Written by Adrian Kennedy.
The year was 1992, I was fresh out of college and had just set up a theatre company with my best mate, Lee, after a night out in a seedy Wakefield nightclub.
It seemed like a very good idea at the time. It was not very well thought through, but we were determined to make our mark on the comedy theatre scene….if there had been one in Wakefield at the time!
That was our first problem. Well, that and having no material or any ideas.
As it turned out, we did come up with a decent idea and ended up writing a two hander with over twenty characters called ‘Just Another Night.'
It proved to be a big hit and we went on to tour it, in one guise or another, for five years - including a four week sell out run at The Pleasance Theatre at the Edinburgh Fringe.
We soon discovered early on that coming up with the material was the easy part, selling the show and getting the gigs was the hard part - much as it is today - with one exception. It was 1992. No mobile phones, no internet, ergo no social media, no digital photography - nothing was instant. There were very few ways to reach your intended audience. That’s right folks, it was like living in the dark ages. And I had a mullet.
Word of mouth worked like a retweet for example, but much, much slower and with far less impact. There were no promo videos, the best you could hope for was a mention in the local rag, or better still, coverage on the local radio - that was the dream. Of course it got much easier as our profile increased, but the early times were tough to get our name out there.
With no instant photography, all promotional stills had to be taken professionally and you had to sit tight and wait for the results. Often they came back looking like you had had the picture taken at gunpoint. Tough, you had to use them anyway. Once you had your booking, it was a case of having to go everywhere putting posters up where they would allow it - Pubs, Chippys, Post Offices, Bus Stops, Shops, basically anywhere where some joker could draw a Hitler tache on your face.
I can give you an example of how desperate things could get just to get bums on seats. When we first started we didn’t have a base, if you don’t include a dodgy backstreet Wakey boozer, so we needed to be somewhere near a phone, you know, the ones that are attached to the wall. There was only one thing for it, we needed to set up in Lee’s Mother’s dining room. In fact, the first show we wrote was set in a pub with a magical jukebox that only had songs from the sixties which took over characters as they burst into song to help tell their story. What a great idea. The real reason was, it was the only CD Lee’s Mother had at time - 60’s greatest Hits - so we used that and the creation of the play was dictated by that dusty old CD and the songs within.
I’m getting tired now, being so old and that.
I once squirted glue all over Lee’s mum’s dining room curtains by accident as we were pasting new dates over our existing posters. She doesn’t know to this day, don’t tell her please. She’s still got the same curtains.
Anyway, I digress. Did I tell you we sold out a four week run in Edinburgh?
So, our first ‘big gig’ was at Wakefield Theatre Royal and there were around 400 people there. They absolutely loved it, “MORE!” They shouted, “Do it again!" They said, “I’ve never seen anything like it!”.......Well, not exactly, but it went down pretty well nevertheless.
So here comes my point about the measures you had to go to. Following the success of our first endeavour, the cigars were extinguished, the Asti Spumante was finished and the groupies were sent home - their imaginary home - because they didn’t exist. They were nice though.
Our big new show was announced for the following spring, to absolute silence. As the date neared we checked with the theatre on a tri-daily basis to see how many tickets had been sold for our exhausting two night run. It wasn’t good, very few people had heard about the new show - apart from dedicated theatre goers who got their quarterly brochure and still thought they needed to wear fancy clobber to go and see a show.
We came up with a plan to sell some tickets. We decided that if four hundred people came to the first show, some of them must have enjoyed it. What were their names? Who were they? How can we reach them?
What happened next probably broke so many modern day privacy laws, but, it was a time when the back perm on men was allowed.
We got in touch with the theatre and after much begging we got a printout, which we had to go and collect in person, of everybody who bought tickets for our previous show. Phone numbers, the lot! Incredible. So, with reams and reams of paper, we put the plan into action. We settled down in Lee’s mother’s front room with a cup of coffee, and when I say coffee, I mean beer. Lots of it.
We then took it in turns to ring every number in person, there was only one phone, to have a very awkward conversation. We introduced ourselves and explained that we were doing a new show and that tickets were selling very fast. We said we wanted to make sure the people who came to our first show weren’t going to miss out. It went on...we care so much for our supporters we always ring everyone in person.
Yeah, right, we were desperate.
It was a novel approach that was met with a variety of different responses. A mixture of delight that we took the time to get in touch to - ‘It’s not for us I’m afraid,’ ‘We will be there!’ or ‘We’ll think about it’ and finally ‘never, ever call us again.’
It took us the best part of a week to get through all the calls, and to this day, I am not sure how much impact it actually had. It was the old fashioned way of getting into people’s houses to try and get the message across. The show itself sold okay in the end, but what an effort when we should have been writing and creating.
By the way, the show was a triumph. When I say triumph, I mean it was ok.
I don’t envy the modern day clamber to get the content out there, it is a completely different challenge. I just wanted to reflect how it was before technology became so important and so crucial in the arts. Just a tiny window into the past.
I’m going for a nap now.