On the joys and sorrows of tour booking

I have seen enough of Leo DiCaprio swaggering and swearing his way through The Wolf of Wall Street to equate hard selling with the death of humanity. And so, the idea of spending a whole day on the phone convincing venue programmers that our show is perfect for their space, seems to me like an accurate representation of one of Dante’s lowest infernal circles. While I momentarily rest my telephone voice, I’d like to take the opportunity to unpack the arcane mysteries of booking a regional theatre tour.

Babel are currently booking a an Autumn tour, which will begin with a performance at an exciting but currently classified London performance in June (we’ll be releasing these secrets as soon as we’re allowed), then we go on to venues predominantly in the Midlands, North West and North East, as the colder, darker nights draw in. This being my first attempt at tour booking, I have been buffeted by various challenges along the way.

1) Verbosity

I have a habit of writing too much. This blog post for example – already too long and…oh..just used twenty words to say that. Preparing materials for tour booking has been an exercise in brevity. Most arts professionals are visual people and they want to know what a show will look and feel like to an audience. It’s no use attaching a PDF tour pack to an initial enquiry without capturing the programmer’s attention by popping an E-Flyer bursting with vibrant images into the body of that first email. Because, who opens PDF attachments if they can avoid it?

It’s helpful if the tour pack is equally succinct. Bullet point rather than prose work well to bash out the most important information and review quotes give your work a sense of validity and quality.

We have been tailoring the copy in our packs very individually to each venue we are approaching, researching the arts scene in the area, potential audiences and local education connections, to really engage with a particular venue’s artistic ethos.

2) Telephonophobia

The condition of being afraid or embarrassed by speaking on the telephone

At an early age, I suffered the trauma of being told I have the voice of a chain smoking Darth Vader, and thus began my fear of speaking on the telephone. This becomes a problem when tour booking as, although it would be nice to hide behind the E-Flyer and Tour Pack, there comes a point when you have to swallow hard, pick up the phone and make the follow up call. The tips I’ve found most helpful came courtesy of Mark Makin from House Touring Network and the Independent Theatre Council, who run some invaluable workshops on tour booking.

  • Smile before you dial – this little aphorism helps set a positive tone for the conversation from the get go.
  • Walk and talk – this gives you more energy and helps you find confidence in sticking to your guns regarding deals, so go on, pretend you’re in the West Wing, walk ‘n talk.
  • The last is a more neurotic tip from myself; write a script – I’m currently looking at a flowchart that details all the possible outcomes that might occur once I am on the phone to a programmer and what I might say in every scenario. Ok, perhaps this might counteract the airy casualness of the walk ‘n talk, but I’ve found it helps me be as convincing as possible.

 3) Transparency and access to information

Though presenting venues express great interest in discovering new artists and their work, there seems to be some secrecy surrounding who artists can contact to introduce themselves. I’ve come across many websites that don’t list the programmers’ names, or that only give out general administration, info@ style emails. This means often having to get through many layers of gatekeepers, from Box Office staff, receptionists, interns and administrators, just to find out who programs at a venue.

Luckily, things are improving. In response, perhaps, to call outs for more transparency from venues coming from campaigns such as ‘I’ll Show You Mine’, venues are thinking harder about how they can encourage artists to engage with them. One fantastic resource, released last month, is a document compiled by a group called Venues North. These venues in the North West and North East, including The Lowry, West Yorkshire Playhouse and Hull Truck, have produced a resource pack called Routes In, which details the ideal ways to contact their programming staff and gives advice about finance, funding and audience development. It’s been a godsend for us and if you plan to tour in the North, I would really recommend taking a peek.

 Routes In Pack

My Lemon Strepsil has now fully dissolved leaving my voice with the silky smoothness of the Kenco coffee man, so it’s back to the telephone for me. For more Babel Theatre updates, watch out for our Christmas newsletter arriving soon.

You can subscribe to our Mailing List for more Babel updates here. We promise we won’t spam you or sell your details for cash. Pinky Swear!

Joseph Lynch