To kick off our #TheatreMonth Client Spotlight this month, I popped over to Bristol to see Charlotte from Monkey Trousers Theatre. Charlotte’s effervescent energy feeds through into her passion for children’s theatre, which is why it was lovely to be able to talk about how Monkey Trousers Theatre first started...
Thanks so much for meeting with me today! Could you please tell us a bit about yourself, about your company and how it all started?
My name is Charlotte Whitten, and I'm one half of Monkey Trousers Theatre. It's a tiny little company, just my friend, Fran Lewis and I. We are actors. I've got puppetry skills and she's a writer, but unfortunately the industry isn’t kind to middle-aged women with children! We decided the only way we were going to get work is to make it ourselves, so we came up with the idea and the brand, and combined it all together to make Monkey Trousers Theatre, and made the brand of Mr Gotalot’s Gotalot Shop.
We knew nothing about the pitfalls to do with the actual production side of how to put on a show, so we brought in a lot of help for marketing, PR, website design and all that stuff. When it came to the ticket sales, there's a large theatre in Bristol where they offer ticketing services for other companies. So we thought as we didn't know what we were doing, we would sign up for their services. Then we would be on their website, and get great visibility. It wasn't very long until we realised how much money we were giving to this theatre for doing practically nothing! Originally I had thought ‘This is great because we get all this visibility on their website!’, and then very quickly they redesigned their website, and our shows became much less visible. It was frustrating because we couldn’t be found easily.
So how did you hear about us originally?
Bristol is quite a big children's theatre town, but in terms of preschool targeted theatre there's us and there's one other company that does the ‘early years’ shows. They’re a cool company called Dragonbird who actually started using you first, so I went and I looked at the website. There are few other websites like Eventbrite or Brown Paper Tickets, and as an event customer I've used all of these different websites and I just didn't like the interface from a customer perspective.
I think the other thing as well is that with something like Eventbrite, as a ticket purchaser you sign up and then you get told about all of their other events, which I think the with some things is nice, but sometimes you don’t actually want that...
Mostly you just want to buy a ticket and be left alone. I think that's what is nice about Ticket Tailor, the fact that you can change all the colours around and you can make it look like your own thing. But the main thing that we never had when we were with the large theatre was the access to information. We were only told how many tickets had been sold for any specific show once a week, and I thought ‘Right, how can I manage my marketing if I don't have instant access to how the tickets are selling?’ I also just like the fact that with Ticket Tailor you can hook MailChimp up to it , and it's safe to do so. Even just little things like owning your own data is a massive thing, it's a really great thing to have.
I think as somebody who's a first time Theatre maker or producer, you don't actually know what there is to do.
It's more the fact that you don't know all of the processes and you figure it all out as you go along. You don't know what you don't know. But when you use a platform like Ticket Tailor you have all of these functions that are so easy to use. You can go onto our website and it looks like our brand, and people are looking for our show and it’s right there for them.
Absolutely. Can you tell us about Mr Gotalot?
I am a puppeteer, and I thought ‘Right, if we’re going to do a show we need to do a good show all round, because we realised that kids shows for parents are mostly torture if I'm honest! My friend and I have been through that; taking our own kids every week to these torturous baby classes. We started going to a class that my friend started running. He was the frontman of a rock band, and he started running these kids shows. It was brilliant watching him do these hilarious, and a bit chaotic, shows! Instantly Fran and I said ‘This is great, but we could be better.’ So we decided that we would combine our skills and make something, and so we did!
So who's the show aimed for?
So there's two shows. There's Mr Gotalot’s Gotalot Shop which is the original show. It is a stage show for 3 to 10 year olds and their families. It’s cartoon style comedy, a little bit tongue in cheek.
The premise of the show is ‘Mr Gotalot’s shop is a magical shop. It sells anything and everything you could ever ever ever ever EVER think of. So we designed around that. It's a 45 minute show. The story is the adventure of what the customer wants. In ‘Pants of Power’ for example, we had a superhero who'd lost his power and clearly needed new pants. There's a little bit of interactivity. There's a lot of slight jokes to the adults too so everyone can enjoy it.
We've done a number of these now. One of my favourite ones was ‘The ‘Great British Cheese Off’, when my friend Tom played Hairy Mary Berry, and puppet Paul Hollywood, who is basically a loaf of bread with bright blue eyes, taking control of the shop.
One thing we did notice when we were creating our main show, is that (and this is something that I've noticed from going to see other shows), there's a lot of ‘Come on kids! Sit down and behave yourselves for 45 minutes, we're going to educate you with something worthy right now. When you leave, your heart will be filled with the joys of nature!’ It's all very earnest and the children are not allowed to move or speak, and get told off if they do. It's actually quite stressful for parents of very young children and a lot of the kids too. So we said, ‘We don't want to be like that!’ and you especially don't need that as a parent. I think ‘What is theatre really about if that's the experience parents are going to get?’
We let people talk, so there's a bit of ad-libbing involved. Then there's a certain age where kids just want to be joining in and talking to be honest, so we thought ‘OK, what can we do so we spin off this?’
So we then created Mr Gotalot’s Pop Up Shop which is a show for 1 to 6 year olds. We get to play different characters that come into the shop, but there's more interactive games sewn into the show, where they have to find stuff, copy actions, dance and sing, and that's the show that we do monthly.
It really took off which we didn’t expect, so that's why Ticket Tailor is great because the fees are static, it's not a percentage. So I know what my fees are going to be and it just works! It means I can plan, I can set up the events a month in advance but not put them on sale, and release the tickets on a monthly basis. It's a nice rolling system; once you set it all up, put the work into making it pretty, then you can literally just duplicate the event or change the event and that's this month! Same again, and that's the next month! It's easy and flexible which is important because I occasionally have the odd extra show booked so it saves a lot of time and effort.
Can you give some advice to anyone who is looking to produce a show in the future?
Just talk to as many people as possible about everything, and how they do it. One of the things for us was talking to Dragonbird recently because we're going to try and form some kind of children's theatre consortium so we can swap work tips which is really helpful for us and anyone else looking to create this type of theatre in the future.
If there was one thing that you would change if anything about Ticket Tailor what would that be?
I do most of the admin by myself, so I’ll probably suggest something and it probably exists somewhere already. I do get a number of TT emails saying ‘we've got this amazing new function’, and I see you've done an amazing thing but I don't quite understand it. I'll say ‘I’m sure I’ll probably read up on it at some point…’, and then I never have time. I feel I need to ask ‘can you explain that so you're explaining it to a five-year-old?’ With the amount of time I have to absorb new things, if I don't understand it in a relatively short space of time I’ll end up getting lost. It would be helpful to have either a specific page with new function bullet points in a really really basic format or even something for the COMPLETE beginner that starts at the very beginning.
That’s interesting that you’ve mentioned that, because we’ve got some exciting new developments coming up, as well as future ways to help our users get the best experience possible in the quickest possible time.
Monkey Trousers Theatre perform on a regular basis in the Bristol area. It’s an absolutely fantastic show that is very easily accessible and affordable, created by passionate people. From all of us at Ticket Tailor, we’d like to give a huge thanks to Charlotte for taking the time to tell us her story. You can find all of their information about their upcoming shows on their website.
Do you have a story you’d like to tell? Contact me at stephanie@tickettailor for your chance to be featured as one of our Client Spotlights in the future!