There’s courage in putting your work out there for immediate audience feedback! Here's my advice for artists, producers and creators thinking of taking their project to a scratch night.
What should a scratch night application include?
What’s the concept behind the show or the piece?
What’s the why?
What’s the form – poetry, theatre, music, combination?
When I was running my Lowdown Scratch Night, some people would apply with a few paragraphs, pictures, and links to the creatives working on the show. That was enough for me to get a sense of the piece and why they wanted to do a scratch night.
How competitive are scratch nights when you haven’t previously staged any work?
If it’s a more established venue hosting a scratch night for their associate artists, then it’s unlikely you’ll get a slot with no pre-existing relationship. But there are plenty of other events which are more relaxed, like an open mic, scratching at a local, or a theatre hosting a night for artists with little experience. If you’re struggling to land a slot or just can’t find a suitable scratch night, why not host your own? Maybe there’s a room above a local pub or a bar that’s quiet on a weeknight and will let you put on an event. Will the pub mind that you haven’t put on your work before? Probably not!
How developed does a concept need to be?
So long as you can present something, it doesn’t need to be particularly developed at all! A great thing about scratch nights is that they can showcase anything napkin-scribbled ideas to a scene from a show lined up for production. The other night, I watched a comedian fill in for a warm-up act on the spot. They took the opportunity to try out their untested material to see what landed and what didn’t. If a comedian can bullshit their way through a 40-minute act, then you can take your rough-and-ready ideas to a scratch night.
How do you find creatives to collaborate on a scratch night piece?
If you see a performance you like, look up who was involved and find them on social media. Reach out to university societies or check out lists of alumni on drama school websites. Send relevant creatives your application and your concept and ask if they’d like to collaborate with you. Finding the right creative team is key. Let’s imagine the scratch night goes well and you continue to work on the show: it’s highly likely you’ll carry on working with the same people. So understand who the right people are to facilitate your artistic goal. Is it really your best mate Katie or is there someone else out there who’s better suited?
What kind of questions would be most useful to ask the audience?
Not “Did you enjoy it?” because you'll be able to hear if they enjoyed it. Useful questions are ones that are very specific, such as:
Which moments most resonated with you?
What did you think about the presentation of X theme?
What did you think of the pacing?
What did you think about the casting of X actor?
Encourage the audience to share as many thoughts as possible by leaving a section for free written comments on feedback forms and asking follow-up questions when mingling, such as:
What within the piece elicited that reaction in you?
It’s interesting that you mention you resonated with X experience. I felt like Y – what did you feel like?
How do you make the most of audience feedback?
Get as much data you can! Collate all your feedback form responses; type up any post-performance chats; make a note of overheard comments; film your performance to see when the audience reacted to specific moments.
Only you as the creator know the desired effect of the piece, so you’ll have this in mind when looking through your data. Figure out which bits of feedback are useful, and which aren’t. Now you can begin crafting the next iteration of your work. Maybe you’ll take it to another scratch night, or it might be ready for production – that’s something for you to decide!