It’s all about passion. Go on the website of any start-up business and you will very likely read about how passionate the founders are about their business. “We are passionate about service delivery!”, “content management is our passion”, “all of our dedicated dog-walking team are passionate about canines”, etc. etc., ad nauseam.
The reality is that the British are passionate about one thing; passion itself. And where do we go for our daily dose of it? Drama. And what do we do if we can’t get in front of the television for our latest dose of Corrie, or EastEnders, to find out whether the smouldering new doctor in Casualty is really carrying on with the anaesthetist, or what the Reverend Green was doing in the library with the candlestick? The wireless. Some things will never, ever change. We are, after all, world famous for our radio dramas, and not a lot else of late.
To run a successful start-up business you need to do 2 things: solve a problem that is bothering consumers, and inject a sense of urgency into proceedings, by fighting for what you love and for what you know your customers love. Wireless Theatre achieves these twin goals, and many others besides. And its founder is ready to take it to the next level.
For as long as she can remember, Mariele Runacre-Temple wanted to be an actor, like her mother, Jenny Runacre, who worked with some of the greats: Cassavetes, Pier Paolo Pasolini, Derek Jarman, and memorably played Brenda Champion in one of the most celebrated of all British drama series, Brideshead Revisited.
Back then, to be an actress was a rare and exotic thing, and, to a certain extent, Mariele became a victim of her mother’s success, crowded out of key auditions by the sheer weight of numbers of people desperate to follow in the footsteps of the trailblazing actresses of the 60’s and 70’s. On the other hand, perhaps casting agents saw something in her that she hadn’t yet recognised in herself, that she was going to be a huge success behind the camera, rather than in front of it.
Not one to dwell on disappointment, Mariele, who trained at East 15, the renowned Acting School affiliated to the University of Essex, whose “extreme methods”, Mariele recalls “meant a lot of people running around naked”, she decided to produce her own dramas for radio. Beginning with just a microphone, a script, and a rented recording studio in Marylebone, she leveraged the skills of her friends and contacts, many of whom she met whilst working at the London Dungeon, where she describes the pool of talent as “unbelievable, just a lot of actors messing around and having fun”.
Mariele seems refreshingly unaware of her own leadership skills, often attributing the success of her business to friends, family, actors or writers, when it is her who had the vision to start putting the plays online (at her Dad’s suggestion, of course). She realised she might be on to something when her well-built website crashed under the weight of demand for downloads; she had attracted 15,000 subscribers and produced 150 plays without really realising it, by doing something she loved. Extremely well. So Mariele decided she would become Wireless Theatre’s first full time employee.
She has introduced subscription fees, £3 for 3 plays, £25 for unlimited downloads, and despite a slight downturn in audience, an inevitable consequence of the new paywall, she still manages to attract around 10,000 unique visitors each month, an even more impressive achievement considering that she has never allocated herself a marketing budget beyond a few hundred pounds spent here and there. She wrote to every actor she could think of, somewhat ingeniously securing their services by selling the Wireless Theatre story to them, then suggesting they help to fund the project, or “if you can’t give me money, give me 45 minutes of your time”. The result? Stephen Fry, Nicholas Parsons, Lionel Blair, Julian Glover, Jo Brand, and many others have all read parts for her. When I suggest that she possesses the instinct of a true entrepreneur, she demurs, “entrepreneurs make a lot of money, I’m enterprising!”
She has since shown however that she can attract investment, initially to help redevelop the website which was becoming “like an Indian street”, with links and shortcuts all over the place. She found, to her surprise (though not to mine) that she enjoyed the funding roadshows, and investors were keen to share in the success of Wireless Theatre. She is cautious about giving away too large a share of the business, but keen to address the lack of a full time marketing manager, and writers, actors and directors all have to be paid. When you think about the amount of responsibility Mariele has taken on, it is a staggering achievement, and with so many people in the acting community dependent on her, she admits to being a workaholic. Learning to trust her own instincts, and realising that “there is no right or wrong way” to run a business have been key to her ability to manage well.
Making BBC radio’s preferred list of suppliers, and contributing a first play to the corporation, who are notoriously difficult to please, which aired in October last year, is a “stamp of quality” that is likely to help bring in more funding for Wireless Theatre when it is next required, as is the OGLE awards the Company has picked up; a silver last year, and gold this year. Mariele was unable to travel to the awards ceremony in Kansas, as she was too busy back in London, and her travel budget would not allow it, but in a typical display of generosity she is delighted that the show’s writers did attend. Her time will come, surely. Constantly innovating, she has experimented with ITunes downloads, but believes the cut taken by Apple (nearly 50%) to be too large. She makes sure she hires a new actor for each new production, and has also diversified into producing voice reels for aspiring voice actors. She knows how hard it can be for actors struggling to find work, and accepts that many actors, particularly men, leave the industry for better paid work elsewhere as they settle down and start families.
She admits to still feeling a pang of jealousy when an old friend or colleague picks up a prestigious acting role, but may end up spending more time in the limelight than she thinks. The next big project for Wireless Theatre will be recording “8 plays in 8 days”, at the world famous Edinburgh festival in August, live, with sound effects, and plenty of audience engagement. The theme of the plays is “Couples who changed the world”, and it promises to be a cracking and truly diverse series, featuring a script from comedian Arthur Smith, and revealing, at times shocking characterisations of, amongst others, Adam and Eve, and Henry Ford and Adolf Hitler. There’s clearly no barrier preventing Wireless Theatre from being cutting edge and avant garde; The Radio play might be an historic tradition, but Wireless writers know that listeners also like to be challenged.
Mariele is used to leading by now, and getting used to the success it brings. She could do with an admin assistant, accountant, another producer and an artistic director, to help out at the studios she uses in Soho, Willesden Green and Bow, where she now lives, having grown up in Earls Court and attended the Elliot school, which she describes as “tough, but some of the best years of my life”. To succeed in drama one has to have poise, a sense of timing, and know your audience. Coincidentally managing a growing start-up requires a similar skill set. The future looks bright, and the spotlight is on Wireless Theatre, and Mariele.
Mariele Runacre-Temple is Artistic Director and Founder of the Wireless Theatre Company, the award winning audio content producers, who also run workshops and talks in schools around the country through its Wireless Theatre In Education Programme.
Download the first episode of “Spring Heel’d Jack” the award winning Drama set in Victorian London, here: http://wirelesstheatre.co.uk/the-strange-case-of-springheeld-jack-episode-one-the-ghost-of-clapham-common/
See Mariele and the Wireless Theatre team perform their shows “Couples Who Changed the World” at the Edinburgh Festival: https://www.pleasance.co.uk/event/wireless-theatre-presents-couples-who-changed-world