Here, Mellor tells us why new developments in streaming technology are key to the survival of small venues.
Outer London venues are peculiar beasts. I have recently taken on one as the creative producer at the Broadway, Barking. The theatre is a smart 350-seater overlooking the ruins of the medieval abbey and green; and it is adjacent to the bustling and diverse East Street market.
Barking theatrically is where Joan Littlewood meets TOWIE. It is zone four, and doesn't get the volume of central London culture vultures seeking you out. Nor does it have the loyal supporters of the regional theatres like the nearby Queens in Hornchurch, real Essex.
It doesn’t help when the borough of Barking and Dagenham is classed as a ‘cold spot’ for low arts engagement by the Arts Council, and that for the last eight months the venue was led by an indecisive trust who couldn’t manage on reduced public funding and finally wound up.
Thankfully, the Council and the College stepped in to take on the venue with a more streamlined staff. The Broadway is back in business.
We recently launched our new season with a Bond themed week. It featured a new ballet to Bond music by the London Ballet Company, and a spoof female Bond comedy. On the same night, this was all interspersed with free foyer performances by community groups, all doing their Bond ‘pieces’.
We are now looking to programme two diverse short shows per evening. Short shows (some co- produced in house) can help keep our prices low, and are ideal for live streaming.
By becoming the first theatre in the country to stream all our seasons work live from our website for as low as £2.99, we are actively succeeding in engaging a younger audience in our festival-style programme.
Audiences for streaming are low at the moment, but streaming is helping to keep our supporters in touch with us whilst we undergo great change.
They have told us that they want to be part of our creative development. They want to know what goes on backstage. They wish to see how creative decisions are made, and test out the ‘risky’ new shows in a cheap way. Live streaming is great in helping us do this.
Streaming kit can now be bought cheaply, and with a great technology provider like Ipercast we can model our service to offer a pay per view service, as well as offer videos on demand from our archive.
We are capturing useful data from our supporters too. We know how long they will watch - max 50 minutes - and their age, mainly women 25-30 years old. The main reason they are attracted to streaming is that they can keep in touch with the sector when their circumstances have changed, e.g. moved away from the area, less social friends, or have got childcare and caring responsibilities.
More importantly, we are getting our work out in the borough. By offering schools live streamed professional dance classes for broadcast in after school clubs where there are no dance specialists in the school, we are raising aspirations and improving access to quality arts.
It’s cheaper for schools too, no professional fees or transport headaches to contend with.
The Panto is set to be live streamed at the children’s ward of Barking Hospital, and our family friendly work is set to engage our Children Centres and pupil referral units.
Putting digital development at the heart of an artistic strategy in order to raise local engagement may be deemed very risky. But the signs are looking good. Our new profile has already got us new co production partners, a new sponsor, and an increase in volunteer helpers.
There is no hard evidence that digital engagement improves actual attendance. The Arts Council is still sceptical. But with the challenge of the Broadway, who wouldn’t use streaming to survive?