Blueprint modelling

Before we get started with today’s blog post, just a quick reminder that we launched the Hope in Hell newsletter and postcards this week! You can find out more here.

Today I’ve been working on blueprint modelling, using a couple of ideas from the NESTA handbook. They say that companies work in 3 essential stages:

  1. Engagement Stage – planning your business, engaging with your customers etc
  2. Development Stage – designing and creating your business
  3. Delivery Stage – the time it takes to get your product/service to the customer

They also want you to think about your activities in each of these 3 stages as either “on stage”, or “off stage” – on stage things are seen by the customer, they’re public, and they can plausibly be paid for by a customer. Off stage things, meanwhile, are behind the scenes – you can’t charge a customer for the marketing materials you used to entice them in, for example. That sort of cost has to come from your profit.

I found this approach difficult, for a couple of reasons. Firstly, I’m trying to do everything on stage, in the sense that it is all public and subject to scrutiny. Secondly, I have two types of customer, the artists and the audience, so things which are hidden from the audience (such as rehearsals) are foregrounded for the artists.

20170519_144221 Despite my reservations, it’s definitely worth thinking about the theatre as a process, or flow, rather than an active and total whole. Its also good to consider which parts of the business can be directly paid for, and which bits need to come out of profit.

Speaking of which, tomorrow is a very exciting blog post! For me! Because I have been doing some budgeting exercises and I’d really like to share them! So watch this space.

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Exciting news – newsletters and postcards!

Today I’m launching an all new email newsletter! This’ll be a monthly update on how everything is going with Hope in Hell, and how I’m coping with it. It’ll be more chatty than my usual blogs, and I’d love for you to reply to me! Give feedback, ask questions, send me cat gifs, whatever you want. I’ll reply back.

You can sign up to the newsletter here, PLUS when you sign up, I’ll send you a postcard! They’re at the printers right now, with amazing art by Emma Slattery. There’s a sneak peek below, but you’ll need to sign up to get the full effect.

HiH Postcards

You can also like us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter – the more love we get, the more we can give to all of you!

Why I’ve missed 2 days blogging

Today’s blog is written in a slightly guilty mindframe, because I’ve missed two days of blogging. I aim to blog once a day on my progress with the theatre/business, but this week I haven’t. I want to explain why partly because communicating is important, and partly because I’m hoping one day a future-theatre-person will be reading this and it’s important to hear about other peoples problems! (Hello future person)

I haven’t blogged this week because I’m having a motivation dip. I’m finding that, unsurprisingly, it’s really hard to keep pushing with a very long term project with a non-zero chance of never happening! And that even though I do really believe in the principles and mission of Hope in Hell, sometimes that belief can be shaken by others. The hardest thing is when people who are normally supportive undercut the project, either by asking random, very specific questions (But where will you GET the blackout fabric?!) and then act as though everything is doomed when I can’t answer, or when they question whether it is necessary/possible at all. The latter category most frequently takes the form of “But how will you have a high quality of theatre?”, “But how will you fund it?” and “But noone ever goes to art in Sheffield!”. These are all, in some way, valid questions. But having them asked in negative ways, rather than constructive, is wearing!

So. Having realised I’m not going to get through this by myself, I’m going to be recruiting for a Theatre Gang. Details will be in a future blog post, but it’ll mainly involve bouncing ideas around, holding me accountable, and wearing the Positive Thinking Hat (which will be passed around and will require the wearer to respond positively to whatever issue is currently being discussed). So watch this space!

In the meanwhile, I finished reading Amanda Palmer! Here’s my favourite quotes:

“If you’re asking your fans to support you, the artist, it shouldn’t matter what your choices are, as long as you’re delivering your side of the bargain. As long as art comes out the other side, the money you need to live is almost indistinguishable from the money you need to make art.”

“Since Kickstarter began, 887,256 backers have asked for the artists to refrain from sending them any kind of reward – that represents a little over 14% of their user base. Some people just want to help. You never know until you ask.

AP Quote

Pause for thought: Reading Amanda Palmer

Today’s blog post isn’t directly about business or theatre, but it is about the mentality you need to be in the arts, and to be trying to create something lasting in the arts. Instead of working through another customer group profile, I’ve been reading The Art of Asking by Amanda Palmer today, and it’s honestly brilliant.

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The Art of Asking, so far, is about generosity and trust, and how those two things can be linked to support the arts. It’s also about doubt, and overcoming doubt, which is something I’ve been struggling with this week.

Generosity and Trust

Amanda Palmer lives in a beautiful world, in which she can ask for a room to stay in, or a guitar, or $1000 and receive it pretty quickly from a legion of supporters. But the way she’s got to that isn’t magical, or impossible. It’s based on trust and generosity, and it goes both ways. She, as the asker, trusts that there are enough good people out there to help her, and people in return are generous with their spare resources. But equally, her fans trust that she will reward them with new songs, poems, art, and she is generous with her words and personality (and with her time, much of which is spent engaging with her fans). It’s a hard way to think, because cynicism is so natural and easy, but it can work.

It’s also what HiH is founded on – “Yes, and” culture means trusting people/artists to create work that they believe is valuable, and to not steal the kettle. But it also means asking people/artists to be generous, and to give what they can financially, and in-kind. Equally, HiH must be generous with what it has – space and cups of tea should be given away as much as possible, as must marketing expertise, shoulders to cry on and time. And artists/people will need to trust that we are doing our best to bring the performing arts to them, and that it isn’t somehow a con or trick.

Doubt (The Fraud Police)

There’s a lot of literature out there on Imposter Syndrome – go read it. Amanda Palmer refers to it as the Fraud Police – the sense that at some point, someone is going to show up and denounce you as a fake, not a real producer/actor/etc, only winging it. It’s the sense that the idea you truly, 100% believe in isn’t actually worthwhile, and maybe you should be quiet and settle for a Real Job instead. This is a really harmful and suffocating feeling! If you are experiencing this feeling, seek help! Get a friend to tell you that your idea/job/art is good, and worthy, and not something to be ashamed of. Get a bit of paper and list all the reasons why you aren’t a fraud. Listen to Amanda Palmer, a goddess on earth, talk about being a fraud, and realise that you aren’t, and she isn’t, and it’s totally reasonable to not know the answers to all of the questions all of the time. And then keep ploughing away at what you’re doing, and trusting, and giving, because it’s worthwhile and Proper.

In case you didn’t notice, Amanda Palmer is a particular inspiration of mine, and she earns money through her Patreon. If you can afford to give a little, do! Otherwise, here’s her twitter.

What touring companies really want

So, after yesterday’s blog post I made a Facebook post and tagged in a number of my creative friends, who in turn tagged their creative friends, and we had a good discussion about what touring companies actually want! Our conclusions were as follows:

Profit

The single most important factor for touring companies is, unsurprisingly, how much money they can make. Its very important to be able to cover their costs, which can be substantial paying Equity rates to a medium-large company.

“For me, it all comes down to investment. I need to know I’m going to make a profit. And so it comes down really to which venue will give me the biggest margin – if a venue is expensive, but it increases my chances of a high turnout and thus more sales – it has a clear advantage over a cheap one.”

Payment terms

It was generally agreed that a box office split is preferable, ideally 70/30 in artists favour – an important learning for me as I’d been budgeting for 60/40. There was also mention of wanting flexibility to take a straight hire if wanted, or to negotiate a different split in exchange for marketing services etc.

“In terms of touring, with regards to payment, I have always worked and preferred a box office split. The norm is a 70 – 30 split of the companies favour.”

Communication and Information

Several people mentioned wanting clear and fast communication with venues, mainly by email but also by phone. They wanted to have no surprises, be told of any changes to agreements well in advance, and be able to speak to someone if needed.

It was also made clear that having as much information as possible transparently available on the website is a good thing! Specifically, pricing options and deals, technical specifications and drawings, and information about marketing strategies and previous successes.

“I think for me the first thing you would have to have is a good set of information about what was offered. so the technical specs, what the financial deal was, all this could be readily available to companies on the website.”

Nice-to-haves

These are things which are nice, but won’t necessarily clinch the deal:

  • Networking events with other local artists
  • Networks with other local venues
  • Connections with local press
  • Help with producing marketing materials
  • Face to face communication
  • Access to an in-house techie
  • Storage space and workshopping space provided

We also talked about softer things, like having a positive attitude to programming, providing an encouraging and nurturing space, working with other venues and art forms in the same city, and having resident artists. However, it’s important to be realistic and realise that for most touring companies, the bottom line is literally the bottom line – we all need to live off our art!

How to help touring companies

One of our most important customer groups in terms of our artistic profile will be touring companies. This means theatre companies who are performing in several locations around the country, and travelling between them. Touring companies often have specific and unique needs, and need to be able to book their tours quite a long time in advance. They also need local expertise and marketing help.

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We estimate that Hope in Hell will attract 6-8 touring companies per year, for runs of 3-5 days. This is based on Rural Arts Touring figures, but reduced to account for the lack of tour-able venues currently in Sheffield – it’ll take time to build a reputation.

Our big realisation from doing this – touring companies need support, and we will need to establish partnerships with local businesses to do this. We can partner with local B&Bs, cafes, sandwich shops etc to give touring companies a bit of extra financial flexibility. We can also make sure that Hope in Hell Theatre isn’t just a base of operations during show times, but for the duration of their stay in Sheffield, whether they need somewhere to do paperwork, or just a cuppa!

Hirers

10-20 potential touring companies for S. Yorkshire

6-8 can be attracted to HiH

£250 hire fee per run = £3000 total per year

Students as customers

This is the first in a little series of posts about our potential customer groups for HiH. First up, being the easiest to research, is students. Sheffield has a large student population of approx. 60,000 people, and they are interesting to HiH both as audience members and as potential venue hirers. We’ve been thinking through their needs and how we can give them what they want:

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Thinking about students as an audience, we think they want diverse and affordable programming, with a range of new and established plays. They also want to attend in groups, possibly with societies or departments. As potential venue users, we think students want to focus on price and ease of access – they don’t want lengthy forms or admin to complete, and they may need to pay by BACS or invoice.

We’ve tried to approximate our student reach as follows:

Audience

60k students in total

100 student audience members per month

1,200 student audience members per year = 2% of total group

Hirers

50 relevant student societies

10 student groups hiring per year, twice a year

20 total hirings per year

We think we can deliver group booking discounts and interesting programming to bring in student audiences, and flexibility and ease of access for student performers to use the space.

‘Yes, and’ culture and what it means

A train of thought developed over the weekend about the underlying philosophy of Hope in Hell Theatre.

At Hope in Hell, we are going to have a “Yes, and” culture. Basically what this means is that anyone who wants to do a production with us, or use rehearsal space, or run their yoga sessions, etc, will be given a “Yes”, as long as its physically possible. We won’t be judging based on what we think is good, or valuable, or likely to sell tickets. We’ll use a box office split system to minimise financial barriers too. This may sound like a terrible and risky idea, but a conversation over the weekend has made me challenge that.

Friend (joking): “So, can I put on my one man show at your theatre?”

Me: “Yes”

Friend: “It’s gonna be all fish puns and also I’ll set a cat on fire”

Me: “Okay”

Friend: *baffled silence*

In this scenario, my friend was joking – they don’t really have a one man show with fish puns, they were just trying to make me say no. But they proved something – saying “Yes, and” does work. For people who have a genuine idea or drive to make something happen, it’s an open door to success. For people who don’t, it becomes rapidly obvious when you say “yes”, that actually they aren’t ready for it at all. But even then, a ‘Yes, and” response can be enough to develop a working relationship, to support them until they are ready to take the opportunity and run with it.

In essence,  the “Yes, and” culture creates far more potential than it does risk. For every cat-on-fire one man show, there’s a dozen other performers waiting in the wings for the encouragement and space to shine. It’s worth a few dud shows to create that.

Creative Customers and Where To Find Them

Today we’ve been thinking about what groups of customers we have, in preparation to do full customer profiles on them. As a theatre, Hope in Hell will have 2 types of customer – artists and companies, and audience members. We need to think about how to serve both types of customer well, and how to reach both types of customer. And of course, within those two huge groups, there are many sub-groups that we need to engage with. Here’s our preliminary list:

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The next step will be to do demographic research for our audiences, look at audience figures for the Crucible in Sheffield and other local venues, and start to build a profile of these 5 different groups. After that, we’ll be moving on to artists/hirers, and then focus groups! Market research is a go go!

RECAP!

Today we hit a milestone – a new book in the NESTA Creative Business Guide! We are moving on up from green to purple. For an idea of what that looks like, here’s the old next to the new…

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The first step in our new book is to RECAP our main learnings. And they’re actually pretty big! We’ve gone from having an idea that was hard to express, and kinda unfocussed, to being able to answer these questions pretty easily!

What is it that I do?

Provide equal access to the performing arts in Sheffield

Why should my customers care?

I will use a different model for artists and audiences to ensure a “Yes and” culture without barriers to participation

Is there a need for what I’m offering?

Yes – Sheffield is under-developed as a creative city, and under-engaged in its arts scene. Emerging and established artists lack the space and creative trust to develop their practice and take risks. Meanwhile, audience aren’t engaged or actively encouraged to participate*

Will there be sufficient demand?

Over time, yes. Using the examples of SlungLow in Leeds, or The Bikeshed Theatre in Exeter, over time art will breed audiences will breed art, and this space can become a creative hub for South Yorkshire.

Will this generate sufficient reward for me?

Financially speaking, eventually yes, though not in the short term. Emotionally and spiritually, this will completely fulfil me.

*disclaimer: there’s loads of amazing things happening in Sheffield, like Theatre Deli and DINA, but there could and should be more for a city of this size!