Sunday, 26 January 2014

Playing, Paying, Pubs and Value

BABYLON is touring pubs. Not pub theatres, but just pubs. To the glorious and the good inns across the nation. We're two weeks in, we've two and a half to go. This is a massive learning curve, in a good and honestly very hard way. But we knew that. Touring to pubs wasn't the easy option, it was an option we wanted to explore, play with and see what we could make work. Last night was hard. The hardest yet.

We opened at The Fauconberg. Home crowd, sold out. A lot of fun and great support for the first night of a show. The second night we arrived in at the venue and they asked if we could just play a gig instead of doing the show. And, actually, that's fine, because we can. And it's more important to us that we work with a pub, rather than just impose ourselves on it. So if we can tell the story and bring a group of people through playing a gig, instead of a two act show, then that's okay. Although I don't imagine you would ever get asked that in a theatre, but that's why we're touring pubs. People liked the gig, bought CDs and signed up to our mailing list for future work.

The next night we were back to the show. A busy, noisy pub on a Saturday night. Act 1 was great,  lots of singing and dancing along. Act 2 was hard, didn't work, turned too much in to a play - too much like traditional theatre to work in this environment. A good lesson learnt. So on Monday - after playing in a lovely pub on Sunday with very tasty food (a nice perk!) - we went back in to the rehearsal room to change a lot of Act 2. We knew now what we needed and what we wanted, so a good day of reworking was had. And Monday night the show was great. A brewery packed full and with us the whole way. Then in Manchester on Wednesday and Newcastle on Thursday the show grew and bedded in. 

Friday we were to head to Bristol. One van broke down, the other van took 9 hours to get here and arrived at 7.15 for 8pm show. But we were in a great pub with a brilliant room upstairs and a great crowd of Bristolians. Some who meant to come, others who just wandered in. Then last night we were in Bath. Again, great pub and great room out the back. We went and played a few tunes in the main bar to drag in some punters and as the room filled up we looked forward to a big show.

There were two groups of people worth mentioning. There were two lads, maybe 20 years old, who had come to the pub for a few pints of lager. They liked the sound of the music so they came in - they hadn't come for a play, they'd come to the pub on a Saturday night. But they stayed watched a two act play. That's what they did, with their Saturday night out drinking - they sat through two hours of theatre and sung and stamped along. They cared and watched the whole way. They were on their feet in the revolution and sat at a table with new people they hadn't met. That is great. Your Saturday night out on the town turned in to a trip to the theatre - that's perfect.

The other group to mention were more difficult. Maybe 6-7 of them. Very trendy looking folk who, again, we're out for drinks but I think they had come to see us, which is great. There were two women, though, who wanted to talk the whole way through - mainly to us. So I have a conflict here. People have come to see us in a pub, you are allowed to chat  and talk in pubs. We're doing a play, you're not really allowed to talk in plays. We've tried to structure the show so it takes you with it - it quietly teaches you the rules for the evening. There are songs and narration and scenes, we try to let you know when to sing and dance and when to sit and listen. Last night these rules didn't work so well. And I don't know who's to be held accountable.

In a big scene at the end of act 2 Hetty asks Oli 'So why did you marry me then?' - this is the first time we've heard they're married, you find out why later in the play. 'Hang on' says one of the women from the group 'When did you get married? I missed that. Why are you married?' - she asks directly to the characters. You can feel a little bristle run through those who are at the theatre, and you can feel the opposite from those who are the pub. It's a fair question, we just aren't going to answer it now. So, by theatre rules this person is being disruptive - the rules are you don't shout out, if you're in a theatre. But she's not being abusive, she wants to know about the story, about the characters. So, in a way, she's with us. We tell her in the interval that she'll find out the rest in act 2. They stay for act 2. 

By the end of the show there is silence. Everyone is with us, those at the theatre and those at the pub. But we're knackered and a bit disgruntled because we have made, crafted, cared for and loved this thing of a show and we've spent the night having to work so hard to make other people care for it like we do. And I don't know what's good and what's bad about that - there's both. I'm still figuring it out. 

What is hard though is this, and I don't like that this is hard, but it is. So there are maybe 30 people filling this little room. They've spent hours at the pub. They've all spent however much on wine and beer and shots. They've walked in to this back room for free. Unsubsidised this show costs maybe £700 per performance. At the end we explain it's pay what you think, that there's a hat. From these 30 people we get almost £20 total. The group of loud drunk people leave without paying anything. I don't like valuing things on money but that hurts a bit. We're worth £20? That's less than a round of drinks.

The whole budget for this tour is £20k. We've bee granted pretty much £15k by the arts council, so we need to earn £5k in a month. It's very low, but we'll still lose money now. There is a brilliant value in touring around pubs - in the two lads with their lager accidentally spending their evening at the theatre, in the people who just wandered up for the second act who wished they've been there from the beginning so they'll come back - but doing a four person, two act show for £20, that doesn't feel worth it. That's about 66p per person. What else costs 66p? I don't think you can get a chocolate bar for 66p.

So it's interesting. It's hard and it's wonderful. But I guess this is why we're working like this, is to learn. And we need to learn, we need get better at bringing people with us in the narrative and also get better at asking people to part with their cash, because what they've watched and been a part of is worth it. 

Upwards and onwards. Next week nights in Sheffield have turned very quickly in to nights in Cardiff and then we're back to Yorkshire. Then Croydon, Somerset, Leeds, Oxford, Birmingham and London. Some tickets, some pay what you think, some guarantees. More learning, more playing, more understanding what on earth we're up to. Hopefully see you on the way!

1 comment:

  1. I'm sorry to hear about the van. Glad that you've at least been able to make the most out of the situation. That van problem is going to work itself out at some point, particularly with expert auto repair, but the hang-out times last long. Don't keep yourselves out of that. Thanks for sharing that! All the best!

    Cayla Maggio @ Nowthen Transmission