Build trust, challenge your assumptions and embrace new experiences. As the Edinburgh Festivals kick off, the British Council’s very own Andrew Jones shares some expert advice for performing arts companies seeking international opportunities
Top 10 tips for touring internationally
Volcano Theatre perform Seagulls at the Edinburgh Fringe. Photo: John Littlejohn
As the Edinburgh Festivals launch, artists around the world are thinking about touring. But it's hard to prepare yourself for international opportunities. That's why our Theatre and Dance team offers specialist mentoring for UK practitioners involved in events such as our Edinburgh Showcase, as well as Made in Scotland and Caravan.
If you've been to a British Council mentoring session, you've probably heard from Andrew Jones, our Senior Programme Manager. Andrew started working for our Theatre and Dance team in 1988, after 13 years running the award-winning physical theatre company Volcano. At Volcano, he toured extensively around the world; at the British Council. he's created numerous opportunities for more artists.
Here are Andrew's top 10 tips for international touring – or, as we like to call it, his 'Tough Love Talk'. It's designed for artists in the UK but also relevant to practitioners in other countries.
1. Good art
First things first. If it's not good art — backed up with high production values, technical skill and managerial proficiency — it won't be going anywhere.
2. Invest invest invest
You should be prepared to invest time, energy and money into developing your networks and reputation. Make sure you have the capacity within your organisation to maintain the momentum of international touring.
3. What makes you unique?
Can you describe clearly what's special about your production and your practice? You should be able to communicate your unique selling points to potential buyers. And don't forget the expertise of the people involved in making the work. Are there opportunities for a range of workshop or exchange models? This can sometimes be the deciding factor as to whether you get booked.
4. Understand your partners
It's important to accept that different agendas sometimes drive programming decisions. These could include political situations, anniversaries, target audiences, sponsors' objectives and opportunities for skills transfer.
5. Build trust
Don't promise to do something and then fail to deliver. It's important to work hard to build faith in your work in order to gain the confidence of people who will be giving you opportunities. Nothing comes easy and you have to do the hard stuff first.
6. Challenge your assumptions
Bear in mind that your assumptions about international markets and the value of the opportunities that exist to present your work in them may well be wrong.
7. Embrace new experiences
The streets of the international arts world are rarely paved with gold. It's better to think more about the value of new challenges and experiences. Be patient. If you make new links, potential to develop into longer-term collaborations and exchange.
8. Don't try 'selling coals to Newcastle'
International presenters generally look beyond their country's borders for work that brings something new to their audiences and that local artists don't already do better.
9. Starting over
If you find success and presenters come back for more, be careful about diversifying too quickly. If your next piece is radically different, bear in mind you might need to start building entirely new relationships in different markets.
10. Strength in numbers
Don't consider your UK peers as your competitors. It's better to consider yourselves as part of a collective. If your work isn't right for a particular international programmer, can you offer them informed advice about another company? If we all do this for each other, it opens up more opportunities.
If you're a UK-based artist or company, keep an eye out for our Edinburgh Showcase 2019 call for entries – launching soon. Sign up to our newsletter or follow us on Twitter @UKTheatreDance to hear more.
Find out more:
> Visit our FAQs for more advice on working internationally
> Check out funding from Arts Council England – Developing Your Creative Practice
> Read an international touring guide from Gary Hills for the Caravan showcase