Top tips for tip top entertainment: how a drama performance brought a coffin fittings works to life

We didn’t decide to be dramatic – but Tin Box Theatre Company did. After many years of work and several turns of fortune, Birmingham Conservation Trust bought a semi-derelict Grade II* late 19th century manufactory on the edge of the Jewellery Quarter in Birmingham last year (with the aid of a grant from Birmingham City Council). The Coffin Fittings Works is a handsome red brick building, fronting the road and with two rear wings arranged around a courtyard. Without services and with boarded-up ground floor windows, the Coffin Fittings Works looked doomed to wait for the results of major fundraising before it was used again. Heritage Open Days were the only opportunity the public had to have a look inside and then the two Jo’s got in touch...

© Lucie Thacker - Tin Box performing at Newman Brothers' Coffin Fittings Works

Jo Newman and Jo Gleave are Masters students at the University of Birmingham and as part of their studies devised and directed a play entitled Stop the Clocks at the Coffin Fittings Works in June 2011. They had used oral history collected by Birmingham Conservation Trust over the last 8 years, the documented history of the building and the atmosphere of the place to inform their work. The result was a promenade performance which used many of the rooms and spaces in the building to brilliant effect.

Audience numbers were restricted to 10, and there were 3 performances every night for 4 consecutive nights. It was a free event, but as there was a strict limit on audience numbers, they used a website called Eventbrite to handle the ticket sales.

The play was a sell-out and a brilliant success. So much so that one audience member tweeted that it was worth going out to mug someone for a ticket. The directors had asked The Good Review along. This is a website that reviews only the things it has enjoyed, so it is a gamble, but if they don’t like it, they won’t be negative! Here is part of the review:

"Inspired by the history of the factory and the personal testimonies of ex-employees, it is the story of the life and death of ‘Mary’ a fictional employee. But this is no ordinary morbid indulgence of illness and factory life. It is one of the most uplifting and life-affirming pieces I have seen in a long while."

It was great for us at Birmingham Conservation Trust to welcome Tin Box and we are delighted we can do so again at the end of September when the group will perform the play again as a fundraiser for us. This time we will probably sell the tickets ourselves as booking fees on ticketing websites are prohibitive (unless anyone out there knows otherwise?).

Top tips if you decide to be dramatic!

  • Ask the director of the performance to complete a full risk assessment
  • Check your insurance cover
  • Apply for a TEN (Temporary Entertainment Notice) well before the date - see the Department for Culture, Media and Sport website for guidance and the application form
  • Use a ticketing agency (if your tickets are free as would have to be the case for Heritage Open Days, there is no cost) to ensure you know how many people are attending
  • Some people may forget that they have booked – reminders on social networks are helpful
  • Ensure there is an evacuation procedure that cast and crew are aware of in case of emergency
  • Use your networks and social media to advertise your event
  • Plan to have a performance on Heritage Open Days next year!
  • Ask the audience for feedback to use in future advertising
  • Have fun!

The Newman Brothers' Coffin Fittings Works offer free guided tours on Friday and Saturday of Heritage Open Days 2011.