Report from The Telling on the southeast leg of the EmpoweredWomen tour
Thank you! All of us involved with The Telling (registered charity no 1181802) would like to thank Annabel and the other Trustees of Angel Early Music for your vital grant last June of £3000 towards the southeast leg of our Empowered Women tour of four performances of two different shows as part of a wider England/Wales tour of concertplays (where music and theatre collide) from July - September 2022:
28 July 2022 – St Mary and St Michael’s Church, Mistley, Manningtree (at which we were thrilled to welcome Annabel)
29 July 2022 – St Mary & St Eanswythe’s Church, Folkestone
30 July 2022 – St Michael’s Church, Lewes
Into the Melting Pot: set in 1492 in a Spanish Christian/Muslim/Jewish community, a Jewish woman (played by Suzanne Ahmet (National Theatre, Chester Storyhouse)) is forced to leave. Her story is startlingly contemporary, with resonances to Windrush, Black Lives Matter & recent antisemitism, and is played out to a soundtrack of plaintive Sephardic songs & lively Cantigas which fuse medieval & Arabic instruments/styles, making early music accessible to a wider audience.
13 September 2022 – St Mary and St Michael’s Church, Mistley, Manningtree
Unsung Heroine: the imagined life and love of the redoubtable troubadour Countess Beatriz de Dia (played by Leila Mimmack (Lewis, Doctors, Silent Witness)) soundtracked by the plaintive music of the troubadours and lively medieval dances. The story imagines how Beatriz came to write her impassioned song 'A Chantar', the only example of a troubadour song by a woman where both the poetry and melody have survived. Beatriz’s poetry is grounded in the rules of courtly love. She lives in a world where emotions are sacrificed to the straitjacket of ritual: her only recourse is to channel her pain, love and desire for revenge into this passionate song.
With help from a grant from Angel Early Music and other funders and donors, we were able to rehearse and tour Into the Melting Pot and Unsung Heroine (along with a third show, Vision), taking 17 performances across England and Wales from July - September 2022. This included 4 performances within your priority areas of Essex, Kent and Sussex, in places that rarely receive early music performances to establish new residency bases.
The southeast leg of the tour saw us taking early music to 214 people in Mistley (two performances) and Folkestone,both places which rarely receive live early music performances, and Lewes where we also held a free pre-concert singing workshop.
The audience numbers are less than we had cited in the budget that we wrote in the spring; we had assumed similar numbers to our I, Spie tour in October 2021. We set the budget just before Russia invaded Ukraine and had no sense of the ensuing cost-of-living crisis and its impact on ticket sales. However, by July when we started our tour, through conversations with colleagues, the consensus was to expect 20% of expected sales (not 20% less - but only one-fifth of income). We exceeded that by far; most notably, for the Into the Melting Pot section of the tour, we achieved approximately 66% of expected sales at Mistley, Folkestone and Lewes and 64% across those 7 performances. In this context 64/66% of ticket income is strong, especially when you consider that we were targeting hard to reach places and many of those are in new locations such as Mistley and Folkestone, where we had no track record or existing audience.
Your grant enabled first performances in new residency locations where we are now already planning further performances:
in Mistley, where one of our musicians is based, we have already amassed a strong following with 55 people attending Into the Melting Pot in July and similar numbers attended Unsung Heroine in September. Outside your grant, we also went on to do a Christmas concert there in December which was well attended, and have plans to take further work there in 2023. This tour was just a start to build a whole new audience. Thank you for making that possible!
likewise in Folkestone we had an enthusiastic audience of 62 for Into the Melting Pot - our first event – again we appeared there for partner arts organisation Jim-Jam Arts in December and have plans to build on this in 2023 and beyond.
Your grant has really helped us establish a following in those areas which we hope to be able to build upon. As well as having already built upon performances in Mistley and Folkestone by taking our December 2022 Carols tour there, we also are working on building a legacy of the tour of the 3 Empowered Women shows: we are also setting up further performances in 2023 and 2024 in Mistley and Folkestone. We have a booking for Vision for November 2023 in Preston for Harris Music Society. On the back of that, we also plan to bring Vision to Mistley and Folkestone (where St Eanswythe church there is the perfect setting: St Eanswythe, like Hildegard, founded her own convent on the site!)
More widely, for 2023, we have already secured bookings on the back of this tour at Bedford Music Society and JW3, the Jewish Arts Centre in Hampstead, and National Centre for Early Music/Beverley Early Music Festival for 2024. We have interest from several American promoters and are working to set up our first tour of the USA in May 2024.
We received a particularly moving email following a performance of Into the Melting Pot from an audience member who works with refugees:
“Last night’s performance was so utterly moving - a human story brought to life by The Telling. Professionals of the highest order. I have been struggling for years to tell my late mother's story as a Jewish Kindertransport child coming from Germany in 1939 ... But your creation was a collaborative wondrous experience that touched every part of my being. Each one of you worked as superb musician, singer, instrumentalist, actor together to make something whole and transformative."
This is just some of the audience feedback questionnaire responses we received:
“The performance was powerful and engaging: an excellent blend of historical music and theatre”
"Absolutely wonderful. Truly moving. Heartfelt thanks and congratulations to you all."
"The whole thing worked really well together - the storytelling/acting and music"
"The passion of Blanca, the singing - all a joy/privilege to witness"
"It was a beautiful experience - it lets you get away from stress and lose yourself"
A document of more audience feedback quotes is attached.
In each location we developed partnerships that helped us reach local audiences - for example in Folkestone we worked with the Artistic Director of now closed Folkestone Early Music who shared details of our Folkestone concert with her mailing list and also suggested places to distribute leaflets round town. We also set up reciprocal marketing partnerships with local arts organisations at each of our tour locations, asking for their help in spreading the word and offering to return the favour.
Following the success of our digital marketing strategy in our previous tour in October 2021, led by guidance from the Arts Council/BBC The Space’s Digital Marketing Mentoring scheme, we had another successful Facebook Ads campaign; 38% of audience members who filled in the feedback questionnaire said they discovered the event through Facebook. This in combination with reciprocal marketing with partners and a flyer distribution plan on the ground worked strongly together.
We also worked hard to secure local press coverage for the whole tour securing 6 local BBC Radio interviews including BBC Essex and BBC Sussex to specifically publicise the southeast performances.
Also, the musicians were interviewed and performed on BBC Radio 3’sIn Tune on 22 July. This is the link to the show but it’s no longer available online: https://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/m001953j. You can listen to our private copy of the recording here: https://drive.google.com/file/d/1ghPDDFSTDtc0gWzmTNdiES0nNyLl9lQq/view?usp=sharing
But it didn't all go to plan. Along with many other arts organisations, realistic ticket sales targets, which we set in line with box office figures we ACHIEVED only a year ago, have been impossible to realise. In this context, even strong fundraising from trusts and foundations has seen us with a shortfall of £10,000, which our singer and Artistic Director has had to fund out of her own pocket (not something she is ever able to do again).
By the time we put the projects on sale in May it was clear the invasion of Ukraine and the ensuing cost of living crisis led to financial uncertainty for a large proportion of our potential audience members. Many who would have booked felt unable to. It became apparent that our ticket prices (£20/£16 concs), which we consider very reasonable for the calibre of the project and the cost of extra rehearsals in comparison with a “straight-forward concert”, were too expensive in this new, unprecedented landscape. As a result, we offered 20% discount codes for online bookings and a limited amount of Pay What You Can tickets to those particularly struggling financially.
Then train strikes were announced during the week of the July Into the Melting Pot tour and then again for our Unsung Heroine tour in September. This led to last-minute replanning, applying for numerous train ticket refunds and finding alternative travel. We were very grateful to Emily Baines (recorders) who is one of few The Telling members who can drive to offer to transport some members of the group, while one other travelled in the lighting van. For the Unsung Heroine tour in September travel was split between our General Manager, Steph Williams’ car and the lighting van. Due to the current unreliability of travel by train and the rising costs, we now plan to hire a large car for transport for tours in the foreseeable future. This is upsetting to us as we are passionate about touring sustainably and we will continue to review the situation and revert to train travel, where possible, once the strike period is over.
Other exciting news: The Telling was one of 7 artists selected by The Space (funded by the BBC and Arts Council England) for their Pitch Perfect scheme this autumn from over 200 applications. We are being supported to learn how best to pitch our projects for broadcast by the BBC and to TV and radio production companies. The immediate aim is to try and get a broadcast of a revised radio adaptation of our Love in the Lockdown project (2021; updated to now and called Love in the Modern World) on either BBC Radio 3 or 4. Writer, Clare Norburn will be mentored to get the script into the best possible shape ahead of pitching it to a broadcaster. If successful, this should significantly raise our profile and give us skills to pitch our projects to broadcast media for the future too.
We are so grateful for Angel Early Music’s support at such a vital time when your grant was needed the most. Thank you!