“The poetry is lovely, the hosts and poets are amazing and the atmosphere is always really great.”
How does a group of 4 Creative Writing students turn an open mic night into a successful local business?
Well, we started by expanding on the open mic night created by Sam Boarer and James Pavet at Burdall’s Yard in 2013/14. We attended as students and participants and it sparked our love of performance poetry. When it came to the end of the academic year and Rhyme and Reason’s future became uncertain, we jumped at the chance to run it for ourselves. Come May 2014, the group had the blessing of Sam and J.P to continue and take it further.
September 2014 –
New Term, new year. One of our key aims with the RAR brand was to expand upon the existing nights. The first step of this was to get in contact with Suzanne Harris at Burdall’s Yard and Di Starling at Bath Spa SU. After these meetings, we had an SU night every two weeks and four Burdall’s Yard nights throughout the year, as supported by our social media campaign through Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr and Facebook. In addition to these aims, we also began to work closely with the new second year performance poetry class, keeping in mind our long-term plans.
October 2014 –
In October, we had our first two SU open mic nights with moderate success. We had a decent audience size at both nights which created a great atmosphere. On our first SU night we made a profit of £17.30. On the second SU night, we made a profit of £30 from audience donations. As these were our first indications of how the events would progress throughout the year, it was incredibly encouraging and we gained a lot of positive feedback from the audience and the performers of the night. (See Video Page here and here for further videos. )
It was also in this month that we had meetings with Mimi Thebo and Lucy English and began to think about expanding the brand further. This included a possible venue change and further research followed (See AL 3). We also started to think of the possible profits we could be making from the Burdall’s events if we had access to funds or further understood the finance of the night. In meetings with Suzanne, she made it clear to the group that the nights made no profits from the previous year but continued to finance the headliners fee. This made the group question the validity of her information.
November 2014 –
November was one of the busiest months for the team. In addition to SU nights, on 3rd November we had the first professional RAR night at Burdall’s Yard with Sam Boarer as headliner. On 12th November, we staged a pilot night at The Bath Brew House, with the aim to research other possible venues for the brand, to see how the event planned out away from Burdall’s Yard. Overall this was a success and we made a total profit of £86 from door entry fees. Our public profile was further heightened toward the end of the month via Milk Magazine.
December 2014 –
By contrast, December began a quiet month for the group. The last SU night in November was cancelled due to a clerical oversight and the final SU night of 2014 was also cancelled again due to human error and double booking. This made the Burdall’s Yard event on the 1st December the last official event of 2014. This was a good night in terms of performance with the amazing Rebecca Tantony headlining, yet a poor show in regards to audience turn out. It was around this time that we as a group began discussions in moving RAR to The Bath Brew House permanently as we felt it better suited to the event style, better situated in town and we could make a viable profit.
“An all round fab event”
January 2015 –
Kicking off RAR’s 2015 series of events was an SU night, which though good was quiet because of it being the start of the year. The second SU night however, on the 20th January was a roaring success in regards to audience numbers with upwards of at least 40 people. At this point we were very proud of our retinue of poets, especially our second years who had become stronger as performers. This being an open mic night though, meant that sometimes the quality can suffer. This led to RAR having to deal with it’s own ‘gate’ scandal, whereby a performer offended the audience to a large degree. Our stance was a firm approach as we found the material in question inappropriate for the open mic. The team wrote to the performer and subsequently informed them that they would no longer have access to slots at our events. It also prompted us to begin looking at poet’s work more rigorously before performances.
Other points of interest during this month include a meeting with Suzanne Harris to end RAR’s contract with Burdall’s Yard, one of our directors being interviewed by a third year English Lit and Publishing student, Tamsin Asplin and RAR’s first official series of events, beginning on the 28th at the Bath Brew House, with Kevin Minors headlining a full house and great night.
February 2015 –
February marked another busy month for Rhyme and Reason. One of the things that came from the talks with the Bath Spa Live team was that we would no longer run the remaining Burdall’s Yard events. However, thinking in regards to our ethics and values statements, we delegated the nights to a group of second years; Hattie, Emily and Sam, to organise an open mic with the headliner not receiving a fee. Despite this, they succeeded in filling the venue with audience members and worked with RAR poet Tim Ledwitch as headliner.
Also in this month, the team established accounts to safeguard the accumulated monetary funds of RAR which were in excess of £200. This also gave RAR a financial foothold and backing for future business events. The team also received publicity through Spalife magazine.
Rounding the month off, was RAR’s second Brew House Night with headliner Vanessa Kisuule. This was our first event where we didn’t have our usual audience members, mainly made up of students. But it was the first RAR night where the audience consisted of walk-ins and members of the public, showing RAR’s filtration into the public domain.
March 2015 –
Following the success of last year’s spoken word events, RAR helped organise a 2 hour time slot of poets in the Bath Literature Festival. Due to external factors of the half marathon and weather difficulties the event was cut short, though remained a success for what did go ahead.
The following week we had clashes between our SU open mic and that of an Inter-Uni Slam organised by Andy Turner. Two of RAR’s organisers did attend and one did unexpectedly became part of the slam team. Overall it was a success for the university as it promoted the university spoken word scene but it did mean that RAR lost out on an evening of profitable donations.
As we had found in the previous months, our audience size had begun dwindling. In an attempt to boost numbers we decided to organise our own Slam night with a prize of a paid headliner slot at our Bath Brew House event at the end of the month. Due to a slip in promotion and a failure to realise that we had planned the event on the same night as St Patrick’s day, which had an impact on our usual audience size. On the other hand, whilst only having a handful of audience members around our performers, the atmosphere remained and we awarded 1st prize to Tim Ledwitch.
Our last event of the month was the Bath Brew House event. We had a moderately sized audience however we still ran at a loss with the admission fees. This was because we only made £40 from entrance fees but not enough to cover the prize money and so we fell back on our funds to cover the difference. One of the reasons the event was not a great success was because of the many commitments our normal audience had in regards to their own assignments.
As the project neared it’s end, the group encountered some team management problems. However, it was an important lesson to learn in thinking about the future and through overcoming the problems that arose we learnt a valuable lesson about organisation and team dynamics.
At the time of writing, the RAR team plan to take the brand on as a business into the future. With the majority of the RAR team staying in the Bath and Bristol area, we have hopes that we will expand in our existing events while also venturing further afield. The team has discussed the idea to apply for funding from the arts council and BANES council to support the events more financially. This would be our next logical step in furthering our plans for touring and curating events in other areas of the country.
After further discussions with Mimi Thebo, it has been decided that starting September 2015, RAR will take on an intern to shadow the team and learn the details of running events. RAR will approach the CS6001 Creative Enterprise module to find a suitable candidate. After a yearly review, they will then begin to take on the student led events and bring their own innovation and creativity to the brand whilst the directors focus on countrywide events. RAR has been a brilliant opportunity for the entire team and going from start to finish, we have all had our own personal aims and goals within the brand. It is our hope to bring in new talent and new opportunities for poets across the country and over the next few years branch out further into the public domain.