An ArtsProfessional feature in partnership with Twine

Do potential donors really understand the value of small-scale touring theatre? Joanna Ridout considers how the sector might better articulate its value.

Photo of a performance of Tiny Treasures
Tiny Treasures by Theatre Hullabaloo
Photo: 

Kevin Curran

What is a case for support for a touring theatre company? Having a glossy leaflet to hand out that summarises who you are, what you are for, where you are going and why investing in you is irresistible? Put flippantly, that is what a case for support can be – but it should be much more. It provides the fundamental building blocks for attracting meaningful investment.

Before any real fundraising can begin, it is vital, as most creatives know well, to have a good story to draw people in. You need to know who you are and where you are going beyond any particular project, to entice investors to come on the journey with you. The touring theatre sector is great at creating fabulous new work, but not always so great at articulating its purpose clearly and simply.

A case for support needs to be a living document, relevant and useful, drawn from and added to as appropriate, regularly updated with new evidence and ideas

It helps if everyone involved in the work understands what it is you’re passionate about – and why – and can say so, clearly, with a united voice. A popular NASA myth is about one of the Kennedys stopping a cleaner in a corridor and asking what she was doing, she replied: “I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” Everyone working in touring theatre should be able, ideally, to offer a similarly succinct response.

Communicating the value of touring theatre – especially where it reaches into and is built into the fabric of local communities, can help to emphasise what would be absent if it remained unsupported. A good case for support will act as a powerful primer, offering an inspiring picture that illustrates its unique character, power, its instrumental impact as well as its intrinsic qualities. A compelling story should be able to demonstrate beautifully the art, activity, its value and benefit – and what we lose as a society if we were to lose touring theatre.

The Catalyst Arts-funded Twine consortium gathered arguments and evidence towards a case for support for touring theatre and this article will summarise some of this, but it does not attempt to be a finished product. A case for support needs to be a living document, relevant and useful, drawn from and added to as appropriate, regularly updated with new evidence and ideas. It should be succinct, clear and specific, with inspiring evidence that can be understood by any potential investor.

It can be difficult for small, independent touring companies to spend much time collecting data to build an effective case for support. One of the Twine companies keeps an outline case for support stuck on the wall so that its purpose and direction is ever-present and evidence and ideas can be easily added as they occur. Based on this example Twine has established a living case for support for touring theatre online that encourages contributions from industry professionals, academics and audience members.

Natalie Querol of The Empty Space, which managed the consortium, said: “When Twine members were asked to articulate the benefit of touring theatre we all fell back on the social impact, and as a result the most convincing arguments were often about associated benefits such as workshops. When really pushed to focus on the intrinsic benefits of performing theatre in multiple venues the arguments were far less convincing.”

There can be an assumption that in ‘grass-roots’ non-profit organisations, art is made to achieve social values, to tick the ‘charitable’ boxes. But there is a danger of allowing the instrumental value (the social impact) to overshadow the intrinsic value (artistic impact). Art is at its most effective in changing lives (instrumental) when it is at its best (intrinsically brilliant). Having one without the other and expecting to make a significant impact is unrealistic. One audience member said: “Growing up watching theatre you get to enjoy it more and more I think. It can help you tell your own story and if people are struggling it can help them to break out of themselves and talk to other people.”

Smaller arts organisations can offer impressive reach into under-served local communities, for example with rural touring, and regular genuine connections with local communities bringing new, diverse, cross-cultural performance into familiar local places. They have a cost-effective product and are experts in working with flexible business models that can adapt to different contexts, from village halls and streets to schools and theatres.

Relationships made with smaller, regularly visited audiences build unique trust and offer opportunities to explore and interact with professional theatre in ways that a larger building in a town cannot. Smaller touring theatre can work in places that make immediate and lasting impact, with specialist work tailored for schools or with and for local communities with a range of perspectives and needs, often beyond the reach of larger companies. They can create accessible local events often including raffles in the interval with teas and community notices, integrating performing arts into the heart of people’s lives. Miranda Thain of Theatre Hullabaloo said: “To help children to think about their place in the world it’s important that theatre comes to their communities, into spaces where children are, be that schools, or nurseries, or community centres, so that families can enjoy that experience together.”

The distinct ‘flavour’ of particular communities influences the development of new work, making it richer as it begins to reflect a taste of the places visited and absorb different perspectives. It can help to develop artists, their practice and the artistic product. Leo Burtin, an independent theatre maker and producer, said: “A piece of touring theatre is never really finished, it’s a constant dialogue between artist and audience. Without touring it’s virtually impossible for an artist to really get to the bottom of their work, to keep it alive, for themselves and for others.”

The best advocate for touring theatre though is its audience. The Twine consortium commissioned a short film in which audience members make the case for support, highlighting the life-enhancing power of theatre in local communities and offering an inspirational view of the impact of small scale touring on those who experience and love it.

Building a case for support for your company – some guidelines

Mission, vision and purpose: Who are you? What makes you different? What do you do and why? What’s your journey?

Context: Where do you fit in, how and why? Key arts statistics and demographic evidence about your communities. Local authorities, public and charitable bodies offer demographic (population, wealth, transport, etc) information as do other specialist organisations (eg those working in health, or with young people).

Key targets: What goals are you aiming to achieve? Who are you for? Who are your audiences and partners? How far do you reach (in particular communities and/or sectors or areas)?

Achievements: Have you or your artists been nominated for or won any accolades for your expertise?

Quantitative: Where have you been? How many people/repeat visits/venues in a year?

Qualitative: What is your impact? Testimonials and other evaluation from audiences, artists, partners, investors, peers, commissioners, venues, press. The wider the range and the more specifically related to your purpose the better. The Independent Theatre Council and New Economics Foundation produced a publication in 2005 that makes some useful points on measuring quantitative and qualitative impact.

Benefits: What are the benefits for the people you serve (and therefore potential investors)? eg Art and artists’ development, communities, reach and education

Costs: How much does your organisation cost to run? What are the costs for different projects or areas of work? Where is investment needed most, how much and why?

Joanna Ridout is a creative consultant, facilitator and trainer.

This article, sponsored and contributed by the Twine consortium, is the first in a series exploring the fundraising challenges faced by small touring theatre companies.

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