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Creative Arts East Promoters Day

An image of the Creative Arts East LIVE! logo

Luke Stokes writes about his experience at the Creative Arts East Promoter’s Day, Luke volunteers for Market Place as the Chair of Mildenhall Creative Forum, this is his personal response to the opportunity provided.

I really appreciate the development and networking opportunities Market Place provides. One such opportunity was to join village hall committees and representatives from rural touring venues for the Creative Arts East LIVE! Autumn/Winter 2016-17 Promoter’s Day showcasing their upcoming programme of shows  – pretty exciting stuff for a fledgling arts professional who’s worked in theatre! The day included live 15-minute extracts from current theatre and dance productions, a showreel of others, plenty of takeaway information and resources, a very nice branded free pen (always good – well done Creative Arts East), and updates on the changing nature of the programme.

More pay what you decide!

While I did feel slightly out on a limb not attending as part of the touring scheme, the day was certainly insightful. One interesting piece of news, tentatively introduced, was that Creative Arts East (which I’ll abbreviate from now on to CAE to save your eyes) are looking at the much-discussed Pay What You Decide ticketing model to soften some of their hard sales. To briefly explain, Pay What You Decide means exactly that – You book a ticket free, and then pay what you felt the performance was worth once you’ve seen it. Because this means audiences can technically see a show and pay nothing, the idea always makes for some worried faces. There were naturally therefore some questions from the promoters but I tried to do my bit to reassure them it’s actually a great idea.

We’ve been talking a lot lately about Pay What You Decide at the Mildenhall Creative Forum/Market Place after hearing what a great success it was for the ARC in Stockton. They bravely trailblazed it for their entire theatre, dance and spoken word programme in early 2015 (you can read more about the impressive results of that experiment here). When popping there for a quick interview back in December I read up on the model and was blown away by how enabling and progressive it was, and I’m glad to say we’re going to be trialing it during the Market Place programme.

Pay What You Decide recognises that uninvested audiences may not be prepared to take the risk of paying full price to see something they aren’t sure they’ll like, particularly also if they are on low incomes – which is very relevant to our disengaged Forest Heath and Fenland populations. It’s reassuring to know that CAE are also trying the system out in the East. I have a feeling it’s really going to help us all engage new audiences.

CAE will additionally be offering out mystery shows to their venues (strongly recommended in combination with Pay What You Decide) where the audience literally have no idea what they’ll be seeing. This could be something for us to think about at Market Place if we want to try and grow particularly unpopular art forms once we have a trusted brand.

Note from Market Place: the first Pay What You Decide show will take place in Mildenhall this June – find out more, book, and PWYD!

the cae Programme

A production photo of Spiltmilk's 'Spiltmilk Say Dance'.

Now for the really exciting bit. The shows. I’m always up for watching anything and so it was great to see 6 live snippets from different companies, plus the showreel. Some really caught my eye.

Spiltmilk were a fascinating company, presenting parts of a highly interactive dance hall show charting the history of social dances. While not for me the engagement of group dances with the audience in the latter half of the full show had promoters buzzing. I imagine there’ll be quite a few bookings! But what was also wonderful about Spiltmilk Say Dance was that it truly appeals to a universal demographic, placing itself firmly as an ‘enjoyable night out for all’. This idea of concealing the arts experience in the package, something which Spiltmilk perfectly describe on their Twitter page as ‘sort of like hiding vegetables in kids food’, is likely going to be key to the success of Market Place. And in that way Spiltmilk are possibly our perfect dance company.

A particular standout simply from its sheer relevance to our Mildenhall communities was Instructions for American Servicemen in Britain (Fol Espoir/The Real Macguffins), a piece of theatre based on a genuine 1942 pamphlet of the same name issued to GIs coming to serve on the British home front.

Interactive, funny and ridiculous it puts on stage a wonderful clash of cultures, and it seems to me that this production could genuinely be performed in no better place than Mildenhall, which today has the highest concentration of American residents in the UK (due to the airbase). Local people always bemoan the fact that these days the British and Americans hardly mix. But with the base now closing could this show be a wonderful celebration of our time together? The more I think about it the more it works.

The company I needed to see more of were Patch of Blue. They did a bit of Back to Blackbrick, which ended far, far too soon, and I’ve been talking to them ever since about where I can catch the rest. Despite some moderate reviews at Edinburgh I definitely see magic in this show. Much like with the American and British communities, people often tell me that older and younger people in Mildenhall rarely cross paths. With its focus on a boy learning to cope with his grandfather’s worsening Alzheimer’s I can see Back to Blackbrick bringing families and generations together. I can also see it breaking down barriers. And we need a bit of both here.

A production photo of Patch of Blue's 'Back to Blackbrick'.

Some of the promoters told me they thought this one would be a struggle – a bit too heavy, and a bit too much of a tearjerker, and a bit too real. But the extract I saw was chock-full of humour and looked like it could be the perfect way to explore this subject in the right setting. If touring venues aren’t picking this sort of thing up then perhaps we should.

I also caught some of Stuff of Dreams Theatre’s Forgotten, which was the first of the 6 previews. It’s touring at the moment to many of the decent venues in Suffolk and a likely favourite for CAE village halls. It’s well worth checking out the trailer and keeping tabs on this East Anglia-based company.

Other highlights of the day were catching up with the folks at Freckenham Village Hall, who coincidentally I already knew from my time at the Suffolk Cinema Network, and successfully sitting at a table with somebody from Rhum and Clay (the theatre company that delighted me with A Strange Wild Song at the 2012 Fringe).

freckenham have got it going on

The lovely Freckenham tribe drove me home and so it’s absolutely necessary to sing their praises, not only for that kindness but also because they’re currently leading the way locally in putting on top productions and film screenings to large audiences. They really seem to know exactly what they’re doing, and I’ve heard of Mildenhall people travelling to Freckenham for their events (which is quite unheard of, even if it is only 3 miles). As such they instantly knew what would sell spectacularly from CAE’s new programme for their regulars – Gilbert (No Sullivan), and Your Bard, they said. Both potential sell-outs as interactive, thigh-slappingly funny theatre. I suppose the question for us at the Mildenhall Creative Forum is, what can we bring in that will challenge but still appeal to this significant existing audience?

Freckenham Village Hall were very excited to hear about Market Place (which is promising!) and eager that we should stay in touch to avoid our calendars having arguments. There’s definitely a reciprocal marketing opportunity in there. We’re all in this together, as ever.

– Luke, Mildenhall Creative Forum