DIARY OF A PROMOTER Sunday 8 August – Day 5

Although only one person booked for today, I very nearly made a mess of this booking. The lady rang earlier in the week and my husband could hear my end of the conversation:

“Yes, Sunday is available….. 10 o’clock, yes that’s fine”

Big “no,no” signs coming from the other end of the kitchen,

“Can you hold the line please?”

“What’s the matter Dave?”

“If she starts at 10 she’ll hit church when the service is still on”

Whoops! How did I, of all people, nearly make this mistake? I was preaching on Sunday as Aslockton! The lady accepted a 1030 slot.

Sunday morning was beautiful, sunny and warm. Having taken the 9 o’clock service at nearby Thoroton, I dashed back and briefed the lady, who arrived on time. Off to Aslockton church, preached the sermon – on a meaty bit of Isaiah – and then rushed back after coffee and the cakes left from the party. Another happy punter who had really enjoyed the experience, we chatted and she left just before 1 o’clock.

Phew! Finished! I had survived! I could now look forward to driving to Leicester to meet up with my cousins for our annual barbecue….

then the ‘phone rang,

“We are ringing about doing the play, we are standing near the church but we can’t see where it starts”

Apparently it had been advertised in The Guardian’s “What’s On” section and this couple had cycled all the way from Beeston to do the walk.

Having established that these people wanted to do it at that moment, I gave them directions to get to my house and they did the walk. They loved it and I was pleased that I had taken such a last minute booking!

And I did get to the barbecue.

Lessons from today:

  • Surprisingly Sunday is not a popular day to do the walk
  • Check service times if you’re using the church as a location. Similarly, check that there are no funerals/weddings on during the run of the play

To sum up, I had survived the 5 days and, after an exhausting start, I had enjoyed the experience immensely. Without The Guardian it would, no doubt, have been a very different experience for me; only 50% of the “audience” were locals. As it was I met a lot of very nice people.

It was incredibly time-consuming but luckily I had blocked out 5 days in my diary. As most people seem reluctant to enter your house with walking shoes on, I ran the whole thing from my kitchen, which is tiled. The kitchen is also near the bit of garden we used for the first bit of the play. People were briefed round the kitchen table, where they returned for feedback and refreshments – it’s good thing that I’ve got a big kitchen.

I suspect that everyone has a different experience depending on the time of day, the weather, your frame of mind and whether you live in the country – someone actually said that he would have liked to repeat the experience at a different time of day or even a different time of year because it would make the whole thing feel different.

From the Aslockton experience I would say that this is a winner – an excellent play and, for most people, a lovely experience.

I’m thinking of writing a play about the experience from a promoter’s viewpoint, I’ll call it

“A kitchen full of Guardian readers”

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DIARY OF A PROMOTER Saturday 7 August – Day 4

Before the 1000 couple arrived, the ‘phone rang,” 2 tickets for tonight please”. Today looks easily manageable:

  • 2 in the morning
  • 5 in the afternoon, nicely staggered
  • 9 for tonight

I needed to get quite a lot of cooking done today because we were doing a leaving party for a member of the ministry team tonight – 2 quiches, 2 salads and a dessert were achieved between punters!

My 10 o’clocks loved it. The 1400 and 1500 hours parties arrived on time, all was going smoothly. 1615, the ‘phone rang, the 1600 lady was running late but I could cope.

The young couple who left at 2 o’clock, eventually returned at 5 o’clock – there was a cricket match at the cricket field so they had watched an hour of it!  They loved the play and the experience.

Likewise the 1600 hours lady, who didn’t get away until 1645, took more than 2 hours as she stopped of in the pub for a quick one – another satisfied customer!

The first evening booking, a party of 4 were a bit late so I had only just got them started when the 7 at 7 arrived. I had to explain that at the end everyone had to return the MP3 players to me at the Thomas Cranmer Centre, but, as it adjoins one of the locations for the play, they would have no difficulty finding it.

With everyone briefed and away I quickly changed into party gear and walked down to the Thomas Cranmer Centre, having despatched husband and food earlier. Good party!

No problems, everyone returned the kit as requested – and had a look round the Centre!

Lessons from today:

  • Some people take much longer than the running time of the play – because they’re elderly, because they popped into the pub, because they watched the cricket, because they got lost – so you can’t schedule the slots too close together.
  • If you are more successful with bookings than expected, you will need access to a photocopier to run off more Safety Guidance and Feedback forms. I have got this facility as I work from home so it wasn’t a problem.

DIARY OF A PROMOTER Friday 6 August – Day 3

Just finished tidying up when my first customers of the day arrived – early. They had come from Chesterfield which is quite a way but both seemed familiar with the Vale of Belvoir. I was a bit surprised by their attire, linen suit and pale coloured loafers for him, white linen trousers and strappy sandals for her! Off they went and the 1030 couple arrived on the recommendation of one of the Wednesday night local crowd, hope they like it.

A ‘phone call asking if it was a suitable walk to take a baby in a pushchair and I had to put the young lady off – you could not do the footpath bit, this was a shame as she was looking forward to “a walk in the country”.

The Chesterfields had not really enjoyed it,

“Not a good play to walk to, you need something to put a spring in your step”

“Why don’t you include the local history of the village on the map? I didn’t know about Thomas Cranmer being born here until I got to the church”- some people expect a lot for a fiver!

“Your telephone number should be on the map in case of emergencies / if we get lost etc”

“You should have the WC facilities marked on the map” – totally ignoring the fact that I gave them the information as part of the briefing.

I was concerned that they hadn’t enjoyed it having travelled so far but they were quite positive

“If we hadn’t done it we would be wondering what we might have missed”.

My other customers loved it.

I got the 1330 couple and the 1345 lot (mum, 14 year old son and son’s friend) off, went for a game of tennis and returned in time to brief 2 parties at 1530 hours still wearing my tennis togs – I felt the need to explain!

Very positive feedback from everyone. I was particularly please that the 14 year old lads had enjoyed it so much.

1845 hours,

“Looks like I’ve got my first “no-show”, I say to my husband. After another 5 minutes I meander down to the road, a smart sports car is being parked on the grass verge.

“We’re sorry we’re late – we got held up in Nottingham”

I brief the young couple as quickly as possible because it has been almost dark by 9 o’clock for the last couple of nights. Off they go and I dash off to choir practice.

“Sue, can you tell me why there is just a number 4 on the hymn board?” asks the organist and choirmaster.

“Well”, I reply, “It’s a long story”

After one lady admitted to singing along with Abide with me, I put out hymn books open at hymn number 4 (Abide with me) but I think that this detail was lost on most people!!

My young couple return in the gathering dusk at 2100 hours, they were enchanted especially sitting in the cemetery with the sky changing through different shades of pink and purple as the sun set.

The young man’s comment to how it made him feel was:

“That it’s time to move out of the city”

Maybe New Perspectives should get a local estate agent to sponsor this!

Another 2130 finish but a less stressed day – I must be getting into the swing of things.

Lessons from today:

  • Not only have we deprived wheelchair users, we have deprived pushchair pushers of the opportunity of the event
  • Marking the WC facilities on the map would be useful
  • I have mixed feelings about putting the promoter ‘phone number on the map, whilst you could give advice over the ‘phone, without extra helpers you couldn’t go out and rescue them!
  • The play clearly has wide appeal age-wise, from the 14 year old boys to those in their eighties

For evening sessions, remember that the nights are already drawing in. As we finished in the (unlit) cemetery, I suggested that everyone completed the walk by 2100 hours.

DIARY OF A PROMOTER Thursday 5 August – Day 2

The sun was out and the day looked a lot more promising. Tidied up the house and prepared for a party of 4 at 1030 hours.

“No bubbly this morning then?” enquired Mr Berry. What? Then it clicked, the last time he had been round was for our Ruby wedding celebration! I promised coffee on their return and off they went.

Mr Berry had started the play before his wife did as she was still chatting to me in the kitchen,

“Would have been better if Angela hadn’t been five minutes behind me!” said Mr Berry

“Well you shouldn’t have started without me” said his wife. It’s nice that they still fall out even after 52 years of married life!!

The general consensus was that they would have rather listened to the play at home and then done the walk!!

Six people at 2pm, all knew the village so hopefully no problems. The returned in dribs and drabs and a mixed reception to the play,

“Rather sad”

“It’s a shame that they didn’t record bits specific to Aslockton”

“I like the concept we could use it for a village history walk”

“I just didn’t like the play!”

They had all experienced problems with the sound – fine until a car went past then drowned out. They also had to contend with a helicopter overhead for quite some time!

The 2 o’clock crowd were still chatting and enjoying their tea and cake when the ladies from the Arts Council (Laura White and Jill Brown) arrived – the kitchen was very full at this point!! Laura and Jill were pleased that they were getting it for free and were soon briefed and off. They were non-committal about it. Both had experienced similar things which were site-specific and, in their view, better. Laura clearly enjoyed the play and we had a long discussion about what Patience was going to do – was she going to commit suicide? Laura thought so. Jill found it all rather clichéd. OK, at first I thought that some of it appears that way but the twists in the story stop it being clichéd and the handling of the characters is very even-handed.  The Arts Council were still into the tea and cakes when the 1830 bookings arrived. Soon got them off and the 1900 couples – time for our meal before they all piled back into the kitchen.

“Brilliant, loved it”

Everyone had clearly enjoyed the experience a lot.

Although no “party” knew each other we soon were having discussions about the best university to read Drama, other plays they had all seen and the possibility of getting one of the allotments across the road!

As I wished the last couple farewell at 9:30pm, the ‘phone rang

“Sorry it’s late but can we book for tomorrow morning, Cynthia (of the Wednesday night crowd) says it’s brilliant”

We discuss availability; she will ring back in the morning. Better just check my e-mail

“Dear Sue, Would it be possible to book for Saturday afternoon?”

Reply to e-mail, collapse in front of the Ten O’Clock News – will I survive until Sunday?

Lessons from today:

  • When people are doing the play together, remind them in the briefing to all press go together!
  • A lot of people experienced difficulty hearing the play due to extraneous noise BUT it was a particularly bad afternoon, the hedge on Mill Lane was being cut, a helicopter overhead and the usual traffic through the village.

Using your home as a base means that you have to keep tidying up (this probably shows that I am not very good in the housekeeping department!). Offering refreshments (and I didn’t charge!) means that you’re constantly washing up.

DIARY OF A PROMOTER Wednesday 4 August – Day 1!

The day dawned wet, very wet. I had decided to put numbers corresponding to the walk map around the village to reassure punters that they were, literally, on the right track. Trying to outwit the village bad boys I had decided to leave putting up the signs until day 1 – bad mistake!  After half an hour cycling round the village with my signs, my string and my stapler, the signs were up but I was drenched. At 10 o’clock my first customer arrived, a friend who was tackling the walk alone. Duly briefed about safety, the kit and “the process”, Maggie set off in the drizzle whilst I baked a batch of buns for refreshments.

1300 hours and my first customer had not returned. Maybe she had stopped to dry off, as the drizzle became a downpour during the morning. However as I knew that she had been very ill 18 months ago, I decided to check her home

“Hi David, it’s Sue Rowe here – is Maggie at home?”

“Isn’t she with you?” asked her husband

Alarm bells started ringing! Maggie’s husband was trying to get her on her mobile whilst my husband sprinted across the road to the cemetery – had she collapsed there, fallen down a rabbit hole? Five minutes later he returned with Maggie looking fit and well, she had been home for a cup of tea but clearly her husband didn’t see her! By the time we’d had a laugh about it and she’d completed the feedback form – Maggie made the point that you could not do the walk unless you were able-bodied – the 2 o’clock bookings were arriving – 2 couples and a lady on her own. Having briefed each party separately I tried to write a letter only to be constantly interrupted by the ‘phone – thanks Guardian! Letter half-written and the afternoon crowd arrived back full of it! Tea and cakes all round whilst they filled out the feedback forms. The bits in the church and the cemetery had worked the best for them.

“I found myself singing along with ‘Abide with me’”

“We went wrong and came out through the school grounds”

“We went wrong there as well because the footpath has a sign in each direction”

Map reading, it seems, is not a universal skill!

As soon as they all left I dashed off and did an extra sign – a large white arrow on a handbill. I just got it laminated when the 1730 couple arrived. Duly briefed they started listening to the play whilst I hurried to the field with the ambiguous signs and stuck up my big arrow and got back in time for the 1830 people. By 7 o’clock everyone was out and I was just about to get some dinner when the 1730 couple returned. No, they hadn’t enjoyed it, it made them feel miserable and it was muddy – didn’t expect it to be so muddy…and I didn’t expect anyone to turn up to do a country walk in white shoes! They turned down the offer of a drink, quickly filled in the feedback form and went home to Bottesford for their meal – was that the problem, low blood sugar? On the feedback form one of them had noted that their village was nothing like. I don’t think that they really know their village, they just reside there!

At last, we eat the fastest omelette and salad ever before the remaining 6 customers, all locals, return. Cynthia had listened to the first bit in my garden then paused the play until she got to the next location, finding her error – because the others told her – she tried to catch up with them but somehow managed to get to the UEFA football!! Eventually, with the help of others she was back on track!!

They had all enjoyed it and much discussion followed helped along with a couple of bottles of wine, eventually leaving me exhausted – can I keep this up for 5 days?!

Lessons from today:

  • The sandwich board helped people locate my house but a larger poster would have helped even more.
  • Should the route be accessible to the less-able and wheelchair users?
  • Do NOT assume that people can read even a simple map, even when you’ve been through the route with them at the briefing. There is a need to make the route foolproof – people seem to go off the marked route onto other footpaths because they’re there! More arrows?
  • You need to tell people to keep the play going when they are walking and tell them NOT TO PRESS “BACK” in any circumstance – that’s how Cynthia got the football match!
  • No-one accepted the offer of a high-visibility vest because they make you stand out too much.
  • Feedback sessions with people you know quickly become parties when there is wine on offer!

Offering the flexibility within sessions ties you to the house totally and a 1000 to 2130 hours day is very long.

DIARY OF A PROMOTER Saturday 31 July 2010

1000hours-ish reading The Times magazine style bit when the ‘phone rang

“I’ve just read about The Falling Sky in The Guardian and I want to book for it, how does it work?”

So into promoter mode to explain that the days (Wednesday 4 – Sunday 8 August) are split into 3 sessions – morning, afternoon and evening – with 10 slots in each). We are always being told that people like choice, but given this amount of  flexibility the lady went into a state of panic and with a quick “I’ll get back to you “ she was off the ‘phone and I was off to the computer to access The Guardian on-line.

Within half an hour the article had been downloaded, printed and laminated and I was out to put it up next to The Falling Sky posters which had been placed around the local villages.

Throughout Saturday and Sunday the ‘phone kept ringing, every booking took at least two ‘phone calls because everyone seemed to have to check with someone else as to the most suitable date! As my husband remarked

“I bet the Playhouse box office get their Sunday lunch in peace ….and get paid”

Given the interest from outside the village, I marked the start of the walk by putting a sandwich board, bearing the Falling Sky poster and “START”. on the grass verge outside the house.