Project Description


Programmer: John Kirby

Please note:

Some of the information provided in the Programming Database might be subject to major revision as the Covid-19 crisis develops. The way in which venues programmed work a few months ago is not necessarily the same way they will be programming work a few months from now.

Whilst it is more important than ever that venues can be as transparent as possible about their programming policies, interests, capacity and timeframes, everyone needs to be aware that things will inevitably change over time under these uncertain conditions. As future planning becomes clearer for venues, they are encouraged to update their database information accordingly.


Attenborough Arts Centre's Logo


Attenborough Arts Centre programmes independent work into its flexible hall space (30 and 85 seats depending on seating bank arrangement). They mainly offer one-night slots.

They programme within two main seasons but can programme beyond these if necessary:

Autumn/Winter (September to January) – approximate time for programming is between January and April.
Spring/Summer (February to August)  brochure – approximate time for programming is between May and September.

They are interested primarily in dance, new writing, immersive and physical theatre, performance for Early Years, comedy and music. They actively seek to bring the most exciting and dynamic of small-scale companies beginning to make a name for themselves and will prioritise high quality work that is created by disabled people or companies committed to inclusion and access.

John Kirby programmes the space. The best way to contact him is by email via Attenborough Arts Centre’s programming email address ( with a tour pack containing as much information about your show as possible, include the price. John’s focus is always to programme with the venue, its priorities and audiences in mind. Some programming decisions are made in conjuction with other organisations or events such as In Good Company, Leicester Comedy Festival, Spark and Literary Leicester.


Attenborough Arts Centre's Programmer John Kirby

Tell us about a recent piece of theatre you really enjoyed and why it had such an impact on you.

I enjoy every 14/48 Festival because of the collaborative nature of the festival and how the shows are put together. It’s also a great opportunity to meet new people who have an interest or are involved in theatre

Are there things which push your buttons grind your gears when you see them in shows?

Anything that is described as important, vital or thought-provoking pushes my buttons in a bad way. Any audience participation that you cannot opt out of. Also the expression “pushing buttons” instead of “grinds my gears.”

What kind of show have you seen too much of lately?

Shows that try to be too subtle in what they’re actually about. You need to slap the meaning of the show across my face.

How long have you been programming at your venue?

Too long.

What is your professional background? How did you get into programming?

I moved to an all girls’ school to do A-level Art History, which I then did at university and my career was visual arts-based until 2011. I fell into programming by accident after leading on Creative Learning at Attenborough Arts Centre.


Give us some basic details about the space(s) you programme at the venue.

Our hall is approximately 10m x 10m, but be aware if you use all of that for performing, our capacity is approximately 30. Our seating is flexible so we can do in the round, traverse, end-on, and they give seated capacities between 30 and 85. We’re completely on the level and have a small backstage changing area.

What kind of work do you programme into your space(s)?

As an arts centre we programme spoken word, live art, music, dance and comedy, as well as theatre. We work with a number of festivals including Leicester Comedy Festival, In Good Company’s Check-In Festival, Handmade Festival, 14/48 Festival and SPARK Festival. We programme around specific dates such as International Women’s Day, Black History Month, International Day of Disabled Persons and LGBT History Month. We also partner with a number of other organisations on programming, and on occasion offer opportunities to guest programme.

Tell us about the audiences who visit your venue.

If I had the answer to this my life would be easy.

How many performance slots per year would you estimate you can offer to touring theatre-makers/companies?

50 – 60.

What kind of financial deals can/does your venue offer?

We offer Hires, Box Office Splits, Guarantees Against Splits, Guarantees and Commissions. I’d rather avoid splits where necessary as they’re a pain.

What determines the financial deal you offer to touring theatre-makers/companies?

We negotiate depending on artists’ needs, our programming policy, funding and seating capacity.

Approximately how many programming emails do you receive per week from theatre-makers/companies wanting to bring their work to your venue?

15 direct from artists, and more forwarded on from other members of staff where I haven’t been contacted directly.

Approximately how many programming telephone calls do you receive per week from theatre-makers/companies wanting to bring their work to your venue?

Probably about the same as above.

Approximately how many programming tour packs do you receive per week in the post from theatre-makers/companies wanting to bring their work to your venue?

Maybe one or two. Almost all of these come through email nowadays.

Does your venue operate an exclusion zone policy for work touring to your venue?

Not strictly within our contract but we will usually have a discussion about where else the work is being programmed. If the work is visiting another Leicester venue within say 6-9 months of when we’d like it, we’ll likely decline. It’s the same reason why we don’t usually take more than one performance of any show — the arts ecology of Leicester is pretty terrible, and it’s better to have one show full than two half-empty shows.


Tell us about your venue’s programming policy.

We are interested primarily in dance, new writing, immersive and physical theatre, performance for Early Years, comedy and music. We do host occasional spoken word events but primarily where there is a link to a strong theme or with a demonstrable local following. Overall my job is to always programme with the venue, its priorities and audiences in mind.

We will actively seek to bring the most exciting and dynamic small-scale companies who are beginning to make a name for themselves at events like Edinburgh Festival Fringe or other showcases. We will prioritise high quality work that is created by disabled people or companies committed to inclusion and access. In the coming four years it is likely that we may wish to develop long-term, repeat visits from particular high quality inclusive companies linked to our outreach work. This will be a balance of local and national companies.

We work closely with the local major festivals such as Leicester Comedy Festival, Spark and Literary Leicester to select work that reflects their ethos – timing our programming to reflect their festival dates.

Do you programme your venue within seasons or do you offer a rolling programme?

Our brochures are produced seasonally but I will programme beyond that season if necessary. Brochure seasons breakdown as follows:

Autumn/Winter (September to January) – I’m booking this season beween January and April.
Spring/Summer (February to August)  brochure – I’m booking this season between May and September.

This is only a guide. We do have some commitments in the diary about a year in advance.

How is it best for theatre-makers/companies to contact you about programming their work in the first instance?

It’s best to email me.

Do you love or hate speaking to theatre-makers/companies over the phone?

I hate it! My ringtone fills me with dread.

Have do you feel about theatre-makers/companies pursuing programming conversations with you via social media?

As long as it’s through Linkedin, and on the understanding I only check this in normal work hours, then that is fine.

Should theatre-makers/companies get in touch to come and meet you for a cuppa?

Yes! I’m always happy to meet if I can.

Is there a specific day of the week or month when you work on responding to programming enquiries?


Will you reply to every programming enquiry you receive (whether by email, telephone or post)?

I can’t reply to everything. If it’s a no, but something specifically comes to mind such as try again in the future or suggestions of other places to approach, I try and reply.

After their initial contact, how long should theatre-makers/companies leave before following up with another email or telephone call?

If I haven’t responded, I’m not able to programme the artist at this time and they shouldn’t follow up.

During an initial programming enquiry, what details do you need to help you make an informed decision?

Give me a full tour pack. If a tour pack isn’t ready, give me as much information as possible. Think about how it fits into an AAC programme both technically and within the other work we present. And tell me how much it’s going to cost!

Do you find it helpful or off-putting when theatre-makers/companies gives you the price of their touring work upfront?

I find it helpful. It’s a critical part of being booked into our programme. If it doesn’t fit financially, ultimately we can’t host you.

Do you pay any attention to media reviews/stars included in a programming approach?

Not really, I think people can play a bit fast and loose with reviews so I don’t really rely on them.

Do you pay any attention to audience comments and voxpops included in a programming approach?

Not really.

Do you pay any attention to testimonials from other programmers and industry professionals included in a programming approach?

Yes, if they’re from people I know and trust.

Do you actually find time to go and see performances you are invited to?

In general no, but I have found it easier recently to watch shows when footage is sent — it’s getting out to venues which is an issue.

Do you find time to go to see industry showcases, sharings and scratches?

Yes if applicable to the venue and I am available — which isn’t very often.

Should Artists invite you to see their work (including full performances and work-in-progress sharings)?

Depends on when and where it is. My availability is limited.

How far in advance should they invite you along?

Try to give me a month.

If you do attend performances and work-in-progress sharings, are daytimes or evenings best for you?


How far would you be prepared to travel to see work?

Widely. As long as I can get home at a reasonable hour by public transport.

Do you usually go to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to help programme your venue?

Someone from the team tries to go each year. We also have artists we trust who we may ask to see something on our behalf. We tend to find post-touring Edinburgh doesn’t line up with our availability.

When should theatre-makers/companies invite you so you can plan your Excel spreedsheet of shows to see?

As early as possible, but don’t worry too much if you’re at Edinburgh and reading this: still send something through. We try to plan in advance but will try to be flexible where possible.

Do you (or a trusted colleague) need to have seen work LIVE before considering it for your programme?

No, we don’t need to have seen their work live. It’s good to see filmed extracts/highlights as well as recordings of the full show.

Do you have an example of a really good approach from a theatre-maker/company which made you book the show even though you hadn’t already seen it ?

The Little Earthquake approach for I Ain’t Afraid Of No Ghost covered pretty much everything, including who else venue-wise they were contacting. It gave me an idea of how AAC fitted into their thinking.


Tell us about other ways in which theatre-makers/companies can build relationships with you beyond (or in addition to) getting their work programmed at your venue.

I’d likely cover anything like this in a chat over a cup of tea. I would recommend artists take a look at our wider offer including outreach work, creative learning tutoring, gallery lates etc.

What aspirations do you have for building more symbiotic, strategic and longer-term relationships between your venue and the Artists you work with? What progress do you feel you’re making towards this, and what are the challenges you are facing?

We are changing the way we work with associate artists so it doesn’t feel like its closed off or exclusive. This will cover everything from that initial cup of tea through to programming a show.


Spaces Information

Read about Attenborough Arts Centre’s spaces and facilities.


Technical Specifications

Access the technical specifications for Attenborough Arts Centre’s spaces

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