With comedy and live shows taking a large knock due to global events, some creative minds within the industry have put their heads together to conceive new ways and interesting outreach.
Producer of The Cosmic Shambles Network, Trent Burton, explains why he and his colleagues, including Robin Ince, Josie Long and Melinda Burton, were so quick to jump into action with the Stay at Home Festival – so what exactly has been going on? Trent explains:
The Stay at Home Festival is a load of online live-streams and web series shows hosted and produced by us at The Cosmic Shambles Network. It’s a way for us to stay connected to our audience during a prolonged period where we can’t do live shows. We had a huge amount of live shows for 2020 and they are all gone by the wayside.
We also wanted to find a way to raise money for those artists who suddenly found themselves without work for the foreseeable future and arts venues and theatres looking at permanent closure with no option to sell tickets. So while most of the shows in the festival are free to watch, we’ve also been running a ’tip bucket’ for people to drop a few quid in if they are able to, and we’ve been distributing that to venues and artists.
Once lockdown looked like it was on the cards in mid March, the gears began to whir and action was taken by the team.
We decided we should try and maybe do a few livestreams to keep people entertained for the couple of weeks of lockdown. We thought maybe a comedy night and a few episodes of some of our podcasts like Book Shambles and Science Shambles. Three days later, we did a live tech run and this turned into a daily morning show, evening shows and a mountain of other things, and we’ve been going ever since including 100 + shows, webisodes, and livestreams.
After 9 weeks we’ve dialled back a little – we’re still doing about five shows a week but a few of them are now exclusive for our wonderful Patreon supporters, but there’s still a number of weekly free shows too, with the normal tip jar setup.
Trent has a moment of reflection, adding,
I say normal, none of this is normal…!
We toyed with the idea of waiting a couple of weeks, really fine tuning everything, making it a super polished product but decided against it. We were very proud to get everything up and running in just 72 hours really and be one of the first teams to adapt to this new weird situation. It was a bit rough around the edges at first, still is in some ways because clearly we’re not operating under normal circumstances, but it was very important to us to make that live connection with people early at a time when people were really uneasy about everything. It became part of people’s routine and something to look forward to which we’re really chuffed by.
The playbill proved to be impressive, with an array of recognisable voices joining to livestreams and a diverse range of themes addressed.
The Morning Show, hosted by Robin and Josie ran every weekday for 8 weeks. We’ve had a weekly Science Q&A show, a comedy club, Book Shambles, a COVID-19 experts panel, Vitriola Music, Terrible Wonderful Adaptations, the Off Menu podcast live, our new Show and Tell show and a lot of other stuff I’m probably forgetting. Producing live shows like Nine Lessons and Compendium over the years means we’ve got a lot of wonderful, generous performers and scientists we could call on to pop on the show for a chat or show and tell segment or performance. So we’ve had a huge range of guests like Tim Minchin, Sara Pascoe, Mark Gatiss, David McAlmont, Jo Brand, Professor Brian Cox, Reece Shearsmith, Natalie Haynes, Rachel Parris, Arlo Parks, Josh Idehen, Grace Petrie, and so many more.
Our biggest event was the Sea Shambles show on May 17th. We were meant to be doing that show, one of our mad variety nights, at the Royal Albert Hall on that actual night so when that was COVID-cancelled, and the Hall launched Royal Albert Home, we teamed up to do a new version of that show online, at the same date and time, with appearances from Chris Hadfield, Brian Cox, Liz Bonnin, Steve Backshall, Cobie Smulders, Lemn Sissay, British Sea Power and loads more. That event raised money for the Albert Hall and ocean charities as well.
Trent explains that the reaction has been “delightful”, with audiences laughing and pondering their way through the shows, but there’s also been another facet to the Stay at Home Festival.
We’ve raised over £30K in our tip jar and we’ve had a really dedicated core group of watchers every day – it was like a little community with everyone saying ‘Good morning’ and making new online friends over the course of the show, which has been pleasing to say the least. From our point of view, it’s just been good to keep busy, keep getting a chance to make stuff, and to see each other virtually. That was another reason why we wanted to do it quickly and live, not just audio based – it had to video for that connection.
What does the future hold, could this be something that’s continued?
I don’t think any of us know when we can get back on a stage, or go out and make documentaries, or any of the things we usually do. In the meantime almost all our past shows will be up on demand on our YouTube channel for people to catch up, we’re putting out some documentaries we shot with the ESA and NASA in the ‘before times’ and as mentioned, we’re still doing lots of weekly shows, both free and for our Patreon supporters with some really amazing [secret] special guests coming up too. So for the foreseeable future, we’ll be here!
Our philosophy in the ten years that we’ve worked together – being Robin Ince’s and mine – has always been to ‘make stuff’. The money we make from patreon and live shows goes back into other projects and live shows. So that’s what we’ll keep doing. Creating stuff, making stuff… We’re very bad at doing nothing. We have plans, we always have plans!