14 November 2010

SPOKED Event Report – November 2010

The event was a success!  The performers were on top form, the audience loved it. Everyone got paid.  Arts can work in Taunton without funding!

We had an audience of 40 people from a wide range of the community turn up, which made for a fantastic atmosphere.  The 7 performers, myself included, felt charged by this compliment and as a reflection of this we entertained!  How do you know that, Martin? I hear you ask.  Surely every event organiser writes this kind of shpeel after an event.  Well I got these...

On each chair was a voting slip requesting the audience member place a tick next to all performers who they would be happy to pay to see again.  The event over-ran by 30 minutes and as such some people had to leave before the end.  But of the 40 audience members 29 filled out a slip.  Of those 29 who voted, 18 ticked all the boxes.  So if my GCSE statistics serves me, that means 62% of the audience would be happy to pay to see all the performers again.  The remaining 11 voters ticked all the boxes apart from 2, but no two slips had the same combination of unelected so that means 100% of the audience were entertained for 72% of the evening.  Thumbs up all round eh?  To galvanize this evidence further, 12 people added their name to the mailing list to be contacted about future events.

Why is it important to do this democratic voting?  Well I hand-picked the performers based on a set of criteria that I think renders them 'entertaining'.  But however academic my approach to quantifying entertainment value is, the true test is an indescribable sense within the viewer that can be easily expressed with a tick in a box:  Do you feel entertained, yes or no?

There is no more arts funding in Taunton.  Which means artists are going to have to make art that people actually want to pay to see.   In a similar vein, the public - who see through crass marketing schemes and shallow loss-leader driven profit margins want something different.  Personally, and I think others feel the same, if you are in a venue that relies on bar sales to survive and the team of staff is bigger than the customer base, the air of tragedy looms heavy and a sense of embarrassment or even guilt cripples your ability to enjoy the entertainment.  Not to mention the inevitable face of the bored bar girl, resting her head on her hand and frowning.  That's enough to send any venue into receivership.

By purposefully choosing to remove the element of drink sales from the event I lift the pressure off of the audience and allow them the freedom to submit themselves to the performances, comfortably knowing that by paying their £x on arrival they have done all that is financially required.  On Friday night we had audience members drinking all sorts, from cases of wine to picnic baskets of lagers, from those with just 3 bottles of imported white beer shoved in their coat pockets to those with flasks of tea.  All relaxed, all conversing, all feeling entertained.

Another very important angle of this event was my choice to pay all the artists.  When I mentioned this in one of my hosting moments I got an unexpected round of applause.  I knew it was important but I had underestimated how strongly the audience felt about seeing people paid.  They really appreciated me telling them where their hard earned wages was going.  I have worked on events for a long time in several capacities and you'd be surprised (or maybe you wouldn't) at how often most artists are expected to work for free while 1 or maybe 2 people get paid.  And often the unpaid performers don't even get given a rider so they have to buy their own drinks from the bar all night meaning they are actually paying for the privilege of working to draw a crowd.  Sometimes you get told you will get paid but then the organiser will come to you after the event with some excuse why they cannot pay you, as if it's your fault.  All this behaviour is disgusting.  The performers hate it, the audience know it, it's not good business practice.

But as important as it is to pay the artists, it's even more important to make sure you book good ones!  If I couldn't find enough talent to fill the bill I would simply not put on the event!  Never complete the line up with a default option to compensate for a lack of talent.  Do not use Filler, you're honing a narrative not repairing a bathroom wall.

And finally, I must give a little mention to open mic nights.  Without the existence of open mic nights, Friday's SPOKED could never have happened.  Because I found all those wonderful performers through attending free open mic events around the South West.  It is important to note that they were free for the reasons I explained in the previous paragraph.

So finally I would like to say thank you to everyone who came.  Thank you to the performers, Darren, Rupert, Solomon Doornails, Tom, Tim and Dave.  I would like to thank the Albemarle Centre for accommodating us, it was a pleasure to be supporting a charity.  There will be future events in Taunton but the next SPOKED will be in Bristol, watch this space.