why, what, where

This is an important question that needs serious thought. The answers can fundamentally change the way you operate and have far-reaching implications for your artistic and business development. Just thinking that it’s a great idea isn’t enough. There has to be good reason for doing it with clear outcomes and benefits for you and your partners.

Each organisation will have specific reasons for wanting to embrace international work. They could include:

  • Inward and outward collaboration
  • Artistic development
  • Bringing benefit to the home audience
  • Becoming more outward looking
  • Financial considerations
  • Skills sharing
  • Improving your brand/profile at home and abroad
  • New partnerships

Whatever the reasons, they will need to become an integrated part of your development and be included in your business plan and mission statement. This will give you a clear idea of your capacity and how the international element of the your work fits in with what you do regionally or nationally.

International touring has formed the core of Lone Twin’s schedule for many years; the responses from international venues and audiences was something unique right from the beginning. Touring internationally promoted the company to reaches beyond the UK and established many co-commissioning relationships for new pieces of work, allowing the company to grow in ambition and profile.

Catherine Baxendale, Lone Twin

It’s also important to discuss your aspirations with your board, funders and other partners so you have their buy-in and support. As there could well be costs involved in international development you may need to approve budgets and amend job descriptions.

Arts Council England does support international aspirations, so always discuss them with your officer. They will want to see that it’s a good fit with your other operations and to see evidence that it will inform your core work and benefit home audiences and partners.

top tip: run an informal audit of your organisation to assess whether you’re ready for international work. Look at such things as capacity, staffing, finances and your style of work (see below). In general, you need to be in a strong, confident place before you take on this demanding level of development.

what to tour

The natural assumption is that working internationally means touring a ready-made production to overseas venues or festivals. This is an accepted model but once you have done an analysis of why you want to work abroad, it will become clearer what it is you wish to offer.

ready-made production

Touring work that has been created for the UK requires you to step back from your carefully nurtured artistic baby and take a hard, objective look at the product. Some questions you may want ask:

  • Has the work been made with internationalism in mind from the start?
  • Is it regional or UK specific?
  • Does it have universal appeal?
  • How would the language work for international audiences?
  • If its culture or language specific could it benefit from surtitles?
  • What visual/technical hooks does it have?
  • How practical is it in terms of set and technical requirement?
  • How many cast and crew on the road?
  • How saleable is it to promoters?
  • How saleable is it to audiences?
  • What are the costs likely to be?
  • What added value can you offer a promoter?

Also see Performance Fee Model

collaboration or co-production

This is all about sharing and/or developing work in partnership with international collaborators. The key to this happening is a well-developed relationship and a whole heap of trust and shared values.

The real bonus lies in creating work from the bottom up rather than simply presenting a finished piece to a potential booker. Some festivals, for example, Manchester International Festival and Kunstenfestivaldesarts base their artistic and business model on developing co-productions with invited companies. But venues too are seeing the benefits of co-production as this example from Analogue shows:

Analogue’s latest show 2401 Objects is a co-production between the company, a UK venue and Oldenburgisches Staatstheater in Oldenburg, Germany. The company developed this relationship when their first show Mile End was invited to the Staatstheater’s PAZZ festival in 2008 after the Edinburgh Fringe. This performance was such a success, the theatre offered to co-produce a future show. Because the funding system is so different in Germany, the theatre is well-resourced with plenty to offer a collaborating company. For 2401 Objects, the Staatstheater has:

  • provided members of staff as creative team – designer, lighting designer, assistant director and dramaturg
  • built the set in their in-house workshop
  • provided a month of rehearsal space
  • flown the company to Germany to make the show there

For Analogue, it’s a massively useful opportunity to create better-resourced work and to begin making international connections – both creative and touring. For Oldenburgisches Staatstheater, they are able to co-produce a piece that feels very different to their usual in-house work and will have a touring life far beyond Oldenburg.

Ric Watts, Producer, Analogue

top tip: always consider collaboration or co-production as a possibility when talking to overseas venues, festivals or promoters. They may not be taken with a particular piece of finished work on offer but they may be interested in your style and inspiration. They may also be interested in you adapting work to suit their home audience or commissioning you to create a new piece. Keep all doors open!

For examples of this approach, see Rachel Henson  and Blast Theory. Remember that working in this way entails site visits, so make sure you build travel and accommodation for preparatory work into your agreements. And don’t forget that international collaboration isn’t always about you travelling out. Inward partners, coning to work with you in the UK, are as equally valuable.

Click here to download a new booklet on international co-producing, commissioned by the Informal European Theatre Meeting (IETM)

 non-performance work

Of course, internationalism can also be about non-performance work. The sharing of skills is eminently exportable as are discovering new cultural influences on making work, exploring language, movement and technical ideas. A high profile example of this is between Akram Khan with his British-Asian influences and Sidi Larbi with his Belgo-Moroccan background. Both grew up in the west but both draw on their double cultural identity as a source of inspiration.

It’s not always the performance that is the most important; it’s the discovery, the sharing and learning – something that can easily be brought back to inform your work at home.

A good example of this is Action Transport Theatre, who have had long-standing relationships in South Africa. In 2004 ATT exported their own expertise to help Vulavulani, a young people’s theatre company, create their first piece of theatre. This collaboration continues today as they work with South African playwrights to develop their work.

 where to go?

No-one but you can answer this question but there is usually a core starting point for deciding. Where to go is usually dictated by a personal contact, an invitation or by the theme and nature of the work.

For obvious reasons, it would be sensible to cut your teeth in the countries in the European Union, especially if you are a novice and it’s your first outing. Tricky visa issues don’t exist as long as everyone in the company has a passport issued in an EU state (this also applies to associated countries such as Switzerland and Norway who are in the European Free Trade Association).

top tip: Each country, however friendly, will have its own foibles, so do your research well.

Travelling further afield will increase the amount of lead-in time and preparation you need. The USA in particular can be a challenge and it is essential that you work with a local agent or promoter. Similarly the Middle East, Far East and Australasia, though existing links are strong through organisations such as the British Council and Visiting Arts.

If you have definite ideas about the region you wish to work in, it’s worth checking with the British Council and Visiting Arts what their geographic priorities are – for example, Visiting Arts has an ongoing two-way exchange with arts practitioners in Iran.

top tip: Never attempt to put together your own international tour with multiple venues as you would in the UK. Always work with a local partner or promoter who’s on the ground and who knows the country. Even then, be wary of lots of tiring travel with get-ins-and-outs. Imagine the strains of a UK tour and multiply it!

check list:

  • Discuss with your team why working internationally would be beneficial
  • Make sure you are in a good capacity and financial position to take on the extra work
  • Get buy-in from the team, board and stakeholders
  • Assess the work you wish to do – is it appropriate?
  • Investigate the type of work you wish to undertake – touring a production, a co-production or other skills-based projects
  • Investigate the regions best suited for the work
  • Are you aiming to work at festivals, in venues or with other arts organisations/individuals?