Promoting live arts in Kent and Sussex, Applause Rural Touring provides artistic excellence for local and regional communities that might otherwise have limited access. Director Dawn Badland talks to Frederick Latty about how they help bring people together…
TELL US THE BACKGROUND OF APPLAUSE RURAL TOURING
I’ve been running Applause since 1997. It started as a small local authority arts project, which was gradually built up. We used to deliver just in west Kent to rural communities, but gradually built the organisation to deliver across all of Kent, East Sussex and West Sussex. We have over 140 local promoting groups, which book either in our indoor or outdoor programme for their local communities. They’re largely rural communities, or isolated from easy access to a good cultural offer.
WHAT KIND OF CULTURAL OFFER DO YOU PROVIDE FOR THESE COMMUNITIES?
We offer a programme of small-scale, professional theatre and music to local voluntary groups, so they can select something for their community. We then offer a subsidy on that, which makes it affordable for them. We also provide them with publicity support, tickets, posters and training to help them sell that to a local audience.
DOES THAT INCLUDE TUNBRIDGE WELLS?
We’re based in Tunbridge Wells and began from an initiative that involved Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, so that’s where we work from. We have a local promoter in the town and in the borough of Tunbridge Wells, but we then reach out beyond to other towns. We’re part of the Tunbridge Wells Cultural Consortium, which is a group of cultural organisations in Tunbridge Wells helping to try and develop a momentum of cultural activity in this side of the county. Because Applause has a wider remit, we’re also connected to the Kent Cultural Transformation Board and the East Sussex Cultural Leaders’ Network, so we try to inform and bring back the general vibe as to what’s going on in the wider sector.
WHY IS IT SO IMPORTANT TO GIVE EVERYONE ACCESS TO CULTURE LOCALLY?
It’s been quite controversial over the last few years about a really good professional cultural offer not being available regionally. Rural Touring was always ahead of the curve in terms of ensuring that for people for a variety of reasons, which might be that they can’t afford it, or that there are social or physical barriers to accessing major towns, meaning they don’t really have that experience. What’s unique about Rural Touring is that people experience it with their community, so it becomes a social interaction that just happens to formulate around a performing arts event.
IS YOUR FOCUS JUST REGIONAL, OR NATIONAL AS WELL?
The quality of the work is always surprising for audiences of Rural Touring, because there are many, many artists from this country and internationally who develop small-scale work specifically for us. We help develop some of that work for our summer outdoor programme, where companies either make a new piece of work, or modify their work for a village fete or festival setting. Indoors, we’re part of a big national network of various organisations that help the development of really good-quality, new performance theatre work. We’re also part of the National Rural Touring Forum, which is an umbrella organisation that helps advocate rural touring on a national level and develop project work.
HOW IS IT FUNDED?
We’ve just got another Arts Council grant of £87,000, and we’re funded by Kent County Council, Tunbridge Wells Borough Council, East Sussex Arts Partnership and some other local authorities. We’ve had continued Arts Council funding for projects since we began.
ARE YOU RUN BY VOLUNTEERS?
The local promoters are largely on a voluntary basis, so they might be village hall committee members. Essentially it’s a voluntary promoter engagement, but from their point of view, the benefits they’ll get are that they have this experience of working with professional performers, and many of them are brilliant at holding events because they might wear many different hats and give a lot of time to their community.
IN WHAT WAYS DO YOU ENSURE THERE’S SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE?
We develop a broad programme. Over 50% of our audience is over 60, which is a good opportunity, because that age group can be difficult to reach in traditional venues. We also programme a lot of work for family audiences, so that the whole family can visit an event together. If you’re working in a small community, you’re going to get a big cross-section, so we try to develop and help promote work that will be attractive to a cross-section of a community, rather than any very specific age ranges.
It’s about making a connection between what’s available and where the audiences are. Lots of regional theatres are struggling these days to find audiences, and in many ways, Rural Touring is a brilliant solution to that, because the audience numbers are quite often really large.
DO YOU TEND TO WORK WITH A MIXTURE OF DIFFERENT ARTISTS?
We try to change our programme so that we’re not doing the same every season, but we’ve got a good knowledge of who’s out there, and we might have returning companies that are particularly successful or based in Kent.
It’s a mixture of regular performers we work with over a period of seasons, and then new possibilities and offers. We’ve got quite a good system, which we need to have to ensure that we’re able to connect with that many people.
WHERE WOULD YOU LIKE TO TAKE APPLAUSE GOING FORWARD?
We’re at a really exciting point, in that we’ve just taken on several new dynamic board members. We’re looking to diversify our income streams into trusts and foundations, continue to build our relationship with the Arts Council, and work with Creative Arts East on a number of projects.
Here are some Rural Touring productions to check out this weekend…
Gentlemen of Few: Live In Concert Friday March 18, Robertsbridge Community College, 7pm
Gentlemen of Few are a five piece ‘Nu-Grass’ band, who fuse bluegrass, folk and soft rock. Hailing from southeast Kent, they have been performing together for just four years, and have already been nominated for Radio 2’s Young Folk Award. Their set is a mixture of originals and covers played on guitar, banjo, piano, bass and trumpet, and their unique sound is an enjoyable blend of melodic vocals and passionate, foot-stompin’ bluegrass and folk. The band are storming their way around England, performing to thousands of people at gigs and festivals and appearing on radio shows such as The Chris Evans Breakfast Show. Suitable for all ages.
Company Gavin Robertson: BOND – An unauthorised parody
Friday March 18, St Barnabas School, Tunbridge Wells, 7.30pm
This production is both a parody and a tribute to the Bond phenomenon, spoofing the movies and exploding every cliché in the book(s). In just one hour, you will be transported from London to Hollywood, then to the Caribbean and even outer space. Gavin Robertson is a highly versatile, physical actor, and an extremely experienced creator of solo theatre, effortlessly switching between playing our hero, hit man, Bond girl, Ian Fleming and the arch villain – with a cat. He dishes out a decent Sean Connery impression too! Suitable for 12+ years.
Box Tale Soup: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Saturday March 19, Bilsington Village Hall, 6.30pm
Drawing on the wealth of peculiar episodes from both Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, Box Tale Soup invite you down the rabbit hole into a timeless world of beautiful paper puppets and wondrous fantasy. Lewis Carroll’s Wonderland floods onto the stage in a whirl of strange contraptions, handmade puppets and extraordinary characters. Join Alice on her remarkable journey in this new production to enchant all ages. Young and old alike will find magic in Wonderland, and make it safely home again – the only danger is, you may not want to leave! Age suitability 5+.
Applause Rural Touring
The Yard, 2a Speldhurst Road, Southborough, Tunbridge Wells, Kent TN4 0DP
01892 457 635