Can you remember the first time a theatre show came to your town? I can. I was 12 and it was ‘Return of the Forbidden Planet’. It was so cold that I had to wear 2 pairs of tights but I was totally transfixed by the stylised futuristic outfits, 50s songs and the excitement of having real life artistes in our small town.
A decade later Bob Carlton the creator of this show became my neighbour which made me really happy. He was a fantastic chap – witty and funny and devout in his love for Soho. We are all deeply bereft following his recent death from cancer – RIP Bob.
Touring a show is standard practice today but it has not always been this way.
Back in the 16th century theatre existed only for the superrich. Some of the earliest records show that Henry 7th kept a company called ‘Lusores Regis’
4 men and a boy entertained him according to his whims. They had other roles in the palace too. So when flitting between scrubbing the floors and delivering a sonnet became tiresome they began touring in neighbouring towns to supplement their meagre income.
As society shifted from the monarchy to capitalism this practice became more widespread and theatre as we know it today was born.
Fast forwarding to 2018 what are the issues now?
The impression is that travelling theatre remains challenging and poorly paid.
Award winning producer/actress/artist Bryony Kimmings writes vociferously about the difficulties she encounters in getting adequate pay to cover her costs when touring. The insistence on box office shares, digs with scary men carrying fake guns and people asking for free performances. Read it here – its very good.
Theatre director and arts consultant Rebecca Novick went as far as to write this article dissuading young people from starting a theatre company. On analysis her angle is that the industry is crowded and suffers from a poor structure with a reliance on grant funding.
So we have gathered that its a tough overcrowded and poorly paid business with a poor structure where people want you to work for free while staying in digs with peculiar people!
What are the good points?
I recently tasted travelling theatre for the first time 4 months ago. Speaking from my own experience – I loved it! It is one of the most exciting things I have ever been part of. We toured France, Greece, Cyprus, Jordan, Qatar, Bahrain, Sri Lanka, Singapore, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos with a production of Sherlock Holmes.
Yes it is poorly paid but it is also exhilarating, interesting and most of all incredibly fun. But does the gloss rub off after many years of life on the open road?
I interviewed Daniel Foley of performance exchange theatre company to find out!
Daniel can you tell us a bit more about how you got started as an actor and your career to date?
Well it all began at the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama back in the 80s. It was a really tough course – a lot of my fellow students didn’t get through at all but I gave it my all and even came out with some awards! I have always been fascinated by Asia so I went off to study Wayang Kulit (Indonesian shadow puppetry) in East Java under the great Pak Suleman and traditional Japanese theatre under Yoh Izumo.
From there I toured intensely with a variety of companies until forming Performance Exchange.
It must have been challenging in the early days – can you tell me a bit more about this time?
Yes it was, it started in 1981 as part of the 1st London Int. Theatre Festival (LIFT). I met some young performers who seemed interested in the classics and new writing, like me – same wavelength, and we had a bit of energy and naivety….so we thought let’s go!
What have been the high points for you?
I enjoy reflecting on all the places I have been – Performance Exchange has now performed over 100 stage productions in 37 countries
I have met so many interesting people and experienced countless random acts of kindness people offering digs, sharing food and stories.
My fondest acting memory was during a UK Cathedral tour. Playing Hamlet in Exeter Cathedral was pretty special. My biggest audience was probably 800 – a venue in Shanghai in 1987
What would you say are the low points Dan? The pitfalls of this life?
Having to do so much, planning, scheduling, adapting, writing, rehearsing, performing and then heading to the next venue.
What is your advice for people starting a traveling theatre company as a business? Would you recommend this?
Yes indeed. Start small, not too ambitious, believe in yourself, your talent and don’t be afraid to fail.
What are your funniest stories from the road?
I have so many – its an unpredictable and unusual life with many funny occurrences onstage and offstage. One which sticks out is a production of Oedipus in Seoul Korea, backstage. I was waiting to go on, the lights faded to black and in the darkness I couldn’t find my mask. It was terrible!
You always remember the more embarrassing performances. Once I did a solo performance (77 minutes, no interval) at a hotel in Chiang Mai. I had a good audience but by the end not a soul was listening. At the curtain they all rushed out for the refreshments – literally ran!!
What would you tell your younger self?
Be more organized, and don’t be afraid of promoting the production, performance
What are your hopes and dreams for the future?
Stay healthy, more writing and 2 short film projects
Don’t forget to check out Dans website – he may be appearing in a town near you soon.
Stay posted for the next in the series of nomad income – copyrighting!