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Rural vs. Urban Touring

It might sound obvious, but rural touring is substantially different from conventional urban theatre touring. When considering whether to produce a rural tour, you have to go about things a lot differently, and be prepared for some major differences from urban touring shows. This post explores some of those differences, including:

  • Planning a Tour

  • The Venues

  • The Volunteers

  • The Audience



Planning a Tour


Planning a tour around urban venues can be a huge headache. Trying to book slots for the right dates, keeping track of different deals with each venue, and managing the travel and accommodation are just a few of the many plates a producer/company needs to keep spinning. With rural touring things are a little different, and in some ways easier!


Firstly, you pitch your show to a scheme, and if they put you in their brochure for the season, promoters and venues will be able to book your show through the scheme manager. So instead of fighting to get programmed in with venues, the venues are trying to book your show. Scheme managers will often go out of their way to book consecutive nights in a similar area, so you’re not darting all over the country night after night.


Financially, urban tours can be a bit of a gamble and success can be all down to ticket sales, but with rural touring you’re going to have a fixed, reliable income from each performance. Schemes pay your fixed fees shortly after the performances, and it’s much easier and more streamlined than settling up with each and every venue, all with different deals.


The Venues


With both urban and rural touring, you’ll be going into a lot of different spaces, and having to adapt to different seating layouts, line of sight issues, and all sorts of other factors. But with urban touring you’re likely to at least have a basic lighting rig, a dedicated stage area and the usual facilities of a theatre building. With rural touring however, you're most likely going to be performing in a village hall, designed as a versatile space for meetings, social gatherings, sports and community events.


To use our 2022 tour of The Killer Question as an example, from the 23 spaces we visited:

  • 15 had no in-house lighting and sound equipment

  • 15 had no raised stage

  • 10 had no raked seating

  • 3 had large windows that couldn’t be covered

  • 3 were libraries that were open to the public until 5pm

  • 4 didn't have step-free access



With that in mind, it’s crucial to be adaptable, and make sure that wherever you take your show, you’re able to transform the space for the audience. We firmly endorse the belief that rural audiences deserve the same production values as urban audiences, and it’s up to the visiting company to make the most of any space they’re in.


It’s best to start with the basics, and design your show around those. For instance, we make sure our rural touring sets fit inside a 4 by 4 meter space, with a maximum of 2.2 meters height. We also ensure that our sets create a backstage space for us, because most venues won’t have one, so flats are essential if you want to create a temporary theatre-like space. We’ve got more tips and tricks in an upcoming post, but the takeaway is: adaptability is key.


You also need to bear in mind that you most likely won’t have any in-house lighting and sound or a technician that’s familiar with the venue. We’ve got another post on the way soon with a list of tech recommendations, and again the focus is on giving your audience a professional experience, even if you’re having to operate your own lights and sound from backstage!


The Volunteers


Most urban venues have paid staff to show you around, help with tech, run front of house and manage your experience in their venue, from the time you turn up to the moment you leave. It varies from venue to venue, largely depending on the size of the place, but usually people are employed there to make your show go as smoothly as possible.


Rural touring venues are usually operated by volunteers, who give up their time to contribute to community events. They are the backbone of rural touring, and the whole system couldn’t function without them! From a visiting company’s perspective, their roles are: to let you into the venue; show you around and point out everything you might need; be on hand if any issues arise when you’re setting up the show; run front of house for the performance; and introduce the show and address the audience if there’s anything to say afterwards. On top of this, many volunteers will go above and beyond, providing food and drinks, offering recommendations for what to do in the local area, and being there to chat to if you’ve got time to spare around your show preparations! Sometimes, you might be performing in a venue like a library or museum, and you’ll be helped out by the staff there, while they get on with their day to day duties as well.



The Audience


The atmosphere amongst a group of strangers in a dark auditorium couldn’t be more starkly different to the atmosphere amongst a group of neighbours, meeting for a night of entertainment in a familiar local spot. Rural touring events bring together diverse members of local communities, and often the social aspect is just as important as the show. It’s important to remember when you’re touring to rural spaces that you are guests in a space that the locals are very familiar with.


We’ve found that rural touring audiences tend to be warm and welcoming, and if you’re taking a comedy show on tour, you can generally expect a very responsive crowd. It’s a misconception that rural audiences only want to see shows with ‘rural’ themes, and on the contrary, it’d be a big mistake to dumb down your work or patronise rural audiences. Over 20% of the UK population live in rural areas, and they have just as diverse and varied tastes in live entertainment as city-dwellers!


Finally, if you’ve taken a show on tour to urban areas you’ll have some valuable experience and transferable skills that you can apply to rural touring. It’s a different ball game in some respects, but your focus should be on providing just as professional and immersive an experience for the audience as you would with any other show.

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