Model Village actor Lee Rufford reflects on the experience of rural touring as an actor and the fulfillment this type of theatre brings.
There's a strange magic about walking into an empty village hall high up in the Peak District or deep in the heart of Dorset's rolling coast-kissing countryside and turning it into a theatre space. Lugging tons of set into it, to assemble staging and lighting for the next few hours, can sometimes feel a little less like magic- but if you prefer lifting steel and wood in a village hall, rather than weights in a gym, then it's ultimately massively rewarding. By 5.30pm the stage is set. Muscles ache - but not too much- and this newfangled space now stands empty but alive- and holding some new energy now, that wasn't present before. A kind of soft anticipation-  a space waiting to be spoken into and for a story to be told.

But to who?

It's audience. Rural touring audiences are unique in various ways, the same as any other type or bracket of audience. But of course, they are varied- both in there response to a given play and also their connections to it.
No audience is ever the same night to night. Even if a show is resident somewhere you can never predict an audience.  The same is true of rural touring. I think the main thing that makes a typical rural touring audience unique is their actual physical geographic distance from theatre venues and also the many sociological barriers they face in accessing theatre regularly, if at all. 

Of course, theatre can live and exist anywhere - in any space, without lights, props and intricate design. It doesn't even require actors. It doesn't always necessarily have to be professional but it does have to be available-

It always requires an audience. without that it cannot be shared or experienced collectively. I guess this is at the heart of what makes theatre meaningful to us all and keeps us interested and going back for more. That and the stories. An array of varied stories of human experience the prospect of maybe uncovering a new angle or some deeper slice of meaning that might shed light on or mirror to our own lives -  or our own stories.

There are many brilliant and unique things about rural touring, but to summarise - it's a lot of fun touring a play in the back of van-  but it's also very honest and noble work as far the acting and stage management side of it all goes.
More funding for this kind of work in the arts is essential and hopefully it's forthcoming even though it's testing times for many small/mid scale touring theatre companies right now.

From an actors perspective, the very good thing and glimmer of hope is that after 12 years or so of acting and loads of rural tours etc, I still find the work fulfilling and worthwhile and am convinced now, maybe more than ever, in its importance and potential to impact its audiences.

Long may it continue and be funded by the Arts Council and those brilliant benevolent supporters of companies like New Perspectives who have pioneered and continue to champion this kind of work and audience engagement.
Images © Lamar Francois, Pictured by Lamar