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10 Things I learned touring the UK 

I write this from a van in the UK, in which me, and my trustee companions Greg and Jonothan are traipsing across the UK with our show Mind Walking. The van contains all the set and amazing scaffolding material which Jonothan magically makes into an awesome ‘flying’ system. It has been our trusty steed as we have weaved our way through the 12 venues in England and Glasgow.

This UK tour is a far cry from the last one I was on. The Midsummer Night’s Dream tour was posh, and a week in each city. This one is one night, at the most two in each venue.
We also have an idea of the glamorous life of UK theatre, but I found some interesting similarities to our own. While jotting things down that have surprised me, I found myself at ten.  I thought I’d share them.

So, sere goes 10 things I learned while touring the UK.

1.    It might look like a church:
Many of the venues we played were former churches. Complete with old style architecture and the like. Apparently the high ceilings make it perfect for decommissioned Churches to become Theatre spaces.

2.    Getting high:
It might be because we were touring an aerial show. But every venue seemed to have very high ceilings. 7 metres or more. That’s about 22 feet in India terms. Some of the stages were tiny. NGMA sized. But the ceiling was always high.

3.    Rough & Ready tour
In my imagination it always felt that UK professional theatre folk lived the good life of 5 star hotels and the like. But this myth came crashing down. The tour was just like any of our own. Coping with the hard core travelling. Train or bus or van. Staying at people’s houses. Late nights and early starts. It was quite soothing to be in a culture that was so similar to us. Pitching in to make the show happen!

4.    Black Floors:
Every stage we played on has a black floor. In India, we have brown floors. The only venue I have played at in India with a black floor is Chennai’s Lady Aandal auditorium. The rest is wood. And how we pride our wood. No tape. No chalk. No this. No that. Over here, it’s the show that matters. The floors are black so that lights work best on them. And they are also able to withstand tonnes of damage. In fact at Waterman’s in London, the venue even repainted the floor the night before we opened so we could premiere on a full unscratched black floor.

5.    Audience Generation:
While many theatres in the UK do have regular fan followings, audience generation is as much a problem as it is back home. Some venues have to really struggle to bring in a regular audience. And like us they are battling the cinemas. Flyering and postering of towns is quite common. Like all of us in theatre, we need the bums on the seats.

6.    Anything is possible:
I think this comes from an implicit trust that venues have. Maybe it’s because everyone who comes in is qualified with a degree in theatre, so there is a basic codification. But most venues will go to any lengths to make things happen. They are happy for touring groups to use all their facilities to the utmost and tech managers we encountered were more than happy to put their hand up and learn something new, and vice versa. This makes for a great working environment and makes the setting up of a show such a pleasure because you aren’t battling the hall staff.

7.    Signage:
We could definitely learn about this. The local council will ensure that signage is always put up directing traffic to the venue. This is permanent signage on street signs. The signs for arts and entertainment are usually in brown to contrast with the regular blue signs for directions or destinations. Often quite a few miles before the signs will start appearing to ensure that everyone knows where the venue is. Even if they aren’t heading there that evening. This makes going to the theatre a hassle free experience, and publicises the venue for others. Imagine if Prithvi or NCPA or Andrew’s had their own signs in and around their localities.

8.    Green Room:
This took some getting used to. Even on my last tour the same issue occurred. What we call Green Rooms are dressing rooms. Green Rooms are places where the cast and crew can hang out and make a cup of coffee or tea. Some green rooms have vending machines or even cooking facilities. I kept asking for the green rooms while setting up the show, and was always shown to a lounge, rather than to the dressing room with tables, rails and mirrors.

9.    Home stays
It’s not just here. People live in homes on tour in the UK too. I stayed with a lovely lady called Zita in Brighton and Magda in Glasgow. Magda gave me her daughter’s old room. However there is more of a culture of home-stay accommodation for touring companies. Many people are registered as Theatre Dig Owners and provide an extra room to travelling players for a nominal fee.

10. Infrastructure:
This was a big thing. Every venue is set up to know it’s own capability. Last minute things are always on hand. Blue lights for back stage, black masking flats, etc. are already in store. They do shows every night, it makes sense that they have it all. It is part of the infrastructure provided. You don’t have to argue for a table backstage or a zero watt lamp or an extension cord or a chair. It is already part of the venue. Most venues had a ‘show state’. Which was when the show is on, backstage blue lights come on at corridors and in the wings, so actors can find their way and props. 
So that’s the ten.

It’s been quite a tour. And the next leg is 3 venues in India. Should be interesting to see the difference. And see what Greg and Jonothan think about them.

Mind Walking will play
8th to 10th November: 7pm. British Council Auditorium Delhi.
12th & 13th November: 6:30pm (and 3:30pm on the Sunday). Jagriti Theatre. Bangalore.
18th November: 4pm and 7:30pm. NCPA Experimental.

Do come. It’s quite a show. Simple sweet, and still quite fantastic. Even if I say so myself.