Thanks – The Spring Tour 2013 re-visited.
I want to send out a massive thank you to everyone who worked on and supported the spring Tour. Waiting for Brando was performed 11 times in 6 theatres to an audience of just under 1000 people. The tour was a success on many fronts, not least of all because of the audience response and the people we reached out to, but also because of lessons learnt in the process of developing the script, the physical production of the play in a range of venues, and the act of touring itself.
Particular thanks go to the cast and production crew who deserved every plaudit that comes their way – I couldn’t have worked with a better team.
We had an incredible run in Liverpool’s Unity Theatre. In 2012 we sold out three nights in their 100 seat capacity studio theatre. In 2013 we hired Unity Two, with a 150 seat capacity. We sold out two of the evening performances, had an audience of over 100 for the other three nights (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday), and over 100 attending for the Saturday afternoon matinee. It was a huge risk to book the theatre for the week, but the risk was more than justified by the response. It was particularly encouraging to sell out the Friday and Saturday evening performances, which came about because of the praise the play was receiving through word of mouth from those who attended earlier performances (some of whom returned later in the week) and the highly positive reviews in the local media.
The plaudits the play received for its first performances in 2012, when it performed for 3 nights in Liverpool’s Unity Theatre, were surpassed during this production. In 2012 The Liverpool Echo gave the play a rating of 7.5 out of 10. This time it awarded the play 10 out of 10, with the reviewer commenting, ‘Two great new playwrights in our midst – with an acting company to match. It really doesn’t come any better, and their subsequent tour will only go to show that Liverpool still exports the very best in drama.’ (Liverpool Echo, 18th April 2013). This was matched by reviews from a range of media and also from audience members both within and outside of Liverpool.
The increased level of response was a clear vindication of our work in developing the script, the acting and the production. Recognising this, The Liverpool Echo commented upon the, ‘wonderfully observed script, backed by brilliant acting and sharp production values’. This was supported by the director of one of Liverpool’s major theatres, who said that while he was very impressed by the script and the acting, he was also impressed by the production values as he didn’t often see many smaller shows that paid such attention to the set, lighting and overall stage design. This recognises and vindicates the work of the whole team and shows the importance of developing all aspects of the production to meet the demands and expectations each new level brings.
A key aspect of this tour was to see how the play would be received by audiences outside of Liverpool. While I had every confidence that the play, although it has strong Liverpool based themes, would have a wider appeal, it was still difficult to predict the response until it had been performed. I needn’t have been concerned. The audience response at each production was as strong as it had been in Liverpool. On waking up on a Tuesday morning, after a long day for the production at The Harlequin Theatre in Redhill in Surrey, and after a long drive back, arriving home at 4am, I awoke to a superb response to the play by an audience member, Stacey, who went on the play’s face book page to write, ‘Excellent, powerful drama. Thank-you for the performance at Redhill, 29th April. Everything about the production is perfect and the small audience is only a sign of the times £ ! Keep touring and continue to be applauded.’ In response to my thanks for her comments she went on to say, ‘My husband was mesmerised by the play and really impressed – It’s great to see that effect on the person beside you…It’s good that you’re encouraged by the response from audiences outside Liverpool, but I’m surprised if you thought it might not be well received. Yes it has historical and social themes of that area, but it doesn’t seem a Liverpool-centric play. Universal themes are part of its quality.’ I couldn’t have asked for a better justification for touring the play than this.
A second aspect of the tour was to develop the production and see how it worked in different theatre settings, and also how the team worked in preparing and transporting the show throughout the tour. They key to a strong production is having a professional, cohesive team, and I was delighted with the level of professionalism and commitment demonstrated by all who took part. There was a real enthusiasm for the show, and while everyone received remuneration for their work, each member of the team was more than generous, contributing their time, skills and experience above and beyond the resources to hand.
Because of its themes and how they are developed within an entertaining piece of theatre, Waiting for Brando offers a real opportunity to engage with audiences who wouldn’t normally attend theatre. That this is the case is clear from the demographic who attended all the performances throughout the tour, but particularly in Liverpool at the performances at the Unity Theatre in the city centre and the Valley Community Theatre in Netherley.
We have developed an important partnership with North-West regional Unison. This is not just a sponsorship deal, but is a partnership designed to encourage their members to attend the show, with the expectation that offering them a positive cultural opportunity will encourage them to engage in theatre and the arts generally more often. Publicity for the play circulated widely among their members, with a special offer available for them, and Unison’s North West Regional Secretary, Kevan Nelson, and a number of other senior officers attended. I have met with them since and their response to the play is indicated by them already agreeing in principle to sponsor the next stage of its development.
Waiting for Brando is one of the most successful plays to have appeared at Liverpool’s Unity Theatre. Being awarded 10 out of 10 by The Liverpool Echo is almost without precedent. Its success is even more impressive given that it doesn’t have the backing of a long-standing production company. The performance and turnout at The Valley Community Theatre was also a huge success, in performance and production, but also in audience/community engagement. In the venues across the country we visited the response to the performances was as encouraging as it was in Liverpool. On all fronts – performance, production, gaining experience of touring and financial management of an increased budget, this was a hugely successful project, and one that provides both lessons and optimism for the future of the production.
Support from Arts Council England, Unison, our private sponsors, and the enormous amount of in-kind support given by friends, cast and crew has been invaluable in allowing us to achieve all of the above, and for that we are immensely grateful, and hope to continue working with all these supporters in the next stage of the play’s development.
Next up is The Port City Tour – we’ll keep you posted!