The Evil Imp

Two Tier Arts


Anybody who has received funding from Arts Council England, or any other type of funding for that matter, will know that numbers are everything. Especially when it comes to audience numbers for the performing arts.

Numbers can make or break your company because if they aren’t high enough, or the right kind of numbers, then future funding could be at risk and with that the future of an entire company.

If we did a survey of the toughest challenges when it comes to running a dance company we’re not sure if creating the work or getting people to come and see it would rank higher.

Getting people in off the street and into a venue is akin to getting oil out of water or individual sugar granules out of a bag of salt. Most marketing folk have to practice this darkest of arts with little, if any, resources.

Last week, while browsing The Guardian website, we stumbled across an advertisement for ‘Political Mother’ from Hofesh Shechter [Company] that will bow on July 3 at Sadler’s wells in London.

This promotion though was far from being just a regular banner ad. The theatre had payed for a gutter ad (meaning the ad runs in the gutter of the page on the left and right outside the bounds of the actual page), a regular banner at the top, a side bar graphic and, as if that wasn’t enough, a footer ad near the bottom of the page.

Apart from the fact that such advertising is completely over the top and more than a little garish the idea is that you, as the reader, don’t miss the advertisement.

The format is nothing new, it’s being going on for years with ad companies using the technique to hawk everything from cell phones to computer software. One thing is certain though, such advertising is not cheap and therefore not available to everybody.

Those working in the small and mid-scale touring environment know only to well that booking a tour is just half the battle. Getting the venues to actively promote a performance, even if they have the resources to do it, is another struggle in and of itself.

For the small-scale this problem is often more pronounced. We, here in TheLab™, regularly hear stories of dance companies arriving at venues only to find absolutely no promotion for their show on display at all.

Not only that but the venue have, often times, been less than active in promoting the company’s education projects, one of the key elements in developing an audience and generating revenue for a small dance company.

Sometimes this is down to resources and sometimes its simply because the venues staff don’t care. If the latter is true then said staff need to immediately replaced with people who actually want to do the job.

Have and Have Not

What we have in this country is nothing short of a class system for dance companies. The “haves” can run ads in national newspapers (funded by the venue) and are afforded every opportunity to build audiences and continue with their work. The “have nots” are down in the trenches fighting with sticks and slingshots trying to get the metaphorical oil out of the metaphorical water.

The metaphors are mixed, but you get the point.

We have mentioned before in these pages about the lack of willingness demonstrated by large-scale organisations, the ones with all the money, to help the small and mid-scale companies, the ones without all the money.

Piecemeal measures have been put in place, associate companies at The Royal Opera House for one, but there is very little practical progress being made and with further funding cuts due in a couple of years things are probably not going to get much better.

You get the feeling that the strong will just get stronger and everybody else is collateral damage waiting to happen.