Having experienced the cancellation or postponement of just about every event imaginable as a direct result of the Coronavirus pandemic, it is a great relief that things appear to be getting better. As we reflect on life prior to lockdowns and restrictions the normality we had been accustomed to may, it has been suggested, never return. Instead, we are now apparently experiencing the infancy of a bright new era. An era that many professionals and amateurs alike have, in recent times, been both predicting and defining as an exciting new normal!
Exciting? I ponder if that really is the case! But only time will tell. Whatever the boffins proclaim that they have predicted, even they, like weather forecasters, cannot genuinely foresee any particle of the future. Like it or not, that is for God to decide. And whatever the future does bring, we shall no doubt get through it, somehow!
So, whether we like it or not, as we now find ourselves in this so-called new normal, many churches and other social establishments, among others, may be considering putting on their own local promotional events. An idea that is to be warmly encouraged, but it transpires that many of these venues have rather limited space for such occasions due to their small buildings.
We contacted our regular contributor, Revd Eric Thorn, and asked for his comments. As a consequence, in this issue of MEN (Maintenance and Equipment News for Churches and Schools) Eric shares his response. As always, please remember to take into account that this feature is based on Eric’s considered ideas and consequently may not resemble your own observations.
Demonstrating that they are now back in business following their absence owing to the global pandemic and associated lockdowns, various churches, chapels, other places of worship and, indeed, other local organisations have been motivated to perform active events.
Staging examples of their activities and general proceedings is seen as a positive method of publicity that clearly demonstrates they are back open for business. Some members may not have returned as yet; others may have decided not to return for reasons best known to themselves.
“Yes! We are now open!” declares a high profile notice displayed prominently for all to see. Such signs are considered essential for many businesses, especially retail traders, as they strive to revitalise their customer bases.
Places of worship may also be displaying such messages, and rightly so. Just like retailers need their customers, so churches and chapels require their worshippers.
To attract regular clientele back whilst simultaneously touting for new customers, commercial vendors have at their disposal the lure of re-opening promotions, incredible offers and, in most cases, well trained, friendly staff.
Proclaiming a spiritual message rather than peddling a range of household and consumable product lines, churches obviously just cannot compete with commerce, not even with a bargain basement. But most of them do have an excellent repertoire of talent representing various age groups. Children, young people, drama clubs, adult classes including mens’ and womens’ associations, choirs, music bands and so on. And that’s not including the venue’s resident vocalist, pianist, violinist, flautist, et al.
Many of these groups are able to put their talent to good use by planning and rehearsing a previously untried time of entertainment. The local enthusiast (most churches have at least one!) might even be counted on to liaise with the various groups and participants to ensure the production of an hour or more of local artistic entertainment.
Whether the event comprises a concert, variety show, piano or organ recital, musical or drama production, or some other moving session, a date needs to be agreed and publicity arranged. And those all-important rehearsals amicably scheduled.
David can be Goliath
The smaller the venue, the more important are the planning and rehearsals to ensure that all available performance area is used to the best possible advantage.
Handled subtly, a moderate space could well appear to the audience as a much larger area. An optical illusion of David acting out Goliath.
Back in the annals of remote memories of West Sussex, in March 1981, I organised what were possibly the first public concerts featuring the then un-heard of Marilyn Baker. The first performance took place in the Crawley Down village church which, being a traditional village church consecrated back in 1843, has very limited capacity.
Despite venturing into unknown territory, the evening passed very well with a comfortable number of attendees. No overload of space due to just one previously unknown performer singing and playing the piano.
Forty years later, we find that many places of worship have actually downsized due to falling church attendances. Some of these have been able to organise events of various types by using whatever limited space they have inherited.
Events for all
Earlier, I referred to the fact that various churches and other organisations may be or have been considering holding events to commemorate their reopening following several months of closure or only partial opening due to the Coronavirus 19 pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Such events can also prove to be a double whammy, with the bonus and/or intention of publicising that they are back with a revitalised full programme of activities, as well as celebrating the same.
However well intentioned, events for all may seem an impossibility for those now hampered with just a modicum of space for staging a variety programme style of production.
It seems to me (keep in mind that this is my personal point of view) that some organisers have their thoughts directed towards concerts with many participants, plays with many scene changes, musicals with huge casts and constantly evolving backgrounds, and so on.
But none of this is necessary, as those who have been able to use whatever space they have available have shown.
Surprisingly good events have been those which first impressions might well have been negative. A simple evening of just one performer, such as the one I organised so long ago at Crawley Down, complements the nominal audience space available. Conversely, events that call for an apparently long shopping list of credits serve to complement the much larger audience that could be accommodated in a correspondingly larger auditorium.
Where space is limited to the opposite of a lecture hall, rather than have just one celebratory evening, organisers wishing to utilise the talents of many performers might consider laying on a series of dates. For example, it might be possible to have a regular occasion, say, for example, the first Saturday of each calendar month for the forthcoming few months.
For smaller venues, the type of events that seem to work really well include not only solo or duet style singers, pianoforte recitals and, despite some unbelievers, violin or viola recitals, but also poetry renditions, dramatic readings and so on. Of course, it also depends upon what local voluntary talent is available.
Once upon a time, I attended a couple of fundraising events at a venue that was much smaller than even I envisaged prior to attending. The first was a trumpeter who played his instrument to a background of pre-recorded backing tracks reproduced on a portable cassette tape player that he carried with him. The performance lasted about two hours including a break of about fifteen minutes. It concluded with the miniscule audience loudly calling for more!
The second was a magician. No, despite the reputation that professional magicians seem to have gained, he did not stand at the front producing rabbits out of a hat. Nor was he a professional, just a suitably talented member of the church which was having this appeal for essential funding. The artiste wandered around the room plucking flowers and coins from the ears of unsuspecting audience members, followed by a mind-bending yet enthralling session of returning watches, wallets and other valuables to people who were allegedly totally unaware that they were no longer holding on to their essential properties. This smart illusionist also earned a rousing applause, but not until after he presented a sensitive warning to everybody to try their best to hold on to their property. Good advice, but something that generally remains easier said than done.
The preceding two genuine examples of events, although fundraising events, help to illustrate the viability of organising events in smaller places. The current trend that I am advised of is focused on promotional events to publicise reopening of meeting places. Others may also organise an event as a welcome back social gathering for all of the members who have been prevented from meeting in person during the trials and tribulations of the pandemic.
No matter what reason and aim may be behind any event, a reasonable amount of publicity is always called for. Whatever is achieved locally through newsletters, magazines, emails and even word of mouth, I suggest that there is a lot to gain from listing all events on the Eventbrite platform. This was briefly described in my feature published in the Summer 2021 issue of MEN, and may be read online at Exhibiting in the new normal – Crown Wood Publications.
Eventbrite will be found online at www.eventbrite.co.uk.The facility charges a fee to event organisers in exchange for online ticketing services unless the event is free to attendees. On the Eventbrite website one is able to sign up for emails to be advised of new events on subjects of their choosing. This is why I find it is a valuable promotional tool as information about events, irrespective of minor or major programmes, is sent to all those who receive the Eventbrite emails.
It is important to bear in mind that Eventbrite will charge a fee to the organisers of events where there is an admission charge. However, for the nature of what might be described as minor events, which almost certainly covers everything being discussed in this article, I suspect that the majority, if not all, will be advocating free of charge admission. Even the fundraising events that I mentioned above were encouraging attendees to make a donation, rather than being obliged to pay a fee to gain entry.
For those who organise events and request donations either due to it being a fundraising event, or to help defray any costs involved, or any other reason, please do not overlook the power of Gift Aid. As long as the venue is a registered charity, and every church and other places of worship known to me are all registered charities, Gift Aid is able to boost the donated income.
It works in this way: Anybody who is a standard United Kingdom Income Tax payer may elect to have their charitable contributions entered as Gift Aid donations. Donating through Gift Aid means charities can claim an extra 25p for every £1 that is donated. It does not cost the donor any extra.
Such elected donations need to be recorded by the organisation treasurer or appointed person, such as Gift Aid Secretary. In turn, application is made to H.M. Government, to claim Gift Aid on most donations, but some payments do not qualify.
When publicising any event where donations will be requested, it is a perfectly good idea to include in promotional materials something about Gift Aid, even if it is just the inclusion of the Gift Aid logo.
Worth looking into
To discover more about donating by Gift Aid, go to Tax relief when you donate to a charity: Gift Aid – GOV.UK.
And for claiming that all-important sum from the UK Government, visit Claiming Gift Aid as a charity or CASC – GOV.UK.
In summary, to utilise a small venue for considerable impact always consider the anticipated audience size, at the same time remaining for ever conscious of space.
Best wishes to those who do organise an event in a church or other venue with limited space. I would appreciate an email report, perhaps with a photo — thank you!
Eric A. Thorn