Take Art is providing support to the SPARSE Plus European funded rural touring project involving 11 partners from 8 countries for the next 4 years.
Across the UK we are very lucky to have some amazing rural touring schemes, which bring top quality theatre, dance and music to local communities, giving people a chance to see shows in their village halls that they would normally have to travel into larger towns to see.
Building on SPARSE's successes, SPARSE Plus will expand and deepen the rural touring network, providing access to high quality professional arts events in rural communities around Europe.
We were delighted to attend a kick off meeting in Ascoli Piceno in Marche, Italy in October. The meeting was designed by the lead partner, AMAT (Associazone Marchigiana Attivita Teatrali) and centred around 50 new local promoters from the Czech Republic, Estonia, Germany, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Poland and Romania.
The idea was to give everyone an opportunity to spend a few days in a rural area, find out about rural touring, meet each other and of course, make new friends! It was a stimulating and thoroughly enjoyable few days in unseasonably warm Italian sunshine. We toured around the beautiful Marche region meeting local people and artists, while sampling the local culinary delights.
As an icebreaker, each partner was asked to bring items of food, clothing, and culture that was representative of their area. These items were laid out on tables and promoters were asked to try and match each table’s offerings with the country’s flag.
At the end of the session the tables were placed together to make one long SPARSE Plus partner table! I particularly enjoyed the Estonian black bread soaked in the freshly pressed, peppery olive oil from Tuscany!
Additionally, partners were asked to bring a song and a dance prepared to teach the whole group should it be pulled out of a hat! Partners were both petrified and excited to be asked to do this, but in the end, it was great fun and a lovely way to meet one another.
There was another memorable group exercise, where we were all asked to help and make pizzas for the group. There was delicious cake to follow as well and samplings of local, homemade grappa. We all attended a traditional folk music concert, which brought the house down and would have worked equally well in one of our Take Art village venues. Led by a charismatic collector of Italian folk songs from the last 50 years, the trio were a guitar, accordion and percussion and voice combination.
The last evening was a celebration of the previous few days, with a few tears and hugs and a sense that SPARSE Plus had truly been born. After the final meal, a few gathered to party and finish off the various local alcoholic beverages brought along for the first icebreaker – my favourite was the Hungarian palinka!
Partners left on their various journeys home the following day and it felt like the kick off meeting had fulfilled its objective – to welcome 50 new local promoters to the SPARSE Plus project. A mentoring programme starts in December, followed by first tour preparations in January 2024, and the first tours taking place from May to September.
The mentoring programme will support 50 local rural touring promoters and at least 45 artist companies to learn the mechanics of rural touring. There will be 150 performances by at least 45 artist companies in 50 rural communities to 7.500 audience members in Europe.