The Backpack Ensemble

Producing and Marketing. Two sides of theatre that run nicely alongside each other. Both working to establish relationships with professionals and audiences alike. When creating a piece of work, you look at who your audience is and the demographic of the local area. It goes without saying the more people who engage with the show and the company the more the show will benefit, after all “the presence of an audience is central to the definition of theatre” (Freshwater, 2009, 1). They are the ones who will buy tickets and essentially make or break your show when it comes to the atmosphere on the night and box office sales. This is why I was so keen on networking with midlands based professionals and connecting with local audiences. As the Producer of the company I attended events and organized others. These will be touched upon as this post progresses. For a few of these events I worked alongside Elliot Sargent in Marketing to ensure that the company branding and vision is coherent. It is important that we are all on the same page because we want the public to see the company as one entity.

It is important to know who the target audience was for our show before beginning to engage with audiences. Due to the themes and the narrative of our show it could appeal to so many people but we believed that the show would mainly suit the 18-25 bracket and this tends to be Lincoln Performing Arts Centre’s biggest audience due to their student ticket deals.

Arts Council England split the population into segments based on cultural values and location. The target audience for our show fit into;

Meteroculturals – “Prosperous, liberal, urbanites interested in a very wide cultural spectrum” (Arts Council England, 2017).

And

Experience Seekers – “Highly active diverse, social and ambitious, engaging with arts on a regular basis” (Arts Council England, 2017).

It would be hard to build an audience out of people who are not already engaged in the arts. Lincoln is considered an Area of Low Engagement when it comes to arts and culture so creating a new company and show and engaging with those audiences straight away would be a hard ask. We will certainly try to engage with non theatre-goers but people who engage with arts on a regular basis will be who we try to engage with at events and via the internet.

Listed below are a few items I have attended/organized in order to make connections, gain audiences or gain feedback on our upcoming show.

 

SCRATCH MY BACK(PACK) – TUESDAY 2ND MAY 7.30PM

 

A scratch night is designed to let artists test out material in front of an audience prior to a full performance. They are quite common and some venues/companies hold seasonal scratch events. In Lincoln, Spud Collective hold scratch events 3 times a year. They call it Half Baked. I have attended their last few events and it was really nice to see local creatives giving feedback on ideas and works in progress. I asked for the company to be involved in their next scratch night and was accepted. Unfortunately, their next event is in June, weeks after our final performance.

Although performing in this event was no longer an option I decided that I still wanted us to show some work prior to our final performance. I wanted to do this for a number of reasons.

 

  • Early deadline to work towards.
  • Get feedback from fellow creatives and the public.
  • See how the audience react to certain moments of the show
  • See if elements of the performance are less effective than others.

 

These are only a few reasons to why I wanted to arrange an event. I got in contact with the Artistic Director at Lincoln Performing Arts Centre, Craig Morrow and asked whether we could have a space to hold a scratch night, he said yes. After liaising on dates and times we agreed on Tuesday 2nd May at 7.30PM in Studio One. Craig Morrow confirmed that the bar would be left open until the event, the event would go on their website and that we would have a member of staff ushering the night.

The event could be seen as a success. We had a small pool of people attend consisting of lecturers, professionals, friends and general public. As I mentioned above one of the reasons I decided to run this event was to gain feedback. I created a feedback sheet which consisted of questions put together by myself and Artistic Director, Simon Panayi. These were handed out after the Question and Answer session with a show flyer. Simon collected all the sheets and made a list of common occurrences. He then relayed these to the ensemble.

All feedback sheets are in my folder should we need to go back to them at any point.

 

BBC RADIO LINCOLNSHIRE – MONDAY 1ST MAY 2.00PM

 

Radio is a good platform to use when it comes to promoting yourself in the local area. After forming a relationship with the BBC in a past project I approached them to see if the company could get a slot on their daytime show. We were given a 20-minute slot on Bank Holiday Morning during a primetime show.

BBC Radio Lincolnshire provided the opportunity to connect with a different audience. Located on University of Lincoln campus there is Siren FM but the majority of the listeners on that station are students. I felt that this would not be a good use of time because 1) We could target that audience on campus in person and 2) majority of students have gone home / wouldn’t be interested in a piece of theatre, especially in the last week of May due to post exam celebrations. On average BBC Radio Lincolnshire has 100’000 listeners per week (media.info, 2017). That is just over 14’000 a day. With it being Bank Holiday Monday Lincolnshire based people may have had the station on as background noise in their houses and may have happened to catch some information about the show.

In the weeks leading up to our appearance on BBC Radio Lincolnshire I saw that local theatre company Zest Theatre and local venue Lincoln Drill Hall had appeared on the station. These established companies appearing on the station weeks prior to us led me to believe that it was the right decision to make the appearance.

At first the people appearing on the show were going to be Myself, Simon and Elliot. As a company we made the conscious decision of swapping Elliot out and bringing a female voice into the fold via head writer Sam Miles.

The interview can be accessed here http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p04zqrxv until 30th May 2017.

 

PRINT MATERIALS (WORKING WITH PHIZ DRAWS)

 

As mentioned in an earlier blog post The Backpack Ensemble have already worked with Phiz Draws on the company logo. After completing the logo, I met with Hannah Phizacklea and she agreed to create our show image. The price of the image and logo would be combined for a subsidised fee of £50.

I wanted our work to be coherent. Our debut show comes from the same place as our logo in many ways, rocking those nostalgic camper vibes. Phiz did a great job on the logo and after a few redrafts she sent across her finished image which I then developed into a flyer.

FLYER RGB

FLYER FINAL BACK Photoshop

(Low quality front image due to compression on to blog > High resolution image available upon request)

There was a spelling error on the reverse side of the flyer. After proofs from myself and Elliot, this error managed to make its way through to print. I have gone on to amend this on our online materials but it is a mistake that is annoying but something to learn from. I take full responsibility for this error as producer of the company. I should have proof read the print numerous times but I did not take the time to fully ensure that everything was okay on the final flyer and this was an unfortunate error.

After working with Phiz on this show she has agreed to work with us on future projects and went on to say this following the show;

Phiz Comment

A valuable contact for the future.

We went on to put posters and flyers in places around Lincoln before flyering to people on Lincoln High Street. We chose places that had 1) a large footfall and 2) an audience that suited our show. The places that had our flyers and posters were;

 

  • Caffé Nero
  • Café Aroma
  • Café 44
  • Angel Coffee House
  • Lincoln Drill Hall
  • Lincoln Performing Arts Centre
  • Engine Shed
  • Topman
  • Bar Unico
  • Several Independent retailers in the Bailgate area.

 

PROGRAMMES

 

Using the original flyer design for inspiration I went on to create the programmes that we would distribute on show day.

 

PROGRAMME PRINT READY INSIDEdf

PROGRAMME PRINT READY INSIDEdf

(Colours distorted due to flattening of layers)

 

I decided against using images in our programme. Although we had professional rehearsal shots taken by Phil Crow prior to the performance day I didn’t want to add real life visuals. I felt like this would jar with the hand drawn aesthetic of the programme. From attending shows in the past I find that programmes with actor’s photos and biographies tend to fit better with commercial shows and not emerging regional companies.

 

SOCIAL MEDIA

Myself and Elliot shared the responsibility of controlling the social media accounts. Elliot primarily controlled Facebook and Instagram whilst I took control of the company Twitter account.

Social media is a way to engage audiences and drive ticket sales. The public can follow the company’s journey and find out where and when to buy tickets via social media accounts.

TWITTER

The majority of professional and company’s in the arts have social media accounts. From the start of the process I wanted to connect with professionals on Twitter. I engaged in a thread with Human Zoo Theatre Company via the use of the hashtag #pancakeday. This lead to them following The Backpack Ensemble twitter account and liking some of our future tweets. It is important to know what events/celebrations are happening in the world/local area so you can connect with audiences. Getting audiences to engage with your show is the main goal but you can tap into them via other means.

On Tuesday evenings between 8-9pm @LincsArtsHours would host a chat about local culture, arts and entertainment. I used this platform to shout about our Scratch Night and final show in order to boost connections and get engaged with professionals who had loyal followings on twitter. Quite regularly @EggBoxTheatre, @FlickbookTC and @mrholly68 (Simon Hollingworth) would endorse our tweets and show them to their followings due to the engagement with @LincsArtsHours.

FACEBOOK

Elliot was the primary poster when it came to our Facebook Account ending up with 253 likes on the page.

We decided to set up an event from the page in order to promote the show. The event included links to tickets and trailer and had information regarding the show. We knew that this would not necessarily hit the local Lincolnshire audience but it would boost ticket sales amongst friends and family as it was a place for them to find information.

In order to get the above event in the eye line of the local Lincolnshire audiences I paid £5 to boost the event to 2100 people in the area of Lincoln. The event would appear as an advertisement on their pages and give them the opportunity to click on a link and buy tickets. The advertistement finished with 21 link clicks. That is 23p a click. Although I do not know whether these people went on to buy tickets it was a good way of getting them to visit our event on Lincoln Performing Arts Centres website.

 

NETWORKING

 

This is massive in the arts. As both a producer and marketer it is important to network and build those connections. As a creative you are always learning and it is important to learn from people who have been in your position and are willing to help and support you. Most opportunities come from face to face talks. Networking events provide the perfect opportunity to sell yourself and your company to programmers, producers and the public.

I attended several events in the first 5 months of 2017 where I spoke about The Backpack Ensemble and our debut show. These Included all The Spud Collective’s Lincoln Arts Mash Ups. This is where creatives in Lincoln can meet and talk about their upcoming ventures. In Good Company’s Check In Festival at Attenborough Arts Centre. This is a festival for emerging artists in Leicester. Whilst here I spoke to Derby Theatre Artistic Director Sarah Brigham and Producers Ruby Glaskin and Emily Coleman about the future of The Backpack Ensemble and my role as a producer. They gave me some tips on what to do following university and have said they will help when it comes to the future of the company whether that be writing Grants for the Arts bids or providing artist support. By attending these events it has given me crucial artist connections in the midlands area.

I’m also planning on attending In Good Company’s Departure Lounge at Derby Theatre In July. This is another chance to speak to arts professionals as the company plan for the future.

 

Works Cited

 

Arts Council England (2017) Culture-based segmentation. [online] Available from http://www.artscouncil.org.uk/participating-and-attending/culture-based-segmentation [Accessed 27 May 2017].

 

Freshwater, H. (2009) Theatre & Audience. London: Palgrave Macmillan.

 

Media.Info (2017) BBC Radio Lincolnshire – listening figures. Australia: Amazing Brilliant PTY LTD. Available from https://media.info/radio/stations/bbc-lincolnshire/listening-figures [Accessed 27 May 2017].

When I think about the term ‘process’, words like development, progression, procedure, system, and practice spring to mind. For me, a process is a journey. It requires a beginning, a middle and an end. Embarking on the journey requires not only knowledge of the subject, but also an initial idea and an intention for the outcome. The outcome is the predominant part of the process, knowing what you want to achieve at the end and of the journey is crucial. For me, the term ‘process’ is a continuous string of discoveries that are developed and altered against the existing knowledge and experience of the subject. This ever-changing progression is what I believe makes creating theatre so exciting.

This process is evident in the area of design. When designing, you enter into a world of creation with set goals and outcomes in mind. You know what you want to achieve, but not necessarily how to get there. The creative decisions you make along the way may come of out limitations that push you to think of new alternatives. This creative process is something that I wanted to embrace within the company. I undertook the role of the Production Designer in order to experiment with the freedoms and limitations of designing within a vast company of diverse opinions and preferences.

When brainstorming initial ideas about our piece, it was evident that honesty and authenticity were to become the key ingredients within our show. A sense of honesty went hand in hand with a ‘do it yourself’ theatre style, which seeks to unveil the spectacle of theatre by allowing the audience to witness the construction of a show. We therefore decided to construct all of our set on stage, and with this we set our first limitation. We decided we wanted our audience to recognise that we are actors onstage, constructing a piece of theatre before their eyes, adopting characters for the purpose of the story, and then returning to a neutral state after its finished. As “DIY is often associated with an aesthetic that celebrates the imperfect and the make-do-and-mend mentality” (Gardner, 2014), we didn’t want to shy away from the fact that none of us are experienced constructors, therefore we began to develop the knowledge we already had and started experimenting.

To achieve this, we needed to find a means of bringing the set on stage ourselves. Backpacks. A transportation device for an array of objects and tools. What better way of bringing on our set? The set is simply resting on our shoulders! A quote from the ‘About’ section on our blog homepage establishes this initial idea for our audience; “The setting and environment of the piece is created on stage, everything taken from the performer’s backpacks which they bring onstage. The DIY nature of the creation, embraced” (2017).

When discussing what we wanted to bring onstage, we reached the first obstacle of transporting technical equipment. Do we place our tech box onstage in full view of the audience so they can see the source of the lighting and sound effects? Are we able to set all of our technical equipment in time during the pre-set? These were questions that we faced as challenges rather than as problems, and decided if we wanted to present ‘honest theatre’, we had to stick to it.

Secondly, in order for our set to be constructed, we had to ensure our props were extendable if we want to create height, and consequently find a way of hoisting them up. We reached our first obstacle when it came to shadow puppetry. We chose shadow puppets as they would allow us to portray abstract images such as dreams and memories, both of which would prove to be difficult to recreate onstage. Memories, in the fragmented state that they are, could be achieved by using silhouettes of whatever we want to create, and our only limitations would be the quality of our cutting. As shadow puppetry requires light and a canvas to project onto, we agreed to continue with our DIY style and use props that you could fit into our backpacks. The projector screen became a white bed sheet, the frame became extendable tent poles and the light came from a second-hand overhead projector that just about fit into an army rucksack. The limitation of using backpacks was at first challenging, but eventually it began to produce some of the most creative outcomes within our whole piece.

 

 

References:

http://thebackpackensemble.blogs.lincoln.ac.uk/ [Accessed on 15/03/2017]

Gardner, L. (2014) DIY Theatre (because nobody else will) https://www.theguardian.com/stage/theatreblog/2014/oct/23/diy-theatre-little-bulb-chris-goode. [Accessed on 17/03/2017].

As many of the other blog posts have already explained, personal experience has been the key to creating characters with the show.  Charlie and her father’s love for bird watching stems from my own childhood and seeing something that is considered by many to be an unconventional hobby brought to life on stage has been incredibly rewarding.

One of the highlights of living in the countryside is that you are constantly surrounded by nature. even when you can’t see it the sounds of bird calls and insects buzzing create a soundscape that just beckons exploration and adventure. My Village is located a boat-ride away from the Farne Islands, a small rocky outcrop of islands that serve as a nesting place for over 100 species of sea bird; making it a sight of special scientific interest and tourist hot-spot. as a child i can remember many boat trips over to the islands and the wildlife on them: Puffins, Razor bills, Turns,  and many other species brought the rocks and cliffs to life with colour sound. I Loved it!Farne isalnds

in some way it was a love of bird-watching that introduced me to  performance and theatre. As I slowly became engrossed in watching the Swallows that nested in our garage, or jumping across the car if we spotted a kestrel during a road trip my parents introduced me to a very special BBC programme. spring watch. it is here that i discovered one of my childhood icons, Bill Oddie. not only did he make a subject i loved incredibly interesting and fun. he turned it into a character. his eccentric mannerisms and comic voice brought together two of my favourite things as a child; much like we are doing in this show!bill!

in some of the earliest meetings with the company, we discussed our hobbies and how they could give our show a sense of ownership and originality. my childhood interest in bird-watching became a focus point early on its themes of discovery, adventure and extrapolation became key themes in the devising process. taking this journey alongside Charlie has taken me back to own childhood at points. seeing my fellow actors falling in love with some of the birds i spotted as a child reminds me of why i became so fascinated with our feathered friends. The show has even inspired me to bust out my old binoculars and get back into bird-watching, if its simply walkingg around Lincoln or taking a trip to the Farne islands over Summer i hope that i can make time to appreciate the things around me.

We stated from the start that we did not want to create “Preachy” theatre. we wanted to treat our audience with respect and forcing a message down their throat would go against that. However i hope that this show acts as some form of inspiration to get out into nature and explore the world around us; especially the younger members of the audience. during my last big show, i looked down from the tech box during the interval to find the entire audience on their phones, no conversation, no interactions just phones. especially children. It’s sad that a hobby i was so proud of as a child is something that today  youth “will never share the joy. because they lack patience.” (Oddie, 2015.)

‘I always just went literally on my own and that is where I learned to be on my own and I learnt to be patient. And patience is what you need to really get involved in just about any kind of wildlife.’ (Oddie, 2015.)

i can only hope that our audiences may get the same inspiration as we have found from charlies journey, and put down their phones to get out and explore the wildlife that surrounds them.

 

who knows, they may find a Black-Browed Albatross for themselves!

 

 

Being a part of ‘The Backpack Ensemble’, has introduced me to a new style of theatre, one which before now I have only had the pleasure of watching. The idea for this company name, came with restrictions, but ones we decided we wanted to put upon ourselves. Everything used in our performance, will be brought from the backpacks, we take onto the stage. Doing this has both limited, but also focused our performance into a new direction, taking the form of shadow work. Having the costumes and general props come from out of our bags was a simple task from the beginning, however, when it came to the projector, we needed to sit and think about the idea of having it already set up.  This could have thrown a spanner in the works, in regards to our philosophy and manifesto being kept throughout the piece, thankfully, this was easily solved, as the backpack brought by a cast member could fit the projector in perfectly, meaning our original theme could go ahead as planned.

 

Having such a strong basis for the company’s underlying themes and rules, such as the backpack and props relationship, means that being the Dramaturge is in constant effect. Looking into these conventions is key at all times as we carry on devising and developing the piece, as if we stray from these, then the concept of the company is lost and unnecessary.

As an ensemble, we decided certain features for the piece would appear throughout the performance, which link both to the name of the company, as well as the conventions we had all agreed upon. These major themes range from the cast performing as ourselves, rather than creating characters for narrating, to an original soundtrack, featuring throughout the performance. The songs were created in a workshop, as a way of creating a plot for individual scenes. Once created and performed, as an ensemble we decided this would be a convention that need to feature heavily in the piece and gave us a new device to implement.

 

The beginning of the performance is the introduction to Charlie as the Protagonist, explaining Sam’s transformation into the character. We as an ensemble, desire to carry out each convention we introduce from beginning to end, so therefore this then became a part of each named character given to a cast member. This is seen with the ‘Bagman’ and the sister, Penny. In doing this, we have kept to our manifesto guidelines, as we are not deceiving the audience into thinking we are a completely different person. Instead, we introduce this new character directly to the audience, so not to give them any false information, as our piece is based on truthful facts and experiences, witnessed by ourselves. This also led onto the personal accounts being made by cast members, when their memories have been used to add to the plot and storyline of the piece in specific places, for example Simon’s memory of Tubular Bells and Elliott’s experience of his hometown ‘Bagman’.

 

The projection stems from the idea of our desire to keep characters as close to our natural selves as possible. Therefore, after realising that none of us could perform as a child or a father figure realistically, the projection became a tool for us to use, in creating these characters as silhouettes. Having the silhouettes, gives only the outline of the characters, rather than the characteristics and personas of people we are unable to perform as. This also came into play, when we wanted to create a performance that was set in the outdoors, in a forest, as this wasn’t possible to physically create onstage, whilst keeping to our company backpack concept. Therefore, everything we cannot create physically onstage is made through silhouettes. Originally, we only had flashbacks, of Charlie and her father years ago, however, when devising more of the piece, we realised that the projection was such an important device to use, that we needed to use it more than we originally had planned. Thus the idea for the forest, anatomy of the birds and anatomy of Charlie came in.

 

Shadow Experiments

Shadow Experiments

 

Looking ahead in devising the final part of the piece, ensuring that the company keeps to the themes and concepts we have already assigned for ourselves, is vital. After hearing and reading the feedback given to us from the Scratch Night, where we performed our work in progress, there are certain scene and moments we have dedicated the last weeks on. As we face the last week before the final show, the last few amendments are being made and the script is being finalised.

Jordan Headshot

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Music and theatre have always shared a very strong connection. (my Dissertation delves into this subject so the relationship between the two is very fresh in my mind) a piece of instrumental music or a song within a piece can often give theatre a burst of energy and character. something about music aids in theatres attempt to connect.

of course the first thing that comes to mind when you think music and theatre would be “a musical”, but in this theatrical context music is much more “aware”. it is not something that exists to help tell a story; it is a tool to bring composing 2ourselves as performers to our audience. Unlike a musical in which characters burst into song seamlessly, the music is acknowledged and given its own moment.

Composing has always been something I’ve enjoyed, it’s a form of creative expression that you learn from listening. the greatest composers teach you how to write music through their own work. by listening to how musicians shape melody to tell stories has always been fascinating to me, so much so that whenever I listen to a piece by Bach or Brahms I sometimes ignore “how it sounds” and try to picture how this music would “look”. to compose for theatre, a musician must view his work in both ways, a melody must be visualised and the viable world must be notated.

Now, composing for a theatre company is about as far away from the music of Bach and other orchestral writing can be. I am not writing music for others to play, i am writing music with the thought of what is on stage constantly in my mind. our company strives for honesty, and we use music to create images that we cannot show on stage. Take for example a scene in a forest. we can create images of trees and greenery on stage, but the ambience and serenity of this location is brought to life through sound and music. It’s also important to note that unlike normal composition soundscapes often play a key role in this kind of work; you must write music that is not music you are creating a world through sound not just something that sounds pretty.

looking at companies such as Little Bulb or Wriggle dance Theatre company musical accompaniment for contemporary theatre creates an incredibly warming and atmosphere. in classical music we refer to sound that creates this atmosphere as “Diatonic”  this is the atmosphere i need to strive for when writing. of course there are moments that a diatonic atmosphere is not what we need,but the music should always feel appropriate; never forced in.

for me writing music for theatre has been a very different experience to writing for a concert. i have to constantly tie my ideas back to the work of the company and the ethos of the production. despite the steep learning curve its been a challengeI would recommend to any musician in the theatre scene

composing

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