The cost of touring

Touring dance productions is something I do regularly and is a fundamental part of Uprise Rebel’s activities.

We believe it is important to be able to disseminate to the wider community the artistically rich and innovative work that Uprise Rebel artists produce, as we seek to increase cultural diversity and representation within the dance sector. But touring productions, at any scale, is a tough juggling act that often feels like an uphill struggle.

The two biggest hurdles I come up against are financial limitations and presenting opportunities. Navigating the balance between these two issues often feels like a catch-22 situation: what should be secured first, the money or the presenting opportunities? On the one hand, for funders, you need to demonstrate some level of demand for the work, so you need presenters on board. On the other, presenters often want to see the work before they commit to programming it. If you can successfully navigate your way through this dichotomy – or successfully scrape your way through it – and have a finished piece at the end, you can move on to trying to mount a tour. 

For me, this is the hardest part, and I am not even referring to the complexities of aligning dates, managing people, or the overall coordination of logistics. Rather, the inability to construct a tour, specifically in England, that can be financially viable. In simple terms, income matching or exceeding expenditure. 

At present, independent companies carry the burden of securing the lion’s share of cash needed to present their work, meaning in practical terms we pay to perform, rather than being paid. Yes, venues provide a fee, but the amount is often a tiny fraction of what we must spend just to show up. Compounding the issue further, England-based companies are rarely provided with travel, accommodation or per diem expenses from the venue – even though not based locally. Not to mention technical chargebacks, which happens often because theatres are not well equipped and don’t have enough staff to support some of the most basic requirements needed during a show’s run. 

 However, in the spirit of fairness, it should be noted that venues themselves are suffering as they try to make ends meet. The country is currently in a fiscal chokehold, with the performing arts sector bearing the strain from decreased subsidies and
lower earned income from ticket sales, as they struggle to get audiences through their doors – especially for dance. Nonetheless, it could be argued that the funding models
around touring have never worked, and that this current crisis hasn’t created the issues, it is just allowing them to become
more visible.

So, that leads me to my next train of thought: how can we mend this broken system? I wish I could come up with an easy,
or semi-easy, way of making things work for all involved, but there are layers of systematic issues that have led us to this point. 

Of course, we need to reframe our funding models to allow venues to pay companies properly – and by properly, I mean enough to cover them showing up at the very least. Such a shift would be a game-changer in the sector for artists and independent companies, and it probably would take some stress off Arts Council England (ACE), whether by reducing the volume of applications they receive and / or those applications reducing their financial asks.

But the challenges around touring in England, I believe, are inextricably linked with challenges we have overall. We must, as a sector, come together to refresh and revitalise our modus operandi and rework our thinking and approach, especially around audience development, dance education, marketing, diversity, access and so on.

If England wants to be a hub of homegrown, world-class,
high-quality artistic talent, we must create fertile ground for people to be able to thrive, regardless of their class, gender and ethnicity. We must remove the gatekeeping and elitism that still prevails, and move towards egalitarianism, where opportunities and funds are better distributed.

Grace Okereke