Christmas Presents for Theatre Lovers (or what to do when you don’t want to buy theatre tickets!)

Theatre Doodles mens white Theatre Rocks t-shirt

Live Every Day Like It's Panto Season themed T-shirt, 100% organic cotton

Today Backstage Theatre Tours launches Backstage Theatre Doodles, a funky hand-doodled range of men’s and women’s T-shirts made from 100% organic cotton. To celebrate we’ve had a look at potential Christmas presents for any theatre loving friends and relatives.

Theatre tickets make a great gift of course, but they’re not always the easiest things to buy. You have to check people are available, be sure they want to see the show and get their seating preference right – not at all easy if they’re a theatre fan! Theatre tokens are a good option, and can be used at over 240 venues including the West End with no expiry date but what about if you want to get something more personal?

Well here are some gift suggestions – other than theatre tickets  – that will delight every type of theatre fan…

For the Musicals Lover…

Stagefaves Christmas merch design range 2016

If you’re buying for a musicals fan you need to get yourself to the Stage Faves website. It’s a database pulling together the public social media feeds of over 2000 musical theatre performers.  There’s some very smart merchandise on sale too, including an exclusive “All I Want For Christmas” range (pictured above). If you know your loved-one’s favourite musical performer, you can order a personalised t-shirt, bag or hoodie for them to show their support! To go with it, mine the Stage Faves database for social media and website info and have a look at which musical theatre stars have an album on sale. Musical theatre goddess Kerry Ellis rocks some great music including exciting collaborations with Brian May. Latest album KE is a contemporary take on several well-know songs from musicals on stage and screen. Or try West End and Broadway star Ramin Karimloo‘s beautiful and unique amalgamation of bluegrass and musical theatre: The Road to Find Out – “East” .

For the Shakespeare Lover…

Customizable handmade hand-stamped copper bracelet - add the Shakespeare quote of your choice

Basically there are two types of Shakespeare fan: those who love cats in ruffs and those who hate them. For the first kind you’re in luck as there are all kinds of kitsch Shakespeare themed trinkets you can get hold of. Hit the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust for everything from Shakespeare Duck Lip Balm a Shakespeare-style retelling of Star Wars or stay feline with a Five Cats of Shakespeare mug from Catapostrophe . For the more serious Shakespeare fan you’ll have to think a bit harder. You can get handmade copper bracelets customised with a hand-stamped favourite Shakespeare quote from Wicked Wordsmith (pictured above) . Or how about a beautiful hardback facsimile of a Shakespeare’s play as it would have appeared in the First Folio, available from Shakespeare’s Globe shop. The Duke of Edinburgh was even presented with one during a visit several years ago so you can’t get fancier than that.

For the Backstage Fan…

Curtain Call: A Year Backstage in London Theatre book

Do you know someone with an insatiable curiosity who is always wanting to snoop behind the scenes? Make their dreams come true by booking them a backstage tour. The National Theatre runs a great range of backstage, costume and architecture tours and you can even book a delicious afternoon tea and backstage tour package. And a must-have for the Christmas stocking is the book Curtain Call: A Year Backstage In London Theatrea gorgeous collection of behind-the-scenes photos and interviews (pictured above).

For the Theatre-Loving Bookworm…

Theatre and books go together so well. For the reader with stamina, Daniel Rosenthal’s The National Theatre Story is a doorstep of a book that will keep them quiet through the festive period. Pekka Salminen’s glorious photographic hardback Theatres is an exploration theatre spaces from ancient amphiteatres to innovative modern spaces. Or Ian Kelly’s Mr Foote’s Other Leg: Comedy, Tragedy and Murder in Georgian London is the true tale of Samuel Foote, a 18th century dramatist, actor and comedian whose story was recently brought to the stage with Simon Russell Beale in the title role. For an interesting selection of playtexts, visit the Royal Court Theatre where the staff will definitely be able to recommend something fresh and exciting.

For the Arty Type of Theatre Lover…

La Belle et La Bete miniature theatre from Benjamin Pollock's Toy Shop

Besides a quirky Backstage Theatre Doodle’s T-Shirt for your artistic friend, have a look in Benjamin Pollock’s Toy Shop. They stock a range of toy theatres from cute little matchbox sized ones to the most exquisite detailed replicas in wooden boxes. This adorable La Belle et La Bête Theatre requires some scoring, folding and cutting with a craft knife but is easy to make and so pretty when finished.

Just a few suggestions to get you started with theatre-themed Christmas shopping…please add any other ideas! And remember that no festive shopping trip is complete without a mince pie, mulled wine, hot chocolate or all three.

Right, I’m off to play Season’s Greetings: A Jersey Boys Christmas

Love and Merry Christmas

Natalie X

Backstage Theatre Tours: Why do they exist and what is the audience experience? Some initial questions.

Many theatres now offer tours, from large organisations such as the National Theatre and Barbican to smaller venues like Wilton’s Music Hall. Tours can provide a useful revenue stream but are often part of a wider programme of a widening participation or audience engagement, aiming to increase and diversify audiences and strengthen their connection to the theatre, or to build links with festivals such as Open House or community events. Their perceived value in this area is pointed to by increasing investment from arts organisations which employ strategies from targeted marketing to extensive programmes of workshops, talks and tours, and campaigns such as the European Union’s ‘European Route of Historic Theatres’ in collaboration with the Theatres Trust, which aims to increase participation in theatre tours across Europe. Increasing diversity and engagement of audiences also features on political and social agendas. The Scottish Government uses increase of cultural engagement as a National Indicator, claiming it ‘impacts positively on general wellbeing’ and the DCMS Taking Part Survey collects cultural engagement data and socio-demographic information on respondents.

But to do the experiences and perceived value of accessing backstage ascribed by the institutions and creators coincide with the actual audience experience? And exactly how does allowing audience ‘behind-the-scenes’ affect the relationships between theatres and their and audiences?

Why do people choose to take backstage theatre tours? It’s interesting to look at immersive theatre as an example. Immersive theatre – albeit with a range of interpretations – is becoming a familiar term to more and more theatre-goers. Immersive theatre company Punchdrunk’s New York based production Sleep No More has been playing continuously to audiences since 2011 and smaller scale immersive productions abound in arenas such as Brighton Fringe Festival and venues like the Waterloo Vaults. Gareth White suggests that one attraction of immersive theatre is the audience’s competitive thirst for ‘being able to see what is otherwise hidden’ (White, 2002, p229) and Keren Zaiontz, in reference to Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man, identifies how audiences used social media after the event to ‘maximize their spectatorship’, competitively comparing and sharing their experiences.(Zaiontz 2014 p405)

Perhaps there is a similarity worth exploring here. Backstage tours can also offer a chance to plunge behind, beneath and below; to ascribe personal narratives on to mundane spaces and things ‘elevated by the extraordinary place in which they are set’ (Fear & Gammon 2005 p247). Backstage tours are regularly advertised as unique or unseen as producers exploit the desire for a secret or priority experience and accounts of the tour journey and en-route ‘selfies’ are posted by audiences on social media and digital platforms. Is this engagement merely superficial and symptomatic of a spectator’s competitive desire to consume as much of an experience as possible? Or does this afterlife have value in contributing to the audience experience and in relationship-building between audiences and organizations?

I’m interested in exploring all of these questions further to try and understand how and why audiences access, consume and value backstage theatre experiences. I also want to investigate how the audience’s desire for the experience provided by backstage theatre tours (and subsequent sharing via social media) is pragmatically applied by organizations to increase cultural engagement in theatre and build closer relationships with their audiences. Finally, I’d like to develop a critical framework for analyzing backstage theatre tours within the fields of theatre and performance studies.

For more information visit the Backstage Theatre Tours website

Bibliography / suggested reading:

Bennett, Theatre Audiences, London and New York: Routledge, (1990)

Donovan, Claire, ‘A holistic approach to valuing our culture: a report to the Department for Culture Media and Sport’, 10 May 2013 www.gov.uk/government/collections/taking-part/a-holistic-approach-to-valuing-our-culture ret. 24/01/15

Gammon, Sean and Fear, Victoria ‘Stadia tours and the power of backstage’ in Journal of Sport Tourism 10(4) Routledge, (2005) pp243–252

Machon, Josephine, Immersive Theatres: Intimacy and Immediacy in Contemporary Performance, Palgrave Macmillan (2013)

Sakellaridou, Elizabeth, ‘“Oh My God, Audience Participation!”: Some Twenty-First-Century Reflections’ Comparative Drama, Vol 28, No 1-2 (Spring- Summer 2014) pp13-38

Schechner, ‘Behaviour, Performance, and Performance Space’ Perspecta, Vol 26 The MIT Press (1990) pp97-102

Schechner, ‘Mainstream Theatre and Performance Studies’ TDR, Vol 44, No. 2 The MIT Press (Summer 2000) pp4-6

The British Theatre Consortium: Janelle Reinelt, (P.I.), David Edgar, Chris Megson, Dan Rebellato, Julie Wilkinson, Jane Woddis, ‘Critical Mass: Theatre Spectatorship and Value Attribution’ AHRC (2014)

Thompson, Robert C, ‘“Am I Going to See a Ghost Tonight?’’: Gettysburg Ghost Tours and the Performance of Belief’ in The Journal of American Culture, Volume 33, Number 2 (June 2010) pp80-91

White, Gareth, ‘On Immersive Theatre’ in Theatre Research International, Cambridge University Press, Oct 2012, 37/3 pp221-235

Zaiontz, Keren, ‘Narcissistic Spectatorship in Immersive and One-On-One Performance’ in Theatre Journal, Volume 66, Number 3, October 2014, pp. 405-425

www.scotland.gov.uk/About/Performance/scotperforms/indicator/culture (ret. 29/01/15)