AL on MF(A)

The Media Festival Arts which took place on 8-10 September at the Roundhouse, London had a bit of a scattered remit. If it had to do with new media technology and art, in was in. So while a lot of sessions were irrelevant to a lot of delegates (and a lot of delegate-pass swapping took place), there were some gems.

I could only attend half a day, but here’s what caught my attention:

Project Canvas.

  • Intriguing, even though a many organisations seem to have decided to un-like it, or at least are suspicious of its motives and methodology. Maybe it does all boil down to ‘show me the money’? Given that it is a whole new platform and not just a re-flowing of your website content, and given that views will expect a certain quality when they sit in front of their TV screens, who are arts organisations going to afford to create content? Content on this platform will have to be exciting, an ‘event’, something experiential to ‘pull’ people in. We can’t just view it as a form of internet in which just about everything is out there if you search hard enough. But for the like of independent film-makers it has the potential to change the distribution game significantly.
  • On the other hand, should Project Canvas be a place to talk about art – as TV currently is – or to be art?
  • On the other other hand, the Project Canvas set-top boxes will have geo-locators to spot where they are, so producers could tag their content as for local audiences only. Neat, huh? Although I hate to think what MI6 might do with the information!
  • In the first instance, according to new Project Canvas Chair Kip Meek, we should view it as ‘a way of getting your stuff out there to people who wouldn’t otherwise see it.’

Collaborations and partnerships session discussed NT Live, the launch of The Girl Who Played With Fire film and the Last Word Challenge books. What could they teach us?

  • That the NT Live pilot summer brought a 25% increase in audiences over those that attend the South Bank venue. They were rarely totally new to theatre-going, but used it as a way of accessing the National’s performances elsewhere in the country or of trying out new type of plays with relatively low risk. While the NT wanted the ‘sense of occasion’ to emulate that of attending a theatre performance, in fact audiences experienced it as almost a whole new artform; and many felt more emotionally engaged with the performance than those attending the actual live performance.
  • There was a lot that all the collaborators in NT Live learned about establishing which brand values it was important to hang on to in creating the experience, and where they had to adjust to collaborators’ ways of working. For example, the NT wanted to keep the emphasis on the showings being one-off and time-fixed, while deferring to the cinemas’ knowledge of marketing to cinema audiences and how they behave.
  • The collaboration behind the launch of The Girl Who Played With Fire film stressed that the key to success had been to create many ‘touch points’ between the potential audience and the film and to view the film micro-site not as an end in itself but as a springboard for activities such as Facebook campaigns or games through the FindAnyFilm website.
  • The team promoting the Last Word Challenge books stressed the importance of respecting brand values of the New Scientist Magazine, generators of the books and those of the Last Word column in the magazine, which has always been inherently interactive. That enabled them to produce quizzes and challenges that complement rather than replicate the books.

Evolve or Die? ITC shakes up our thinking

At a packed Independent Theatre Council conference in Tuesday we answered the call to discuss the timely issue of seeking alternative funding sources or models in these times of cuts and gloom. The title was deliberately provocative; and we all giggled nervously as we considered on which side of the divide we would fall.

The challenge of the title carried on through initial presentations by Dawn Austwick of the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, ACE’s Althea Efunshile and Lorna Brown of Nalgao – and on through the afternoon’s breakout sessions.

 The clear messages of the day were:

  •   Cuts are here, don’t pretend they’re not.
  •   Arguing that ‘the arts’ per se are a special case and should be protected will not win any sympathy – indeed, quite the opposite – in the minds of the greater public.
  • Concepts such as the ‘Big Society’, a shrinking public sector and the cuts themselves are aimed at fundamentally changing our society, a paradigm shift. How can we frame what we do in the context of these ideologies? How do we ensure our values and ideas become part of the concept?
  • We can no longer be a ‘growth’ society as we’ve been used to – forever doing more. We need to learn to do less, better.
  • Big scale philanthropy may kick in, but not for a few years yet.
  • We need to prepare our minds for working with lower budgets – and not just a ‘keep doing what we do but squeezing and cutting corners’ mentality. This is a time for radically re-thinking how we structure our organisations, our offer and our relationship. Get creative!
  • Focus on what your core purpose is but also on what your assets are. Are they your building, your brand, your audience and supporters, your ability to create connections or unlock memories…?Image of an audience at Sadler's Wells
  • Keep close to and fully understand your audiences – their needs, desires and perceptions of you. Audiences are still a substantial source of income for many organisations. Now is not the time to cut your communications with them. It’ll also help you understand and respond to your own ‘Big’ community.
  • Collaborate, make partnerships, share and save – maybe even merge. From sharing sets to sharing producers; co-training to giving office space to a smaller company; from co-commissioning audience research to reusing past productions.

For Audiences London’s part, as well as implementing our own new models of working with you, we see ourselves as helping arts organisations collaborate between themselves – through such projects as the newly-established Outer London Venues Audience Development Support project and through the wealth of intelligence from previous joint research projects, available free on our website.

Theatre + Cinema = Success?

An article published on the BBC website yesterday reported on the success of the National Theatre’s recent cinema screenings of Phedre, a play starring Helen Mirren. The article claims that in a Nesta report, the cinema audiences ‘were more “emotionally engaged” than those watching it in the theatre.‘ Aside from the emotional connection that cinema has created, the article goes on to explain that ‘the cinema screenings reached out to “low income audiences”. One-third of cinema audiences had incomes of lower than £20,000 per year, compared with just over one-fifth in the case of the theatre audience.’

You can check out the Nesta  report, called ‘Culture of Innovation’ here.

West End theatre prices

The Telegraph theatre column’s been having a debate about West End theatre ticket prices and access, in the context of Jez Butterworth’s play ‘Jerusalem’.

No white elephants for the Royal Court

Our friends at the Royal Court launched Theatre Local yesterday, which will see them take 4 of their shows out of their main theatre to be performed at a disused shop at Elephant and Castle shopping centre.  I’m thrilled to be working with them to test out who their new audiences are and what they think of this new approach.  We’re certainly pleased to see the initative attracting media as well as locals’ attention – check out articles at The Guardian, The Telegraph and London SE1 – where you can view a video of Dominic too.

Arcola leading eco-concept in London’s theatres

Arcola Theatre representives were at City Hall last week to launch their vision for a new eco-theatre in Dalston Junction.  Executive Director, Dr Ben Todd, said:

Our aim is to create a place Da Vinci might call home where creative people across multiple disciplines drive innovation for a sustainable and equitable future.

The theatre’s environmental sustainability and community engagement programmes are seen to be a crucial part of the site which will include a public garden and growing space as well as space for sustainable technologies research.

With London’s theatres needing to reduce carbon ommission by 60% over the next 15 years (read the Mayor’s Green Theatre Plan here), and other art-form venues starting to follow, the lessons Arcola are learning now are likely to come in handy for other organisations considering how best to meet their own target. Our eco-champion here is Bryony who I’m sure will be keeping an eye out…

Follow the project at Future Arcola

New writing in theatre

We helped Emma, Roger and Hetty with their work exploring new writing within smaller scale theatres in England, and the impacts of changes in funding since 2003. It’s now published on the Arts Council’s website (www.artscouncil.org.uk/publication_archive/new-writing-theatre/).

Congrats guys!