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Behind the Scenes: Some Helpful Hints on Producing a Successful Touring Show for First Time Producers

I must confess, I started writing this as a bit of a moan about all the things that frustrate me with producing a touring show. But that seemed a silly way to start 2024 and it’s now become a list of what I hope might be helpful to first time tour bookers/producers looking to get a show on the road. I’ve toured work with large and small casts over the years and I’ve also run venues, so have seen things from both sides. This is a list of things that have helped me produce tours that make money and sell tickets…and at the end of the day that’s the whole point…isn’t it? 


A standing ovation at a show.

I’ve written this as a helpful hints for first-time tour bookers/producers post, so it will probably be most useful for those who are working on a small/medium scale production, but the information here can be scaled up or down. This is not the 'right way' to do it…there’s plenty of things other people do that I don’t. This is simply what I’ve found works for me.

 

 

1.     Be Realistic

Of course, it would be great to book week-long runs in number one theatres straight off the bat. But unless you’ve got a huge name or an inexhaustible budget, it’s not going to happen. Think about what type of venue is going to work well for your production and the returns that you’re expecting. Are you going UK wide? Are you looking at a regional outing? How will that impact ticket sales?

 

As a rule, I assume a venue will sell 40% of their capacity. This then gives me a base line of what I’m expecting to come in and how well the tour is going. Some venues sell less, some venues sell a lot more. But if you have a realistic expectation to begin with, you’ll have a much better handle on the tour as it progresses.

 

You will also need to factor in any other sources of funding you may have (ACE, trusts and foundations, private investors etc.) and you should then have a good idea of what your baseline income will be.

 

 

2.     Do Your Research

Don’t just fire off a hundred emails to a hundred venues and hope for the best. It won’t work. Well, not as well as you’d hope. Look at the venues’ websites. See what they’ve programmed and see if they’ve got an audience for what you’re offering. Make a note of what spaces they have, what they’re called and who you should be talking to. If the name of the programmer isn’t on the website, give the box office or administration line a call and ask who you should be sending information to and what the best way of contacting them is. I’ve never spoken to a venue that isn’t happy to give that information. Keep a note in a spreadsheet or Airtable Base of all the information you’ve obtained.

 

 

3.     Be Organised

I keep copious records of which venues I’ve spoken to, when I last emailed them, when they responded and any other information I may need. When you’re producing a tour there’s a lot to think about and there is too much to try and carry in your head, especially as this will most likely be one strand of your job. Put it into a database and you’ll be glad you’ve got the information there later down the line. It also makes life so much easier if you have to hand over the job to someone else…they’ve got everything they need to pick up immediately.

 

4.     Get a Tour Pack Together

Some venue programmers read tour packs, others don’t. It’s up to them. But in a strange sort of way, a tour pack is more for you than anyone else. By putting together a pack you get a chance to really understand what you’re selling. I know that sounds a bit obvious, but it focuses your mind on the show and ensures that you have all the information you (and the venues) will need. “Have you got copy?” It’s in the tour pack. “Could you let us know the tech requirements? “It’s in the tour pack. “How long is the show?” Tour pack!

 

5.     Put Everything a Programmer will need into the Body of the Email

I was a bit sneaky with my last tour and put a link tracker in. I was just interested to see how many people I contacted followed links to our website or other information sections. Out of the 147 venues I contacted…not a single person clicked on a link. They all booked either from the tour pack or the information I put in the email.

 

  • What’s the show about?

  • Give a brief history – where’s it been before – where have you already got booked.

  • What are you looking for? Single nights, runs?

  • What’s the audience?

  • What dates/periods of time are you working on?

 

  • How to contact you? I also always encourage people to contact me, even if they don’t want the show. That way I won’t bother them with follow ups.

 

  • Sign off and put any audience reviews or press reviews below along with a picture of the show. Don’t do this as links…put it in the body of the email.

 

That’s a lot to fit into an email…but you’ve got to be as to the point as possible. Programmers and directors get an absurd number of emails, so it shouldn’t take more than a couple of minutes to read.  

 

6.     Understand the finances.

Starting a tour is exciting and it can be easy to lose hold of the financials, especially your first time. Things you need to consider when costing out your tour.


  • Cost of performers

  • Cost of stage managers

  • Cost of mileage to and from the venue.

  • Accommodation costs.

  • Subs

  • Marketing Costs

  • Licensing

  • Royalties

  • PRS

  • Credit Card Commission

  • Off the top’ contras – this one is really important especially if you’re on a split. What is the ticket price worth to you? Here’s an example.

 

You agree a £15 ticket with the venue.

 

Does that include a £2 restoration levy?

Does that include a £1.50 booking fee?

 

If it does, then suddenly your ticket is actually worth £11.50.

 

Then there’s the Credit Card Commission – this can be as low as 1% but I’ve seen some venues charge 8% - Let’s say it’s somewhere in between at 4%. Your ticket is now worth £11.04.

 

Let’s say that you get 70% of that ticket.

 

That’s £7.73

 

So, a ticket is that costs £15 to an audience member is worth £7.73 to you.

 

Each venue is different, so you need to understand what the costs are and how that impacts on your production finances.

 

I run an Airtable Base that has all the information in there alongside what I anticipate the financial take from each performance will be. I know before the first performance of the tour how much it costs and how much I expect to make. It also gives you a good idea of how much money you need to raise for cash flow, and that is crucial, because no matter how much you might make on the tour, if you run out of money to pay people half-way through, all your hard work will be for nothing. I update this with every venue’s settlement amount after each performance/run, which means that I know exactly how well a tour is doing at every point.

 

 

7.     Marketing

This is less of a helpful hint and more just a reminder. Some venues are brilliant at marketing…some venues are awful. It’s a fact of the industry. There are a huge number of factors that impact venue marketing, and almost all of them are out of your control. At the point of confirming the performance/run you should be given a contact point for the marketing department. Ask them to confirm the following:

 

-       How many posters and flyers do they need and what sizes. (If any. I’m finding more and more venues don’t want them anymore – but this will be different each time.)


-       What social media channels do they work with?


-       What do they need from you?

 

Bear in mind that venues can have literally hundreds and sometimes thousands of events to sell over the course of a year. The easier you can make their lives the better – Remember the Tour Pack! What I’ve found helpful is to put all assets in a GoogleDrive, OneDrive or Dropbox and do this for each individual venue. This way you can share things that are specific to them…e.g. press releases. This is what I put in each one as a starting point.

 

-       Long Copy

-       Short Copy

-       One Sentence Copy

-       General Images

-       Video Trailer

-       Resized Images for Social Media Channels

-       Bespoke Press Release

 

I also get online and make sure that the show is on the listings pages for the town/city/area that the venue is in. The longer your production is out there, online, in print, or on listings sites, the more tickets you will sell.

 

Check in with the marketing department every so often and ask if there’s anything you can do to help or if they need anything from you to help sell tickets.

 

 

8.     Communicate with your Cast and Crew.

This sounds obvious, but make sure they have all the information they need, especially if you’re not out on tour with them. Confirm the following:

 

  • Address and Postcode of Venue

  • Contact at the Venue (normally the duty/head tech)

  • Arrival Time

  • Car/Van Parking

  • Refreshment Arrangements

  • Travel Arrangements

  • Accommodation Address (if applicable)

 

And do the same with the venue contact.

 

The most common complaints I hear from Casts/Crew (certainly not those who work with me) is about lack of communication. Most problems and issues can be solved, but only if people talk to each other. It doesn't matter if you have a cast of one or twenty. Communicate.

 

9.     Take Time to be Positive

If you’ve had a good experience at a venue, let the director/programmer know. It doesn’t take much to send a quick email to thank them for their hospitality, helpfulness of a tech or a really great audience. Feedback like that can make someone’s day. Obviously, if it’s been a dreadful experience, then that might also need flagging up. I would try to have those conversations over the phone…nuance can be lost in an email. But again, try to be understanding…you never know what turmoil a venue can be going through.

 

The same goes for your cast/crew. If you get good feedback, let them know.

 

 

10.  Keep on Top of the Settlement

If you’ve not heard from the venue after a few days or a week, get in touch to ask for a settlement figure. You could tie it in with an email that we discussed above. Make sure you put the information into your finance planning.

 


Final Thoughts

There’s a lot that goes in to producing a tour, whether it’s for a one-person show or a big cast. If you’re doing it for the first time it can seem a little daunting. There’s no training ground and it is very much one of those things that you learn by doing.

 

As I wrote earlier, there is no ‘right way’ to producing a tour. I’m just sharing what I’ve found that works. You may already have a better way of doing certain things or have found a different system that works for you. Cherry pick what you like from this post and discard the others. I won’t be offended.

 

If you’d like me to share some of the assets (Airtable templates, tour packs and email templates) just send me an email and I’ll be happy to. If enough people want to, I’d be happy to host a quick Zoom call as well. ben@tortivetheatre.com

 

Happy New Year and here’s to a great season of producing.

 

Ben


 

Ben Humphrey is Artistic Director of Tortive Theatre and formerly Artistic Director of the Worcester Repertory Company, Swan Theatre and Huntingdon Hall. He has produced major large cast works as well as one-actor shows and has most recently produced a UK tour of the hit EdFringe show Shakespeare's Fool.

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