Monday 3 February 2014

The Value of Community, of Listening, of Learning.

The the weekend before last I blogged about our gig in bath, about how it was hard and about how we came out of it being worth 66p.

Then Lyn Gardner blogged here about what we were up to and why it felt good.

Then there was a Symposium on Small Scale Touring at the Royal Exchange hosted by Paines Plough. 

Then there was this weekend. 

It feels like we've learnt a lot over the last week. Or if we haven't learnt it, we feel more like we're ready to. Here's kind of how. It's long winded, sorry.

Joe, the director of BABYLON, told us - he was taking the mick, not making it up, just he was taking the mick out of of this particular bit of teaching - that when he was at LAMDA he was taught a few different ways to stand in rehearsals as a director. One position was legs shoulder width apart, shoulders dropped, arms by your side and palms facing out. This position is called 'ready to receive the news'. He text us all after he'd caught up with Bath and told all to keep ploughing on and, over everything, be ready to receive the news. I reckon we are ready to receive the news. 

Since our blog last week it's amazing how many people have got in touch, or mentioned it to us. I don't mean it's amazing in a way we feel special or anything, it's just amazing that that many people want to support this type of adventure and, crucially, want to help or share what they know. Hannah Nicklin got in touch about doing some good, thorough research in to how we as an industry think of new ways of ticketing and selling and paying for the work. Mikron Theatre got in touch to let us know how they make Pay What You Think work and how they talk about it with their audiences. Pubs and other companies posted on the Guardian's blog thread saying how they do things and how they make it work.

On Saturday we all had lunch together and chatted about how the show was going and what we do next. Ed said it's perhaps the hardest show he's made. Serena said it by no means feels like second nature yet, like there's still work to do and things to discover - both in a very positive way. So we will retour BABYLON in Autumn. But we'll retour it taking on board what we're learning now. 

On Tuesday we were in Cardiff. We were in Cardiff last minute because we'd lost our Sheffield dates and a wonderful girl called Kate off twitter put us in touch with a bar. The bar was hosting an open mic night which was predominantly populated by students. It was a brilliant night, we hadn't encountered this audience before - we were only playing a gig - but suddenly we were inside a community, inside a group of people who go to that bar every week to sing and play music. 

The conference on Thursday with Paines Plough was good and frustrating in equal measure. But the good bits are far more worth focussing on. And I ended up having some great conversations - about BABYLON but also about how we could redesign the whole system. Whether that's pubs, canal boats, camp sites, students unions or whatever. There's a seeming energy and desire to look at how we do things - to look at the problems and to reimagine it all. We all talked a lot about sharing. So we'll try and host a day to do with that. 

On Friday I had a chat with a chap called Nick, who I'd never spoken to before but it was a great conversation. It was a conversation about Slow Art or Slow Touring, about taking things slower, spending longer in places. 

On Friday night we were in Scorton at The Farmer's Arms run by the brilliant Laura Wykes. We went to school together, we haven't seen each other in years. But we were welcomed with open arms in to their community. We did the show, we played more music after, we sold CDs, we took about £145 as Pay What You Think. We stayed up to the early hours drinking with the folk who use that pub day in and day out. 
On Saturday we were in The Gillygate in York run by the wonderful Brian Furey. You couldn't have fit literally one more person in to the back room, it was rammed. Two other great folk bands played (Over The Yardarm and Fine Companions), another superb night with about £240 on the door. 
And Sunday we set up camp in Slung Low's HUB. Slung Low have been running performances in their railway arches for a while and are always Pay What You Decide. We've been friends with Slung Low for a while - they're ace. We packed maybe 35 people in to their parlour out of which I knew maybe 2. These people were here because of Slung Low, not us. We did the show and when we counted up at the end I was truly staggered, I had to sit down. On a late, cold Sunday afternoon 35 people had donated us £327.50 - that's higher than any guarantee on this tour. People we'd never even met before.

At our lunch on Saturday Ed, Jim, Serena and Conrad told me what they wanted to do. They wanted to tour, but slower. They wanted to earn their place in a community. This weekend we were invited in to three communities with truly brilliant gatekeepers at the heart of each. We are very lucky and very grateful for that. We've learnt from them. We can't just turn up in the back room of a pub in Bath and expect people to care. We need to work harder. We can't just tour one nighters, pack the van and bugger off again - what gives us the right to do that? If we want people to value us, we have to value them. Maybe we have to play more gigs for them, cook dinner for them, go and play at their open mic nights in their student unions, open our doors and arms to them in whatever way we can. 

As a company, a show, a tour and even just a bunch of people we think we are about communities. And we are - but we and those we're friends with have spent years building theirs. We can't build a community in one night. So we need to learn, to listen and to reimagine. If we want people to give us £327.50 of their money then we need to do what people like Slung Low or Laura Wykes or Brian Furey do. We can't just be a touring theatre company, that ain't gonna cut the mustard, we need to think better and care harder about the people we want to care about us. 

The answer? Listen more, learn more, try harder, try better, keep peddling, care more - be ready to receive the news.