The Beginning of Phase Two…

Well, here we are at a landmark moment in Red Table’s development. We’ve gone and managed to make a success of things. When things are successful, they usually need change to keep that success and development rolling along, and Red Table is no different.

Back in 2010, Piers and I set out with the idea of using Open Book Management as a way of addressing many of the injustices which often happen in Fringe theatre. Through what have been (believe me) many sleepless nights and long days, we’ve managed to use this model to not only treat the people who have worked with us fairly, but to build a viable theatre company. That’s right, from no money in our pockets to a viable company in two years. We’re very proud of that.

Of course, it wasn’t us that did it. Every actor, designer, crew member, investor, producer, assistant director, and too many supporters to list did it. We just facilitated it. Piers and I will continue to fight the case for Open Book Theatre at any and every opportunity that presents itself. It’s open, honest and ethical: what more could you ask of a business model?

In Summer 2011, our little team was fortunate enough to be joined by Nick Field as our Producer. Nick worked as hard as anyone to get behind both Open Book Management, and Red Table itself.

Red Table has now fulfilled the purpose Piers and I initially set out for it two years ago in bringing the beginnings of change to the industry, and we now find ourselves with a lovely little theatre company which seems to have built up some respect in the industry. Only Piers is a writer, and I prefer directing to being involved with the nuts and bolts of production.

And so we’ve decided to do the only sensible thing we can. We’re handing it all over into Nick’s capable hands, in its entirety. Our aims have been fulfilled as far as the company goes, but the company cries out to continue to produce, to assist others in producing, and to remain living proof that the good guys can win.

It doesn’t mean I don’t work with Red Table anymore – on the contrary, it gives the company a much more efficient structure. I’m very much looking forward to simply making my production proposals to Nick, and then either getting or not getting the green light. So much easier for me… (though Nick knows he’s in for a heck of a lot of hard work – he’s a brave man).

And so Phase Two begins. Ladies and Gentlemen, may I introduce Mr Nick Field, the proud new owner of Red Table Theatre. I have no idea what the next two years will bring for Red Table, but with Nick at the helm, I can’t envisage anything but good will come of it.

As always, though, you’ll still be able to reach me at rafe.beckley@redtabletheatre.com – just because I don’t run it any more, doesn’t mean I don’t love it….

Rafe

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Post-Mortem time…..

Sounds a little too cadaverous for my liking, but it’s an appropriate way of describing the next stage in our process. This weekend (all being well) we sit down and discuss the last production. We try to work out what we did well, so we can do more of that, and what we did not so well, so we can do less of that.

One thing that’s worth knowing about, though we may have told you already, is Survey Monkey. Check it out if you can. It’s an internet tool we use to get honest open feedback from people involved in a production. We can set it up so that people can give us their true opinions of the process in complete anonymity.

Those of you in the business will appreciate how difficult it is to get true feedback from people who work with you – they may have had a particularly good or bad experience, but will not necessarily tell you about it because you may think them a sycophant or a pain in the rear, and this could potentially jeopardise their chances of future work with you.

Survey Monkey gets rid of this problem by allowing that open feedback anonymously. We can then take that to post-mortem and find out what the people who worked with us really enjoyed, and what they didn’t enjoy. It’s only by listening to the truth of the experiences of the people who work with us that we can continue to improve the way in which we work. We don’t know anyone else who does this at the moment, so we’d encourage you all to include it in your plans. Sometimes it’s difficult to face up to honest feedback, so it’s up to us to make sure that we’re big enough to learn from the feedback of others without getting defensive. Learning is a painful process, sometimes, and that’s why so many people try to avoid it. Tackle it head-on, we say.

Other than that, Nick is doing the reconciliations for the Christmas show to see how we did – we’ll find out soon – and my brain is already half in Edinburgh.

In other news, we’ve been getting feedback both from members of the public (one notable email from a lady who wanted the sheet music from Fairy Tales as her girls had been humming it all January) to people in the industry who are asking for tips on using the templates we’ve put up on the website. The idea of Open Book Theatre seems to be gathering some momentum, and we’re looking forward to hearing from those companies who we know are also currently trialling the system to see how they get on, and incorporate their learning into the model as and when they feed it back to us.

The last thing is, we’ve been invited to address two Equity meetings this February – the N.W. London branch, and the Directors’ branch. We’re very much looking forward to the feedback of the Union (my Union, I’m proud to say) members, to see what they think of what we’re doing.

As always, email me any questions or comments, and we’ll be glad to help if we can.

Rafe

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Home Needed

One of Red Table’s goals for 2012 is to search for a venue, and make it a permanent home for Red Table. With our business and creative experience it’s sure to be a success.

We are looking for anything from a decent size room above a pub to convert into a theatre, to finding an entire building to convert into a cafe/theatre/arts centre.

If you’re an investor or an Angel who’d like to support us, please get in touch.

If you know of a great venue in a decent location near a tube stop that is unused or under utilised, please let us know…

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Open Book opens Doors

Just wanted to add a little to Rafe’s comments below. We received a one off fixed contract for the St Albans gig and were able to pay the Actors damn near Equity minimum plus travel expenses.

Open Book allowed to attract quality performers from the outset, and it’s successful use during the Edinburgh run gave the Actor’s faith in the system and in our theatre company. This way, we were able to retain their services later on, and give them a decent wage.

Open Book isn’t perfect, and it isn’t the be all and end all. But it certainly is a great platform to build on and can lead to bigger and better things. In this industry, ‘success’ is all about the people you collaborate with, and only by working together can you get results. Open Book’s ‘open, honest and ethical’ approach to making theatre attracts the right people, and helps you retain them for future growth and benefit.

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Just So rises again….

Just another quick post. Moving forward from a profit share on a shoestring only one year ago, The Just So Stories at the Trestle Arts Base in St Albans this Christmas had only two tickets left for sale this afternoon.

That’s a sold out Christmas run, and this one isn’t a profit share – it’s paid! Open Book Management (and a lot of hard work) has taken one show, in one year, from zero to paid.

Just another little reminder that this method of working carries real possibilities of success….

Rafe

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A little bit of success….

I just thought I’d post this little nugget up.

A schoolteacher, after today’s show, came up to one of the cast and said that she’d been inspired by the show to bring a load of stuff into school tomorrow and dump it onto a table, and simply see what the children would create with it when given the opportunity.

And I think that’s a wonderful thing indeed.

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End of week four

So here we are again – the end of week four of rehearsals, and the preparations for production, opening on Tuesday.

As always, a hard week’s work, and again the observation that the use of Open Book has a direct effect on the production. The thing I noticed this week was the involvement of the actors in a way I’ve not seen before. This time, rather than just a direct interest in ticket sales or profitability, I’ve seen an interest in assistance to the Company as a whole, longer term.

The actors, as with any fringe production, have been furiously writing to Casting Directors and Agents. It’s one of the main draws of working on the fringe – the actors give up their time to do a production which will generate them limited revenue personally to take advantage of the opportunity to have industry professionals come to see their work. This hopefully leads to other opportunities for them in the future, like a loss leader on a product in a supermarket. To do this, they are invariably also working second jobs at the same time to pay the rent, as are all of us here at Red Table at the moment.

What I found interesting this week was the fact that one of the actors, while carefully monitoring who has shown an interest in them, passed that information on to us, with the suggestion that we might like to be aware of someone who had taken an interest in them. They immediately saw that the Company which has displayed an interest might also be interested in the shows and material Red Table could offer as a Company in other contexts, and so passed their details on to us in case we might be interested in contacting them directly.

This is a new thing for us. What I infer from it is that as well as taking an interest in the financials of Red Table as they relate directly to the actor, they are also seeing a possibility for Red Table longer term, and have effectively generated us a sales lead to follow without us asking.

That’s amazing, and I didn’t foresee it as an effect of what we’re doing. It means that as well as our actors being salespeople for the show, they are actively interested in the Company being successful over the longer term. To me, it indicates that our actors are beginning to see themselves as part of a Company which exists not just for individual shows, but as a part of a Company with a future, which they want to help us with.

For me, it proves that when you involve people in an honest and open process, their minds begin to think along the same lines as yours, looking to develop opportunities for the Company.

In short, it seems to indicate that what we’re doing is not only ethical and worthwhile, but is also sound business practice which can only benefit everyone involved in longer term ways. Not only are we getting good quality actors, and actors who have been actively selling this show in their own time through leafleting, postering and social media, we are also getting actors who are considering opportunities for the Company into the future, beyond the production they are currently involved in.

Essentially, we seem to be gaining an informal but effective sales network born of goodwill.

And when budgets are tight and you’ve no funding except commercial investment which must be repaid, a sales team like that is a huge benefit indeed.

Good job they’re also great actors. Don’t miss the show!

rafe.beckley@redtabletheatre.com

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Where did week two go?

We’ve been cracking on with rehearsals, and I simply lost the chance to blog at the end of week two, so here’s a double week roundup…

As always, rehearsals are progressing nicely. We’re still convinced that this is in large part due to having such a high standard of applicant for our shows now that word is getting out about Open Book Theatre. The cast we have inĀ  this show have bonded very well, and I’m pretty convinced that comes at least in part from a shared belief in the kind of morality we’re trying to create with the model we use. There have certainly been plenty of suggestions from the cast throughout the process, this time with a bias to sales. They seem very keen to help drive sales, which is great, and they’re exploring every aspect of social media they can do – in their own time – to do it. All this while rehearsing full time and working part time. Again, Open Book seems to bring people on a show together with a common focus which will aid in the financial success of the show.

Which is good. Without going into unneccessary detail, we hit a budgeting hiccup this week, which meant rearranging our budget spends to make sure we could cover the cost of an unexpected expenditure. In doing this, the cast have been instrumental, picking up opportunities to help drive sales and minimise costs so that we stay on track to make a profit. It’s been painful, as we are fastidious about our budgeting and had already cut everything pretty much to the bone to ensure profitability – we take the protection of our investors’ money pretty seriously – but having everyone on the same team has meant we have been able to adjust our spending without adding more to that spend, and picked up what that spend would have generated in other ways.

And so these are my important points this week. Firstly, get that initial budget right, but understand that through the production process it is still a living, breathing document. Accept that unexpected things will happen and you may have to make tough budgetary decisions accordingly. Simply throwing a budget together will not do, and you are likely to come unstuck. We would have, if we hadn’t known our budgets inside and out.

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, make sure everyone involved also understands that budget. It will allow them to generate ideas to help you along when you do hit a snag. Many heads here can find solutions where there were none before, and the actors involved are all going out of their way this weekend – without being directly asked – to generate more ticket sales using their own ideas. That simply doesn’t happen on the fringe when there is no Open Book.

The only other thing worth mentioning this week, I think, is this: Don’t let your budget get in the way of your ideals. We spent a long time analysing the figures for our activity programme to go with the show. In shows past, we’ve relied on a small amount of advertising sales to make the the activity programme a realistic proposition. We spent lots of time chasing down leads for advertisers, but with the economy the way it is, we just couldn’t seem to find any. That meant that on paper, we would have to cut the activity programme, as we knew it would be a loss maker financially, and we simply will not ask investors to finance something which we know will lose money – it’s the only way to retain trust, and therefore investors, for the next project. So the choices seemed to be either not have an activity pack, or charge a lot more for them. Neither of these options were acceptable to us.

We’re committed as a company to having the storytelling experience with this kind of show live on after the show, and provide adults and children with opportunities to continue to interact and have fun with the material after the show. That’s what the activity pack does, with fun and colouring, and activities which also require a little help from a grown-up. We wrestled with this principle vs. the principle of protecting our investors, until we came up with a solution. So, this show, with support from the cast as well as the production team, we’ll be going with a far less flashy but just as much fun activity pack. Because of this realisation about the state of the economy, too, this time we’ll be supplying them on a pay-what-you-can basis.

No child should leave our show without fun activities to do because of a financial situation in society that isn’t their fault. And so my final thought for today is this: Don’t give up on your core beliefs. There is always a way to be both resposible to your investors and still not compromise on your artistic principles. We’ve just managed to do that, and we’re all rather proud of it.

As always, questions or comments to rafe.beckley@redtabletheatre.com

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Red Table reaches across the Atlantic

Just a quick note to say that Red Table are extremely pleased to have NY Media Works as sponsors of Hans Christian Andersen’s Fairy Tales. A special thanks to Julie Gribble for making that happen.

Julie was so impressed by the work were doing that she supported us with the Edinburgh production of ‘Just So’ and has gone on to make NY Media Works sponsors our new show.

If only one of the major airlines could give us all tickets to New York, we could do a special show for Julie and her team!

Nick x

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End of week one rehearsals

As ever, the end of week one brings with it happiness and concerns. The cast we’ve assembled this year seem to be getting on rather well, and rehearsals are being very productive.

From an artistic point of view, we’re wrestling with making sure we tell these beautiful stories clearly, while still honouring their Danish roots.

More than anything, though, as the intention now is with this blog, I’m looking to focus more on the Open Book Theatre model, and how it affects process and product. Nick spent a couple of hours with the cast in the week going through the budget spreadsheets in great detail, and the cast seem to be enthusiastic about having the opportunity to watch the financial status of the production regularly. This has also led to lots of conversations in breaks about various experiences that have been had on the fringe in the past which continue to drive us to encourage reputable small scale fringe companies to adopt the model. Word is beginning to spread now, and hopefully over the next few years the fringe will split in two – those who run an Open Book model, and those who don’t.

There were some critical responses to our new model in The Stage after news broke in the spring this year in that publication about Open Book Theatre. One of the chief points that was made by other companies was that they had been running with an open book for many years. There is a very important difference, though, in as much as those who do open their books (which is still admirable in comparison to those companies who do not) do so at the end of a production, not during the rehearsals and run of the production.

This is a serious point for us. We believe that there is a profound difference between showing the people involved in a production how the money was spent after the event, and involving them actively in the process of the spending of the money. The latter allows the people involved to feel secure in the rehearsal room knowing that there is transparency, and also allows them to contribute to the profitability of the production by actively engaging in the spending/spending control process.

If you’d like to know how well Open Book Theatre works, I took a moment to think about this during the week: in the course of just one year as a company with no finances and no resources, we now carry proper insurance, pay our actors a decent upfront contribution towards their travel expenses, give them decent contracts which protact all of us and our working conditions, and we have thus far still been able to make our profit share shows turn a profit, which is shared between all as agreed. We also have one of our shows playing another venue this Christmas, the Just So Stories playing at Trestle Arts Base, which is not profit share but an upfront straight payment to all involved, with a proper contract. Who knows how quickly we’ll be able to move towards using full Equity contracts for our performers? Not long, we hope.

That’s a long way for a company to come in just one year, from nowhere. Is it just because of the Open Book Theatre model? Of course not. It’s also due to an incredible amount of hard work, without which any production or company will not be successful. Believe me, initially Open Book Theatre is a lot of hard work. My question this week is this: Is there anything really worth doing in this world that isn’t?

As always, we encourage you to join us and the other companies who are beginning to work using this model. People are finding out about it, and pretty soon actors may be asking you some serious, knowledgeable questions about the finances and conditions your production, and basing their choices on your answers.

Any questions or comments, you can always reach me on rafe.beckley@redtabletheatre.com

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