Being based in rural Devon, and far away from the centres of performing arts, theatre and film (indeed, the opposite end of the country from London!) and where perceptions of "serious professional performing arts in the Southwest" stop at Bristol (over two hours away by train), we have a huge mix of backgrounds and skill levels, from people who have performed professionally for years, in some big name productions through to
For anyone who really cares about improving work in theatre and film, profit share is never the first or ideal choice. However, for grassroots organiations - like us - with little to no external funding or sponsorship, and no wealthy benefactors, it is the only honest way to reward the cast and crew of a show. We can proudly say that as a result of this good practice, we have never once ended a show in the red, and our actors have always earned money from the shows they are in with us.
Regardless of the budget of a production, you should never, ever, for any reason, promise anything that you cannot guarantee offering your cast and crew.
Sadly, as with anything, people jump on the bandwagon to use it as a fancy way of saying that they have no intention of paying the cast and crew, or add so many "dodgy costs" to the outgoings that they make it look as if no profit is made - which then badly hurts the companies who are genuinely paying whatever they can and supporting their cast and crew in whatever way they actually can.
We spent a lot of time working out the fairest possible way that we can do this. One day hopefully, we will reach our ideal - which would be to have the funding and income to be able to offer all cast and crew a regular weekly salary. In the mean time we are constantly looking at best practice to benefit everyone involved with us. After all, we started to benefit local people wanting to get into paid theatre work, in an area where there are few, if any, such opportunities, and in an area of high poverty. We would be extremely remiss not to benefit everyone!
So today, we decided to share what we have developed as our best practice for honesty, open-ness, and supporting everyone in our team. Obviously this is always looking at improvement but this is where we are at, at the moment.
So, we looked at funding day to day running costs in a way that this does not come from the actors earnings from shows. That covers rehearsal space (we use a local community centre), and annual insurances.
We traditionally have had tables at carboot sales and fetes; and while this will continue, we will be soon opening a regular book stall at our local town market. This covers the costs of the rehearsal venue, and the insurances for the most part - as well as providing extra publicity for our shows, which of course sells more tickets to earn for the actors! Again, none of those costs are taken from the show ticket sales. We are also able to provide free tea, coffee, biscuits and milk for free rehearsal refreshments - on a week when income is low, one of the company directors will purchase these for the group.
Then of course there are show costs. With early planning, and always keeping an eye out, we have been able to source most of our costumes, props, and even techincal equipment, by touring local second hand charity shops, and picking up things from Freecycle. We have some lights (fully tested, and working beautifully), and a sewing machine for repurposing fabric and costumes, that had been found dumped. It is amazing what you can find, and remake, with planning and effort.
Then it is down to getting the show on the road. We only book venues which can offer a box-office split, rather than an upfront hire cost. The usual split is 80% to the production company and 20% to the venue. We did learn in our early days to be very careful with contracts for the venues, to make sure they do not add hidden extra costs that you never agreed to. As a regional and female-led company, there are venues which will try to change things from under your feet.
We tend to be quite clear that we only accept actors and crew based in our regional area - this is because many of us live in less-than-ideal accomodation where we cannot put another person up, and we do require people to attend rehearsals and performances in person. With no possible budget to cover travel and hotels, we therefore are restricted to working with people based in our local area.
So, once shows are booked, we work ourselves crazy in publicising the shows - after all the more ticket sales we get results in the more that the actors and crew earn. Publicity on little or no budget is a whole other article, and takes a huge amount of work, but it can be done very effectively.
After the show, we get the ticket sales reports from the venues, and the payment for our (usually 80%) of ticket sales, from the venue to our company. This is usually quite detailed information, and we make this available to all cast and crew, in our productions locked cast/crew facebook group, as screenshots, so that everyone involved in the show can peruse and check the figures should they so wish. Once the show run (which may include several venues) is over, and all sales reports recieved, we refer back to these reports as made available to the cast and crew; and also provide the final breakdown of total earned by the show.
This (again in a group post provided to all cast and crew) is then broken down equally by the number of people involved in a show, so that each person will recieve an equal amount, down to the nearest penny. (Regardless of your role in the show, you recieve an equal share, because you are equally valuable to to the show - without you it couldnt happen!).
The payment then is made available and paid out within 7 working days, of our having it, to all cast and crew.
That is how we deal with the financial side. However, that is not the limit of what we provide.
You can provide more than money as well.
Regardless of a low or non-existant budget, you can provide extra things to your cast and crew, which is seriously valuable. It can vary a little by show but there are constants we developed our list by looking at portfolio development opportunities for your people, creature comforts, and tangible things! It also doesnt need to be the often nebulous and undefined "exposure", hated by all theatre and film professionals. It is far better to consider what actual things you can guarantee being able to offer. These do not need to be expensive things, or even cost you much time, but can be very valuable to the recipient none the less!
Our guaranteed "extra" things for cast and crew on any production include:
- Show photos (character photos, on set, or in a themed location)
- Individual character posters (featuring a character poster of the actor)
- Video clips of the show featuring the work of the actor or crew member.
- Copies of any publicity (think newspaper articles, etc) featuring the cast or crew members image or name.
- Social media shoutouts where possible for the cast and crew members.
- In-rehearsal / backstage refreshments (tea, coffee, biscuits, fruit squash)
- references for work or education (after show run has ended)
We do not ascribe a financial value to these things but instead provide them in addition to the financial profit-share.
What is important in any profit-share production, is to offer everyone what you can guarantee: in our team, nobody, from the company owners, to the tea-lady, is treated differently from any other, or gets any more or less than the others. It is also critical to be open about everything. Not only does it allow people to see for themselves, that you are doing all you can for them, but in a world where all of us are jaded by malpractice, it builds confidence, which is also important - it adds to a positive atmosphere, and a positive atmosphere makes for a happier cast, who put on a better show, which builds the production following, and so on.
Our ultimate aim is to find the funding and support to be able to move to regular weekly salaries for the team, and in fact active attempts are being made to find the support to take this next step, however, in the meantime, this is where we are. And doing our best with the circumstances we find ourselves in.
Over the past few weeks (more since we won the theatre award in New York!) we have been recieving enquiries for our actors for external stage and screen productions. These are always welcome, but are vetted quite strictly. Sadly many companies approach us, hoping for inexperienced actors who will not expect recompense, in return for "exposure". This is not the case and productions deemed to be wilfully avoiding recompensing actors, will be reported to Equity.
As you will know by this point we are a professional production company and while we strongly support community work, and even voluntary work as well, there is a fine line of standards. We remain flexible to encourage work at all levels (we know all too well what it is to have no funds), but we do expect a minimum of standards in line with the resources of the production. The core requirement is that by contacting us, you are asking to engage professional actors, and therefore you are expected to treat them as such. Projects which ask an actor to pay a fee to "join" or audition ("pay-to-play") will be rejected at all times.
Individual cast members may freely get involved in whatever they choose, outside of our company requirements, but as a company we cannot pass on any castings that do not meet these basic requirements.
There are sometimes "shades of grey" so if you are unsure about whether we will accept a casting, please get in touch and discuss. email@example.com
Large TV / film companies, commercials, training & corporate, national production companies:
In general terms we will only pass paid work offers to our actors. Effectively if your company is deemed to be one that is in a financial position to pay actors, then payment must be offered in line with Equity minimums, to be paid within 28 days. We will not accept unpaid extra / crowd work under any circumstances.
For local start-up productions, there must be a minimum of equal profit-share and portfolio material (clear character photos, and video of performance) offered.
Student productions should, at the minimum, offer full portfolio material, as well as travel expenses, and provide contact details for the college/ university, and the course tutor. Equity reccomend that students raise funds for projects and state that most colleges/ universities recieve funds to pay actors for being in student films. While this is still a grey area, the student should offer whatever they are able to guarantee.
Amatuer theatre/ local fetes/ community fundraisers will be considered, if deemed to be of benefit to our actors, but again must guarantee portfolio material (clear character photos and video) to be provided within 28 days of the event.
Talent shows will be advertised to our members with the following caveats. That there is no fee to enter, that it is with a known company, and has no reputation of exploitation or favouritism.
Overseas castings must be fully paid with expenses, and provide full pay & expenses rates, company details, work permits/ visas, and any other relevant documentation. Due to the number of fake castings "just apply to this whatsapp", or companies being impersonated, we reserve the right to take a little longer to do some background verification.
ASKING THE RIGHT QUESTIONS
I am sharing what happened the other day as an example of asking questions and watching out for warning signs, and keeping safe as an actor.
So on a social media acting group there was a casting for a TV station, seeking young people. Not a lot of information but that could (at that stage) be someone not aware of group rules. Having some teens involved in my theatre company, I decided to ask for more information to pass on to our youngsters parents in case the info was legit and it would be something worthwhile to pass on.
As soon as I entered into conversation with the person, my alarm bells went off. I asked for location, pay/ expenses details, could anything done be used for portfolio/ CVs, how one would apply and what exactly they were looking for.
The person gave an address for auditions but missed out building name or number, and would not answer when asked other than to day they were hoping to move to another (undisclosed) venue . They also stated it was unpaid, but would not answer when asked if images/ video could be used for portfolio or showreels. They said a monologue was needed but then anyone accepted would need to attend a week long course "to learn to be good actors". They also didn't answer when I asked about chaperone arrangements etc.
So effectively that was a case of run a mile - anyone who is reticent about these things, or unwilling to answer (or acknowledge they have been asked even!) is definitely (IMHO) up to no good.
So with all my alarm bells going off, I ended the conversation.
About two later, the person started messaging me again, were my company youngsters coming to his audition? All quite pushy. Ultimately, I had to block him on Messenger.
As a general rule, theatre can generate a huge amount of waste - paper from printing, materials from props/ costuming and sets....
When I looked online for useful tips, I found a lot of tips for theatre venues, but not so much for production companies who are not based in any one building. I have seen brilliant things, like the Watermark theatre in Ivybridge, where the building is solar powered, but I have seen less for companies like us.
On a good note, for the simple reason of economy, we have to be eco-friendly. We wouldnt be able to afford to buy in brand new costumes, and new materials for sets and props. Not if we expected to earn any profit from the shows to use to pay our cast and crew. So, by force of circumstance, we have to use second hand items and remade items.
Despite doing high-grade historical and classical theatre; behind the scenes the vast majority of the things we use, are second-hand; we have learned over the years to remake, reuse and recycle.
Charity shops, freecycle, freegle and similar sources become our primary way of being able to create the costume and props for our shows. Very little of such items are bought new, other than consumables like paint, or glue. This is nessecary to save money, but at the same time, also means that most of our shows are created with recycled materials.
Other single use consumables have to be bought new; paper, ink being the promary ones for printing posters, scripts, marketing, letters, etc. In those cases, anything left over can be recycled.
Fundraising wise, we also recycle. We have table top sales to raise funds for rehearsal space- most of the items we sell are either unwanted items (books/ bric-a-brac/ DVDs etc) cleared out from home, or crafts made from recycled items.
Electrical items get turned off when not in use - so we are saving both power and money.
Because of having limited "show storage" at our rehearsal hall, consisting of a cupboard, each actor has a costume bag. We have recently made actors tote bags from spare fabric, for actors to keep thier costumes in, rather than using plastic carrier bags.
So, here is what we do with items after a show.
We make costumes to last. Unless it is something which has had to be dirtied or ripped apart, costumes are washed and stored away for future use, next time we do a show set in the same historical period.
If something is not worth keeping, there are other uses; clean fabric can be torn up and saved as cleaning rags. "Dirtied" fabrics can be washed and put in the green recycling box.
Buttons saved from old items that are being thrown away, are donated to The Naked Sheep, a family-run eco-wool clothing business in Cornwall who in turn help us with advertising.
PAPER & PRINTING
Some paper (posters/ flyers) printed on a single side can be kept as scrap paper for making notes on the blank side; the rest goes into the green bin for recycling.
Items that are useful for paper crafts are given to a local card-maker, to be used in making one-off greetings cards.
We save used ink cartridges for our fundraising and send them off to a company who give us a small donation for each cartridge they can recycle.
If we have set pieces which we are not able to store, they are offered to other grassroots theatre companies, for a small donation, to be used again.
If plastic containers have contained food and or something else that is nothing toxic, we save them to grow plants in, to sell on our fundraising stalls for the team. Any surplus gets offered on Freecycle or again put in the green recycling box wherever possible.
The vast majority are recharagable. Where they are not, one of our team takes them to a recycling point.
As a result, we are proud to say that due to a mixture of nessecity of recycling to be able to simply afford things, and through higher motivations as well, we have almost no landfill wastage from our shows.
I would be ever so interested in other companys approaches to how they recycle and reduce waste.
I am going to apologise at the start for what may seem like a rant, but this is something which seriously gets under my skin - and so I hear, under the skins of others in the area.
That is the assumption that if actors are local to an area where a production is taking place, that "local" somehow means less talented, less serious, less skilled and "just amatuer hobbyists".
Devon is a beautiful area for filming and for theatre - and not only are there many fantastic local productions, but also national, and international TV and film companies, advertising agencies, and others come down to make use of the amazing locations.
As a result very often, we are contacted by these companies looking for actors. This is, on the face of it, brilliant, and often can lead to some fantastic employment opportunities for us all.
Equally often however, and from extremely large international, and national production companies, we are contacted for castings, and told that "as we are just local" that we will not be paid (usually not even a busfare or portfolio photos/ showreel clips) and should be doing it just for the fun and the "chance to be on TV".
Now the paid/ unpaid actors dispute is not what is at stake here. To be honest if there is a student or struggling indie project asking us to get involved, I, and most of the rest of our team, will be very happy, if available, to be involved for our fares, and portfolio material. We know first hand what it is like to be getting projects underway with zero funding (remember we started with the proceeds of a carboot sale, and still mainly rely on funds raised from tabletop sales etc, due to the difficulty of finding grant funding, even with national awards and international nominations under our belt, and a 12 year track record) and I know how heartbreaking it is to be able to offer profit share and portfolio material to our casts, when really as professionals they deserve full salaries. (I can honestly say we always end a project in the green and everyone gets paid and provided with a wealth of portfolio material, but that is not the point).
What I do object to, though, is multi-million pound companies, who CAN afford to pay actors, who want free labour and try to excuse it by the fact that "oh you're just local". That is not right. Large or small, you do what is within your means and feasable to recompense your cast and crew.
The "just local" stigma has another effect. When I am out promoting our next production (has to be done, otherwise no bums on seats and no money for our actors!) in our local towns, I instantly get met with a small but noticable percentage of people who say they would be very interested to come "if we were not local amatuers". When I (politely!) challenge this with the correction that we are local professionals, I get met with complete amazement and comments along the line of "but youre local, so I thought you must be amateur".
My standard response is that even the top Hollywood Oscar-winners, are local to somewhere, live in a town somewhere, where they are local. They live next door to someone (even if it is next mansion along!!!).
On the side of that, I have done amatuer theatre. I probably will again. I have many friends who do amatuer theatre and prefer to be hobbyists; that should no way impact on how the quality of thier shows is seen. The only difference is that professionals are paid for it, and amatuers arent. (and quite honestly if a big company wants to use actors for an amatuer organisation for thier project, then they should be recompensed the same as everyone else). It is not an uncommon remark that some amateur shows can be amazing and some professional ones not (and vice versa).
There is an unconcious stereotyping and stigmatising that happens. Sadly it is the arts that suffer. Local actors (professional and amatuer) are usually highly skilled, and just because they may not have traveled from somewhere else for a production, does not make them less skilled! In fact they may be greater assets to the production, with local knoweldge that can help as well (for example for an episode of a well-known daytime BBC programme, I was able to assist the producers with location scouting and arrangements in my hometown, instead of them having to travel down from London).
Instead of seeing "local" as a negative, see it as a positive: local people are creating something great, and working hard. People wouldnt say a local lawyer or doctor is anything but professional, so why assume that of actors? Local knoweldge is available. Supporting local businesses and local people supports the local economy.
I am not sure how to break the stereotypes - certainly one blog post won't do it, but if it reaches one person who stops to consider the points made, then it has made a difference - one drop in the ocean. And as a character says in the film Cloud Atlas; "What is an ocean but a multitude of drops?".
This is an article published on Talent Managers For Actors, by actor Christopher Nicholson, and shared here with his permission, as I feel it is something of great value to all of our members.
I have found locally that people who come from an amateur or community background often don't understand the intricacies of NDAs in theatre and film productions - and offence can occur because people dont understand why it is important.
At a practical level, we always supply photos and videos marked for sharing and portfolios, to our cast and crew, but other things; scripts, training videos, internal discussions, are not for public sharing. The "done" thing is to always ask if something can be shared before doing so. However, supplying behind the scenes content for use, is a choice of the production company and not an industry standard.
Mr Nicholsons article:
Writer/Director here: There seems to be some confusion regarding NDAs.
An NDA is a Non Disclosure Agreement and binds the person who signs it to a contract that legally prohibits that person from discussing any details at all about the project, or even their involvement in it, with any third party, be they a spouse, an agent or anyone else. That person also cannot list that project on their resume, post about it on social media or mention it anywhere at all in any medium whatsoever UNTIL THAT NDA EXPIRES.
NDAs usually have an expiration date (traditionally, 5 years for projects and 2 years for meetings). The text in the NDA will outline the actual terms of its expiration. Only after this expiration date are you free to discuss the project, (and that includes mentioning it on your resume/CV, social media etc) even if the on-air or release date of said project is before the expiration date of the NDA.
Also, some NDAs do not have expiration dates and therefore can never be broken. A certain well-known and super-powerful Studio is tending not to have expiration dates listed on their NDAs these days.
Any exceptions to these guidelines will be written in the NDA.
The only third person who can authorise you breaking an NDA is a Judge if that NDA is proved in Court to be worthy of breaking for legal reasons...No one else can legally instruct you to break the NDA, not your agent, your manager or even your pet walker.
Break and NDA against legal advice and at best you’ll get sued and at worst you’ll never work again with a fine imposed on you likely to be so high that your grandchildren will still be paying it off long after you’re dead and gone.
Confidentiality is taken very seriously by the industry and there are very good economic reasons for this. Take any and all NDAs you have to sign VERY professionally. Read them carefully and follow them TO THE LETTER. And if you refuse to sign an NDA, then the project is highly unlikely to involve you in it at any level going forward.
We are rather off the beaten track from the main centres of performing arts. Brixham isn't, sadly, the West End or Broadway or Hollywood. We have a massive range of experience in the team, from people who have been in everything from Hollywood films, people who have been actors for decades, gained high-level training qualifications, to absolute beginners who have never performed again.
In that enviroment, and as someone who has been performing for decades, since a youngster, and with a Masters in teaching theatre, it is very easy to forget the basics that sometimes need explaining to those new to the acting world.
Recently, I had to get a bit strict in some of our rehearsals, about time-keeping, not messing abut loudly and distracting people behind the scenes. Nonbody had done anything malicious but the relaxed atmosphere we like, had got a little *too* relaxed. Unfortunately, I upset some (not all) of our newer performers, and after a conversation where they felt I had been negative towards them, I realised that I had neglected to explain the actual reasons that I have these particular rules.
I am, sadly, very aware that due to a common cultrual devaluing of the arts as something remedial or "just a hobby", many people dont always immediatly see theatre rehearsals as a workplace (although once you go onto bigger sets elsewhere, you wouldn't be able to function without doing so!) and I do make some allowance for that for those newer to the industry, but it also means that misunderstandings can arise when I enforce the fact that in order to become a professional team and put on professional level shows, we have to treat the production as such. To me, that is enough explanation. I started out in the very old-fashioned types of theatre and film, of directors - some who had been directing since the 1950s- who had reputations for shouting at you and tearing you down. Actors going home in tears from those companies was not unknown. Explanations never happened. I learned in the school of hard-knocks.
When I began directing and later started SDP, I swore I wouldn't be like that, but what did work well for me, everyone else, and the final productions, was how strict those sets were. You arrived on time, or early. You didn't play pranks or joke around behind the scenes (usually you had to sit silently waiting for your role), you learned your lines or someone else got handed the role. If you messed around, you were shouted at.
I dont often shout. When I raise my voice as a director, it is rare. It isnt that I dont care about the cast and crew: actually I really do care very deeply about everyone, as well as the company, and I dont want them to inadvertently let themselves, or each other, or the company down. When I see that danger happening, that is when I become annoyed.
What I did neglect, this time, was to remember that what seems obvious to me, the other seasoned performers, and those who are in training, sometimes isnt to others, especially some of the beginners, and I ended up, after a newer cast member raised concerns, explaining to both them in private, and then to the team in general, my reasons for being strict about basic things.
I think, and hope, it has helped.
I am therefore sharing an edited form of the post I made to the rest of the cast here too. Maybe people joining us in the future will see this and find it helpful, or people starting out with other companies will find it helpful. It could be that I will share it to future casts when we take on new people.
Timekeeping, schedules and communications
I was told that I am too strict, with requiring timely attendance at a minimum of 75% of rehearsals, role learning, and people to let us know if they cant make it or will be late.
I have to do this, because at the end of the day we are a group of people who are primarily professionals and otherwise training-as professionals, putting on work to showcase skills, make work, and build a performance company - with shows of a professional quality, and that people are paying good money to us all, to come and see. We can't skimp on this.
People also need to know if the other person is there, in order to work with them. It creates bad feeling if people travel for ages and the person they were expecting to work with isn't there and hasn't let us know, as not only just lines and blocking, but also character-interactions need practicing intensely.
I have also huffed at "backstage" noise and pranking.
The reason for this is that people performing find it hard to concentrate - and on a personal level, I cant either- if there is a lot of noise going on.
In addition it's practice for show days, like the rest of rehearsals - in the theatres on show days, you need to be able to listen for cues, and if you are making noise side stage, then the audience can also hear you and it detracts from the performance, and you risk distracting your fellow performers.
Getting that quality of show
You want the public to really enjoy the show. They have paid to come , and if they like it, they are more likely to tell their friends and come back in even greater numbers next time....
And remember the more people who come to the shows and enjoy them as being of high-quality, and tell their friends who then also come, the more ticket money comes in to be shared to everyone involved in making the show, and your reputation as a performer grows (and likewise for the others)... Word spreads, you earn more, and your reputation as a good, reliable actor, grows as well - getting you more work.
To do that, the whole experience for the audience had to be good.
Your characterisation has to be excellent, your lines have to be excellent, your stage discipline has to be strict, your timekeeping excellent, and your teamwork has to be excellent, in order to achieve that experience for the audience.
Sharing Internal Communications and "on set selfies".
We have locked communications for a reason. In the locked cast and crew group, we can discuss things, plan rehearsals, ask questions, and talk about what we need (in a respectful manner), sharing practice videos, training clips, and all sorts of things that are work-in-progress or tested ideas, and not ready for the public yet. I have also been told that it is unfair not to allow these to be shared without permission on public pages.
This has happened a couple of times, as well as "on-stage" selfies. Pulling a silly face on stage for a selfie, in rehearsal, when you think nobody is looking, may seem like a laugh to you, but when shared publicly online, makes the you, and by extension the entire company, look extremely unprofessional - such things are not "done".
Many big film sets, TV shows, and theatre shows, will forbid such things, and fire you on the spot for sharing such images (and there have been many cases of film extras doing this kind of thing, and getting sued for posting "spoilers" from on sets of big films and TV shows).
As an up and coming company, we have to work to those same standards as the companies to which we would like to be comparable, and for our actors to be taken seriously, we all have to adhere to those same standards. So when we say that things from the locked "cast and crew" group cannot be shared publicly, or that you cannot share "on-set-selfies" it is for a good reason. We do get batches of rehearsal photos that are for sharing online, which are provided to the cast and crew, but which are sorted to show the best work in progress.
In conclusion, the strictness is not against anyone or intended to make anyone feel bad. I am frankly mortified to hear that I have made people feel bad- because the intention is for rehearsals and shows to be a hard-working but happy place where great work is created (and awesome work IS happening).
We have to have the basic ground rules that you would find in any other theatre or film team (or any other job, training, volunteering, or things in any ilk in life where people are relying on others,) in order to create a functional production. They are not intended or desired to cause distress, or to indicate disrespect.
I am aware we have everyone from complete beginners to seasoned professionals in the team, and that is why I am taking time to explain (apologies to anyone who knows all this inside out already).
If you have a question, or I have said something that accidentally upsets, please contact us about it. I do not want a theatre company where things cannot be asked. We may agree and we may disagree - no promises there- but I can guarantee that we WILL listen, and that you WILL receive a full explanation/ discussion/ action (as necessary) but what is non-negotiable is that we have a hard-working, positive, team that can go anywhere from the local church fete, to Hollywood, and maintain top levels of professionalism anywhere, while also be a safe, and fun enviroment.
This afternoon I went to speak to Visual Eyes Torbay. This is a social club for the visually impaired, in Torbay, in Southwest UK.
Having met with a representative of the organiation at a community event earlier in the year, I asked about learning more about how to make theatre accessible to those who are visually impaired, and instead of learning from articles written elsewhere, I wanted to learn directly from local people who are visually impaired. - where, after all, we most often perform.
With thier permission I am also sharing the feedback from the members of the social club with others, so that we can all look at making theatre more accessible.
Obviously, some solutions can be implemented more easily than others; some are more venue-specific than suitable for touring theatre, and vice versa. I was interested in all responses, and asked them to include what would help in an ideal world, with the proviso that not everything will probably be feasable for everyone. The points raised below are therefore directly from people who are visually impaired as to thier experiences and reccomendations.
For background, this took place in the coastal fishing town of Brixham, the respondents were largely mature; retired and elderly with an age demographic of 50s - 90s in age. The town itself has a high proportion of retirees so this demographic does reflect a high demographic of theatre-goers in our town.
The first comment when I asked what makes or breaks a theatre show for those who are visually impaired, was one word. "Sound".
Broken down in further discussion, this covers several reccomendations.
Distance from audience: Being able to book preferred seats (eg, seats near the stage or performance area) is crucial. For those with limited sight, and for those who may also be hearing-impaired, they find it easier to follow what is happening from sound and limited sight by being closer to the stage. So being able to book specific seats, is an important consideration. Two people mentioned performances "in the round" tend to be easier for them to attend, and that "performed" radio plays, are a good way to focus on audio only.
Actors/ performers having clear diction and good vocal projection: A common comment from many is that where sight is impaired, sound becomes more important, and with less ability to see facial expressions, mouths moving etc, the actors need to have clear diction (and not cut off the ends of words, like dropped Gs on ******ing) and to project their voices clearly across the theatre/ performance space. The comment was made that in many TV series etc now, actors often are deemed to be mumbling and have unclear speech.
Audio descriptors: Some theatres have audio descriptor technology via headphones, where someone usually situated in the tech box, is describing the action on stage, and a visually impaired person can listen to the description - for example "Buttons has entered stage right, wearing a blue cloak", and follow the action on stage. This can be an expensive system, and tends to be in larger theatres.
Loud music: One respondent mentoned that loud music or sound effects can be disorientating.
Of course, as we have now seen, visual impairment does not mean that people are blind, simply that there are a variety of conditions where they may find it harder to see clearly. So, for those who have partial sight, clear visuals are also important. The following reccomendations were made to make the action on stage easier to see.
Programmes: To make printed programmes available, it would be useful to have traditional black text on yellow paper, with a larger font, 14 - 16 being the minimum, and not to mix up colours, as some colours may not be easy to see.
Stage lighting: It was mentioned that the lighting from traditional stage lighting, eg PAR cans, can be harder to see, but the quality of light from LEDs is easier to see. Dingey/ dark lighting can make it harder to see what is happening on stage
Colours of costumes: When there are several characters on stage, it is useful where practicable, to have the characters in differently colour costumes so that they can be followed more easily from the audience.
There were other reccomendations as well, which dont really entirely fit into either of the above categories.
Matinee performances: It was agreed that some people, both due to sight and feeling comfrtable in the dark, do not like to go out in the evening, and therefore would only attend matinee performances in the afternons. I have found this before being a common comment among older audiences, and people attending shows aimed at young children, and therefore covers a number of demographics. In rural area this can also be important to link to the times of local public transport.
Backstage tours: For those able to see less of the costumes, set and action on stage, it was agreed that it is really engaging to be able to visit the theatre and have a backstage tour before the show, where the visitors can meet some of the cast, and touch props and costumes, to see what they are like from feeling them.
It is of course also important that the venues are physically accessible, with clear signage, trained front of house staff and ushers, and that dialogue of any specialist requirements is opened early when enquiriing about an event, to ascertain what may be available or not.
I hope this is helpful to some other theatre production teams too - I know that we will be learning from this, and looking at what can be implemented.
Thank you again to https://www.visualeyestorbay.org.uk/, for being so wonderful and welcoming today.
This is a tutorial being posted by popular request.
This is something that I have created from a little bit of information, and lots of trial and error.
I will just make one warning, if someone is diabetic, they may not want to get this in their mouth.
As you will see, I have found that this is best prepared three to four hours before it is needed. I apologize that I do not have exact ratios or amounts - I have always done it by eye, usually on set in the middle of nowhere, while also directing (the joys of multitasking on indiefilms!) and not measured it.
You will need:
- Tubes of red food colouring (I get mine from Co-Op) - this gives a strong red colour. Get more than you think you will need.
- Golden Syrup (in the USA, I believe you can substitute corn syrup) - this provides the consistency of the blood.
- A jar of ground coffee - this darkens the blood, to a realistic shade
- Water - needed to dissolve the coffee
- Two receptacles, one for mixing the blood, and one for mixing the coffee.
You will want to experiment with this, a few times. I developed this for our feature film Mordred, which with 6th Century wounds and killings, certainly was going to need blood!
1) Get your blood receptacle. Pour in your Golden Syrup, and the red food colouring, and mix thoroughly, then let stand.
2) Get your second receptacle, and pour in some instant coffee powder. add just enough water to dissolve it. This is your darkening agent. Once stirred and dissolved into sticky glop, add it cautiously to your blood mix in the first receptacle. Do be aware a little coffee goes a long way in this so be careful how much you add. You can always add more.
3) Lots and lots of stirring - make sure it is all completely mixed.
For the best result, leave your blood to stand for a few hours - even better if its used the next day. The longer it waits, the more it darkens and gets slightly congealed, and more blood-like. I always get a froth on top that I have to skim off, but the blood underneath is a gory joy to behold. :) Keep your melted coffee gloop in case you need to make your blood darker (remember blood can look a bit different depending where on the body it is coming from)
I am not going to guarantee that this washes out of costumes, i have had mixed results, but your best bet is to soak the costume in water and stain-remover agent, as soon as you can, within a few hours before the blood has dried.
Photos modeling lovely blood with Ryan Hannaford and David Welland, filming Mordred. This blood was freshly made and therefore lighter and more runny than it became later in the day.
If you have refinements, please comment with them - I have lots more projects coming up, needed lovely stage blood.
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About this blog:
Laura Jay -
This a blog about what it is like, behind the scenes, to admin and promote, and grow, an arts organization. This is an area for the musings, research, discussions, and posts which have public value, but which are not compatible with a general "news" page.