Blog - Pitching is not always perfect

Pitching is not always perfect

Blog by Ruby Glaskin (Creative Producer for In Good Company at Derby Theatre)

There are now numerous opportunities for artists to pitch their work to programmers. These can be incredibly productive opportunities for both programmer and artist. However, having been an artist who has pitched numerous times, a programmer who has seen pitches numerous times, and a producer who has produced numerous pitching events, I have come to realise that they can also be problematic for all parties.

Trying to produce the perfect pitch event is near impossible. You want to give as many artists the opportunity to present, but you don’t want the day to be too long. You want the artists to present their work in the best light, but you don’t have enough time to tech. You want the right people to be in the room, but in reality you can’t find a date that works for everyone. You’ve sort of failed before you’ve even begun!

As a programmer, pitching events can be equally demanding. They are often long, far too long, meaning that by the time the later pitches roll around, you are tired and hungry and not viewing the work with the same enthusiasm as you did earlier on in the day. They also take up a considerable amount of your time, usually a full working day, which, at some points in the year, can be very difficult to justify. And more often than not, you are not seeing the work in its true form. Either the production values have been greatly reduced to accommodate the limited technical set-up, you only see 20 minutes of a full piece, or the audience you’re sat with is a room full of industry, so reading audience reaction can be totally skewed in comparison to a regular audience experience.

But really, pitching events is bloody hard for artists, especially early career artists. For many, this may be the first time they’ve shown anything to an audience with industry amongst them, and sometimes it’s the first time they’ve toured anything to a professional venue. With this in mind, pitching events can be disastrous. The limited technical time, and the stress that also puts on the technical team, can be incredibly intense, and emerging artists are sometimes asked to compromise their work just moments before they go on stage. And once they’re on stage, boy is it a tough crowd! All artists will agree that an audience predominantly full of industry, is a terrifying experience. You look out into a sea of stony faces and you’re lucky if you even get a titter at what you believe is the funniest moment of the piece. This really requires nerves of steel and all too often I’ve sadly seen artists lose this and panic in the moment… and if this is an artist’s first experience of showcasing work, they will not have developed the thick skin needed to recover from such encounters. Although I would also argue that can’t be developed until you’ve really been in the lions’ den.  But this environment also does not contribute to cultivating ‘real’ audience response. I’ve seen and made shows that fly on the night of performance but almost completely bomb at a pitching event. Finally, often the way that the day is structured leaves artists doing their get-out while the all-important networking is going on in the bar, undermining the entire purpose of the day. 

I am not in any way proposing that we scrap pitching events entirely; I do believe they are incredibly valuable opportunities and, my gosh, they have opened doors into the industry for artists that we never opened before…but I do think we can get better at them.

As producers, we need to keep logistics in the forefront of planning the event. Less is more. Longer tech times will help present work in its best form, and put less stress on the artist on the day. And by presenting less, you are making it a much more appealing opportunity for programmers. I think venues also have a responsibility to train their technical teams in providing effective support for inexperienced artists. Just a simple briefing beforehand, highlighting how this is not your average touring production, would go a long way to making the artists feel a lot more relaxed on the day. Also be mindful of the schedule and make sure both artists and programmers can inhabit the same space at some point in the day.

As programmers, we need to remember the vast differentiation of experience in the room and remain open in our minds, as well as in our outward appearance. Of course I’m not suggesting we forgive bad work, or lie to artists, but more so that we give it a chance to exist in a positive space before we make our minds up. But also, we need to travel a little more and see more work. The rise in pitching events has been a direct response to the difficulty artists have experienced in getting programmers to see their work, especially when outside of London. Our job as programmers is to see work, and that’s the best part of it. If we all did this a little more, then there would be less need for these events and eventually mean the ones that do continue to exist, can be more carefully curated. 

And as artists, we need to stick by our work. If a pitching event means you have to compromise to the detriment of the piece, don’t do it. Realise this is not the show to pitch and work hard to get industry to see it on another platform. Equally, stick to your guns on the day. If you are asked or forced, because of time constraints, to make last minute changes or edits you are within your right to contest that. Even if that means you may not be able to pitch, sometimes that may be better than pitching without the things you need. It’s also good to remember to be realistic, prepare well and work within your means. A pitch is a show in itself and it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to just transpose the first 20 minutes of your piece without any additional work or preparation. So, treat it like a production. Make sure you have a production meeting, a proper tech spec, and even a dramaturg/outside eye to make sure that the work translates in this format. On the same note, producers/venues should also see it as a show and therefore, wherever possible, a fee should be offered.

I’m certainly learning all of this as I go along, and I hope that if we all strive to build upon these experiences, pitching events can continue to be a valuable experience for all involved.

In Good Company will be hosting a day of development as part of DEparture Lounge festival on Friday 22 July, which will include key-note speeches from experienced artists and venue directors, a chance to meet programmers and a selection of work-in-progress showings.


Find out more about DEparture Lounge