UK weekly touring has been a big part of my working life for about 8 years now. This type of touring is a different experience to touring with large orchestras abroad, where the hotels and travel arrangements are usually booked for you.
The week usually runs from Tuesday to Saturday with evening shows. The ballet company I worked for also did 2 matinees on a Thursday and Saturday as well, but that’s more unusual for an opera company; operas are vocally challenging, and doing two shows a day is too much. We would need a double cast of singers, which would be very expensive.
I travel from home to the venue usually by car – sometimes sharing and sometimes not. As an orchestra member I’m responsible for being in the venue in good time for the show on Tuesday night, and I can leave after the last show. On a Saturday night a lot of musicians take to the road to try and maximise the time at home before leaving for the next venue. There are other members of the company, for example, members of stage management and crew, who need to be in the venue for longer due to the get in and get out – in other words, the setting up in the new theatre, and the packing away to move to the next one.
I’m often asked whether the company members all stay together, whether it becomes like one big family. The short answer is no, we don’t all stay together. To be honest, we’re working colleagues, and some of us are friends and would choose to stay together, but it’s like any working company – you are thrown together with people you wouldn’t necessarily be friends with if you met them outside of work. Once you find your friends within the orchestra or the company as a whole, you do tend to travel together, and perhaps book cottages or caravans together. However, you might book your own hotel room, because sometimes it’s nice to be able to go back to your own space, and shut work outside.
However, that being said, there is generally a social drink at the local pub after the show, or people meet for food, or to go to the cinema to while away the free hours. You’ll inevitably run into people pottering around the shops, or in the dressing rooms at the theatre when you go in to practise the repertoire that’s coming up.
I think the bottom line is that touring is best done whichever way you find that’s best for you. Some people will like their own hotels, some will share cottages. Some will drive, some will get the train. Some will go to the pub, some will go home for a cuppa. Some will practise during the day, some will shop, or go on long bike rides. Pretty much, it’s whatever you can do to make sure you are ready for work in the evening, and to help fill the time whilst you’re away missing your family and friends.