Its main stage may have welcomed some of the biggest names in stand-up but it is still just a dinky little thing, surrounded by cabaret-style tables and chairs, all within in touching distance of the platform.
Regularly playing to 160 people a night - the maximum capacity for the bijou venue - it is not unusual in the normal scheme of things for The Venue to have to turn people away. Get there early to get a seat has long been the advice... and then, along came the Coronavirus and everything changed.
It might have provided acts with new subject matter, but it also led to social distancing and lock down, forcing the club to respond quickly to an ever-evolving situation. Initially, that saw The Stand stream one show live from its underground premises with no audience and those present - the comics, camera operator and producer - suitably spaced out around the venue.
The Stand’s Anthony Dorman recalls the innovative thinking that made sure that first live stream came about. “As soon as the government advised people to stay away from bars, cafes and clubs we knew we needed to close our doors,” he says. “We wanted to offer an alternative way to experience our shows and the decision to offer a live streamed show came within hours of the announcement. The Stand Comedy Club and Dabster Productions working together decided that, in principle, the idea could work and that the technology was in place to facilitate this. It was a quick response to an unprecedented situation.”
That first show came from the club itself and Dorman recalls that having acts playing in a near empty club was a strange environment for stand-up. “From the moment we decided to host this new format we realised we had a care of duty to everyone involved. The venue was given a thorough clean and all people involved had to be at least two meters apart. No nonessential people would be present.
"The microphone muff was replaced with a fresh one between each act and Dabster’s small crew and the acts kept a sizeable distance. The laughter that could be heard was from these individuals. It was a strange environment for a comedy show but somehow, it just seemed to work. There was a live feed on the YouTube account and we were communicating electronically via iPad with our host Mark Nelson so we could encourage and respond to online comments. We wanted to replicate the banter hosts generally have with our audiences.
“We had no idea if anyone would watch the first show. We were truly amazed that in total the first show reached more than 34,000 viewers and we received more than 2,000 donations. The response on social media was phenomenal and I’m not too proud to say that there were a few teary eyes at The Stand.”
That winning formula, however, had to be scrapped almost instantly as the government announced the lock down. A rethink was called for and Dorman recalls it was decided to keep the following week’s broadcast as “simple as possible” with only the show’s host Mark Nelson and the tech, Al ‘Tiesto’ Lorraine in the same room.
“Al set up a fairly simple three camera rig, set the room to look as much like The Stand as possible and played in videos sent in by comedians,” says Dorman. "The live element is so important, as Mark can respond to YouTube comments - he even started #hecklemark as a spontaneous idea on Twitter.
“The set-up has been a little bit ‘mad professor’, but Dabster are pretty canny about reacting to conditions like this. Things are changing so rapidly and we wanted the show to feel fresh, so we were getting some clips sent in as late as on Saturday lunchtime. Thankfully the comedians we work with are pretty good and we didn’t need to do too much editing.”
While the comedians know how to keep the laughs coming, tackling the technology involved proved a bit more of a headache. “One of the challenges has been trying to persuade comedians to film at the highest quality setting on their phones, in landscape and without too much background noise,” admits Dorman.
“Once they’ve done that - the next challenge is trying to explain to them how to use file transfer software. Not something that comes naturally to everyone, and that’s certainly 45 minutes on the phone to Jo Jo Sutherland we won’t be getting back,” he laughs.
The comedians taking part, however, have been supportive of the idea from day one. “We have seen the comedy community come together in support of the The Stand, fellow acts and the industry in general.”
Audiences too have been enthusiastic about the new format, demand for tickets at The Stand is always high but nothing prepared them for the online response. “The audience numbers have grown since week one and both shows so far have ended on a combined viewing number of just under 100,000 viewers. This is a staggering reach that we really didn’t expect.”
So popular have the live streaming shows proved that The Stand is now looking at continuing the broadcasts, complete with live audience, when things return to normal?
“We are in discussions to do something live when the venue opens again to the public,” reveals Dorman, adding, “Watch this space.”
The broadcasts have proved vital to the survival of the comedy club at a time when entertainment venues across the city and beyond are facing an uncertain future. “The shows have been watched by viewers all over the world with some recreated our club environment in their homes with candles, nachos and drinks. The overwhelming response from the viewers is that of appreciation that we are trying to entertain whilst trying to survive financially. We are not a huge money making machine and most of our income is generated from our bars with only a small percentage of ticket sales coming in to us. We will be back and our efforts now will ensure this happens."
He continues, “We believe that lock-down and social distancing once over will lead to a great demand for live events. One thing that people can do to help The Stand and have something to look forward to is to buy tickets for future shows. We have shows on sale from Autumn until 2021. Even if someone is unsure of what show to see we also have vouchers which can be used on all shows in all of our venues and our donation page is also still running at www.thestand.co.uk”
Determined to keep audiences laughing through these difficult times, this week’s line-up for The Stand Live is a cracker with Miles Jupp and Edinburgh’s own Gary Tank Commander head-lining.They’ll be joined by Joe Heena, Matt Reed, Glenn Wool and Evening News columnist Susan Morrison. The bill will be completed by Billy Kirkwood, Seymour Mace and Nicola Manatlios all on the bill.
Get the candles, wine and snacks ready.
The Stand Live Show, Saturday 4 April, 8.30pm, go to www.thestand.co.uk/saturday-night-live-at-the-stand/
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