La La Land: Fantasy vs. Reality

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Creative Industries, Music, Theatre

*SPOILERS AHEAD*

 

I don’t live in LA, nor have I ever been, but in the same way I’m sure that no movie about American High School has actually accurately depicted an American High School I am positive that La La Land does not accurately depict what life is like for an out of work actress and struggling jazz musician living in Hollywood.  Feel free to stop me if I’m wrong (those of you who are struggling actors in LA will know better) but Emma Stone seemed to swan in and out of mansion parties as if this is the normal way to network.  The production parties I’ve been to have mainly consisted of a theatre foyer with a dodgy catered buffet and box wine but who am I to judge?  Maybe life is that different across the pond.  Now, I’m not stupid.  I know that embellishment is added for the sake of entertainment.  I’m not here to pick holes…

 

Despite the mixed bag of reviews I received before finally getting round to seeing it myself and the poor singing and dancing that is bettered every year on Strictly Come Dancing aside, I think La La Land raises some important truths worth pondering over which tend to play out in our careers and businesses, wherever we may be in the creative industry.

 

I was mentoring a young actor, a year into her drama degree, who moaned that she was sick of her retail job and was looking for something, anything, even remotely associated with theatre, her chosen specialised field.  Isn’t this what Mia (Emma Stone) does?  What Seb (Ryan Gosling) tries?  What we all do?  Many of us start off in the arts working in bars or restaurants, front of house or box office.  So long as it is part of a theatre or gallery or festival or music venue we feel in the thick of the action and it’s ok for now.  And I commend these people!  The passionate dreamers!  Our dreams get a little more jaded as we age but we start off fighting!

 

The audition process illustrated in La La Land unfortunately can be faithful to real life, which is a shame.  When they are run by bored minds who no longer really care about the work they are involved in they leave hopeful actors worn out and weary, hope dying with every rejection, like Mia.  She tells us she has been ‘trying to make it’ for 6 years and basically can’t be bothered with it anymore; dejection and fear has settle in.

 

The general consensus across the creative industries is that no one gets into the arts for the money so the moment you stop really loving what you’re doing is the moment you should stop or at least change course.  Sometimes it’s the rebuffs, sometimes the lifestyle.  I used to work in stage management and found my decision pretty much came down to this: Do I want to have a social life or do I want my work to be my entire life.  The love wasn’t there any more, so I left.  But what can I say: lady theatre dragged me back, just down a slightly different path.

 

Obviously, everything works out in the end, in the film at least.  Mia becomes a Hollywood Star due to the unprecedented success of her one woman show and Seb uses the money he made in his modernised Jazz band to fund his dream jazz bar business.  Obviously not entirely realistic but very Hollywood (and with a dream ballet sequence, the likes of which haven’t really been seen since Oklahoma!, who is complaining)!

 

So what should you take away from this movie?  What is the moral?  Sorry to sound pessimistic but dreams don’t always come true, at least not in the way you think.  I think the moral is that your life has to adapt with your craft, sometimes we must compromise and other times we must evolve.

 

The speech that struck me was that of Keith (John Legend) who tells it Seb Straight:

 

“How are you gonna be a revolutionary if you’re such a traditionalist?  You hold onto the past, but jazz is about the future.”

 

He has remembered something integral: art is a business.  To stay on top we need to roll with the punches.  He takes traditional jazz and gives it that contemporary, commercial twist for a new audience who, with any luck, will look into the origins of where this music came whilst continuing to carry it into the future with them, introducing a new audience and a new, evolutionary art form.

 

Seb makes his money in this band uses it to fund his dream bar.  Clearly, during his time spent with The Messengers Seb has learnt a few lessons, which are reflected in the bar set up.  The layout of his club takes us back to a 1940s feel of what jazz bars would have felt like, something which is fashionable at the moment, especially if you’re looking for that new hipster hotspot.  It serves fancy drinks in  fancy crystal, also super trendy, as opposed to the fried chicken sticks he originally longed for (now presumably reserved for the end of the night).  Then the jazz is the cherry on top.  He has nailed a business which gives him an outlet to perform the music he wants, whilst turning over (we hope) a profit.

 

You might be thinking this is a corporate way to analyse this movie, I prefer realistic.  So, look at Seb’s success, cut past the romance, the song and dance, the bright colours and remember to keep business and at the heart of your operation.  Drive your desire constructively to developing your values alongside the current climate with the aim of breaking even or making money so that you can reinvest it and do more work that matters to you and your viewers!  Adapt your mind set and progress with the times.

 

Your enthusiasm will always show in what you produce.  When things get tough, always remember your audience can see more than you think.  After all as Mia says:

 

“People love what other people are passionate about.”

 

What did you take from La La Land?  Any business strategies you think I’ve missed?  Or opinions your yearning to share?

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Last night Some Am-Dram Saved My Life

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Creative Industries, Mental Health, Theatre

I know that this blog is primarily about how to apply business skills to your Arts Business, but I will from time to time bring mental health to the forefront of discussion because I think it should be openly discussed and it’s an important conversation.

The Arts Industry is rife with people who struggle with their mental health and (although I will admit that I have no scientific research behind this) I would argue that there are more individuals battling with invisible illnesses like anxiety and depression in this industry than in any other.

Sometimes working in the arts feels like a constant uphill climb.  We are encouraged to go out there and live our dreams, but we are never told how hard it is going to be.  The hours are long and the pay is often low.  Environments can be stressful, and experiences can bend you to complete breaking point.

 

Now please don’t get me wrong:

 

I love the arts!

 

And however much there are times I want to pack it all in and runaway forever Lady Theatre keeps dragging me back!  There is nothing like the creative industry.  The rush, the excitement and the passion!

 

A few years ago (without going into too much detail) both my personal and professional life began to crumble and I started to fall apart.  I went on long term sick leave with the diagnosis of depression and anxiety and vowed never to work in the arts industry again.

After a year of struggling I couldn’t even bring myself to open my laptop and the idea of searching for a new career made me feel physically sick but I knew I needed to do something, if only to appease my friends and family to show them that there was light at the end of the tunnel.

A neighbour had told me about a charity panto that would be taking place in February called: ‘Goldilocks and the Three Martians’.  

“They always need volunteers to help with props and set” I was told.  She passed on my details and found out the rehearsal times for me.

So one Friday, when I was having a good day, I decided to push myself to attend a rehearsal.  I was instantly introduced to the Head of Props who immediately gave me a copy of the script, talked me through all the things which needed making and invited me for a meal to meet the rest of the crew.

I went, I chatted. I was instantly enveloped into a family of different personalities who had one key thing in common: they LOVE theatre.

Now, a year later, I am the official stage manager of this year’s panto: ‘Sinbad goes Down Under’ and I have been involved in crewing, building and propping the entire amateur dramatics programme in the Solihull Area. 

More importantly, I have learnt how to manage my depression and I have remembered why I fell in love with the arts industry.

I used to be quite the cynic about amateur dramatics.  Basically, I was a bit of a snob.  I felt like there was a strong divide between “professional theatre” and “amateur theatre”.  To a point it is instilled in you at arts school that you are somehow better than that, above it.

But there is something beautiful about amateur dramatics though.  It is pure and innocent.  There is none of the economic politics.  Everyone is there because they love what there doing, whether that is onstage or off.  They have become an immediate community of likeminded friends. 

 

And they have reignited my desire for this industry and helped me find my way in this beautiful life. 

 

If ever you’re feeling lost in what is often an overwhelming world, I implore you to seek out the hobbyists in your industry!  They may not be the most professional, the most innovative or have the highest production values but none of that matters!  They are the most positive and passionate groups and they just might relight your fire.

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The Escape Room Evolved: ‘Stab in the Dark’

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Creative Industries, Entertainment, Theatre

It is always important to keep up with the latest trends in any industry and in recent years the entertainments world had been taken over by Escape Rooms.

If you don’t know what an escape room is basically where have you been?  There are hundreds, if not thousands of these up and down the country.

The trend began in the Japan and the concept is simple: get “locked” in a room must solve a series of puzzles to escape.

These come in all shapes and sizes, at a variety of prices and in any possible theme imaginable!  Great for team building activities or just fun nights out with a group of mates they are generally popular little money spinners!

 

So, what happens when you take these to the next level?

Enter Show Up Productions.

 

From 1st October 2019 Show Up Productions will be launching the previews of their ‘Immersive Crime Scene Experience: Stab in the Dark’

Young Essex based entrepreneur Rachel Dingle has taken the concept of the escape room and turned it on its head:

 

It’s 1995. There has been a murder in a prestigious fashion store. You have been called in by the local police to help the investigation.

Spend an hour in the crime scene looking for clues and collecting evidence.

Take your findings to the police station where you can submit evidence for forensic analysis, speak to witnesses, and eliminate possible suspects.

Can you solve the case?!

 

This isn’t about speed.  It is experimenting with the concept that guests are specialist detectives brought into investigate and solve a murder with live, talented, multirole-playing actors to assist you on your journey.

This is a completely immersive, interactive event but, more to the point, by playing on the ever growing and continually popular Escape Room market Rachel has developed a completely unique theatrical experience.

If you’re in the Southend-on-Sea area go and check it out!  This is one not to be missed! Get your tickets HERE.

 

But could your company jump onboard the Escape Room train?

There are loads of ways you could play with the general concept of the Escape Room that would encourage a new audience to get involved with your arts organisation so put those thinking caps on.

Not only do these not have to break the bank but they could also be great money spinners and raise your profile:

  • KnowEscape currently have somewhat of a monopoly on the portable escape room.  Their travelling Escape Bus covers everything from personal parties to professional events across the UK.
  • Similarly, container entertainment has been growing over the last few years (meaning shows that are built into recycled lorry containers).  Darkfield do great things with containers, and although I know this isn’t strictly speaking an escape room, they are a fantastic example in simplistic theming and concept that can easily be toured.  They use surround soundscapes through headphones in the pitch black utilising your different senses to create horror genre environments.
  • Museums and Galleries are a great place to experiment with the Escape Room.  They have the existing space available to play with performative experiences and are generally only open during the day so contemplate evening openings in limited spaces to attract that 9 to 5, Monday to Friday working crowd in midweek!
  • Already running an escape room?  Have you thought about kid-friendly rooms, shorter in length and easier to solve.  You could run these in your existing rooms during half terms and holidays to boost those sales and increase your audience?  Doing this may even inspire the parents and guardians to come back and try these escape rooms for themselves!
  • Hit up the corporate market by expanding your escape room into full day experiences.  Companies love a team building daily excursion!  You could even incorporate some of the immersive aspects Show Up have thought about in order to expand!
  • Don’t have a venue? No problem, think about developing ‘escape cities’ or ‘parks’.  Online treasure hunts are growing and their biggest pro is that walking round a city is free! Remember though: this isn’t quite the same if you’re running tours or public treasure hunts as there is a certain amount of red tape that needs cutting and permission that needs gaining!

And this is only spin offs for escape rooms!  Every week brings a new fashion, so keep your finger on the pulse when it comes to the latest trends and think about how you could use these in your organisation!

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How Theatre can Inspire Revolution: ‘First Time’

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Promotion, Start Ups, Theatre

Theatre has a unique ability to inspire audiences.  It can work particularly well when raising awareness about charitable causes.

 

Well, recent winner of a Best Show of the Fringe award from The Stage Nathaniel Hall does just that with his new one man show ‘First Time’ in collaboration with Dibby Theatre.

This autobiographical play explains how Nathaniel contracted HIV from his first sexual partner.  He cleverly uses a variety of storytelling techniques to portray the emotional rollercoaster he had been on from when he first received the news through his journey of coming to terms with his diagnosis.

 

A self-proclaimed activist Manchester based Nathanial aims to speak out for and with those who have previously been unheard or ignored.

 

It is a combination of his immense bravery in telling his own unique story, his natural ability to inspire others to come out and speak openly about their own experiences with HIV and his incredible fundraising drive to work alongside locally based HIV charities offering workshops and talks that have led to some unbelievable (and well deserved) National Press Coverage.

 

This has included editorials in AttitudeBuzzfeed, and BBC News.

 

In fact, flicking down his press page is basically like the perfect lesson in who to contact when developing a press release list for a show like this: the national news platforms, the local reviewers and papers, the LGBT community and theatre-based media companies across the UK.

 

What is particularly special about Nathaniel’s show is how in talking about his diagnosis he has begun the healing process of his mental health and finally he is looking forward to the future. He has used his story to encourage a revolution.

 

You can take inspiration from Nathaniel when developing your own work.

  • Could you get involved with charities that are relevant to the work you’re producing?  This could open up funding opportunities for your own show and help boost donations to the charities you are supporting.

o   ‘First Time’ has run after show parties to raise money for local HIV charities

  • Could you offer specialist workshops or talks to help others learn from the themes in your work?  Could you contribute to the community alongside your performance to help spread your message and could increase your ticket sales.

o   ‘First Time’ has run post show discussions about Rapid HIV Testing.

  • Could you use your work to raise awareness of and openly campaign for an important cause? If you found communities that would be helped with your work this could not only mean sponsorship for your performance but also opens new marketing outlets so that your show is reaching the right audiences.

o   ‘First Time’ aims to erase the stigma around HIV and campaigning for the UN Goal of zero new HIV transmissions by 2030.

 

We would love to hear about any work you’ve done like this.  Let us know in the comments!

 

Nathaniel J. Hall and Dibby Theatre will be touring ‘First Time’ soon so keep your eyes peeled on their website here to check out when where you can see this remarkable show.

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The Technical Spectacle

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Entertainment, Technology, Theatre

Our worlds are becoming increasingly more engulfed by technology. Even the little things we do in life are often governed by our mobile phones.  I’m sure I’m not alone when I tell you that the first thing I do in the morning is roll over and check my phone for messages and emails I may have missed in the night.  In fact, if I ever leave the house without my mobile I feel like I’ve lost an arm. But if technology is so prominent in our everyday life, shouldn’t this be reflected in the work we create?  How would that work?

Let’s start by looking at the 2017 production of ‘The Tempest’, from the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC).  They didn’t get an endorsement from Kim Kardashian or throw in a celebrity that came 4th in X-factor in 2009.  No, they did something different.  Something that has never been attempted in theatre before.  They decided to employ tactics from the technical revolution working alongside Intel to create the first ever live avatar with an onstage performer.  Just the idea of this spectacle seduced curious audiences into buying tickets months in advance and has challenged theatre on the whole to work out ways to integrate available technology into their own work.

 

The idea of creating a spectacle to sell tickets isn’t original in itself.  This can be seen throughout history, all the way back to the Roman Amphitheatres where a variety of shows from gory gladiator fights taking centre stage to entire arenas being flooded where epic sea battles could be re-enacted.  The Tyne Theatre and Opera House in Newcastle is the only remaining theatre in the UK to have full working stage conveyor belts upon which galloping horses could run towards the audience (obviously not used today, imagine the paperwork, but fascinating none the less).  And I once saw a circus in Shanghai, where I assume health and safety laws are slightly different to the UK, in which a motorcyclist rode into an enormous spherical cage with enough speed to propel him upside down on the ceiling.  What’s more amazing is that he was then joined by not one, not two, but FIVE additional riders all travelling round missing each other by inches.  What a finale!  My point is the RSC understood that spectacle sells, conceiving a unique idea which would intrigue and astound.  And the new way to do this?  Technology.

 

Before Pokémon Go and Wizards Unite, Intel created an incredible Virtual Reality (VR) experience at their Annual General Meeting in 2014.  Audiences downloaded an app on their phones and filmed the main cinema screen which was showing a computer animated whale.  Much to the shock of the spectators the whale burst out of the screen and out over the crowd.  This footage went viral and, more importantly, gave the RSC an idea.  What if this technology could be pushed a little further?  What if we took Ariel, a fantastical fairy known for his mood swings, and designed magical projections to illustrate them?  Is there a way the fairy can mimic an actor’s performance live onstage accurately?  In asking these questions and reaching out to Intel an exciting partnership began.

 

I must admit I have a great respect for the RSC in reaching out to a company like Intel to work with and sponsor their production.  I mean, the resources that a company like intel has available to them in additional to the funding they can afford to invest must be incredible.  Imagine Intel put in £100,000.  They have processors in pretty much every computer and laptop available on the market.  That must seem like pocket change to them, but imagine what that kind of money means to a charitable arts organisation.  Additionally, they have the talent and equipment to push these boundaries.  For them to be seen using these facilities to increase awareness and audience for the arts is beneficial for both parties.

 

Now, I know what many of you will be thinking.  The RSC is one of the largest theatre companies in the country.  They also have the added bonus of being popularised within the tourism industry.  The Swan Theatre is, of course, in Stratford, the birthplace of the most famous playwright ever to have lived, William Shakespeare.  The budget they have every year is insane!  In a small scale company with a minute if not non-existent budget a feet like this would be improbable, impractical, impossible.

 

But Why?  Why should we be limited by the size of our company?  Why not limit ourselves to the size of our endless imaginations?

There are plenty of small start-up tech firms or talented freelancers out there who would be delighted to give some of their time to work on a cross collaborative project. One to keep your eye on over the next couple of years is ‘Digital Midsummer’ in which Artistic Director Rebecca Gadsby is creating a production intending to lead the way in performative digital technology to connect younger audiences and first-time theatre goers to Shakespeare.  It is innovative theatre companies like this that I hope will inspire the future of productions.

 

Another thing to consider is that as technology becomes more advanced it gets cheaper to produce and more accessible to the masses. You need only look at intel’s development of entertainment drone shows to see how quickly technology can progress starting with their collaborative Christmas show with Disney only 3 years ago where you could just about make out a revolving Christmas tree in the sky, to their most recent and world record breaking display at the end of last year where 2018 drones flew perfectly synchronised into the sky to form a wonderfully detailed image of a brain.

 

It is about finding something different. It’s about working with someone different.

 

Have you used technology or worked with technology companies in any of your creative endeavours recently? We would love to hear about it in the comments below!

 

Find out more about the Tyne Theatre and Opera House HERE

Watch that Intel Whale burst out the cinema screen HERE

Watch the 2016 Intel and Disney Christmas Drone Show HERE

Watch Intel’s World Record Breaking Drone Show HERE

Learn more about Rebecca Gadsby’s Digital Midsummer HERE

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Captain Corelli’s Lost Mandolin

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Marketing, Publicity, Theatre
How a terribly expensive accident became excellent free marketing.
theatrical programme for captain corelli Birmingham REP
Theatrical Programme for Captain Corelli’s Mandolin Birmingham REP

I can’t imagine how Alex Mugnaioni, the lead actor playing the titular role of ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ felt when he left a priceless 129-year-old mandolin on a train during rehearsals in London.

Having worked as a Stage Manager in theatre in a past life, if an actor came into rehearsal to fess up to losing a traditional, round back, century old, tricky to source, crazily expensive musical instrument I don’t think I could have helped being pretty cross and may have had a tiny breakdown. A quick look on eBay will tell you that these bad boys retail for up to £350. Definitely not a small chunk of the props budget and probably a large percentage of the overall production budget

But this production coproduced from Neil Laidlaw, Church & State Productions, Rose Theatre Kingston and the Birmingham REP took it in their stride creating the perfect masterplan for how to use this nightmare event and use it as a marketing advantage.

At the post show talk at the Birmingham REP actor Kate Spencer explained that when this news was passed around their cast WhatsApp group she thought it was a publicity stunt. Well, it may have been an accident, but the team definitely used it to their advantage.

So exactly what did they do?

As soon as the incident came to light the company put out announcements across popular news platforms in London, a desperate and genuine appeal for its safe return. This almost immediately went viral not only locally but webpages and newspapers nationwide, across the theatre-verse and even reaching viewers and listeners at the BBC. After all there’s nothing the UK public love more than story that is so steeped in hilarious irony: Captain Corelli’s Mandolin Lost on Train.

I can see what you’re thinking, technically they didn’t do much, they just let the news travel along the grapevine, but that’s not all they did! They went out guns blazing with the best marketing weapon they had available to them: Alex Mugnaioni. That’s right, who better to tell the story of how the mandolin went missing? Actors are natural born storytellers, so it made perfect sense to send him out on interviews. He was able to comically relay the unfortunate tale and spend the remainder of the time hyping up the show.

theatrical set birmingham red
Theatrical Set of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin

Whatever they did it seemed to have work as on 4th July 2019 ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ began a run at the Harold Pinter Theatre on the West End. And if you get the chance you should see it, it is a simple, beautiful yet incredibly powerful interpretation of the story.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to say the only reason ‘Captain Corelli’s Mandolin’ have been able to transfer to the West End is because of that lost mandolin. It helps that it is a great play written by the fabulous creative writer Rona Munro. It is a collaboratively produced piece which means it is well funded and has a much wider existing fanbase to market to reaching wide across the UK. It is based on one of the bestselling love stories of all time (with a massive 1.5 million copies sold internationally at last count). I don’t think anyone hasn’t attended at least one wedding which quoted the book in a reading: ‘Love is a temporary madness…’. And finally, despite being set during the second world war, a time of death and despair it ends with an over whelming feeling of hope, something that everyone needs at this current moment in time.

As P. T. Barnum said: ‘There is no such thing as bad publicity’ which is the lesson to be learnt from this. Turn negatives into positives. Turn misdemeanours into online content. After all, a bad day is always a great story!

Have you ever turned a blip into a success story? We’d love to hear from you! Just whack it in the comments below.

How to get tickets? – CLICK HERE

Further Creative Reading
Read the full wedding quote here 
Read the full interview with Alex here
Read more about the novel here

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