WARWICK ARTS CENTRE
Programme Manager: Andrew Fletcher
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.
Warwick Arts Centre programmes independent work into its flexible black box studio theatre (140 seats in end-on configuration).
The venue is based on the University of Warwick campus and only programmes during the three 10 week University terms:
Spring (January to March) — approximate time for programming is 12 months in advance.
Summer (April to June) — approximate time for programming is 12 months in advance.
Autumn (October to December) — approximate time for programming is 12 months in advance.
They look to programme the best work which is happening across the UK and around the world – from local artists to international touring companies. They want to represent productions which are ahead of the curve, championing the cutting edge of contemporary culture. Productions featured in the programme ideally have a clear unique selling point. The venue is building a more inclusive programme than ever before, representative of all members of their local communities.
Andrew Fletcher (Programme Manager) works with the venue’s Programme Director (Julia Carruthers) to programme the venue. The best way to contact Andrew is via email (A.Fletcher.firstname.lastname@example.org) with as much information about the show as possible. A full film of the production is particularly useful. Andrew and Julia make collective decisions about the programme. For each slot they’re looking for something that isn’t replicated in the same season but which complements the rest of the programme.
GETTING TO KNOW ANDREW
Tell us about a recent piece of theatre you really enjoyed and why it had such an impact on you.
I loved New Owner by Australian company The Last Great Hunt at North Edinburgh Arts. It’s a family show about an old woman who gets a new dog after her old one dies. The dog then goes exploring across the city and befriends another dog and they go on adventures together. It was a very effective yet simple story told without words, done with live puppetry against animated projected scenes, with a great soundtrack and slick pacing. The Last Great Hunt are a relatively young company, and New Owner is a small-scale production with only 3 people operating the show and it packs down into a few suitcases, yet the technical accomplishment and skill required to perform the show were incredible.
Are there things which push your buttons when you see them in shows (in both good ways and bad ways)?
Good things: Work with an element which feels original – something you haven’t quite seen in the same way before; Clear storytelling or non-linear narratives which still have some kind of through-line or internal logic; Evident skills or talent which not everyone could do; Great design and thought given to aesthetics and the total staging of a piece, including costumes, lighting, sound, props, effects; Humour / endearing performers; Well-paced, and not overly long; Thought given to the audience; Feels like a piece which needs to be told / has a sense of social or political relevance.
Things I’m not so keen on: Work which is derivative or I feel like I’ve seen before; Lack of clear storytelling which includes work that sets up the rules of its world but then undermines or breaks them; Overly-silly humour; Work which has no sense of skill or accomplishment about it; Work which feels too conceptual or esoteric; Overly wordy shows which lack bigger staging.
What kind of show have you seen too much of lately?
One person shows which focus entirely on that individual without connecting to anything bigger or finding the relevance to wider society.
Shows which approach Brexit / the state of the world in a very predictable way. I’m up for the subject matter if you can find an original / oblique angle to it.
How long have you been programming at your venue?
What is your professional background? How did you get into programming?
I have worked in venues over the last 12 years across the theatre, classical music and visual arts sectors. I therefore have detailed experience and knowledge of every aspect of running an arts organisation including box office, front-of-house, operations, administration, planning, producing, governance, policy-making, audience development, marketing and fundraising. In many of my previous roles I worked closely with Artistic Directors and Executive Directors to help realise their vision and learned how a great artistic programme is conceived, planned and delivered. I have a love of all art forms and have always seen 3 to 4 shows per week. I was also an Assessor for the Offies Awards where I saw a huge range of work and shortlisted shows in their awards categories. I also worked for a year as a freelance producer on UK tours for different theatre companies, which gave me an understanding of what it’s like to tour work into venues. I believe that programming as a discipline is a mix of creative and business skills: you’re looking for the most inspiring shows and the most original talent and how these fit your organisation’s mission and vision, but at the same time mapping who your audiences are, projecting sales, securing competitive deals and maximising commercial income revenue streams in order to safeguard the financial health of your venue and the future investment you can make in great artists and their work. My experience in previous roles is a blend of these skills.
ABOUT WARWICK ARTS CENTRE
Give us some basic details about the space(s) you programme at the venue.
Studio: 140 capacity. Black box studio can be played in end-on, traverse or cabaret formats. Seats can also be taken out to provide an entirely empty space.
Theatre: 550 capacity. Modern 1970s Theatre with fixed seating.
Butterworth Hall: 1,250 capacity. Large concert hall for rock and pop gigs, classical music concerts, comedy, conferences and large-scale theatre.
What kind of work do you programme into your space(s)?
Overall we want to programme the best work which is happening across the UK and around the world – from local artists to international touring companies. We want to represent productions in our programme which are ahead of the curve, championing the cutting edge of contemporary culture. Productions we programme ideally have a clear USP – the one thing which sets them apart from anything else which you can easily convey in one sentence. We want to build a more inclusive programme than ever before. Across all our strands we want our work to be more representative of all members of our local communities – particularly those within the city of Coventry and those who may not have had the means to previously engage with the arts. We are programming work by more diverse artists. We are programming more work by LGBTQ artists. We are also programming artists with disabilities while working to make our building as accessible as possible. We are programming more work by women. And through all our work we are exploring intersectionality and how we represent a multiplicity of identities within our programme. Our theatre and performance programme includes spoken word, devised, ensemble, conventional plays/adaptations of plays, and a limited amount of performance/live art.
In our 550 capacity Theatre we’re looking for mid-scale work which fills that stage – this is quite difficult to find at the moment.
In our 140 capacity Studio we’re particularly interested in contemporary work which is socially and politically relevant, and often ‘real-life’ rather than fictional stories. We’re very keen on shows which incorporate digital work in ways which enhance – rather than detract from – the experience of live performance. Within that, we programme within different strands:
We’re particularly interested in cabaret.
We also have an ongoing interest in participatory work.
Dance and circus.
Family. We have a regular family programme which features Studio productions throughout the year, and mid-scale productions at Christmas, Easter and during half-term holidays in our Theatre. We programme adaptations of children’s story books as well as dance and circus. We also have a strand for babies which often features sensory work for the very young. The University of Warwick also holds two Family Days per year which features a range of free activities for local families, including outdoor work.
Comedy. Mainly standup, plus a limited amount of left-field/avant-garde work (for example, Elf Lyons, Rob Auton, John Kearns).
Words and Ideas. This strand is the name given to our talks and debates series which features top writers, thinkers and TV personalities.
Music. Rock and pop / folk / jazz / world music and a classical concert series.
All this is complimented by our film and visual arts programmes.
Tell us about the audiences who visit your venue.
We have lots of different audiences for different art forms. Most immediately, we draw audiences from across the city of Coventry (we are situated in Coventry not Warwick!) and the Warwickshire towns of Kenilworth, Leamington Spa and Warwick. We also draw audiences from Birmingham and across the West Midlands. Occasionally audiences come from further afield for certain high profile artists.
We are situated on the University of Warwick campus and so also have a student and academic audience, although this is only 15% of our overall audience. We have a popular audience for comedy, rock and pop and certain mid-scale theatre productions which draw large audiences. We have a more academic / specialist audience for contemporary theatre and performance, which tend not to draw particularly large audiences. We receive school bookings for some shows, but it is becoming increasingly difficult to attract schools.
How many performance slots per year would you estimate you can offer to touring theatre-makers/companies?
Studio performance slots: 20; Family slots: 20; Theatre slots: 15; Comedy slots: 12; Rock & pop music: 30.
We are based on the University of Warwick campus and only programme during the three ten-week university terms: Autumn (October to December), Spring (January to March) and Summer (April to June). We also have commitments to programming the work of the university student societies and to university events such as graduation ceremonies, so the number of ‘free’ programming slots is actually relatively limited.
What kind of financial deals can/does your venue offer?
We offer Hires, Box Office Splits, Guarantees Against Splits, Guarantees and Commissions.
What determines the financial deal you offer to touring theatre-makers/companies?
We try and break even on all shows we programme. We therefore assess the audience capacity and ticket price, but always take into account an artist/company’s situation and whether the show is a one-off or part of a tour. We look at whether the tour is funded and how many company members are touring etc. We have a limited budget to support a handful of artists with small-scale commissions of cash funding and in-kind rehearsal space.
Approximately how many programming emails do you receive per week from theatre-makers/companies wanting to bring their work to your venue?
Approximately how many programming telephone calls do you receive per week from theatre-makers/companies wanting to bring their work to your venue?
Approximately how many programming tour packs do you receive per week from theatre-makers/companies wanting to bring their work to your venue?
Does your venue operate an exclusion zone policy for work touring to your venue?
Yes. Our policy is no other performances within 30 miles, 3 months either side of our dates. This is negotiable in discussion with the other venues you’re talking to.
There has previously been a negative impact on sales when the same show has played at two different venues within our exclusion zone. In addition, other venues within our exclusion zone often want to have a distinctive offer to audiences each season. So while two different venues may not programme the same show in the same season, we do sometimes programme the same show in two different seasons.
GETTING PROGRAMMED AT WARWICK ARTS CENTRE
Tell us about your venue’s programming policy.
Programming decisions are made collectively by the Programme Director (Julia Carruthers) and Programme Manager (me). We aim to have a balance of all the types of work we programme across each season or each financial year (April to March). Because we represent all types of major art forms in our programme and also have commitments to programming the work of the university student societies and to university events such as graduation ceremonies, the number of ‘free’ programming slots is actually relatively limited. For each free slot we’re therefore looking for something specific we don’t already have in our programme but which complements the other shows we have already booked.
Do you programme your venue within seasons or do you offer a rolling programme?
We programme within seasons. We work approximately 12 months in advance so it is advisable to be in touch about projects landing in 12 months’ time. At that stage we pencil shows in, which remain pencilled until they can be confirmed or have to move for funding or other reasons. Because pencilled shows tend to move around a bit roughly 3 months out from brochure deadline, artists can also ask us about any remaining available slots 3 months in advance of each brochure deadline. Rough timings are:
Spring (January to March) — approximate time for programming is 12 months in advance. Brochure and last minute slot deadline is September.
Summer (April to June) — approximate time for programming is 12 months in advance. Brochure and last minute slot deadline is January.
Autumn (October to December) — approximate time for programming is 12 months in advance. Brochure and last minute slot deadline is June.
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?
Emails are best to introduce us to your project. Phone calls are better for a follow-up if we want further information.
Have do you feel about theatre-makers/companies pursuing programming conversations with you via social media?
It’s okay, but only through my official work account(s), and not through my personal account(s).
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 try my best, but I sometimes get too many and I don’t have the capacity to respond to everyone.
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?
We need to know what the project is: what’s the unique thing about it? Who the artist/company is and what they’ve done before. Is the show finished or yet to be made? Where else has the work been performed and where else are you going? Images, trailers and full film of the show are particularly useful.
Do you find it helpful or off-putting when theatre-makers/companies gives you the price of their touring work upfront?
It doesn’t matter.
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?
Do you pay any attention to testimonials from other programmers and industry professionals included in a programming approach?
Sometimes, but I’d prefer to see the show myself.
Do you actually find time to go and see the full performances, industry showcases, sharings and scratches you are invited to?
We try to get to see a range of work, but we still have to turn down many invitations because there are only two live programmers here and we also have to be on-site to see the shows we have programmed.
Should Artists invite you to see their work (including full performances and work-in-progress sharings)?
Yes, someone from the venue (either me or a trusted colleague) tries to see as much as we can.
How far in advance should they invite you along?
At least two months.
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?
I’m willing to travel further afield.
Do you usually go to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to help programme your venue?
Yes. It can be a good time to get my attention, although we have very packed schedules and generally see eight shows per day. Free slots can be few and far between.
When should theatre-makers/companies invite you so you can plan your Excel spreedsheet of shows to see?
As early as possible and ideally by mid-July.
Do you (or a trusted colleague) need to have seen work LIVE before considering it for your programme?
We need to have seen their work previously, but not necessarily the actual show they want us to programme.
Would seeing filmed footage of the show they want programmed be enough for you to make your programming decisions?
Yes, seeing a film of the full show is useful.
Do you have an example of a really good approach from an Artist which made you book the show even though you hadn’t already seen it?
I programmed a show from a speculative email and film of the full show. There was a short tour pack detailing the show title, artist experience, more information about the show and director, images and a full film. They had done an initial tour and used the experience gained from that to remount the production on a second tour. I really liked the show when I watched it so booked it straight away.
BEYOND GETTING PROGRAMMED
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.
China Plate are our Associate Producers. They run the First Bite and Bite Size Festivals which showcase works-in-progress by Midlands-based artists, together with Midlands Arts Centre in Birmingham, Derby Playhouse, Attenborough Arts Centre in Leicester and Camden People’s Theatre. They also run regular The Optimists courses for emerging producers.
We work with Fierce Festival and PILOT Nights to host performances and scratch events. Warwick Arts Centre are partners of The Spark Arts for Children’s Vital Spark Programme which commissions family work by diverse artists. We are also part of Coventry City of Culture 2021, the F13 independent artists’ network in Coventry and the Coventry Music Network.
We enjoy meeting artists and getting to know them and their work, even if we can’t programme their show immediately. We’re happy to be approached by artists wishing to introduce themselves.
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 would like to get to know a broader range of artists and support them where we can, even if we can’t programme them. We could provide informal advice, inviting them to see work here, or giving recommendations to other venues and programmers about their work. We are seeking to connect with as many artists as possible who don’t have an existing relationship with Warwick Arts Centre.
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