Find out what exactly dance companies are looking for and book your next gig.
During my company's fledgling years, I remember emailing a promising venue in Cape Cod, Massachusetts, hoping to include them in my plans for an upcoming tour. Unfamiliar with the typical process of getting presented, I had no idea what I was in for. I hadn't anticipated that it would take almost two years of persistent follow-ups to confirm their interest, finalize a date and discuss logistics. And that was just for a one-night appearance!
For emerging dance companies, booking a gig can seem even more daunting than choreographing a new work. With so many ensembles vying for a limited number of performances each season, the competition can be overwhelming. Finding the right venue can feel like an impossible match. And while juggling artistic, financial and logistical elements, it feels all too easy to overlook an important detail that might cost you a booking. This month, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters' annual conference will connect eager companies to decision-makers from venues all over the country. But what are they looking for? Dance Magazine talked to top presenters about their pet peeves, dos and don'ts, and advice for helping a company get noticed—and get jobs.
1. Research Potential Presenters
Start by doing your homework: Look at a presenter's budget (often accessible online or through APAP), plus the kinds of companies that have appeared and the fees they've received. Linda Shelton, executive director of The Joyce Theater in New York City, points out that knowing the typical aesthetic and scale of productions a presenter prefers can save you time by helping you target only the most appropriate venues.
2. Determine Your Selling Point
Think about what's going to help the presenter sell tickets. Randy Swartz, artistic director of NextMove Dance in Philadelphia, says companies should change their attitude from “Why don't you book me?" to “Here's why you need me!" Emphasize an element of your project that will draw audiences, whether it's awards, great quotes from past presenters, notable music, celebrity involvement or company members who are from a city where you want to perform. Funding can be an especially alluring hook, as it subsidizes the artist's fee. “That carries less risk for a presenter, especially if you're a lesser-known company," says Shelton. She suggests companies pursue outside funding, such as a grant from National Dance Project—many presenters notice which companies are touring with their support.
3. Use Quality Marketing Materials
A picture can be worth more than a thousand words—it can land you a job. “I know that if an image catches my eye, I'll have something to work with to market the company," says Shelton. She often sees photos that are blurry, not the right size or depicting repertory that the company isn't going to perform. Her marketing director is not afraid to ask for a company not to be invited back if its materials are poor. Instead of simply using performance images with a dark background, Swartz recommends taking clear shots that fully display the dancers' bodies against a light background. Have photos available for download on your website, which should be regularly updated.
4. Invest in Professional Videos
When evaluating footage, full pieces say more than montages, according to American Dance Festival executive director Jodee Nimerichter. “Seeing something from start to finish is incredibly advantageous," she says. If she cannot see the full piece, she prefers to see excerpts that are at least 5 to 10 minutes long. “A highlight reel might include a 10-second excerpt of a 40-minute piece that cannot sustain itself," she explains. Swartz cautions that video quality also matters. Filming from the back of the theater, with a darkened stage and audience members' heads in the frame, looks sloppy. Invest in professional videography.
5. Seek Out a Showcase
“An emerging company has to find a way to be discovered by presenters," says Ken Tracy, executive director of Tulsa-based Choregus Productions, who recommends participating in a regional showcase or APAP series. A company can even team up with some compatible companies to put together their own showcase for presenters. Just make sure you are presenting your best work. “It's not a place to try out new pieces you hope to realize," says Swartz. “It's not a performance—it's a commercial." It's also an opportunity to meet presenters in person, so they get to know you. Nimerichter admits, “I don't really consider presenting a company until I see something live."
6. Be Flexible
If you are interested in a certain presenter, be open to however they may want to incorporate you into their season. Be willing to make time for events like master classes or post-performance talkbacks. A choreographer might even be initially invited alone, as a performer or teaching artist, to introduce his or her work and establish a relationship with the venue. When the full company does come, be flexible with the tech rider (the document that specifies sound, lighting and stage setup requirements, plus provisions like dressing room needs and scheduling expectations). “Say something is optional, or that you can discuss it," says Swartz. Tracy adds that a rider should be specific to the pieces being presented, not just a general document. “Don't assume that presenters know what your needs are," he says.
7. Be Exclusive
Avoid scheduling dates that are too close to one another, especially in the same geographic area. “If an audience member can see something elsewhere, it diminishes the possibility for an audience at my venue," says Shelton. She notes that special events like gala performances or free gigs can conflict, too. If you make progress planning something with one presenter, share that news with any other presenters you're in talks with so there won't be any conflicts. “We try to be courteous with one another and support each other," Nimerichter says of her colleagues. “Be up front with us."
8. Behave Appropriately
It's not just about the work—it's also about how you work together. “No matter how good the company is, they have to be likeable onstage and offstage," says Tracy. Presenters take note of who is easy to work with and who shows appreciation for the collaboration. “Presenters have a very low tolerance for offstage drama," says Swartz.
9. Stay in Touch
Presenters don't want to hear from you only when you're looking for work. “Keep them aware of what you're doing," Swartz advises, adding that social media profiles, including YouTube, should be consistently maintained. Form a relationship—even after the performance. Shelton recommends a thank-you note, a signed company photograph or even a phone call to show appreciation. That positive connection can even be the catalyst for future bookings. “If you've been presented by someone and it was a good experience, ask them to call another presenter on your behalf," Shelton says. But don't ramble. “Short, sweet and succinct" is the key to correspondence, says Nimerichter.
10. Be Patient
Getting booked is a lengthy process. “It can take time to develop a relationship," says Nimerichter. “Keep sharing. You might not always get a response every time, and don't give up if you don't. It can take several years to find the right time." Tracy says companies should remember that everyone involved wants to make things happen: “None of us needs to have the attitude that we're the most important cog in the wheel. We're all in this together."
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