The Laughing Audience was a theatrical management consultancy. This site contains 70+ pages about the art and business of the theatre, including sample reports, archive and client lists. A research section contains papers ranging from theatre economics, history of theatre, artistic policy, teaching notes to bibliographies. There are also book reviews and critiques of theatre renovations.
PAUL ILES MPhil MLitt FHEA FRSA
The Laughing Audience offered independent advice and assistance on artistic and management policies to drama companies, ‘presenting’ theatres and concert halls. This typically included identifying and investigating problems and entrepreneurial opportunities - including new partnerships - writing business plans and evaluations, making recommendations for appropriate action and helping to implement those suggestions as a change or continuity manager. Other work included:
· External reviews and feasibility studies
· Editorial for programmes, brochures and souvenir publications
· Drafting media releases and speeches
· Programming: from high art to illegitimate, from glamouresque to opera house
· Curating lecture series and talks
· Curriculum development in theatre studies, for higher education
· Capital grant-writing and fundraising
· Heritage and theatre archive interpretation
This work was grounded in a combination of Paul Iles' 40 years experience of managing theatres and drama companies, teaching, research and work as a board member.
Paul was principal lecturer in arts management, Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts, associate director of the Georgian Theatre Royal at Richmond, North Yorkshire, chairman of Northern Broadsides Theatre Company Limited and a director of Leeds Grand Theatre & Opera House Limited, the company that also governs the City Varieties Music Hall and Hyde Park Picture House.
Previously, he was foundation manager & chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Theatre where he was executive client for a £22 million refurbishment, extensions and fit-out of the former Empire Theatre, setting up the operating company and selecting the programme. He was general manager of Blackpool Grand Theatre. Before running these presenting theatres, Paul was general manager of producing companies: Nimrod Theatre of Sydney, the State Theatre Company at the Adelaide Festival Centre, North Queensland Theatre Company and the Watermill Theatre, Newbury.
He served nine years as a trustee of The Theatres Trust, the national advisory public body for theatres. Paul was associate director of the Scottish Centre for Cultural Management and Policy at Queen Margaret University, Edinburgh. He has been a director of Gloria Theatre, Rambert Dance Company and the Duke's Playhouse at Lancaster. He held two research degrees from the University of Glasgow, and was a Fellow of the Higher Education Academy and the Royal Society of Arts.
Many assignments were undertaken as theatre associate to RGA Consulting, Edinburgh: consultants in hospitality, tourism, the arts and culture.
Let him laugh now, who never laugh’d before;
And he who always laugh’d, laugh now the more.
The emblem of The Laughing Audience theatre management practice is a 1733 print engraved by William Hogarth (1697-1764). Divided into three sections, it depicts two classes of theatregoers, in the side boxes and pit. In the orchestra pit are three musicians. The amorous fops in the box are more refined and distant from the show than the working class audience in the pit, who are enjoying the performance in an unselfconscious manner. Only one miserable person appears to dislike the performance: perhaps he is a critic? The orange girls, the ‘industrious’ characters portrayed in the print, have round faces with long foreheads and delicate noses and were examples of innocence and beauty.
The print was used as a subscription ticket to a larger Hogarth engraving, Southwark Fair, and to his series A Rake's Progress. The theatre, with its candle lighting, downstage-left door and pit rail, closely resembles the intimate Georgian Theatre Royal (built 1788) at Richmond, North Yorkshire. The diverse characters might be seen as a marker for theatres’ socially inclusive ‘audience development’ strategies today.
ON THEATRICAL MANAGEMENT
Mr. Dangle: My power with the Manager is pretty notorious: but is it no credit to have applications from all quarters for my interest? - From Lords to recommend fiddlers, from ladies to get boxes, and from actors to get engagements.
Mrs. Dangle: Yes truly, you have contrived to get a share in all the plague and trouble of theatrical property, without the profit, or even the credit of the abuse that attends it.
- Richard Brinsley Sheridan, The Critic, 1779.
When the profession of theatre management is under discussion I would urge contemporary writers for the press to pause, reflect, consider; remember that…we who manage theatres, equally with those who direct affairs of state, are confronted by a condition, not a theory.
- David Belasco, The Business of Theatrical Management, 1919.
THEATRE MANAGER: If I were to analyse every piece I receive, I should not have the time to present any. A general answer must in general suffice. The judgement of Managers may be fallible; but experience proves that we oftener err in receiving, than in rejecting what is offered...The theatre is a Foundling Hospital for wit - limited indeed - for we can no more take in all that are brought, than the other Foundling Hospital. But we present all attractions in our power. Those that are still-born the publick hears nothing of - of those that are brought to light, many soon expire in convulsions - many may die of the rickets - some, like puppies, have a blind nine days of existence - while others thrive, and prove an honour to their country.
The office of managing a theatre has always had a sort of fascination, and has drawn on for persons, qualified or unqualified, to ruin or prosperity. The attraction seems to be the feeling of absolute control, hundreds (and occasionally thousands) of persons being dependent on the will, humours or caprice of the administrator.... In the instance of a really capable man there is the confidence that his powers will ensure him a certain success, while the knowledge of the public taste often tempts him to make the bold coup. There must be fortitude of the highest order, not be daunted or checked by reverse, and which will consider failure in a few ventures as inevitable accidents, which may delay, but must not alter, the larger policy which he is carrying. Disastrous as may be the prospects of the stage, plenty of new candidates for the duty of management are not wanting...We find fresh, eager hands, of the usual bizarre character.
- Percy Fitzgerald, ‘The Drury Lane Managers’, essay in Clement Scott, (ed.), The Theatre, Vol. IX, Carson and Comerford, London, 1 January 1887, p.28.
There never was, and there never will be, an ideal theatre. The theatre is far too complex and delicate a machine, depending on the harmonious cooperation of too many talents and influences, ever to reach perfection for more than a passing moment. The very greatest theatres at their greatest periods have been severely criticised, not, as a rule, without reason. The reader, we are sure, will not let his craving for what is ideally desirable render him careless of what is practically desirable as an improvement upon existing conditions. And he will not fail to bear in mind, we trust, that it is no magical recipe we are offering, no instant and miraculous cure for all the shortcomings of our theatrical life......
Our millionaires compete with so much rage
- John Masefield, Prologue to the opening of Liverpool Repertory Theatre, 1911.
Theatre management, like the acting profession, follows a hazardous occupation. Theatre managers cannot, unless they are the Cochrans, expect to participate in the limelight which surrounds the artists. They can, and must, however, share his success and his disappointments, but by employing a discreet and polite contact with the public. And they, like the actor, will be wise to remember that, if one day proves to be a choking gall, the next day may well provide a preserving sweet.
- Stewart Cruickshank, The Courier, Magazine of the King’s and Royal Lyceum Theatres, Howard and Wyndham Limited, Edinburgh, 1934.
Policy is everything: popular prices, popular plays, personal management and publicity.
- Derek Salberg, Manager of the Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham, 1980.
STANISLAVSKI ON THE TENSION BETWEEN THE ARTISTIC AND ADMINISTRATIVE SIDES OF A THEATRE!
[Managers]…. should be put in their place. It is not the MANAGER, but the stage that gives life to art and the theatre; it is not the OFFICE but the STAGE that brings in the play-going public and confers popularity and fame on the theatre; it is not the office but the stage that creates an impression on the spectators and is of immense educational value to society; it is not the office but the stage that brings in the money. Just try and tell this to an entrepreneur or a theatre manager and he will fly into a rage at such rank heresy: so firmly has the notion that the theatre’s success depends solely on them and their administration taken root in their consciousness. It is they who decide whether to pay or not to pay, whether to put on one play or another; it is they who pass the estimates and decide what salaries to pay or what fines too impose; it is they who give fine receptions, who have luxurious offices, and who employ a huge staff which sometimes eats up the greater part of theatre’s budget; it is they who are satisfied or dissatisfied with the success of a performance or of an actor, and it is they who distribute complimentary tickets…and who are terrible pests and destroyers of art…It is the duty of the administration of a theatre to make the life of an actor in the theatre as pleasant as possible. That is the greatest contribution that the administration can make to the creative business of the theatre.
- Konstantin Stanislavsky, translated by David Magarshack, in ‘Stage Ethics’, On the Art of the Stage, London, Faber and Faber, 1950, Appendix I, pp. 294-295.
EDWARD GORDON CRAIG ON THEATRE AND BUSINESS
The Master of the Theatre and Drama, having simplified his plan, has to decide which way he shall take to deliver the goods to the people. There are two ways. The old way and the new way. The old way (I still hope it is the youngest) is to put all his discoveries at the service of some Ruler or rulers;–(Patron was the old and respected title). This man or these men will see to it that these discoveries go out to the people to be a benefit to them. Such men have existed – but not very often. They more often hamper the Master of the Theatre and impose on him their weighty and unimportant Egoisms. This is fatal because it costs too much. Then there is the new way. That is plain business. And, sorry though I am to have to admit it, it seems to me to be the best. Business need not spoil art; it has no rights over it – to change it: it is not the business man’s affair to change the art; it is the artist’s. If he states his position clearly at the start, and if he refuses to accept conditions which are bad for the theatre, sensible men of business will understand and comply. But if they do not, he still need not spoil his art, for he can be business man after he has completed his work of art. So then the Master of the Theatre as an Art has his next task clear before him. It is to take it to the people unaided. And there are ways of doing this which only show themselves to us after we have established our name, our right to recognition as first in our line. To be First in this line to hold the Goods is to be Master of the Stage.
Edward Gordon Craig, Scene, Oxford, Oxford University Press, 1923, p.17.
'Up and down the stage they tugged the groaning manager', from On and Off the Stage, London, Boys of England Publishers, 1891, p.104.