Getting It Done: The Realities of Event Production – PART 1

So you want to host an event? Hold a workshop with a big dance celebrity? Start a festival? A show? Getting it done seems so easy at first, but it’s not as simple as you might think.

These days, being a professional dancer means more than just performing. One of the things that Scarlet Lux discussed in our “Like A Boss” Coffee Talk back in March was the reality of having multiple streams of income in order to make dance your career. For a lot of dancers, this means both teaching and performing, but these days, producing events seems to be the next big thing that dancers are dipping a toe in to in order to expand their portfolio.

Event production takes more than just being organized! It takes communication, observation, preparation, execution, and a whole lot of perseverance. A few spreadsheets and a couple of weekends making phone calls won’t be quite enough, though spreadsheets certainly do help. You’ll need to have a clear vision of exactly what type of event you want to have, and how you intend to achieve your goal. You’ll also need backup plans for all the “what ifs” and “Oh s&*ts” that tend to happen, and the type of thick skin that allows you to move forward when things don’t go your way.

Getting It Done Part 1

I’ve made a list of some helpful tips for anyone having trouble producing successful events, or anyone who is thinking of becoming an event producer. Keep in mind that this list isn’t exhaustive, nor is it intended to be a definitive “how to” guide – your mileage may vary!

Getting It Done Part 1 – Planning

1. What Type of Event Is It?

There are so many different kinds of events out there – festivals, weekend workshops, shows, special classes, lectures, and any combination of the aforementioned categories. Some events are more casual, while others will require a more specific venue (and budget) to pull off. In order to properly plan & execute, you’ll need to know exactly what kind of event you want to put together. Once you identify your concept, you’ll be able to flesh out your logistics – that is, exactly what you need in order to get it made. If you have a clear picture of what you want to do, you’ll have an easier time making that picture a reality, and finding all the help you need to get it done.

Try writing out a paragraph that describes exactly what you want to create – not a feeling, or a philosophy, but a tangible description of the event as you would like it to happen. Once you have that (and it may take a few drafts to get it just right), you can start to break it down sentence by sentence to create lists for exactly what you’ll need for each item/goal.

2. What Do You Need To Make It Happen?

If you’ve already written out your event description, go back and look at it item by item, and make a list of what you’ll need to make each one happen. For example, if I wrote that I wanted to have a student halfa and potluck, I’ll need:

a.) A Space
b.) Potluck Supplies
c.) Music
d.) Seating
e.) Decorations
f.) Advertising
g.) Volunteers

Each of those items will require a sub-list of their own. For example, saying that I need “A Space” isn’t quite enough. I’ll need a space that is big enough for my audience *and* the dancing, a space that will allow food, a space that perhaps already has a sound system, a space that has an area for my dancers to get dressed or get ready to perform, etc. For “Potluck Supplies”, I’ll need cutlery & plates, beverages & cups, some way to deal with waste, some way to deal with cleanup, etc. Go through your list of needs, and figure out the details of each so that you can start to form your action plan.

3. What Are The Costs & Legalities?

Anyone who says that dance event production is a great way to make money is not looking at things clearly. It *can* make money, if you do things right. When you consider how much labour and time goes in to making events work, most event producers make far less than minimum wage for their efforts, and that’s saying they break even at all. The biggest mistake that most event producers make is not budgeting properly, but it certainly not the only mistake.

If you want to bring a big-name teacher in for a workshop weekend, you’ll need to look at their contact carefully in order to create your budget. You’ll need to factor in currency conversion on their rates, airfare, hotel, food & per diem costs, additional costs for performance, per-hour teaching cost, the cost of booking a studio, etc. Even for something simple like our hafla example above, you will have to look at costs besides just the rental of your space, or the cost of a few paper plates. Will you need insurance to cover your event, and if so, do you know how much that will be? Do you have to pay an additional SOCAN or ASCAP fee for playing music? Will you need a liquor license, and if so, what type? Will you need a bouncer to check IDs? Will you have to rent a sound system, or pay someone to run it? Do you have to pay for a staff member at a community centre to let you in & lock up after you?

Ask yourself exactly what you want your event to involve, and then find out how much it will cost to get all of those things in place. Once you know how much the whole thing will cost, you can work out how much to charge, and how many tickets you’ll need to sell in order to make that work.

4. Can You Afford It?

If your event involves renting a stage and sound system, catering dinner, hiring wait staff, setting up a bar with high end cocktails, and hiring professional dancers to entertain your guests, and getting advertising in popular publications, you can bet that it’s going to cost you a pretty penny. In fact, even casual events will cost more than you think – especially if you have looked in to insurance costs these days. So how do you know if you can afford it?

Calculate how many people you *think* you can get to buy tickets/spots at your event. Don’t be too optimistic – it really helps to face the stone cold reality of event promotion by taking a look at who your market is, who your event might appeal to, how many events they have already paid to attend this year, how many events may be coming up that they are saving their dollars for, and make a conservative estimate from there. Once you have a ballpark figure for how many people you *think* can make it, you can find out how much you’ll need to charge each person in order to pay for the event costs. Your “bottom line” will be paying for the event – everything after that is gravy. But if your costs are so high that you’d have to charge an unreasonable amount of money per head in order to make the event happen, you may need to re-evaluate your logistics (cheaper venue? Fewer paid dancers?), or be prepared to pay out of pocket to make your event happen (which is never a good strategy, by the way. If you can’t pay for it, you shouldn’t do it, period. Again, your mileage may vary).

5. Can The Market Support Your Event?

This goes hand-in-hand with #4 – Can You Afford It? While you are figuring out how much you’d have to charge folks in order to make your event work, there are a few variables you need to consider, if not for your own success, then for the health of the market that you want to support you. “The Market” is your community, or the public that you want your event to appeal to. Figuring out your market happens while you’re calculating whether you can afford the event.

In many dance communities, there is either a network of producers, a newsletter with an event calendar, or some kind of avenue of communication in which producers can plan the timing and style of their event in such a way that it does not conflict with others in the community. This is for several reasons:

a.) Courtesy – if you can help it, don’t book your event on top of or too close to someone else’s event.
b.) Market Health – most communities support each other, and when events happen at the same time, it immediately splits one market into 2 smaller markets, which doesn’t help either event.
c.) Saturation – how many workshops of the same style does one city need in a year?

By communicating with other event producers, you can find out if there is a place for your event not only in the calendar, but in the community. The first lesson in marketing is this: Find a need, and provide a solution. Is there a need for your event? Is there another need that you can fill instead? Whose needs are you fulfilling, and has someone else already done that?

By avoiding copycat events, double-booking, and market-splitting, you are not only ensuring your own success, but the health of a community that relies on internal sales in order to stay afloat. You can exhaust the wallets and interest of a community by doing too much!

Now that you have a vision, a list of needs, a budget, and you’ve determined that there is a market for what you’re trying to do, it’s time to start making it happen… Check out Part 2 here!

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