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Behind the Scenes: Introduction to Touring Theatre Deals.


My previous post on touring shows received such lovely feedback and it’s been a pleasure to make contact with so many people (from across the globe!) to hear about your experiences. I’ve been asked about touring theatre deals and so I thought I would try to demystify some of the jargon for first-time producers. If you’re an experienced touring producer nothing here will be that new to you…but you are of course, most welcome to keep reading.

 

Red theatre chairs.

So, you’ve got a venue wanting your show. We then move to ‘the deal’. (I hate how much that phrase reminds me of that reality TV star turned political hand grenade – my apologies.) The venue may ask you what kind of deal you’re looking for, or they may have a policy on what they offer. This varies massively from venue to venue, so here’s a breakdown of the different types of deal you’re likely to come across.

 

The Hire

Not that common and probably the most short-sighted on the part of the venues in that they often miss out on a much greater possible return. In my experience this deal is often suggested by venues who have a director with a business background rather than an arts background. They hate risk of any kind! The hire is when you as the producer pay a set fee for the night/run and you take 100% of the box office (minus any credit card fees, booking fees etc). The problem with this deal is that you as the producer takes all the risk. You’ve produced the show, got it on the road, and now the venue wants you to take even more financial burden. It doesn’t seem fair, and in truth, it isn’t. These venues tend to be more ‘events’ driven rather than theatre driven and when I first started touring it quickly became clear that the venues that charged a hire fee were probably not venues that would sell well anyway.

 

At the end of the day, it is something you can consider if you’ve got the cash flow to do so. If you’re confident you can sell-out/sell the required capacity then there is good money to be made, but it is a massive risk to you/your company.

 

Pros

Box office is yours.

Significant returns are possible.

 

Cons

Significant financial risk to you/your company.

Venues often do little to assist in marketing the show as they get paid no matter how many tickets you sell.

 

 

The Split

This is the most common deal out there and tends to work well for both parties. This is when you agree to a percentage split from the sale of the show at a pre-determined rate. The rate is usually in the favour of the producer (you) but can vary greatly. I’ve worked with venues on a 50/50 split, and I’ve worked with venues on an 80/20 split. In my experience the most common split is 70/30 weighted towards the producer. This means that you will receive 70% of the box office after the show has been performed or your run has finished. You need to be very aware of what this actually means. In a previous post I gave an example of how a £15 ticket quickly became £7.73 to the producer. It’s 70% of the £7.73 that you get, not the £15. So, whenever a deal is being discussed you need to be clear about everything that comes off that ticket price. These may include but not be limited to

 

-       Restoration Levies

-       Booking fees

-       Credit Card Commission

-       PRS Fees

-       Marketing contras.

 

Once you have this information you can work out what the value of the ticket is to your show and budget accordingly.

 

Pros

Risk is mitigated.

Significant returns are possible.

 

Cons

Ticket values are not always what they appear to be.

Huge variations in deals on offer.

 

 

Guarantee vs Split

This is not as common as the straight split, but it is something that you’ll see from time-to-time. I like the guarantee vs split deal as it means that the risk for you as the producer can be mitigated in a fair and equitable way.

 

This deal is when the venue pays a small guarantee to the company or the % split, whichever is higher. I tend to use a sliding scale by working out what the cost of a full guarantee would be and then work down from there. I’ll use a small-scale tour figure as an example.

 

For this example, I’ll work on £800 per performance as the full guarantee.

 

If the venue is open to a guarantee vs split I might look at the following options

 

£700 guarantee vs 50% of the Box Office – The producer is paid whichever figure is higher - in this instance the guarantee is quite high and therefore I can afford to take a much lower split.

 

£600 guarantee vs 60% of the Box Office

 

£500 guarantee vs 70% of the Box Office

 

£400 guarantee vs 80% of the Box Office.

 

This is a very simplified example. In order to work out a reasonable figure for both venue and producer I’d need to know the capacity, ticket price and all the other information we’ve discussed previously.

 

The basic principle is that the lower the guarantee the higher your split should be – but it has to be reasonable for both parties.

 

Pros 

Base line costs can be covered with the right guarantee.

Significant returns are possible if you’ve budgeted correctly.

Risk can be mitigated for both parties.

 

Cons

Both guarantee and split need to be worked out effectively.

 

 

The Guarantee

This one is the rarest of all deals – but don’t necessarily fall into the trap that this is the gold standard. You could be doing yourself out of significant income.


The Guarantee is when the venue pays you a set fee per performance of your show. Using the figure above as an example, if we were to do two performances of that small-scale touring show, we’d walk away with £1600. Sounds good, doesn’t it? It is. It’s a guaranteed income regardless of how well the show sells. It allows you to budget and it allows you to better plan your tour. But there are downsides to this. Let’s say the show doesn’t sell well. This could mean that the venue won’t take the risk on having your shows again. So, you still have to work at marketing the show and making sure you’ve got bums on seats. Depending on the venue’s capacity and how well they sell, you may well have been better on a split. But the venue took all the risk. This has happened to me on numerous occasions.

 

One of the things that I have found interesting when producing tours is that, without exception, every venue that has ever paid me a guarantee for a show has sold incredibly well and, in most cases, has actually sold-out! Every single one. Without exception.


Pros 

Guaranteed income resulting in a more stable underpinning your tour.

 

Cons

You could miss out on significant Box Office returns.

Marketing efforts need to be significant to ensure that the venue is likely to book you again.

 

There’s also the ‘Call’ system, but that is very rarely used outside of co-productions or static productions in a singular venue. That might be a future post at some point.

 

So, these are the most common form of deals that you’ll come across when looking to tour your show. As with everything in this industry there is no ‘one size fits all’ rule that can be applied, but hopefully this will provide those of you looking at booking your first tour with a good starting point.

 

As ever, if you need to get in touch, please just email me on ben@tortivetheatre.com


 

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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