Tour Management Manual: Deliver Well on Tour – Part 3
Once the touring company hits the road, you can still have a positive influence on their wellbeing, even if you’re not on tour with them. It is time to deliver well. The aim is to bridge the gap between the office and the road. Through supporting healthy communication practices, promoting positive work/life balance and encouraging positive relationships between all touring company members, you can ensure all your great pre-tour work continues on tour.
Remind the company that ‘we’re all in this together’ – encourage them to proactively share successes with you, as well as open and honest solution-focused sharing of problems – or even niggles that might become problems.
Schedule regular phone or video production meetings between touring crew and production personnel back in the office. Ask open-ended questions to allow for problems to be raised early, and encourage positive experiences to be shared too, not just challenges. Try ‘What is going well? Why is it going well?’ (This might be to do with longer bump in times, extra crew, clear tech specs being sent to the venues in advance etc., and can help you replicate these success factors for future tours). Share what’s gone well with the venue – they’ll appreciate the positive feedback!
Organise occasional one-on-one phone check-ins from the producer to ensure all cast and crew members feel valued, supported and heard. Ask about what they’ve found helpful for maintaining good mental health and wellbeing. Reinforce that it is important for all touring company members to have some personal and private time, and that they should not feel guilty about taking that.
Role model healthy communication practices between your team and the touring team. Respect days off, encourage the setting of out of office messages after hours, and resist making contact on days off or after hours unless it’s an emergency or previously arranged and agreed upon. Encourage the touring party to explore similar practices with each other.
Ensure the Company Manager or Stage Manager is well supported with regular, scheduled one-on-one checks ins. Often this person can become the ‘go to’ for the whole company, and will need extra support. They can also help identify issues early, allowing you to address them quickly. Ask open-ended questions, and try not to let the conversation fall into ‘patterns’. Prompts include:
- What has been on your mind this week?
- What has the company and venue vibe been?
- Last time we spoke you said X was a challenge for you, how is that going?
- What has given the company energy?
- What has been a challenge?
- Have there been any interactions you’d like to discuss?
- What feedback do you have for me?
- What can I help you with between now and the next time we chat?
Use show reports to help get an accurate representation of the company’s mental health and wellbeing. Acknowledge show reports generally, and respond specifically to individual cast/crew members if required. Consider adding a ‘vibe check’, with a score out of five and space for commentary to give you a sense of what’s going on, even when there’s no actual identified issue to report. Include venue issues in show reports so they can be officially logged, addressed internally, followed up, and readdressed if the company goes back to the same venue.
If there is an issue on tour, such as within the company, with local venue teams, or the wider community, ensure that the complaint is heard, those involved are well supported, the complaints policy is followed, and appropriate action is taken.
Send regular communications to the touring company promoting positive mental health. You could utilise text from Tour Well, and top and tail it with reminders of how to seek support.
Follow technical schedules and operations, and if it is clear that there is a day where the team will not get a break or opportunity to seek food, have nutritious food delivered to them.
Allow time in the schedule for regular touring company meetings, where issues can be raised, and successes celebrated. Encourage the company to start with sharing a positive experience, or thanking another company member for something simple.
Distribute regular and thoughtful newsletters (don’t worry if you’re not into fancy design – it could just be an email!) to share:
- Positive feedback from audiences, presenters, participants of engagement activities, social media, creative teams
- Milestones (100th show, birthdays, furthest distance travelled – be creative!)
- Encourage and/or enable the company to engage in wellness practices together, such as going for walks in natural environments, doing a yoga class, or sharing healthy meal preparation.
Organise a special activity for the company. Preferably aim for something that captures:
- Positive community building
- Something to look forward to
- Organised for the company (no work for them!)
- Not associated with the tour (just for fun!)
Optional and open invitation! Ensure there are some activities that are open to everyone, so no one ‘falls through the cracks’.
When liaising with venues, remind them of your organisation’s commitment to positive mental health that was included in their venue contract.
You could encourage them to:
- Welcome the company to the venue
- Instigate two-way inductions, not just venue to touring company
- Share their own values and culture statements
- Agree to positive ways of working, and how the teams will work together to support each other and realise the shared vision of the show
- Utilise a simple ice breaker activity for the two teams to get to know each other quickly before getting to work
- Share their top tips on local restaurants, bakeries, places of worship, or maybe sharing their favourite fun fact about the venue
- Create gifts/mementos for the venue teams that you visit to thank them for looking after the company. Perhaps a tea towel, magnet or mug for the green room, or poster signed by the company.
Create an ‘offer board’ in the green room or another shared space, where each company member writes an ‘offer’ to the rest of the company on a piece of paper with their name on it. For example, ‘I’m happy to go for a walk between shows’, ‘You’re welcome to join me in my dressing room for meditation at the half hour call’, ‘If you need to debrief about TV show/book/film, I’m your go to’, ‘I’m celebrating [cultural festival/special day/event], you’re welcome to join me or ask questions about it.’
If you are producing a long-running show, consider offering courses for the company that are not related to the tour (e.g. singing/dancing/acting/rigging), or achievement-based (e.g. with a certification outcome or similar), but just for fun!
Organise care packages to be delivered to venues during the tour as a surprise. For example:
- Delicious healthy treats to have backstage
- Games – crossword books, Sudoku etc.
- Kitchen kit for each company member if the accommodation has minimal facilities
- Letters or notes from home (you could collate these at the Family and Friends Day)
- Voucher to a restaurant for a company dinner
- Support the scheduling of post-show cool downs and debriefs at the venue, not the bar or pub, and keep them time-limited, so discussions can be held, but everyone can take a reasonable break.
Organise a ‘Tour Kringle’ for each city (or on long-run metropolitan tours, perhaps each month). Each person is assigned a Tour Kringle (think Secret Santa style – each company member picks another company member’s name out of a hat), and are responsible for delivering a ‘random act of kindness’ for that person. Keep the emphasis on fun and kindness – a positive note, a cup of coffee.
Give the Company Manager a ‘Love Line’ in the budget, which is to be used for that bit of extra love for a company. Small gestures and fun activities can help the touring company feel connected, engaged and valued. It’s key that everyone is invited and feels included. Ideas include:
- Icy poles on a hot day, or coffee and pastries before an early media call or matinee
- Special company meal between shows (‘bring a plate’ if this is doable with kitchens etc.)
- Purchase a company puzzle that can be left somewhere communal, such as the green room. The aim is to complete the puzzle before the company leaves that city!
- Create a giant crossword or word find that can be stuck on a wall in the venue for company members to complete each day
- Company members could also come up with daily riddles to solve.
Utilise Opening and Closing Nights as opportunities for surprises – messages delivered backstage, a simple video to be played to the cast and crew, or something special to be left in the dressing rooms. Try not to fall back on alcohol as a gift – consider:
- Bookmarks, books, notebooks or journals
- Keep cups or mugs, and themed cakes/cookies
- Plants (be mindful of whether they can travel if you’re moving from venue to venue)
- Show mementos (programs, merchandise)
Make up a sheet of car games before a travel day!
I Spy – A classic. Be warned: nothing says spoil-sport like selecting a target that zoomed past a mile back so players should make sure that the object is visible throughout their turn.
20 Questions – Players pick a famous person and their fellow passengers have to guess who it is using only 20 questions. More ruthless players will opt for obscure personalities in order to prolong their turn but maybe opt for well-known figures to keep the game fresh.
The Memory Game – One passenger says “I’m going out on a picnic and I’m bringing…” followed by whatever item comes to mind. The next player has to remember that item and add something else. Getting a part of the story wrong results in instant expulsion!
Car Movie Tennis – ‘serve’ a performer’s name, ‘return’ with a movie they were in, ‘lob’ with another performer from that same movie, ‘backhand’ with a movie THAT performer was in, and so on, until someone ‘misses’ with an incorrect answer or can’t think of a response. For example: Elijah Wood / Lord of the Rings / Cate Blanchett / Blue Jasmine…
Fortunately/Unfortunately – ‘Fortunately, this will be my first time seeing the Grand Canyon’ / ‘Unfortunately, it was invaded by martians just last week’ / ‘Fortunately, I just finished my course in extra-terrestrial communications’…
Schedule visits by the Producer, Head of Production or member of the creative team to offer support and get a sense of how everyone is ‘on the ground’. There’s great value in ‘just because’ visits that focus on genuinely checking in on the team, and reminding them how valued they are.
Sometimes small houses or cancelled performances can lead to low morale. Try:
- Keeping the company informed of steps being taken to boost sales, for example, marketing and communications strategies.
- Returning to the purpose and goals of the tour – usually there are more goals than simply, ‘selling out every show’. Focus on other goals that are going well.
Not every touring company is going to gel perfectly and become the best of friends! Dynamics are complicated, and can become volatile during times of stress. The sooner issues are raised the easier they are to address. Try:
- Encouraging an open and communicative work environment where small issues are discussed in an appropriate, timely and solution-focused fashion before they fester and grow.
- Aim to address work-related issues in an appropriate place, such as in the green room or at a designated workspace in the hotel.
- Encourage honest and transparent communication to avoid a culture of gossip and hallway discussions.
- If required, bring in a mediator to facilitate appropriate discussion.
- Recognise that personality differences exist and that maybe not everyone in the company will get on all the time, but that doesn’t mean they can’t work well together.
- Remind the team of the communication expectations, shared values and expected behaviours that were discussed pre-tour.
- Be willing to have difficult conversations, to suggest solutions, and to follow up afterwards.
- If you are concerned that a company member is experiencing mental health problems, but they have not disclosed, consider the following steps as a guide:
- Offer a meeting with adequate time for discussion
- Reinforce the company’s position of providing a safe and healthy workplace for all employees, including the focus on mental health and wellbeing
- Ensure privacy and confidentiality, and reassure them that they are under no legal obligation to disclose any personal information
- State what has been noticed, specifically relating to their work performance, in a non-judgemental, neutral and brief way
- Ask if they are ok, and if there is any assistance or workplace adjustment that could assist them in performing their role
- Offer the choice of seeking confidential support from an Employee Assistance Program or equivalent outside professional advice
- If they do not want to discuss anything, respect their position, but reiterate that all employees have access to workplace supports
If a company member reports that they are experiencing mental health problems:
- Ask if they feel they are in danger of harming themselves or others, and if their safety cannot be guaranteed, take them to hospital emergency, call 000, or call Lifeline 13 11 14, and contact their nominated support person
- Thank them for disclosing and ensure their privacy and confidentiality
- Don’t pry – they are within their rights to limit disclosure
- Encourage them to make an appointment with their GP and/or psychologist, or a local GP if they are away from home
- Encourage them to speak to supportive partners, family members or friend
- Ask them if there are any particular areas of work that are raising concern, and what supports they need within the work place to work well
- Ask if they need a reduction in tasks, or some time off work, to seek treatment and support
- Ensure they are connected with a Mental Health First Aider if possible
- Confirm that they understand the supports available to them
- Develop a plan with them, and a timeline to put the plan in place
- Plan a follow-up meeting
End of Part 3: Click here to Read Part 4