere, is your equivalent of Mrs B. They believe in you. Whenever you get wobbly or afraid then go and find them, and make sure that they remind you that your only obligation to yourself, to your integrity, and to that special individual who does believe in you is this:

Stay On The Bus.

Mrs B – I love you, and I am an extremely lucky man.

Rafe

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Let me tell you about Hunter…

IMAG0238So there I was in the Kidzone in the Pleasance Courtyard this morning, with a fold up camping table that I’d just bought from Argos under my arm, wondering how I was going to solve an issue we’d identified.

Essentially, it was a very simple issue. We believe that merchandise is a revenue stream that shouldn’t be ignored, and so we brought with us full size posters and crayons to sell at a fixed price after our shows, and a pay-what-you-can activity sheet/programme, with the cast and creative biographies on the front (along with another great piece of artwork from Hannah), and activities on the back for children and their grown-ups to do together after the show.

This last item – the activity sheet – is really important to us. We believe that all children should have the opportunity to share their experience of theatre with their grown-ups, to do some activities together based on a shared experience, and to have some extra fun. That’s why it’s pay-what-you-can. We believe that no child should be left out due to financial constraints whenever possible. One lady gave me two quid for one today, and yesterday I sold one for five pence, directly to a child. Both of those purchases made me equally happy. Both children got included. One effectively subsidised the other, and everybody won.

The Issue I was facing today, however, was that we didn’t have a merchandise table to display our wares, and so as families streamed out of the venue we were missing opportunities to add to their experience, and to generate a little income for the company.

Thus, the fold up camping table from Argos. Cheap, simple and effective – the activity sheets and their friends are displayed on the table as people queue for the venue, and so on the way out they have to opportunity to purchase if they want to.

I set the table up. I displayed everything. But something was missing…

By the Igloo in the Kidzone, there is the most wonderful craft table. Colouring. Shrinkies. Design your own t-shirt. They do these things very cheaply, and are also wonderful people. “I know”, said Rafe-in-my-head, “They offer a crab sock puppet you can make, which ties in with one of the stories in our show. What we need is one of those on the merchandise table, telling everyone how much things are.”

Enter Hunter, a delightful four-and-three-quarter year old boy (He was very definite about this. He was, most assuredly, four-and-three-quarters. We checked it.) I sat down, a six foot three inch man on a chair designed for a very small child, and asked if I could please make a crab sock puppet. And that’s when Hunter introduced himself, proclaiming enthusiastically his love of the Making of Things, and offering his help (with his mum’s permission, of course, which was duly granted). How could I refuse?

So we sat there for nearly half an hour, Hunter and I, and he helped me by showing me the very best way that a crab sock puppet should be made. He advised, oversaw, stayed well clear of the hot glue gun as he had been advised to do, and chose the eyes for our crab. All four of them. He insisted that this was precisely the right number of eyes for this particular crab… and who am I to say otherwise?

But Hunter showed me a lot more than that today, without realising what he was doing.

He showed me that sometimes, when our focus is on work, and money, and the pressures we face in daily life, there is a huge amount of pleasure to be had from simply stopping for half an hour with someone you instantly warm to, and just doing something fun together. So much so, in fact, that I still had a spring in my step walking back from the venue this evening every time I thought about it.

Thank you, Hunter, for reminding me of what really matters in life. You will probably never remember me, but I promise I shall always remember you.

Rafe

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On flyering, and why you should never do it….

“What?”, I hear you cry…”Are you insane? We’re in Edinburgh! We have to go out onto the Royal Mile! We have to come up with a gimmick which will make people notice our show! We have to come up with something crazy, which will make people stop and look at our amazing creativity, and thus entice them into taking a flyer, and therefore immediately and directly book our show!”

Stop. Please, stop. Or I may have to gouge out my own eyes with blunt spoons.

Before I had the privilege of getting involved in this industry, I spent a lot of my working life in both soft and hard sales environments – from training upselling to servers in well known chain restaurants to working cold call telesales.

Last night, I delivered an hour’s training which I’d devised to our cast on how not to flyer, and how to sell your show instead. There is a world of difference.

At the festival, there are a number of flyering people. I’m going to assume here that if you’re reading this, then you don’t have the budget to hire people to flyer for you. This is a good thing. Those who are paid to flyer work a tough job for a tough wage, on their feet for hours at a time until they have distributed their allocation of flyers. It’s the marketing equivalent of taking a blunderbuss and trying to aim it at a duck ten miles away. Sure, you might get the odd pellet to land, but it’s not cost effective unless you’re a large organisation with deep pockets.

So, what are the rest of us to do? If we can’t have blunderbuss flyering keeping our show in the public mind, and we can’t sit on the Royal Mile on a toilet in the vain hope that someone might think we’ve come up with something new and revolutionary in theatre and it’s worth getting up at 10am to see our new show, how should we move forward?

Easy. Flyering is, quite simply, putting flyers in people’s hands and then watching them walk down the Royal Mile and file them into one of the bins conveniently provided by the Council (I had a lovely conversation with their officers on the Mile about what was legal and illegal about throwing flyers on the floor – they were genuinely helpful, and I learned a lot about how not to get a fine!). It rarely generates sales. That’s right, sales. Ick. Horrible word.

Ultimately, though, that’s what we’re here for – to sell tickets, to fill our spaces, and to make back the money our investors have put into the show (and just for the record, I’ve got two grand of my own cash which is needed elsewhere right now in this show, so it’s important for me to make sure we sell seats – believe me, I’ve got my money where my mouth is here).

Having trained our lovely cast last night on how to sell a show and not just flyer it, I spent this morning wandering the Mile, checking out the sales competition. Frankly, I was amazed. I was approached by one person (and I’m sorry if this was you) who actually said to me (and I wrote this down after) “I’m sorry, you’re probably not really interested in comedy, but would you like a flyer anyway?”. I kid you not. I was sold out of the show before I’d even seen the flyer. And I was out looking for people to flyer me!

So, why am I blathering on about this today? Two reasons –

Reason the First: Please don’t just randomly put flyers in people’s hands, especially apologetically. They won’t come to your show.

Reason the Second: I just realised that my previous skill sets in sales are applicable to my show, and therefore are of benefit to my cast, the Pleasance, our investors, and myself (as both investor and director).

Reason the second opens an interesting possibility. I bumped into some East 15 Graduates today who have different shows here (I’m privileged enough to teach there sometimes), and offered to help them to sort out their flyering strategy and implementation for a few pints down the pub over the coming few days.

Once our show is settled I’ll be leaving for London (returning to deliver a free session on Open Book Management at Fringe Central on the 12th August at 1pm). That session is free. Yes, you heard me right. Free.

However, if you want the inside sales techniques that will work, just contact our producer, Kelly, on kelly.golding@redtabletheatre.com. I’m sure we can work something out….

Remember – you’re not flyering. You’re selling seats. And I sincerely wish each and every one of you every success in doing so.

Rafe

 

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The Joy of Previews…

Fortunately I’ve done a few of these over the years, so that particular manual isn’t necessary, I hope. I’m pleased to report that ours went well – the bits I knew were working well, and the bits I wasn’t sure about have either proved themselves or not, and we’ve been able to make the necessary tweaks to arrive at the finished product.

It has, however, made me think a little about what previews do for us as creatives, and about how many different ways there are of approaching them. I’ve had terrible ones, excellent ones, and pretty much everything in between over the years.

It occurs to me that there are essentially two ways of approaching the preview. We can enter into it with a deep seated fear, worrying if the show will survive first contact with the audience and the new space. Or (and far more useful, I think) we can approach it with enthusiasm, looking forward to finding the ways in which we can improve our show in the light of audience reaction and the challenges that a new venue always exposes.

If I may be so bold, I’d like to recommend making the second a choice, and that you choose it with enthusiasm and vigour. Directors set the tone. You look worried, then the team around you start to get worried, and that often seems to lead to a wobbliness which can deny you the very things you need – an accurate gauge of how things are going to pan out, and exposure of the things you need to tweak.

As I say, fortunately today’s previews were good. But what if they hadn’t been? And here we come to the crux of the matter.

I’ve come to the conclusion that when your previews go well, all of the credit belongs to the cast and crew. All their hard work is paying off, and they get their first opportunity to realise that they have something they can be proud of when the press come in.

If the previews go badly, however, then you have to have broad shoulders and take the rap for it yourself. You wanted to be a director, and it’s the choices that you made – casting, crewing up, staging, working and polishing the show – that have resulted in your sub par previews (and yes, I’ve been there!)

Ultimately, if you want your name on the posters and the flyers next to those magic words “Directed by”, then you have to take the rough with the smooth. It’s no-one’s fault but your own.

Why am I writing this on the blog? As a letter to my future self. Once I press ‘Publish’, this blog post will be out there forever, and I’ll be forced to live up to my own ideals when times get tough.

I hope I’ll be up to the task.

Rafe

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Just So…Edinburgh!

So, here we are again. The same festival, the same time of year, the same city (only this time I’m using Kelly’s computer…!). You’d be forgiven for thinking that in the two years that have passed since we brought the Just So Stories to Edinburgh in 2011, the piece would be the same too. I know that I thought it would.

But something strange has happened. The show is the same in as much as the songs, script and staging have barely changed. But I’m surprised at what has happened in the rehearsal room.

We have a new cast and a new stage manager. Instead of trying to get them to replicate the performances of previous companies, when we explained the way we use Open Book Management on our shows to them I decided to also give them the creative freedom in the rehearsal room to find new voices and characterisations for the show, so that they could make it their own.

Today, we had three hours in the inflatable Igloo in the Pleasance Kidzone, with the technical team working around us as we had our first run in the space. And something magical happened.

I sat down in the Snuggle Pit with the cuddly animals and watched our new cast without my notebook in my hand. For a change, I just watched.

And while I was watching, I had an epiphany. When you get the right people around you and treat them with respect – proper respect – allow them freedom to play, and support their ideas and their contributions in the rehearsal room, they can take a show that already exists, breathe new life into it, and make it their own. So much so that I found myself laughing out loud again and enjoying words and songs I’ve been living with on and off now for over two years.

I thought I’d be bored rigid by The Just So Stories by now, but it turns out that I’m not. And that, I think, is a resounding testament to two things – both to the wonderful writing of Rudyard Kipling, and to the wonderful creativity of talented people.

Trust the people you work with, be completely honest and open with them, allow them to be creative, and some very special things can happen.

To the new cast and crew: Thank you. You’re every bit as good as previous companies, and still manage to bring your own wonderful uniqueness to this show. I can’t wait for the previews to start tomorrow.

Oh, and I very much hope you read this blog entry too. Just so you know how very proud I am of all of you.

Rafe

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Rafe is standing for election….

So, here we are.

We’ve worked out a new, fair way to approach low/no pay fringe theatre management. People seem to like it, it’s being talked about and used by other companies, and all the resources are free on our website.

But that’s not enough. Sometimes, when you really believe in things, you have to keep up the momentum, even after you’ve done lots already.

Because of this, I have decided to stand for election for a seat on the Equity Stage Committee. Change can’t just happen from the outside or the inside – it has to happen from both.

For those of you who are Equity members, the ballot packs will be delivered to you in early June, and the ballot closes on the 12th July. If you’re a member, and you’ve been following the work we’ve been doing here, please grab a pen and vote for me. Whether you’re a member or not, please tell all your industry friends to grab their pens and vote for me.

Because all it takes is for good people to do nothing….

Many thanks in advance to you all.

Rafe

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The Just So Stories return this Easter.

Yes Indeedy!

Red Table’s triple 5 star adaptation of Rudyard Kipling’s The Just So Stories are back for your delight this Easter break at the LOST Theatre in Wandsworth, from 2 – 14 April 2013 at 3 pm every day.

We are mega excited about its return and want to tell the world it is on – so do please help us!  Back again is the the infamous snuggle pit and all the favourite tales about how certain animals came to be.

Ticket prices: £10 full price / £8 children and concessions.

Buy your tickets now!

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Open Book Theatre makes the Actor’s Yearbook 2013

Open Book Theatre gets its first print publication!

Piers has written a piece for the Actors’ Yearbook 2013, available now, all about Open Book Theatre and why it’s particularly important and useful for Fringe Companies. The Actors’ Yearbook is as important for those working in the theatre as the Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook is for, well, writers and artists.

Do check it out if you get the chance.

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We have a new workshop coming up….

Devising With Found Objects

Following the success of its ‘found object’ approach to storytelling, Red Table Theatre’s Director, Rafe Beckley, is now making available to actors, directors and teachers a hands on workshop based on their in-house style of theatre devising.

8th December, 10 – 6 at Theatre Delicatessen, 35 Marylebone High Street W1U. Price £35.00.

The workshop is a full day of practical devising using found objects, and participants will be invited to bring with them a variety of objects for this purpose.

Please contact kelly.golding@redtabletheatre.com for more information and please quote Company Website in the email subject line.

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We’re back again!

Oh, boy. I just couldn’t stay away.

Nick’s been brilliant, and he’s off doing brilliant things. Red Table was kept safely in his hands, but it kept calling to us. So we’re back. Thanks to Nick for keeping it in good, well…..nick.

We have another new idea here at Red Table, and it’s as revolutionary, we think, as the Open Book Movement.

It’s pretty urgent, but it’s happening. We’d love you to be a part of it, and I’ll post more details as soon as I can….

Rafe

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