With another festival season drawing to a close, I wonder how many of our international visitors, or even culture lovers closer to home, might be surprised to know just how many amazing arts performances take place throughout rural Scotland all year round. The Touring Network, the membership organisation that supports over 65 promoter groups in some of the most stunning locations in the Highlands and Islands, celebrated its 20th anniversary last year and now sees an average of 900 live performances take place in 90 venues each year. Since 7:84 most notably paved the way for rural touring with The Cheviot, The Stag and the Black, Black Oil in the 1970s, theatre and dance companies began to bring their outstanding work to venues of all shapes and sizes, until a small, loose-knit network of promoters developed that became the Promoters Arts Network, or PAN in 1998. Now known as The Touring Network, the organisation provides direct support to its members through marketing resources, online tools and special projects.
Rural touring is now an established and vital feature of Scotland’s cultural landscape, with audiences, promoters and performers all recognising the unique and sometimes life changing experiences it has to offer. Each year the Touring Network organises a members’ Gathering which provides not only a vibrant meeting space for like-minded promoters but also a showcase for writers, performers and producers, many of whom will have won awards at the Edinburgh Fringe and garnered outstanding reviews in the national press. The three-day event is always hosted by member groups in their own communities, most recently including the villages and small towns of Plockton, Cromarty, Ardfern, Boat of Garten and Forres. Volunteers, accommodation providers and caterers work with Touring Network staff to transform a host of small halls and meeting spaces into magical performance venues, where tour dates are booked, contacts are exchanged and exciting new plans are hatched.
In 2018, as part of its 20th anniversary ‘Epic Stage’ celebrations, the Touring Network commissioned a beautifully produced short film documenting the incredible but often unsung achievements of its members. ‘If We Didn’t Have All That’ delves into the stories, humour and lasting legacy of rural touring, and can be viewed on The Touring Network web site.
Why not find out what performances are going in in your area? Audiences are often amazed at the quality of work that reaches their local hall, but never surprised at how much everyone enjoys it. Rural Scotland is indeed an epic stage, and its communities know how to put on a good show – don’t miss it! Follow the link to watch the short film: https://epicstagestory.thetouringnetwork.com/film/
By John Saich