NRTF Conference 2015 – Engaging Performance and Exciting Projects

This year the National Rural Touring Forum (NRTF) Annual Conference was held in Norfolk at Wymondham College and the Live & Local team were taken back to their school days with presentations taking part in the college’s classrooms, library and gym, as well as meal times in the refectory and a 7.30am fire alarm!

The opportunity to network with other rural touring schemes, promoters from communities all around the UK, artists and funders was informative and inspiring with everyone leaving the conference with a deeper understanding and appreciation for rural touring and the benefits it reaps for rural communities.

Two Live & Local promoters, David and Colin, and members of the office team Frances, Eleanor and Julia have written about what they enjoyed most about the conference, as well as their favourite performances.

Live & Local promoters, performers and scheme managers
Live & Local promoters, performers and scheme managers

David (Live & Local Promoter in Derbyshire)

I went to the NRTF conference with the aim of learning how to do what we do now, but better. I came away totally inspired to try something new, and to expand local involvement in professional performance. It was so inspiring to be with so many people who share my passion for live performance, and to learn how they deal with some of the same challenges that I face in my community.

There was a satisfying mix of performers’ showcases, presentations, and workshop breakouts. The performers gave 15 – 20 minutes excerpts of their shows, and certainly widened my horizons of what’s possible to put on in my community. Highlights for me were ‘My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding’, ‘L’Hotel’, ‘Loren and Mark’, and ‘The Giant Balloon Show’.

I was also excited to learn how rural touring is continuing to expand; over the last 10 years audiences have risen by 43% despite reduced funding. However, I was depressed to learn how little central funding comes to rural communities. Nearly 18% of the population live in rural communities, yet receive less than 3% of Arts Council funding. That’s not fair, and I feel a campaign coming on!

The breakout discussions were invaluable, particularly ‘Working with and engaging young people’ led by Philip Holyman from Little Earthquake and Natalie Kidman from Black Country Touring. I came away with lots of ideas on how to extend the reach of rural touring, of new things to try (and new ways to fund them), and contacts with people who have already done this successfully.

Colin (Live & Local Promoter in Staffordshire and Live & Local board member)

I would like to say a big thank you to NRTF for a well organised conference at an excellent venue. From a promoters perspective I found the evening showcases and performances throughout the day particularly useful; they allowed me to imagine how a show would be received in my venue in Pattingham and were very successful in convincing me to book them. The shows that I thought would be perfect for my community were the ‘The Giant Balloon Show’, ‘L’Hotel’‘Sea Story’ and ‘My Big Fat Cowpat Wedding’.

Overall, the conference content was excellent and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Frances (Derbyshire & Staffordshire Fieldworker)

Having been to the New Directions Showcase at York last year I was expecting something similar again this year i.e. wall to wall showcase events, but this year’s NRTF conference was much more about discussion, reflection and inspiring new ways of working. I have come back from the conference buzzing with ideas for working with young people and using new venues.

The highlight for me was hearing Francois Matarasso give the keynote talk and introduce his new book about rural touring called ‘A Wider Horizon’, which is beautifully illustrated by Rosie Redzia. As a lecturer in arts management I had often quoted Matarasso to my students but never actually met him so to hear him speak was a great thrill and I even experienced a bit of a fan girl moment!

The showcases were still there a plenty. My favourite being Circo Rum Ba Ba with ‘L’Hotel’, a most ingenious use of a tiny, one person caravan. They had the audience in stitches with their clowning, audience interaction, circus skills and most of all a hilarious rendition of Edith Piaf’s ‘Non, je ne regrette rien’. I also enjoyed the dance performances this year, in particular Tall Tales Big Moves ‘Sea Story’, which was actually a combination of the art forms, performance poetry, storytelling and dance. The group used a huge piece of silver foil to great effect to create the sound and movement of waves so that for the audience it felt that we were in the sea itself. The high quality dance acts involved in the programme reflected NRTF’s commitment to the three year rural touring dance initiative project, which launched at the conference.

I came away from Norfolk invigorated and inspired to try new things and looking forward to seeing new shows in the approaching autumn/winter season.

Eleanor (Marketing Assistant)

Having only joined Live & Local a couple of weeks before the NRTF conference, it was a great way for me to learn more about how the industry works and to see my first rural touring performances – 17 of them in fact.

My top three favourite performances were Pied Piper’ by Norwich Puppet Theatre, a magical storytelling experience perfect for children but thoroughly enjoyed by us adults at the conference; Amsterdam’ by Chanje Kunda, an enthralling and humorous monologue which made me want to see the full show to find out how it ends, and a guitarist duo named Loren Barrigar and Mark Mazengarb, who were exceptionally talented on the guitar and had a great rapport with the audience – I picked up their CD after the showcase to hear more!

The presentations, keynotes and seminars were also incredibly insightful and gave me a good grounding in the context of rural touring and some of the issues that people are facing all over the country. One of the main topics that I noticed was cropping up again and again was the issue of being unable to attract a younger audience to rural touring events. This definitely seems like a topic that everyone is keen to explore further in coming years. Ultimately, what I feel I really learnt from the conference is how important relationships are, be that between the audience and the performer or the touring scheme and the promoters.

Julia (Warwickshire & Worcestershire Fieldworker)

What a busy few days we had! From Tuesday to Thursday every minute was filled with stimulating note speakers, exciting showcases and networking with inspiring companies, touring schemes, promoters and arts council officers.

I felt particularly inspired by the final presentation about ‘The Boy Who Became a Beetle’ by Little Earthquake & Black Country Touring. Little Earthquake worked with 100 school children to create the play allowing the children to take control as they worked on every aspect of the show including developing the story, recruiting team members, set design and music. These children had not previously experienced an opportunity such as this and in creating The Boy Who Became A Beetle’ for the first time in their lives they were given responsibility which boosted their confidence and self-belief.

Karen Kidman from Creative Arts East who hosted the conference, discussed their most recent project called ‘New Places, Extraordinary Spaces’ where they ventured into new spaces, such as libraries, pubs and the great outdoors, which this year’s showcases reflected. The showcases pushed the boundaries of rural touring, the performances moved away from the traditional venue of the village hall, favourite genres and art forms. Instead we saw outside performance, dance, gritty plays and new sounds.

My personal highlight was Richard Navarro’s sound loops, singing, beet boxing, violin and key board playing all accompanied by a double base. For the finale we were brought out of our chairs, onto the dance floor as Anna Mudeka and her band brought the Connaught Hall to life (on another level than normal life) with ‘Dendende’.

I think all that is left to say is when can I sign up for next year’s NRTF Conference in Falmouth?

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