Jonathan Mace was Arts Fundraising Fellow for the Royal Shakespeare Company until September 2016, and now works as Development Manager at Hampstead Theatre.
We’re constantly putting on events here at the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC). They vary wildly in size – from an intimate lunch for a small group of donors to inviting 700 individuals to be in the Royal Shakespeare Theatre for the filming of Shakespeare Live! From the RSC. Our department is fortunate to have an incredible Head of Events, alongside a full-time Events Manager and Events Assistant, who deliver over 70 events per year.
Shakespeare Live! From the RSC was conceived and directed by our Artistic Director, Gregory Doran, as a special tribute to Shakespeare’s global impact across all art forms. This year marks 400 years since Shakespeare’s death and therefore is a fitting time to commemorate his work and enduring legacy. Shakespeare Live! was a highlight in a year packed full of special events, celebrations and ground-breaking productions honouring the world’s greatest playwright.
I was able to spend time between January and April 2016 working on the guest list for Shakespeare Live! From the RSC. By the time I got involved, a guest list of around 1000 individuals had been drawn up and the first task was to get that information into our database. Invitations were then sent, responses and constant changes were recorded, and we set about personalising joining instructions and security passes for each guest alongside individualised ticket wallets outlining which pre-show, interval and post-show area everyone was invited to. The importance of clean and accurate data became incredibly apparent to me during this process as we relied on database reports and mail merges to speed up the process.
Soon, almost every moment of my working day was consumed by the preparation for the event. Whether it was answering questions from an actor’s agent about his costume (I restrained from giving advice and pointed them in the stage manager’s direction!) to ensuring that each and every seat in the theatre was filled for the performance. Clearly, such events require cross-departmental cooperation and the work we were doing on the guest list was a small part of the process to create the whole show – staff from Marketing, Catering, Box Office, Operations and Commercial were involved, without even touching on the production teams!
Then it came to the week of the big day itself and the last minute changes to our list came flooding in: individuals who couldn’t attend due to illness, extra seats available because of a change of camera position and individuals who didn’t mention until the day before whether they would attend or not. Luckily, we’d anticipated a lot of these challenges and therefore didn’t pull our hair out too much to resolve each of them. Phew!
The show itself was magical. The RSC’s most famous alumni trod the boards with immaculate style alongside The Royal Ballet, English National Opera and various other companies. But our joy, in the Development Events team, came from looking around the audience to see that everyone was sat down, in the correct seats, on time, and looking happy. Success!
Though not all organisations will have the opportunity to put on such large scale events, I think there are a few tips that are useful whatever the size of event:
- Clean your data! – this will speed things up in the long run.
- Spend time in personalisation – names are important and the extra touch can go a long way.
- Ensure cross-departmental harmony – for a successful fundraising event, make sure you collaborate with your key internal stakeholders. You need the catering to be divine!
- Anticipate last minute changes – these will happen, so plan accordingly. (P.s. If you’ve not yet had a chance to watch Shakespeare Live! From the RSC it will shortly be available to buy as a DVD from http://www.rsc.org.uk – end of plug!)