Thank you to Black Country Touring for this latest Case Study! Read on to learn more about their innovative work across the Black Country and how they have been pivoting and adapting during the pandemic…
Our vision is of a Black Country where everyone has the opportunity to experience captivating, inspiring and diverse performances in their community, regardless of their background, age or income.
We were established in 1997 to address the lack of opportunities for local people to access theatre, dance and film, in an area with some of the lowest levels of arts engagement in the UK, as well as high levels of deprivation. We also celebrate and explore the rich diversity of the region’s communities and champion their creativity.
All of BCT’s work is focused on creating opportunities for local people to experience diverse theatre, dance and film. Local communities are actively involved in programming, promoting and creating performances, events and festivals. We achieve this through three strands:
- Community Promoters: An urban touring network that covers libraries, community centres, museums and galleries, supporting volunteer promoters working in their community to select and promote touring theatre, dance and film;
- Young Promoters: Schoolchildren and young people aged from 5-18 in mainstream and SEN education transform their school or college into a venue for a touring production, learning the skills required to run a theatre venue;
- Original Productions: Site-specific productions that reflect the cultural diversity and the lived experiences of Black Country people – their histories, origins, memories, interests, hopes and aspirations.
- Community Cinema: This project enables local volunteers to set up and run their own neighbourhood cinema, using our travelling pop-up cinema kit. We support them to programme everything from British and international independent films to Hollywood classics.
We believe the arts have the potential to change lives by allowing us to see new possibilities, develop new skills and provide opportunities to reflect on our own lives, communities and the wider world.
One of the most exciting things about Black Country Touring’s work is that we enable and support local people to make decisions about the art and culture they want to see, in their neighbourhoods, making the most of their community centres, libraries and museums. This includes children and young people, who we support to transform their school into a venue for a professional touring theatre show through Young Promoters. They take on some of the professional roles that make this happen, such as programmers, stage managers and marketing, as well as developing essential life skills such as teamwork, communicating effectively and decision making.
We’re all about bringing big ideas to small spaces – this could be a theatre show in a local library, or an original production inspired by and staged in a local shop. We collaborate with regional artists from diverse backgrounds to bring unheard stories of Black Country life to audiences in the region and beyond.
Our current production Back in 10 has seen storytellers, theatre-makers, rappers and poets explore the independent spirit of our high streets and shops, developing new work about hairdressers, indoor markets, cafes and other small businesses. Life’s A Beach (2017-18) drew on stories of trips to the seaside – from a Black Country Elvis calling the bingo to the holiday from hell – all presented within 3 caravans for small audiences. Tongue Tied & Twisted (2016) saw storyteller and performer Peter Chand and hip-hop producer PKCtheFirst fuse Indian tales with contemporary beats. We can’t wait to get back to making live shows again!
INNOVATING THROUGH THE PANDEMIC
Covid-19 has definitely caused us to adapt and innovate to continue to reach our audiences and rethink how our ideas can be presented digitally. We believe it’s really important to continue to provide opportunities for people in the region to experience fascinating stories and exciting productions, especially when they are spending so much time at home. Many more people have been feeling isolated and lonely, which has really driven us to think about how we can build connections and reach vulnerable people.
A few of our projects in 2020/21 included:
A short performance developed for the Zoom platform with artist Jake Oldershaw based on international tales from the history of tea and coffee. Our main aim was to develop a live, intimate performance that also included a social element for audiences. Audiences were restricted to just 12 per performance, to help replicate the feel of this show in person.
A project that saw three locally based artists perform 1-to-1 with people via a phone call. We partnered with Sandwell Advocacy and other community and voluntary organisations in Sandwell to reach people who would most benefit from a creative connection with an artist – those without access to the internet who are particularly at risk of loneliness.
An original podcast investigating the murder of Quinton sweetshop owner, Fred Jeffs, in 1957, investigated and narrated by his Great-Nephew, theatremaker Graeme Rose. The podcast has been very successful, reaching an audience of over 4,000. It is the first podcast commissioned by BCT, following on from Rose’s production of the same name in 2019.
PLANS FOR THE FUTURE
Black Country Touring has previously experimented with live streaming and audio work, but Covid-19 really pushed us to develop these areas further. Thanks to the project we’ve initiated in 2020/21, we can really see the potential for digital projects to complement our in-person productions and events. While our work is all about bringing people together for intimate, shared cultural experiences, podcasts, live streams and even good old fashioned phone calls allow us to work in different ways and reach new audiences. Over 7,000 people have streamed, viewed or listened to one of our projects in the last year.
We’ve also been more agile during the pandemic, running smaller projects with quicker turnarounds than previously. This may be something we explore when we can return to live events again. What is certain is that we’ll continue to put local people, stories and artists at the heart of everything we do.