Trendwatching: Venue deals blamed for 25% drop in UK regional theater touring

Nicola Merrifield, The Stage, 7/4/13

[UK] touring theatre companies have warned they face an increasing threat of closure because growing numbers of regional venues can no longer offer financially viable contracts for visiting shows. One producer said he had seen a 25% drop in bookings because profit margins offered by receiving houses were so low. Max Lewendel, artistic director of Icarus Theatre Collective, said: "Many venues are now saying, 'We love your work, if you want to come here on a box office split we can take you, but we can't afford to lose money'." Producers have said more venues are resorting to a box office split -- rather than a guaranteed fee. Small to mid-scale companies are claiming this trend could put them out of business. Hilary Burns of Northumberland Theatre Company, said: "The worry is that if we go on a split with a theatre and they are losing money as well -- and they reduce their staff -- they don't have enough people to do marketing. That means the audiences are less. It means it is just not viable for us. That's what we are really worried about -- that we won't be able to break even." She said the accepted model for a box office split was also changing, leading touring companies to lose out financially. NTC has now joined a consortium that aims to help companies in the north-east increase their fundraising efforts. Meanwhile, Adrian McDougall, founder of Blackeyed Theatre, said: "About two or three years ago, all [venues] would have paid a guarantee. The majority still do, but those guarantees have been squeezed down. About 12, if not more, of our 50 venues have had to say, 'We can pay a guarantee fee but it will be lower' -- 25% to 50% lower in some cases -- because they can't justify the risk." Greg Ripley-Duggan, chair of the League of Independent Producers, said that for commercial producers, the circuit for touring drama had "pretty much dried up.... You used to do tours because they were relatively low risk... Now it's no longer safe and no longer lucrative."

 

Trendwatching: Diminished touring = fewer new dance works

Gia Kourlas, Time Out New York magazine, 6/17/13

From an interview with Sam Miller, president of the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, who previously ran the Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival and the National Dance Project:

TONY: One problem in the dance world is that a season is three nights and then it's over.

Miller: That's right. It used to be that when I was at Jacob's Pillow, I was giving artists the opportunity to develop work over a number of years, but there was a fairly robust touring situation 20 years ago. I would have an artist at the Pillow and invite presenters and then that work would have a life afterward. When I left the Pillow and started the National Dance Project, it was, again, to acknowledge and support that kind of economy. Artists depended on institutional relationships, not just to show the work, but also to make the work. Over time, particularly for New York artists, there have been fewer opportunities to tour.

TONY: Why is touring so difficult for this generation of New York artists?

Miller: When New York was so clearly the center of dance making, both in the United States and in the world, Europe was a legitimate opportunity for American artists. So things changed. There's modern dance happening across the country and across the world. You have a lot more competition now than you had 20 years ago; the French will subsidize their companies or the Dutch or the Japanese. And in cities outside of New York like Seattle and Minneapolis and Chicago, you have active dance communities.

TONY: And those places have money.

Miller: Yeah. And the other thing is that the whole infrastructure has changed. 20, 25 years ago, a choreographer aspired to have a company and a manager and an agent and then tour, and those tours were supported. [Today that's no longer the case and] artists that I work with need help in different kinds of ways -- they need space to make the work, they need financial support. You have to put together what you need on an almost project-by-project basis.

 

Related: Why more tour dates weren't booked at recent dance showcase  

Lisa Kraus, ThINKing Dance blog, 6/23/13

Most dance artists hate showcases, the kind where everyone has 15 or 20 minutes to spread out their wares in a big dance supermarket. I started appreciating them when I became the coordinator of a performing arts series and they were an efficient way to learn about the work of lots of artists in a short time. The Association of Performing Arts Presenters conference (APAP) each January in New York is a gluttonous feast of such showings, and that's in large part why presenters come from all corners of the globe. They take in as much as possible, then contact booking agents and work out who will appear on upcoming seasons. So with the substantial activity of Philadelphia's dance scene and the work of 22 artist/companies on the menu this year, plus five in a "Show-and-Tell" and additional evening shows, why didn't more out-of-town presenters show up for the fifth annual DanceUSA/Philadelphia (Dance/UP) showcase?  Why aren't more presenters hiring artists seen in the showcases?  I saw issues in the work on view that I feel can, at least in part, explain what's going on. Wearing my presenter hat, I took notes on each of the performances and Show-and-Tell presentations (which, rather than showings of actual work, were explanations illustrated with video clips).  For those, like me, who look for work that's excellently danced, interestingly conceived and well-crafted, my sense is that few of the groups delivered all three at once. [Here] are some of the reasons, along with some of what I am looking for.   

 

Trendwatching: On-demand touring approach helps independent musicians

The Economist's 'Prospero' blog, 6/12/13

Talk about the music industry these days is fairly grim. More people may be listening to more music than ever before, but no one seems to know how to make money out of the business. So what can be done about it? [Cellist] Zoe Keating's story is a hopeful one...she nets between $200,000 and $300,000 annually, largely through live performance. It helps that Ms Keating performs alone, which cuts down costs. But much of her success can be attributed to her skills as a data miner. By digging through the analytics on her various social networks, she determines where her fans are and what songs they like. It didn't take Ms Keating long to see that she had fans in London. So she independently booked a show last year at a 100-capacity jazz club in East London, which she sold out. Ms Keating then approached Songkick, a London-based live-music site, to help her book a follow-up show at a church in Camden that holds 200-300 people. Songkick recently developed a program called Detour, a crowdfunding site that lets music fans place advance orders for tickets for a possible concert. This takes the risk out of booking venues in far-off places for musicians, and fans are only charged if the show goes ahead. No TicketMaster, no scalpers, no long list of surcharges. Ms Keating's show is now sold out (tickets are 15). After paying for venue rental, her flight and equipment, she will walk away with somewhere between $3,000 and $4,000. Services like Detour have determined that fans are more than willing to leave the house for a live-music experience, if someone will simply organise that experience well. This helps independent musicians like Ms Keating, who have a good fan base but lack a manager or promotions team. She may be tech-savvy, but venues don't always like working directly with artists. And programs like Detour allow Ms Keating to book more intimate shows, which work better with her music and personality, rather than one big concert, which is what promoters prefer.

 

Related: "Crowdsourcing is the new norm among independent bands"

Michael Segell, The New York Times, 6/21/13

"I'm seeing more and more artists who don't have an agent or publicist but are finding creative ways to tour," said Valerie Denn, a booking agent in Austin, Tex. "Bands are pooling their resources, coming up with unusual packaging ideas. They're using social media to raise money, find free places to stay on the road or do house concerts between tour dates so they can pick up a little cash and sell some CDs. Crowdsourcing is the new norm among independent bands." An artist's fan base is critical to this evolving strategy. "Today's music lovers may not be willing to pay a lot for recorded music, but they do want a direct connection to bands they like," said Panos Panay, founder of the Web site SonicBids, which connects musicians with promoters, booking agents and retailers. "They want to contribute to artists' development, so they'll donate money to help finance tours and recordings. Smart new bands are tapping into that by being more proactive in marketing their own brand."

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