Starting conversations

| by Catherine Love

2013 Showcase artists Daniel Bye and Action Hero's Gemma Paintin share their advice and experiences.


Daniel Bye

The experience of the Showcase was in some ways the experience of doing the show [The Price of Everything]. It wasn’t that different in many ways, except that there would be a sizeable minority in every audience whose first language wasn’t English, so it meant that sometimes there was a delayed effect ripple of laughter as people twigged at various different points. So it was really interesting negotiating that. It was enjoyable to have that experience and to think this show might work in places where English isn’t the first language, which I’d been sceptical about.

I was obviously delighted to be selected to be part of the Showcase, but my instinct was that I’d maybe get a couple of bookings in North America or other Anglophone countries, possibly one or two in Northern Europe. In fact the places that I ended up going were one in Northern Europe, one in Eastern Europe, but two in increasingly far-flung bits of Asia - both of which have Anglophone cultures, but where English isn’t predominantly the first language. So that experience of doing the show and finding the ways in which people met it slightly differently was fascinating and stood me in good stead for when I actually did it in those places.

The British Council evening parties are great if you’re in the show, because the delegates who’ve come to see the show - who you won’t recognise because they sit in the dark - they come up and say hello. I think just being visible at those things is really, really valuable. It’s really important that the performers are there at those things representing the companies. Three of the four international bookings that came out of the showcase for me in 2013 were through people that I met during the course of that week. Possibly those bookings would have happened anyway, but the conversations that I had with those people helped there to be a meaningful relationship, and those are all ongoing relationships. Just meeting human to human is really valuable in the right context, which for me is the evening. 

For me a good pitch is probably a conversation that happens to come round to the show. Going to parties I find quite stressful, and going to parties with the express intention of finding someone and selling just makes me hate myself and everyone else in the world and that’s not a good place to be if you want to have a relationship with someone. But just putting yourself in a place where you might fall into conversation with someone, that’s alright. Generally I find that all of the rules of normal human conversation apply. Be interested in other people. If you think of it as networking you’re doing it wrong.

Gemma Paintin, Action Hero

We were first part of the Showcase in 2009 and we were only four years old as a company then, so it was still very early on in our career. Subsequently in 2011 and 2013 I think we were are able to approach it in a more relaxed way. The first time we were in it I felt the pressure of thinking you do the show and they’ll want to book it that week, then you realise actually the relationships that you’re building are a much longer term thing. Obviously some people are just going to go “that’s the show I like and I want to book it”, and that’s fine, but I think it’s more about those long view conversations. And also acknowledging that just because the British Council is on this two year cycle, the cycle of a show or development of a relationship towards a booking or a residency is not going to be on a two year cycle; sometimes those things can take twice or three times that length of time to come to fruition. 

My strategy has been to try to let the work speak for itself and then to be around and be present at everything, so that if someone is interested in the work and they want to come and talk to you that you’re available and approachable and open to those conversations. I’m not the kind of person who will go up to someone and be like “hi, my name’s Gemma” and try to sell my show to them, because I don’t think that really works. I’m not convinced that the hard sell is useful. I think of it less as a sales pitch and more as as forum, a place for meeting people.

I think you’ve got to bring a show that you’re really happy with. It’s important to try to engage fully in the process of being in the Showcase, so come to all the breakfasts, go to all the parties, come to all the panel sessions, do all that stuff. For me as an independent artist I always wanted to be doing that stuff myself. If we were working with a producer they would come to stuff too, but I think it’s good to be the face in the room, I think that’s really valuable. It also makes your job easier because if someone’s liked your show and then they see you they can just come and talk to you.

And just relax about it. It’s easy to think “oh my God, everyone’s getting 25 bookings right now and I’m not doing anything”. Actually the life cycle of lots of these things is years and years and the real work actually is about maintaining those things and trying to find ways to stay in touch with people, rather than thinking if it doesn’t happen in the next month then it means it didn’t work out.


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