Sunday, August 29, 2010

On Being More of a Ninja Than I Thought

A couple of days into Edinburgh Fringe I blogged about my experience of using Theatre Ninjas. It is fair to say that as well as being excited by the project (not to point to the repeatedly mentioned iPhone App) I also had some reservations.

Obviously those reservations didn't stop me from using Theatre Ninjas, as the fact that I went on to see ten shows through it (and tried for an eleventh but couldn't get a ticket) demonstrates. To give all this some context the quality of shows I saw via Theatre Ninjas was as mixed as Edinburgh Fringe itself is. Of the ten shows I saw there was a solitary one star show, a couple of twos, a solid clutch of three stars, two four star shows (The Wake and Helen Arney's Songs For Modern Loving should you be intrigued) and one show which, on reflection, was worthy of five stars - Invisible Atom.

Because I have a lot I want to say about this and a bit of organisational sectioning never hurt anyone I'm dividing this up in order to hit you on the head with my viewpoint even harder.

On Why Producers Should Put Tickets on Theatre Ninjas

Empty seats at theatre productions are just that - empty seats. You don't lose anything on a show that isn't selling out by having some of those seats filled by people who are actively seeking shows to see and thus come with good will in their hearts (or something less schmaltzy). Papering happens in every theatre in the UK and during the Fringe it's often done in a rather chaotic manner (the cafes in the main C venue and the Pleasance Dome seem to be the best places if you want to be pulled into a show, though I know of Producers who were offering free tickets in the street). Papering via Theatre Ninjas makes the whole process much easier and, frankly, more dignified to all involved.

More importantly, Producers, you could gain a lot from Theatre Ninjas. I saw 2b Theatre's Invisible Atom fairly early on in its run. For whatever reason it wasn't in the printed Fringe guide (and the paper Fringe guide - largely - rules) and, I'm sure they won't mind me saying, on the day I went were playing to an audience which could be counted on two hands. More importantly though, Invisible Atom is the kind of production, with the kind of acting, writing and directing, that makes me love theatre. Its scope - about ownership and responsibility and money and family and knowledge and science and ideas and belief - was the largest of any play I saw in Edinburgh (maybe any play - excluding maybe Architecting - I've seen this year). And yet it was so dramatically potent, the story so well told, that it felt like I was being carried by the ideas rather than drowning in them. Invisible Atom, as the best productions do, changed me a little.

I told everyone I came into contact with in Edinburgh about Invisible Atom. I urged - and compelled - people to go and see it. And friends did (crucially paying for their tickets). Then I found that friends were telling their friends about it because how you could see Invisible Atom and not want others to see it I do not know. Word of mouth works. That one free ticket yielded more paid for tickets than there were people in the audience the day I went.

For every show I saw through Theatre Ninjas that I thought was worth paying to see I told people about it (both in person and through the magical-ish medium of twitter). Which, I think we can establish, is more than an empty seat would do.

On Why Theatre Ninjas Did Great With The Smaller Venues

I already adored Bedlam Theatre but I saw multiple productions at ReMarkable Arts's Hill Street Theatre and a couple at Just The Tonic because of Theatre Ninjas. I spent money in their bars/ cafes too. These venues, which had clearly bought into the idea of Theatre Ninjas, made it easy to collect tickets (always a case of turning up at Box Office and stating the code word). I think it's quite easy to get sucked into only seeing stuff at the large venues with the teams of flyerers and Theatre Ninjas encourages you to go places you might overlook.

On Why It Didn't Work So Well With The Bigger Venues

We've already established that C venues and the Pleasance paper shows (I was papered for them both this year) but neither bought into the Theatre Ninjas idea. For the handful of shows from these venues that appeared on Theatre Ninjas the collecting of tickets invariably involved finding someone at some odd place inside or outside the venue at a specified time. I quickly made the decision that this was too much like hassle for a show I would be taking a chance on anyway. Which might just be my loss but...

If Theatre Ninjas is to expand - and its user base expand with it and make it even more valuable for Producers - it needs to draw more shows from a wider range of venues. My use of Theatre Ninjas trailed off after two weeks just because I'd seen most of the shows I'd be interested in seeing that were listed. To expand inevitably means engaging with the big boys. Clearly in venues like The Bedlam and Hill Street putting tickets on Theatre Ninjas (where appropriate) was encouraged. Persuading at least one of the larger venues to do the same is the only way I think Theatre Ninjas can progress from where they are now.

On Some Idiosyncratic Thoughts About Show Listings

Personally I don't think that Free Fringe shows should be listed on Theatre Ninjas. The nature of Free Fringe is that it's non-ticketed and free (excluding what you choose to put in the bucket at the end). The point of Theatre Ninjas is that you get something you can't get elsewhere (i.e. a free ticket for a show you would otherwise have to pay for). Lose this and Theatre Ninjas loses its purpose.

Also I think there should be a minimum amount of five free tickets before you can list on Theatre Ninjas. On all but one occasion (where I knew I would be passing the venue early in the day) I didn't attempt to get a ticket for any show that listed less than 10 tickets. If you're only putting two tickets on there what, really, is the point? In the other direction if you list 30 tickets - assuming you're in an averagely sized fringe venue - I am going to wonder if there's something I should know about your show. I know that's judgemental but, hey, I'm honest about my flaws.

On Why, On Reflection, I Wouldn't Have Paid An Admin Fee

After my first show I stated that I would have been willing to pay an "admin fee" for my ticket, as happens when I use Audience Club. There were other shows which I saw via Theatre Ninjas that I would have been willing to pay £2 towards but I'd suggest that was not the case for 60% of the shows listed. To be entirely blunt if I didn't know the company or the blurb didn't shout that I would love the show I probably would have given it a miss if there had been a fee. So Theatre Ninjas, in its current state, wouldn't work under that model.

On How Theatre Ninjas Improved My Edinburgh Fringe Experience

I could say Invisible Atom, The Wake and Helen Arney and leave it there because even one of those would have justified Theatre Ninjas's existence in my mind. But more shows, more new venues, more experiences. Not to mention how much I would have spent had I paid to see those ten shows.

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