For as we see at all the playhouse dores,
When ended is the play, the dance, and song,
A thousand townsmen, gentlemen, and whores,
Porters and serving-men, together throng…
- John Davies [on social inclusion and the theatre]: Epigrammes 17, ‘In Cosmum’, 1592
The theatre, like all other amusements, has its fashions and its prejudices; and, when satiated with its excellence, mankind begin to mistake change for improvement.
- Oliver Goldsmith, An Essay on the Theatre, 1773
- The Laughing Audience can assist not-for-profit arts organisations to achieve competitive and cooperative advantage through reviews of artistic policy, governance, management structure, fundraising, sponsorship, marketing and ecommerce – a complete audience development package, for repertory theatres to variety theatres
- We can also undertake feasibility studies for capital projects, especially for heritage theatres
- We can help you devise strategy and, perhaps more importantly, help with its implementation
- We can advise theatres or we can undertake specific tasks
- Our work is practical and scholarly, supported by research in up-to-date practice and continuous professional development, including recent hands-on theatre management. We have practised what we preach!
- We keep abreast of the government’s shifting agendas for cultural policy, including regeneration, instrumentalism, social utility and economic benefits of theatre, and new partnerships with public sector agencies and other stakeholders
- We can help theatres form new alliances to enhance rather than undermine mission: we help busy theatre managers to focus on their real goal – serving their audiences and artistes
- We do not encourage endless reorganisation for the sake of bureaucracy!
- We listen carefully to clients’ opinions, before explaining our own!
- We are never 'loud and opinionated'!
- Many business consultants have done great damage to theatre, their artistic directors and managers: we always work in a supportive relationship!
- We avoid the emasculated ‘language’ of management: no buzzwords, sludge and blah-blah!
- We avoid references to theatres of "excellence" - as a management principle in the performing arts, the pursuit of "excellence" is entirely meaningless!
- We prefer to encourage collective memory as a way of bolstering a theatre's sense of mission. This methodology might be described as applied theatre history
AN ORGANISATION CHART FOR A RESIDENT REPERTORY THEATRE, 1946
from Richard Leacroft, The Theatre and You: A Centre for Your Leisure, London, Army Education, GHQ, Special Pamphlet No.110, 15th February 1946, pp 8-9.
After World War Two, the Army, the British Drama League and the Equity Demobilisation Service Bureau tackled the task of helping former theatre personnel to get back to the stage by giving bursaries for leadership and arts administration training. Additionally, £150 grants were awarded to service personnel for renewal of actors’ wardrobes and stock in trade. The Army commissioned theatre historian Richard Leacroft to write an arts and education strategy. This document offers innovating blueprints for cultural quarters and arts centre partnerships, including consolidation of the creative industries into local authority managed precincts for theatres and concert halls, libraries, museums and art galleries, restaurants and tea rooms.
“I would like to pay tribute to Paul Iles, the departing manager of the Grand Theatre, Blackpool. His enthusiastic embracing of Equity’s campaign for a National Theatre of Variety resulted in its inaugural show this time last year. It has been a pleasure working with him and I hope the Grand can attract a replacement with the same drive and commitment.”
- Christine Payne, General Secretary, Equity, Equity Journal, Spring 2007.
A MANIFESTO, 1913 & 2005
[Paul Iles produced the opening production for this Equity and Grand Theatre joint venture, Cavalcade of Variety, in February 2006. Directed by Tony Jo, Blackpool’s leading promoter of light entertainment]
THE VARIETY THEATRE is absolutely practical, because it distracts, amuses and educates the public with comic effects and imaginative astonishment
THE VARIETY THEATRE has only one reason for existing or triumphing: incessantly to present new entertainment
THE VARIETY THEATRE is a profitable show window for countless inventive forces on stage:
- Powerful caricatures, abysses of the ridiculous, delicious, impalpable ironies, cascades of uncontrollable hilarity, flashes of revealing cynicism
- Plots full of wit, repartee, and conundrums that aerate the intelligence, with laughter and smiles, to flex the nerves
- Profound analogies between humanity, the animal world, the vegetable world, and the mechanical world
- The whole gamut of stupidity, imbecility, blockishness and absurdity, pushing intelligence to the very border of madness
THE VARIETY THEATRE seeks the audience’s collaboration:
- It doesn’t remain inert like a stupid voyeur, but joins noisily in the action, in the singing, in the accompanying of the orchestra, communicating with the artistes in surprising actions and bizarre dialogues
- The actors bicker clownishly with the jugglers, ballerinas, chanteuses, gymnasts and musicians
- Because the audience cooperates in this way with the fantasy on stage, the action develops simultaneously in the boxes and in the pit. It continues at the end of the performance, among the battalions of fans, the honeyed dandies who crowd the stage door to fight over the star turn; double final victory: chic dinner and bed….
THE VARIETY THEATRE is a school of cerebral subtlety, complication and synthesis:
- By reason of its clowns, conjurers, thought-readers, comedians and dancers
- It is a school one can recommend to young people, because it explains in an incisive, anti-academic, primitive and rapid manner the most mysterious problems and the most complicated political events
- It explains and luminously illustrates the laws of life
- It destroys the Solemn, the Sacred, the Serious, the Sublime of Art – with a capital A
- with apologies to Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, In Praise of the Variety Theatre, Milan, 1913.
The Variety stage is the sole remaining link connecting us with that stupendous achievement of the sixteenth century known as the Commedia dell’arte. It is not the Commedia but it has certain marked resemblances to it and when the ‘legitimate theatre’ sees distinguished players stepping on to the Music Hall stage, it has, far from matter for complaint, the best cause for self congratulation and for hope. The Variety Theatre, cherishing as it does so much creative talent of a somewhat exaggerated order, is very much alive.
Edward Gordon Craig, The Mask, 1912.
Variety is the essential theatre.
F.T.Marinetti, In Praise of the Variety Theatre, 1913.
Variety is a dramatic form which is linked on the one hand with theatrical - as opposed to literary - traditions, and on the other with the tastes of the people.
Vsevolod Meyerhold, The Fairground Booth, 1915.
Comedia est imitato vitae, speculum consuetudinis imago veritas.
Thomas Lodge, The School of Abuse: A Defence of the Theatre, 1579.
The assertion so commonly made that the audience degrades the theatre is not well founded. It is the artist who brings the public to the level of his own conceptions; and in every age in which theatre has gone to decay it has fallen through the arrogance of its organisation. The audience need feeling alone, and feeling they possess. They take their station before the curtain with an unvoiced longing, with a multifarious capacity. They bring with them an aptitude for what is highest; they derive the greatest pleasure from what is judicious and true; and if with these powers of appreciation they begin to be satisfied with inferior productions, still if they have once tasted what is excellent they will, in the end, insist on having it supplied to them.
- Friedrich Schiller (1751-1805)
One must never underrate the importance in the theatre of the machinery of organisation and staff. Think not of plans but of persons.
Harley Granville Barker, The Exemplary Theatre, 1922.
Audiences have communal responses, and communal responses are unpredictable and violent because they are self-reinforcing. You begin to warm to what you’re seeing; your warmth warms the people around you; their warmth warms you back; your corporate warmth warms the performers; you all warm to the performers’ warmth. Or you chill, and the chill spreads around, then up to the stage and back.
Michael Frayn, Stage Directions: Writing on Theatre, 1970-2008, London, Faber, 2008.
J. Hassall, 'The Gallery of the Future (?)', The Playgoer, London, Dawburn & Ward, Volume III, 1903, p. 404. [A response to proposals to reserve seats in the gallery and pit - anticipating that theatregeoers in the 'gods' would wear evening dress].
AUDIENCE DEVELOPMENT AND TARGET MARKETS IN EDWARDIAN THEATRE:
TYPES OF PLAYGOERS, by A.H. Wimperis, The Playgoer, 1903-4.
No 1 The Stalls
No 2 The Pit
No 3 The Dress Circle
No 4 The Gallery
On the challenges of theatrical management
The difficulties of theatrical management are notorious. It has constantly been proved that there is no season of the year which is favourable for the production of a play. In the long winter months people do not want to leave their cosy homes; when spring comes, with Daylight Saving, the people are busy in their gardens or idling on the river; in the hot summer they do not want to be cooped up in a stuffy theatre; in the treacherous autumn months, when the first colds begin, they are afraid of draughts, and then too, having just finished their holiday, are hard up and are settling down to work. Just before a holiday season they are saving up their money, and just after a holiday season they have no money left. During the week they are too tired or busy to go to the theatre, and over the weekend they are out of town.
In spite of these difficulties, it is admitted that one or two theatres do still contrive to keep open, and that a few scattered citizens do still attend the play.
‘The Man in the Pit’, Punch, Punch Publications Limited, London, 5 December 1928.