If you’re thinking of putting on your own show, you have a lot of thinking to do… You have to consider if there’s a market for such a show, if you can find a suitable venue and even if you can afford to do it – both in terms of time and money… Running a show will take a hell of a lot of work – and don’t you think otherwise! You will also need to be brave, be prepared to say no a lot and be ready for anything, as literally anything can happen… We’ve put together this three part series to help budding producers (there’s waay too much to put in just one feature!), so if you think you’ve got thick enough skin read on… Then hit the lights! Let’s put on a show!
Firstly, let’s put this out there… Running a show will not make you rich!
There’s a myth that burlesque will earn you loads of money… It wont – not unless you’re a top level international performer or you put on shows in Vegas! A producer is the LAST one to be paid once all the show costs have gone out of the window, and anyone who thinks it is the reverse needs to have a re-think about why they want to put on a show. Yes, you can earn money from putting on a show, but your share of the profits come after you have paid for the venue, the techs (sometimes bundled in with venue hire costs), your performers, your stage and door staff, printed material (posters, flyers, tickets), any adverts you’ve placed (your marketing budget), any comps (yes, complementary tickets are NOT FREE – the producer always has to pay for any that are given out as that is one less ticket that a customer has not paid for), any photographers and insurance for your show… After these people have been paid for an honest night’s work, only then will you get paid. But be warned… if you are thinking of putting on more shows, don’t go spending your paycheck on a new pair of shoes just yet – most savvy producers carry forward any profit from show to show, meaning the next show is always in credit…
Professional attitude from the start
Putting on a professional show (and we don’t mean laying out loads of expense to be professional, we just mean a well-presented and polished show) means approaching it from a professional angle. If people are going to be paying money for tickets and buying into your ‘dream’ you need to live up to their – and your own – expectations. Ask yourself, what do you expect from a show when you pay? Do you want to be entertained? Do you want quality performers who know how to entertain and look confident in the spotlight? Do you want to see lavish costumes and do you want a compare that gels the whole evening together in a professional way? Have yourself a set of outcomes based on these questions… Write a list and stick to it…
Being professional isn’t limited to your idea – you need to be professional when dealing with your artists and staff too – making sure everyone is informed of the venue address, times they need to arrive, times the show is likely to finish, when and how they will be paid, and informed throughout the show too – with running order, ‘tech sheets’ for any backstage staff so they know the set up and strike of the performers’ acts, so the sound tech knows cues, lighting tech knows what to do.
Producer / Promoter – what is the difference?
A producer puts together the whole show, is in charge of budgets, booking acts, liasing with venues, everything you can think of that goes with putting on a show, this is what a producer does… Basically produces a show in the same way as a magician produces a bunny out of a hat – if only putting on shows were that simple! A promoter basically promotes a ready-made show… They might book a 2-hour show in the venue then concentrate on pushing it – marketing, selling tickets, posters, press releases, basically promoting is like getting a loudspeaker and telling everyone about the event.
The right time and the right place…
Research is key to you putting on a successful show. Do you know the area? Do you go out enough to know what the nightlife lacks? Have you monitored the kinds of shows the local theatres book in and what does well? If you think there’s a gap in the market for a burlesque or cabaret show, you could be on to something…
Be prepared to start small…
If there is nothing in your area and you really want to take up that mantle, then do it! But you must be prepared to start small and grow your event. Cultivating an audience from nothing is a bit like growing a beautiful sunflower… You have to prepare the earth (ie doing the ground work, research), sow the seed (planting the idea, getting people excited about what you are going to put on) and then, with every show, watching the audience grow, all the time nurturing them with quality acts so they feel they’ve got value for money… and even when your show is in full bloom, you have to be prepared to keep it in bloom by feeding it quality acts and keeping it as professional as it can be. As you want the audience to come back, right?
What is there is already a scene?
If there are already loads of nights all competing for the same audience, does it make sense to split the audience share even more? Think of it like this… A town has one very successful barber store… All the well-heeled chaps go here for their hot shaves… So another opens up – and guess what? The well heeled gents now have to choose between the two. Most of the time they will stay loyal to what they know but a few will go to the new place – especially if they are offering the same thing for cheaper… Then another barber comes to town and opens up – guess what? The customer base is even further split… But then a ‘gents grooming palour’ enters the frame, offering beard beautifying services – basically offering a different take on the same kind of thing. What this does is attract a whole new customer – as well as maybe a few who are used to the usual thing. Running shows is EXACTLY like this (minus the focus on facial hair). You have to think what is already there, and what you could offer that would be a different take to attract new audiences and offer to the already existing show-goer that wouldn’t piss on the chips of the producer who has done all the hard work to create the scene in the first place…
How do I not piss on anyone’s chips?
Well, there’s a very easy answer to this one – work with each other. We don’t mean you both have to work on one another’s shows, but just by talking to each other, you can arrange your shows so they don’t clash on the same weekend – you could do opposing months if both shows are bi-monthly. Working things out this way would ensure support for both nights and help the scene grow even bigger. It also means you’ll not be booking the same acts…
But I’m a cut-throat individual and I really don’t care for working with anyone else – why should I?
Trust us, this is the fastest way to see your night (and any ££s you might think you’ll be raking in) go down the swanny! If you have an attitude like this – to be blunt – you should not be running a show. If you have this attitude towards other producers and promoters, how can you care what kind of show you put on and what kind of value for money you will be giving your ticket buyers. You are selfish and a fool.
So you’ve seen someone put on a show in X venue and you’re thinking, ‘This is awesome, I’ll do the same – right here too!’… Why is this a no, no?
We know you are excited/inspired/creative and all the rest (and most people who have accidentally pissed on someone’s chips have done it very naively!) but putting on your show in a venue that already hosts someone else’s is not a good idea. First and foremost, you will be confusing their audience and most likely get the back up of the other producer. Imagine this: you’ve done all the leg work in cultivating a strong following, putting on regular nights for two years in what you consider the perfect venue and then someone new comes in and puts on a very similar night. Although this new night might not be branded in the same way as yours, the very fact the same thing in the same venue is being offered is not good for either brand. If the new night offers a watered-down and unprofessional version of what you offer in the same venue, this has the potential to damage what you do as, while some audiences might be familiar with your brand, others will just see it as the ‘burlesque/cabaret’ night associated with that venue. Do you see where this is going… No? Well, let’s go back to the barber shop… So you’ve worked your little razor off giving the best cuts and have got a great reputation as the best barber in the shop ‘A Cut Above’… A new (demon) barber moves in the same venue when you aren’t there and offers the same service, but he is a bit sloppy and unprofessional. Word gets out that (the shop) ‘A Cut Above’ is shit for shaves and the work dries up for both barbers, leaving barber ‘1’ really angry and upset. And you don’t want to cause upset…
Let’s say it’s the other way around and your new night happens to be so bloody professional with blinding international acts on the bill and the other existing is somewhat mediocre… Why would you move it to the same venue? You would be doing yourself no favours….
Location is everything!
So now you’re on a venue hunt, there’s a couple of things to consider… First you need to decide what sort of show you are doing to put on… Is it going to be a formal theatre show, a cabaret setting, a low-key show in a back room or a dinner show. The type of show will effect the type of venue you look out for, for instance, if you are after a theatre show, it’s obvious to approach local theatres and see what they have to offer . You might also consider offering them a ‘buy in’ rather than a hire – doing a ‘buy in’ deal with a local theatre is a great way to get your event off the ground as the theatre give you a set amount of money for the whole show, which takes some of the risk away from you, financially, and, as they are promoting your event, they can utilise their mailing list and marketing machine. It just means that you will be paid the set amount agreed regardless of how many tickets are sold. The theatre sells the tickets and they keep all the revenue. Other venues might offer to ‘buy in’, too. Usually the deal is a hire, where you pay to have a venue for a set amount of hours and you take all the ticket revenue and deduct all expenses from that.
So now you are clear on your venue you just need to find it! It’s a bit like when you look for a new house to rent…
Here’s a checklist for you…
- Is it in the town centre? The best place to be located is a centre of town – in the heart of the action, with a good footfall…
- Is it easily accessible on foot? Or do people have to drive? (if people have to drive it means they can’t drink at the show or will have to get taxis…)
- Is it near good public transport links for your performers to arrive via train or coach?
- Is there car parking near by (performers with large props wont want to lug across town – better to load in near the venue / patrons might need somewhere near by to park)
- is it habitable? Sounds crazy, but your venue must be safe!
What do I need from the venue?
Now you’ve got your eye on a venue, you need to have a look inside to see if it ticks all the right boxes to enable you to put on a show… Here’s another checklist for you:
- Stage – is there one?/how big is it?/how do the performers get to it?/Are the sightlines from the audience good? You don’t want any obstructions!
- PA – is there one in the venue? Or will you need to hire? if there is one, does it include mics for your compare (and any singing acts)? What sort of playback system is there (performers’ music on CD or MP3)
- Lights – ditto above, what kind of rig is there? You need your acts to be seen even if there are just a few static lights. Or will you need to hire one?
- Does the venue provide someone to operate the Lights and PA? If not you will need to find a tech(s)
- How do people enter the venue? Is there a one-way entry (ie somewhere to set up your door tickets) and if there’s more than one way in, how will you police non-ticket holders entering?
- where is the dressing room and how big is it? Remember performers often travel with large suitcases so you will need to fit these in. Also does it have a mirror (you will need to bring one if not)
- Are there backstage toilets? not totally essential but great for performers who don’t want to be caught in a queue before they perform…
- Where and how will the audience sit? What is the capacity? (this is essential for your budgeting!)
How much should I pay for a venue?
Another crucial question is the price to hire the venue. If you are doing a buy in deal (as outlined above) this will not apply but you will need to figure your buy in price around the capacity and the sort of acts you want to book (it’ll be no good setting your buy in fee around £500 for a 400 seater venue, 70% is a good buy in fees depending on capacity and it still gives the venue a nice return even if the show doesn’t sell out), but if you are going to hire, this figure should reflect a) the day of the week, b) the quality of the venue and c) if it includes extras such as tech and hidden extras such as VAT – which is added when you are billed.
Day of the week…
This will effect your hire price – Saturdays are usually the most expensive night to hire as they are the most popular in terms of both hirers and audiences wanting to go out. Friday follows it as the second most expensive and usually the rest of the week is free to hire (unless you live in London where most other nights charge a nominal fee to hire – although you can find some gems!). Some venues will do you a deal where the hire fee comes down if they make a certain target over the bar – ie, you pay £200 hire fee, but if they make over £1000 on the bar, you only pay £100… There are other deals that venues offer so it’s prudent to ask.
Booking the venue…
So, now is the exciting stuff! You’ve found your ideal venue and now you can book! Sounds obvious really, but get everything down on paper so you can back up everything you and the venue have agreed to. This will be in the form of a contract. It doesn’t have to be an official drawn up document, but a contract will protect you in the case of the venue falling through (and protect the venue if you fail on your agreement to hire, etc). Always check the clauses that you are signing, and if there is anything in the contract that you don’t understand, raise it with the venue. They won’t mind and it might be that there’s a general article relating to copyright of music, or choreography or show production detail that isn’t relevant to your production that you might be wise to clear up. If you are doing a night for the first time, it’s very wise to firm up your first date and ‘pencil in’ follow up dates, so if the night doesn’t go as you planned, you haven’t committed to the further dates. But if it all goes amazingly, then you can confirm them after the show, when you and the venue are on a high!
In part two we will deal with the ins and outs of budgeting and booking performers – look out for that installment next week!