Thursday, September 21, 2023

Opinion: Local Artists Touring Offers Benefits To The Entire City

When people often think about touring, they imagine sold-out performances. Beautiful venues. Glamorous receptions. 

As someone who has made a living in organizing tours for organizations/collectives, my first considerations involve days with only an hour or two of sleep; frantic phone calls and texts with travel agents, managing a budget in the face of constant unpredictability and figuring out how to make unfamiliar places and references feel like a second home. I joke with friends that the best diet is a tour, because the stress and erratic hours often means I come home many pounds lighter than when I left.

In short, I believe the glamour of touring is a facade. 

But even with this knowledge, when the potential of a tour arises, I am a staunch advocate for finding a way to send our art elsewhere- whether it be within the province, across the country, or to another continent. So I will always sign myself up for the sleepless nights, fish-out-of-water feeling and call my favourite travel agent to convince him (again) to take my file.

Every artist and collective tours for different reasons. And as long as a tour is feasible and has clearly defined artistic and financial goals, in my mind, there isn’t a reason to not pursue a tour. 

To the larger country, touring is a way to export local talent and showcase our city’s ability as a cultural hotspot. It proves that we’re capable of making an impact on the national or international level. Whether it’s Maggie, the original musical by Theatre Aquarius being presented in Charlottetown, or Whale Fall, Same Boat Theatre’s offering in the Vancouver Fringe with subsequent performances in Ottawa and Toronto; you can bet that audiences on either side of the coast will be made very well aware that these performances originated in Hamilton- which builds the narrative about the quality of art in Hamilton, and the ability of artists to be successful on a larger level. In doing so, the brand of the individual artists, organizations and the City itself is strengthened.

Within Hamilton, touring demonstrates the ambition of an artist or collective. It’s probably not a coincidence that while Maggie is being presented elsewhere that Theatre Aquarius’ announced the launch of a national musical theatre incubator. For Same Boat Theatre, the momentum of touring means an encore production of Whale Fall being presented- this time supported by the City of Hamilton. The success of these shows outside of Hamilton shows that we have artists, organizations and ensembles capable of performing on a larger, national level. It not only raises Hamilton’s profile outside the city, but raises the profile of those artists/organizations within the city as well.

Touring also allows artists and organizations to develop a closer community. The decision to embark on a tour or export art is never made quickly. It can take months or years to coordinate all of the details necessary to take a show on the road- Maggie, as an example, was eight years in the making. In that time, while working behind the scenes on logistics, artists and organizations are also simultaneously fundraising- whether that be through government grants, private support, or, like Same Boat Theatre, a Kickstarter campaign. There is perhaps no better example of building a community of supporters than a dedicated touring campaign- where audiences receive tangible benefits for directly supporting their tour to Vancouver. In some cases, parallel tours for patrons are organized, where supporters (and members of a hometown audience) can actually travel alongside the company/artist to their destination(s) and watch the performance in a new setting.

There are also tremendous benefits to those performing. Touring develops artists personally and professionally. New venues and new settings expose those directly involved to different venues and audiences than they are traditionally familiar with, as well as new forms of feedback. Touring is inherently not the same as the usual settings an artist or ensemble will usually work in. In pursuit of a great performance, people are forced to be more nimble and cooperate towards a common goal. The result is that those on tour and those involved experience the highs, lows and delays of success together, which works to strengthen the ensemble- a benefit that is felt long after touring is complete. 

Regardless of the underlying motivation, if an artist/collective is clear on their goals in exporting their work, it is something to be celebrated and supported. We only stand to benefit from sharing our local performances with those elsewhere. 

Editor’s Note: In keeping in line with our values, it is noted that the writer of Whale Fall is a columnist with Beyond James. They were not involved in the contribution of this article.

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