Blog: Living in a VUCA world. In this case… St Petersburg

Attending a conference on behalf of iNTG in St Petersburg, Russia

First ‘gig’ since signing up to be Associate at The Judge Business School, University of Cambridge where I will be delivering new initiatives around Creative engagement particularly focusing on how creativity can play an increasingly important role in the dynamics of Executive Education delivery.

The two-day conference is on Organisational Development for large Russian and International Companies in St Petersburg project is ran by HR Club:

The two days are challenging – working on the themes of VUCA

Originally designed for Military use in assessing challenging scenarios this has ben re-applied to a Business development context


I develop and present a programme around these themes – and a way for businesses to approach these challenges.

Working with three Russian actors from local IMPROV group is fun and challenging:

So – back ground to VUCA:

Volatility—The nature, speed, volume, magnitude, and dynamics of change

Uncertainty—The lack of predictability of issues and events

Complexity—The confounding of issues and the chaos that surrounds any organization

Ambiguity—The haziness of reality and the mixed meanings of conditions!

The capacity for VUCA leadership in strategic and operating terms depends on a well-developed mindset for gauging the technical, social, political, market and economic realities of the environment in which people work


Planning and Readiness Considerations

Process Management and Resource Systems

Functional Responsiveness

For Volatile Situations…

  • Communicate clearly
  • Ensure your intent is understood

For Uncertain Situations…

  • Get a fresh perspective
  • Be flexible

For Complex Situations…

  • Develop collaborative leaders
  • Stop seeking permanent solutions

For Ambiguous Situations…

  • Listen well
  • Think divergently
  • Set up incremental dividends

And my thoughts and context

“if you’re not living on the edge you are taking up too much room”

A VUCA world is a complex world. How do we cope with such a world, saturated with corporate visions, missions and strategies, pushing us into one-direction with inflexible slow response thinking?

We have to strive for clear simple, fast and flexible decision making. We have to empower employees to take ownership for this decision-making. This includes encouraging creativity and imagination.

If we don’t develop imagination how can we expect people to think?

In any complex world we have to unlock innate creativity as a way of questioning the world and being part of the story but not being at the mercy of micro- or macro- economic or social events. We have to encourage corporate strategic thinking of course, but also flexibility, fast thinking and individualism.

We need to encourage a “Heads-up, Hearts in Culture” where employees are individuals with a creative mind-set yet still involved in ‘the team’ and understand how they can positively influence it.

To survive in VUCA world we need to focus on creative and imaginative dynamics, understand the nature of decision making and how to devolve decision making to the grass roots encouraging, positive, creative communication within organisations.

Ultimately VUCA survival is about how people can work together towards a common goal and strategy whilst retaining individual identity and influence.

Make clear decisions quickly… be ready, be responsive, be real!

Through exercises, scenarios and videos – including my old favourite the Orchestra and IMPROV.

We bring it all to life and really seen how improved performance can effect change.

Actors in Business Improv


On the way to Brno for Encounter Festival…

I stopped for a night in Prague and went to DOX to see a new exhibition : ART BRUT and a nearly new play 1914 by ROBERT WILSON

Both interestingly challenged norms – first ART BRUT at DOX:

DOX is the contemporary arts space in Prague

Art Brut is described as a form of artistic expression that is inextricably tied to the life of its creators, for whom art is a way of grappling with their existence – of conquering space, taming the body, mastering the mind, or even saving the world…

This is a fabulous exhibition which is a collection of work from collector Bruno Decharme whose interest is in artists working on the margins – (reminds me of the saying “ if you aren’t living on the edge you are taking up too much room”). Many of the exhibitors don’t call themselves artist but their output is of interest and has a powerful dynamic which sits with in and without any mainstream.

Most if not all of the artists have been institutionalised – prison, asylums, special homes. Many have physical disabilities or mental disorders from deafness to Asperger’s.

The work of Art Brut (which is not a collective but rather a random collection of individuals – just how they would like to be me thinks..) are articulations of fantasies or responses to situations outside of the norm – which create outputs in new frameworks with are truly articulations or stories which sit outside of ‘the norm’.



Reading the works’ associated stories and comprehending context, the art seems to merge with the artist, we comprehend how their brains were/are operating differently to the rules of the norm. From paintings and sculpture; to recycling of a parents ashes (see photo above!) to connecting of seemingly un-connectable objects, it is a whirlwind of output that literally stops you in your tracks.

We all go to galleries, particularly modern art and think why? Or what does that mean? How can I access this concept or why am I being challenges so brutally. I will go with my son to Tate Modern , he will look at a Kandinsky or Duchamp and say what the hell is that meant to be” – or what a waste of time or in the case of Duchamp…what a pile of sh*t.

In Art Brut these questions are already answered it is all mental – literally the work is crazy… which makes it interesting, challenging, heart-breaking and brutal I question some of the natural aesthetics or skill of making and yet the objects have such resonance that their beauty or cruelty outweighs their physical manifestations to let us into and be challenged but artists on the margin.

A remarkable exhibition.

In addition to this is the intriguing sculpture of Lukas Rittenstein’s sculptural series entitled Highway



Who moulds and melds old cars and vehicles with elements of nature – most dramatically big birds.. strange yet soothing somehow it is vast and clearly articulate work. Odd but rooted

National Theatre Production 1914

Working in the mainstream but challenging our thinking is Robert Wilson’s version of 1914 a play with music in a burlesque cabaret style which looks at the episodes leading up to and incorporating the outbreak of WW1.

All very vogue of course – the best piece of work by far I have seen on this subject area not being the somewhat tedious RSC production The Christmas Truce nor this production, but the Soundrama play The War which was performed as part of The Edinburgh International Festival 2014. The War (see previous Edinburgh Blog) was an EPIC piece of work with a solid single story.

1914 somehow managed to be less EPIC and less engaging. It was fabulously ‘cartoonish’ and minimalist with its brutal lighting white faced characters and symbolic movement. The world was odd yet recognisable and the action intriguing but not so interesting.

The stakes were high – but not high enough, the action interesting but…

The actors were good and the evening puzzling and intriguing but it left me cold and unconcerned.

The parallels with ART  BRUT was interesting. 1914 seems mainstream even though the characters were being pushed to the edge by the pressure of looming war.

Sterile, yet still enjoyable (entertaining) the work was more conscious and less inspiring perhaps than our marginalised artists..?


BLOG: RUSSIA: Better “With Hope” or “Better Together”?

2nd Day in St Petersburg…

The highlight of my visit to Pulkovo airport in St Petersburg yesterday was to visit the head of The Corporate University ; Ludmila and the HR Director Yana.

Yana had worked with me on the Pulkovo team development in Iceland but had not been to the Blue Lagoon trip (see previous blog!) so I kept my clothes on for the entire meeting!

The office for the meeting had a huge window with a panoramic view across fields to some roads. At the intersection of the roads was a giant billboard sign. Yana told me that the sign was owned by a newspaper and always had different sayings written on it. Up until the day before written in giant letters had been: Russia – “Full of Hope” But yesterday it was changed to “Russia: Together.”

I am sure this statement carries much double meaning as the economic and political shifts are taking place. One thing is for certain – throughout my entire trip these were the two topics of conversations – Ukraine and The collapse of the Rouble on the global markets. Interestingly everyone seemed to talk of hope and not fear. Of trepidation not panic. Where news comes from and how it is disseminated is also a common topic. However there is an implicit trust in the charismatic Putin and despite negative comments most people seemed to have this trust as opposed to fear around his actions.


One meeting I had over the weekend was with a colleague Olga who described Putin’s performance at the recent meeting about Ukraine with Hollande and Merkel. Olga had been listening to a radio commentary of the meeting in which a commentator had deconstructed Putin, Merkel and Hollande’s body language. One conclusion was that Putin was the defiant King – the strong confident leader, with Merkel battling her frustration and desire to pounce forward and grab him around the neck – with Hollande waiting in the wings to mop the brow of the contestants…

A cartoon illustration of a serious encounter perhaps but nevertheless there is truth in the fact that whilst words may be diplomatic the language of the body can display hidden truths.

This is certainly one area of theatre that I have been able to focus on in business development workshops and programmes. In all the work we have ever done , e have looked at Archetypes (King Hero, Mother, Innocent, Trickster and Fool) and how they are articulated visually as well as psychologically. The most obvious example of this has been in our EPIC programme where we breakdown dynamics of formal and informal communication into Body Mind and Voice with actors focusing on the Body language and vocal technique and me pulling other the whole picture or story.

Interestingly I am not sure that Mr Putin has been on one of my EPIC courses – but places are available!

And as Aristotle taught many politicians if you want people to believe you – you need both Evidence and Artistic Persuasion. And maybe Russia needs both … Hope and Togetherness ??


This blog was written three days before the murder of Nemstov.. more reflections to follow




Paul’s Blog: St Petersburg: “I didn’t recognise you with your clothes on” … an Icelandic Peace Treaty”

En route to St Petersburg….

Activity; both theatre and training has severely dropped off in Russia.

I hope to be back teaching at Meyerhold Theatre Leaders School in Moscow soon – but who knows.

I have been teaching at Meyerhold for last three years at The Theatre Leaders School but times are tough so may not be back! The Rouble has literally halved in value so now I am twice as expensive!

We at Menagerie ( are also hoping to tour our new play bloominauschwitz ( to Russia but again economics make it almost impossible at the moment – ah well you can see bloom on tour in the UK and various parts of Europe in May and June!

I actually can’t wait for ‘bloom’ – what an extraordinary configuration of James Joyce’s Ulysses and the idea of Concentration camp tourism (with jokes!) let’s see how it pans out … but it should be a triumph and hopefully one which will see us touring it…in Russia even!

Today I will be visiting staff at Pulkovo airport in St Petersburg

( the new international terminal, before hooking up with colleagues Ludmila Murgulets and Olaf Hauer my partners in the Russian training company iNTG (see photo of me looking very arty – off into space!)

We worked with Pulkovo last year when the creative team-building exercises we facilitated took place in Reykjavik. It was really like being in some kind of Cold War Peace treaty scenario – half the group was Russian, the other half German and together they were building a new airport in St Petersburg!

And there we were – the iNTG team plus actors Jasmine Hyde and Mark Oosterveen from the UK – all in Iceland, all trying to broker peace through the power of theatre!

It was truly bizarre but also lots of fun. Mark and Jasmine had recently finished a run of the Menagerie play Why Can’t We Live Together? In London

So they were a tight acting couple and we used this to work scenes, show characters and build up a communication skill set for our Russian /German delegation… For Jasmine it was an experience she had been through before working with us in Dubai and Hong Kong but for Mark it was – what the F**k am I doing??!? Is this an acting workshop or an audition to be in an episode from The Office ??!? The answer was probably … a bit of both.

But as always the objective was to challenge thinking, stretch minds and engage hearts … and working with actors as good as Mark and Jas does really bring things to life as well as adding a spark and positive dynamic into the whole training experience. Essentially bringing a bit of drama into what can be a mundane learning experience.

I can guarantee that when I meet the folks from Pulkovo later today that they will remember many of the activities we undertook and hopefully will have retained and used some of the learning –we will see; maybe they won’t even recognise me! Or maybe I will have to take my clothes off for them to remember me ????

…. bizarrely after our training sessions in Iceland the whole group went to The Blue Lagoon where we stripped off and got into the warm waters… it was certainly a different ending to most training – half naked soaking wet and drinking a beer. Actually this is how most of our training sessions end up..!

So we will see how the Russian market is shaping up and hold our breath for future opportunities half naked or otherwise …

PAUL’S BLOG Russia: Culture Clash at the Consulate!

Following on from our anti-bullying theatre project in Germany (see previous post) it reminds me of a classic scenario from May last year …

…running training for The British Consulate in St Petersburg, focussing on Bullying and Harassment in the workplace (how did I ever get here..?).

This is a serious issue for many companies and organisations (whether they know it or not..) but somehow it just makes me smile… Bullying and Harassment for the British Consulate..??!!

Staff surveys at The Consulate in Moscow and St Petersburg show there is an issue. This is not unusual nor surprising. And actually the fact they are addressing it is positive and unusual. When you dig a little the idea of harassment is not so much dignity based but more about workload and expectations placed upon each other and of course the dynamics of workplace culture.

Culture clashes are most interesting I find with organisations that work internationally. Bullying and harassment is very interesting when it comes to mixed cultures… what goes for acceptable in Italy is going to cause great angst in UAE… most cultures create a positive collision rather than a clash but it is always interesting. I found this working on projects in Romania, South Africa and Central Europe with international partners having very different expectations of behaviours, but the Russian/UK work cultures provide particularly challenging scenarios

Most staff working in The Consulate will be Russian. They will speak English of course, and most of their interaction will be with fellow Russians both in the workplace and with the public.

So as a theatre director coming in and not an expert in B & H I have to do my research …Particularly on the legal situation. The legal employment contracts in Consulate are Russian but influenced by British standards and thinking. Feedback during the session is that Russian employment law is lacking focus on areas such as Bullying and Harassment so the boundaries here are blurred. This is clearly part of the challenge. What are the rules and how are they interpreted (literally) and enforced?

My workshop time is limited to just under two hours. So all I can do in this short time is look at case studies, challenge thinking, and get some personal pledges in place. Mostly it is about un-blurring the edges of acceptability. It is a bit like “I can’t define it but I know it when I see it” (as in Potter Stewart The United States Supreme Court Justice on his definition of Pornography…)

However we have to create some firmer rules of ‘engagement’ as well as support a culture shift.

Most people can broadly define Bullying and Harassment but as you focus down into specifics then personalities and context get in the picture and definitions of acceptability become more challenging. One interesting area that came up was workload – was it bullying to get people to work late or ask them to come in on the weekend to complete work ? for some no, for others yes – it is about the amount of workload, how it is managed, how it is shared out and most of all expectations and communicating with each other.

For me this subject comes down to broad understanding for an organisation then specific context for individuals – it is about creating a culture where people have empathy and understanding and where perception is taken into consideration as well as rules.

It comes back to the core fundamentals of all organisations and people that work for them – can you bring to life two key dynamics;

  1. Have a great attitude
  2. Do the right thing

In the world of B and H the second dynamic is key…

I left with them inspired (I hope) to at least focus on the one thing they can control – look after themselves – and if they are bullies (real or perceived) to challenge their own behaviour…

I would tell you more – but then I’d have to kill you…


Blog: No Poo? Well bully for you!

We are currently working on an interactive theatre piece in Germany.

It is truly right up there in terms of bizarre ..

So … I have been several times to Germany (alone and with Playwright Craig Baxter) to visit US Army military bases where we are delivering an interactive workshop and play script around bullying!?!

Designed for Middle and High School aged children this is an opportunity to bring youngsters from military families together to watch a play then to ‘forum the action’.

The script is finished, the workshop designed and piloted – all we have to do now is put it in front of kids. If it works it will then be rolled out as an interactive education package that will be developed for Military communities all over Europe then hopefully in The States.

It is a pretty simple model whereby the youngsters get to own the action. One of the key factors is that the performers of the script are local actors (to each community), who themselves may have experienced or been exposed to Bullying.

The approach thematically has been to be universal – with some tweaks specifically for the military context – extended periods of parental separation, stress of environment and dynamic of rank and status. But mostly we have tried to put together a fun universal piece – which as far as I can tell is the first play Craig has ever written which does not involve poo – well not yet anyway!

The interactive activity is of course adapted from our working knowledge of Augusto Boal’s Theatre Of The Oppressed

The power of ownership of ideas sits very much in the centre of my whole approach to using theatre as a tool for engagement – get people involved, get them caring, get them challenging the material and each other and you have a dynamic which has value, depth and impact.

We will see how the project pans out but right now it looks like it will work well – and it actually feels pretty good to be doing a piece which can make a difference to young people who are bullies or being bullied. Certainly as the parent of two teenage children I can see the pressure youngsters are under particularly with cyber-bullying. This element features heavily within our workshop performance – and if we can raise awareness and the participants can establish tactics to prevent and counter cyber-bullying then that has to be a good thing.

Certainly this project is one of those “How the hell did I ever get here?” scenarios… on an American Military base in Germany helping teenagers to not send abusive messages on Instagram!?!

… and as Craig said during our second visit – how the hell did you ever bully me into doing this project .. “ Craig, just fucking do it, or else…”

What lies Underneath?

So a quick catch-up blog which will have to cover December…

At the end of December I had two key events – Creative Team building training in Zilina (Slovakia) and visiting Limerick to see a new piece of theatre …

Zilina was the residential training event supporting Akademia Zilina.

Working with Peter and Suz of NaPerone Theatre Company of Kosice.

The training was for 25 secretaries from a German automotive firm. Most of them worked as PAs and all were female…It was an interesting dynamic!!!

Peter and Suz were the Actors and the task was to work with the secretaries on their communication skills. We did some fun role-plays which mostly seemed to involve the girls abusing Peter (the boss) or instructing Suz (the PA) to abuse him!! Mostly I think they used the opportunity of training to say and do all the things they wish they could in the real world.

It was fun when the girls instructed Suz to give the boss an annual review on his own management style and skills  – it was very funny and very harsh… and who knows maybe some of the fun stuff will seep through to have an impact on how they work in a challenging environment when so much is expected of them?

Our training partners Akademia Zilina provided the translation and support for me and I worked with the actors to bring the whole thing to life in a dynamic way – and they were very good.

Peter and Suz also ran exercises – which included two classic moments. Firstly we went outside  of the hotel onto a terrace (it was a Ski Resort) and did some vocal training which included projecting our voices towards the mountains. After ten minutes of throwing voices we heard a voice come back from the other side of the mountains “Help!” – maybe they were training too???

The other classic moment was also outside when Miro (one of the other trainers) was trying to do a creative thinking exercise – with eyes closed “imagine yourself doing… so and so..” but the whole time we were doing the exercise we had one of the other trainers shouting “Kubo” “Kubo” “Kubo” as her dog ran madly in between 25 bemused (and hung-over secretaries).


Overall less about art and creativity and more about team-building and dog handling but an interesting challenge.

And most importantly I trained up actors to deliver this type of training – this is now an income stream for them as we build up Arts and Business Connections in Slovakia as part of Creative Kosice.

As 2015 evolves I will be training more and more artists to use their skills in Arts and Business cross-over activities which we hope will expand with international projects galore – watch this space!

The end to the Zilina trip was a three hour wait on the train station  to get the train back to Kosice – very cold … but i did feel like i was in a European Art Movie … stuck in a station in the middle of nowhere…



In December I was also in Ireland for the premiere of Underneath by Fishamble Theatre of Dublin.

Limerick is … well… who knows I spent the entire time in bars or in the hotel spa!!

But I am sure the rest of it is very nice!

Pat Kinevane was the actor starring in Underneath a one-man show he has penned about life death and judging (or not…) the book by its cover.

I love Pat as a performer (and writer) having produced his last two solo plays Silent and Forgotten at Hotbed Festival over the past couple of years:

One first viewing I was not totally convinced by Underneath. It appeared to be covering familiar (similar) ground in terms of both subject and particularly style,  as the previous piece Silent.

However I got sucked into it enough to care and to be challenged by the notion of how we see each other –particularly physically. And to be honest it has been a slow burner for me – watching it on opening night is always a little difficult and material needs to settle, but the material has stayed with me – now six weeks later I am still with the heroine as she battles societal ‘norms’.

Pat is a truly mesmerising performer and the material is strong and relevant. My only true criticism is the insertion of jokes which don’t come directly out of or feed into the story. They are unnecessary and really break the rhythm. This aside, Underneath is a modern parable brilliantly told that will challenge the way you view ‘beauty’ .

I hope to grab it for Hotbed – and I know it will be in Edinburgh at the fringe in 2015 – so definitely catch it before it gets its Fringe First!

OK, travels since Limerick include Czech Republic, Germany and Holland – more to follow… let’s see what lies beneath…

Blog: A Celebration of Absurdity ?

9th December 2014

Since returning from Poland for the Audience Development project with Agata Etmanowicz…I have been looking at other opportunities for development…

I have been on my travels again for meetings and talks in Prague, with people working with Impact Hub. This is a space where business Start-ups engage in work-space, events, talks and networking.

I have also been in Amsterdam at Melkweg for European collaboration meetings looking at cross-collaborative European events

These projects are all about networking, about strength in collaboration. Every project I have ever worked on has been one that has come about because of planning and vision combined with luck and networking – all based around inspiring and being inspired by people.

I stand by the Aristotle quote about getting involved, engaging and taking risks … if you want to avoid criticism then …

Do Nothing

Say Nothing

Be Nothing

But if you want to engage with people, take risks create sparks and opportunities then;

Do Something

Say Something

Be Something

This philosophy and some tools for achieving it is what I have been touring Europe and speaking about and engaging with.

Sandwiched in between these, back in Cambridge we have been working on developing our new touring production of the play bloominauschwitz;

This will tour nationally and internationally – telling the interwoven stories of Leopold Bloom from James Joyce’s novel Ulysses with the story of the Jews in Concentration Camps during WW2…the most extreme absurdity of the 20th century…

In between Prague and Amsterdam trips I have been in Slovakia working with my colleagues at Kosice 2013

The highlight of the first part of the trip to Slovakia was a trip to The Matrioshka Festival

This is a retro Communism festival – very interesting idea to look at the art and culture that was associated with Communism and especially in the context of the Czech Republic.

The description of the group organising it is

We are AZIMUT, a civic association, which aim is to break the barrier of secrecy and indifference; and thus renew the debate about totalitarian regimes and dictatorships. We feel that in a society, the downplaying of these topics is happening more and more; people are passive and indifferent and even become tolerant to the their spread. We are supporting all people, who are intelligent, freethinker, free-creators, free-speakers and free silent. Through Matrioshka festival, we want by art form arouse interest in young people for greater awareness of democratic values and freedoms, that are today freely available to all of us. At least for now. So don’t mess it up people.

So in true Communistic style we go marching through the streets of Kosice singing Communist songs and hearing a broadcast of Communist speeches and archive materials. There is great irony and confusion on the streets as music and speeches blast from speakers and it turns dark as we hear gunfire and screams before bringing the Absurdity to and end.

Under the banner of Don’t Let Absurdity Destroy Humanity the festival was celebrating Communism in one sense – reflecting on the activities in Arts and Culture associated with it, but more importantly celebrating the fall of Communism and the energy and opportunity that freedom brought with it.

Plays, talks, films and exhibitions follow.. All of this is the brain-child of students of the Escalator Programme which I was a part of teaching ; Mirka and Slavo –

To be honest I love a good march and being told what to do ! But it was also very sobering to hear the stories and reflect on the restrictions… the feeling is that issues in Ukraine are building pressure again..

The young people of Kosice have been using their energy to at least focus on the Absurdity of the world as was, without gilding the world we live in now…an interesting, sobering and valuable festival which we will see again in 2015…



Blog: Thinking outside the Box Office (Part Three: Wroclaw)

So onto Wroclaw…

25th October 2014

This is an audience development project for the European Capital of Culture 2016

There are a number of experts on panels and in workshops, all focused on Audience Development.

In the marketing materials I am described as “oraz” Paul Bourne.

Which is essentially “also” Paul Bourne…

Clearly not the key draw here!

The journey on the train from Warsaw is five hours. We have a single carriage – old school European train travel always reminds me of the really great play we did a few years back “Correspondence” by Clare MacDonald – a brilliant journey piece about a couple traveling through Europe and their lives;

A man and a woman board a train together. She pours coffee. He drinks brandy. She smokes for the first time in years. He smiles. Through the night, they exchange memories, stories and secrets. When the sun rises, everything has changed forever…

I have always loved European train travel. As predicted by my colleagues, two hours into the journey the other member of our carriage, an elderly Polish gentleman, opens up his kanapka (sandwich) – foil wrapped – and enjoys his essential food for a Polish train journey.

I make the mistake of asking the tea-lady for a complimentary tea and a biscuit “ JUST ONE item for you”…oops I was hungry…at this stage I am seriously contemplating jumping our fellow passenger for a bite of his kanpka…

We make it to rain sodden Wroclaw – dinner is in the hotel due to, well, … rain sodden Wroclaw. The next day sees us prepare for our sessions.

This time Paul Bogen is doing the opening speech – very different to mine. Paul is very much into organisational strength and clarity of mission to support vibrant and imaginative audience engagement. This is his background and as he covers all the essentials of placing the audience at the heart of what you need to do, I feel that the artist is missing somewhat in the process. However maybe I am swayed too much towards the artist and robust business frameworks are of course essential.

Paul’s big thing is arts organisations not being heavily reliant on funding as this makes organisations vulnerable and potentially lazy. Many of the organisations represented in the audience have 80% funding and so where is the incentive to drive marketing and audience development? Paul’s argument is well founded and of course fundamental to so many questions of funding; who we fund and why we fund them. Certainly arts organisations that are significantly funded need to think about their future business models and this includes how they develop audiences.

Another factor for this particular audience is the challenge of being a Capital of Culture, which can be a poisoned chalice. Being capital of culture has its potential pitfalls – not least that people become saturated with Art and Culture throughout the year, and by April no one wants to go to yet another festival or to see another bloody play.

Paul finishes his speech with a fun YouTube video showing a public engagement project by Carnegie hall – hilarious and interesting in the way it engages audience but also empowers the orchestra (a great team –building project I think).

The rest of the evening is panel discussions about the programming for 2016, the programming approach a successful cinema space and the results of a survey about 2016 and what the people of Wroclaw think of being a capital of culture.

What I learned from the 2016 research was that the people of Poland in general and Wroclaw in particular love festivals, love them to be outside and love them to include food… this information can certainly guide and support specific audience development.

In our workshop (Agata Etmanowitz and me) on segmentation the next day food also plays a part. Agata and I are looking at how we can divide up audiences to target marketing towards them to fit out product or extend or engage with new audiences… There has been lots of research on audience segmentation and research is important but we can also take a research-free gut-feeling towards audiences and see what we can conjure up in terms of Types. I like the grouping of people that are probably, likely and unlikely going to come to events. In all of the groups we come up with for Polish people food, plays a major part.

Key audience development includes the Audience Atlas.

I go back to my assertion that just putting on an event, printing a flyer and face-booking is not enough.

I go through our recent Hotbed Festival at the Junction and how we start thinking about the audience from the moment we start programming through to the next cycle of programming, where we listen to audiences, watch their patterns and gain their confidence.

My Wrap-up session is of course interactive and hopefully memorable as we take away key learning…

Placing people at the heart of programming, marketing and customer experience seems obvious, but we don’t do it enough, but  if we do it right, our audiences will educate us as much as can educate them.

Blog: Thinking Outside the Box Office (Part Two)

Warsaw 23rd October 2014

I am in Warsaw with colleague Paul Bogen, former director of The Junction;

We are delivering Masterclass workshops on Audience Development for Polish Cultural organisations.

We meet up with Agata and Aga from Impact Poland, which makes us Paul, Paul Aga and Agata…

Impact is an audience development agency

Since 2011, Impact promotes the audience development concept in Poland organising conferences, workshops and individually working with art organisations and institutions in Poland. We have published 2 books in Polish about audience development concept and tools including good practices from Polish organisations.

I am first up on day one with a Key Note speech on Audience Development. I have 90 minutes to inspire and engage a room full of Polish artist and Arts Administrators…

My trick of course is to be interactive and I win my bet with Paul Bogen as I was told that I couldn’t make Poles laugh or say/do anything other than complain… I manage to get them to laugh (mostly with me…) and interact and… complaining is kept to a minimum. (although I note now a week later, that the feedback on my session was great including the line… you were a star… of course some people walked out of your session, but this is not a problem…!!!)

Despite the overall success of the session things don’t start well…

I introduce my brilliant and hilarious title to my talk with a fanfare which goes down like the proverbial lead balloon …

” yes folks my talk is called… Thinking Outside The Box Office”.. “

Brilliant!.. total silence…

Oops .. it is only two days later that Agata tells me no one knows what Box Office is… must research more next time

One minor incident (ok.. . accident) during the session as the head of a cultural organisation takes a tumble off a chair whilst balancing on it during one of my demonstrations about Instinct vs. Logic in thinking processes – oops- she instinctively hit the floor!

Well that was memorable – audience development bruises are I feel a fine lesson…

Lecture/Keynote focuses on challenging the audience over the notion that people will come to their event because “Art Matters” – not good enough.

I focus on who are our audiences/ who might be our audiences and who will never be; analysing who and why?

I adapt Aristotle…

If you want to avoid criticism

Say nothing…

Do nothing…

Be nothing…


To a Paul Bourne-ism…

If you want to avoid audiences

Say nothing…

Do nothing…

Be nothing…

And one PB original:

“If no one comes and sees your work… its not a performance… its a

rehearsal… and Life is not a rehearsal”

For me Audience Development is about capturing Hearts and Minds – understanding your product and organising your audience  – with great programming, great marketing and buckets of engagement opportunities – whether through education, access or inspirational activities and opportunities…

But mostly it is about an awareness that programming what you want and then assuming audiences will come to it,  is not enough…

I go through case studies; starting with The Greeks at the festival of Dionysia which saw pretty well the whole of Athens involved in Theatre contests through to:

Open Studios in Cambridge, an artists co-operative which opens up studios and houses to the public to engage with art in the artist’s home turf:

London’s Orchestral Marketing Consortium. Which collaborated effectively on cross – marketing initiatives through interrogating shared box office data, and combining their experience and know-how, learning how to work together effectively with collaborative approaches for growing audiences.

Our Menagerie production of Stand By Your Van (where we added audiences by offering the prize of a real vehicle to audience members) in Florida

And how we sold 100% of our tickets (one Performance member to one actor).

And some interesting thoughts on what audiences want and what audiences don’t know what they want. This is a nice article from Steve Waters in The Guardian about our Hotbed Festival and encouraging audiences to engage with new work:

Through to National Theatre Live as an example of bringing new audiences in (3.5 million new viewers)

And on to my favourite piece of programming where Street Artist Banksy takes over The Bristol Museum – boosting the museum audience by tens of thousands:

Along with Apps for museums, street marketing campaigns and all that lies in between I explore and challenge the notion that it is not enough to simply programme an arts event then put it on…

What do all of these have initiative have in common… thinking outside the Box Office of course!

A day of workshops is followed up by Paul Rex Bourne warm-ups and then a classic Wrap-up and Evaluation where the audience makes promises, give statements, find objects do performances and give feedback…

 After a day and night in Warsaw (including the litre beer specials) we head to Wroclaw for thinking outside the Box Office Part Three…