How to Really Run a Dance Show (and Sell Out)

What goes through your head when you are setting up a run of performances?  For me, I run the gamut of emotions. High on the list are excitement and fear – I get so excited to have the opportunity to share work with the world and get on stage and perform.

I also fear that no one will turn up to the performances and that I’ll put a ton of cash down and end up in the red.  While there is no guarantee that your show will be successful, I found a few things this season that helped make my shows a success and I would like to share them with you.

At the end of the day, running the show shouldn’t be terrifying. People will turn up if you prepare properly.

how to run a dance show

Everybody’s fear is not getting butts in seats

So, what’s the difference between a normal show and a Sasso & Company performance?

Lots of things.  I would like to think that my many years as a performer, independent choreographer, and all sorts of other artistic titles has given me a ton of life experience.

I have had great experiences and terrible ones.  I sat down with myself and pooled all of these thoughts and decided to create a great show that the audience would love and that the performers would have fun participating in.

This year we made it a shared show.  While it’s wonderful to be out there just your company dancing every piece you know, it’s not always the best way to get an audience, especially if you are a young company like Sasso & Company.  It takes years to build a big fan base.

While I am hungry for the growth I also want to make smart business choices and this year’s choice was to network.  What better way to get to know your local dance community than to share the stage with them!

Having several artists in your lineup does several things for you:

  1. It automatically creates a diverse and dynamic show (each artist is unique and has their own voice to share)
  2. Your show is now instantly longer and therefore you can focus on cleaning and developing your own work rather than trying desperately to create enough to fill whatever time you think a show should be (in my opinion, there is no correct length)
  3. You get to know a lot of the local talent and they get to know you
  4. You expose your work to the fans of other companies and vice versa.  What better way to grow your fan base?

As a fairly new company, our fans are still mainly friends and family.  That’s great, but that doesn’t fill your audience for two nights in a row.

A giant factor in choosing to have guest performers was to put butts in seats, therefore selling tickets and eliminating that pesky fear that you shelled out a ton of cash to rent the space that you’ll never see again.

To pool guest artists, I put out a ‘call to artists’ application, which is pretty standard and straightforward method.  You have probably filled these forms out several times.  I recommend using an online service such as Wufoo to help streamline the artist’s submissions.

Organizing your artists, ensuring promotion and excellent communication

Once I had secured my guest artists, I set out to make the process as easy and clear as humanly possible. The one thing that has always bothered me about participating in shows is disorganization.

Keeping things organized makes people feel secure, cared for, and helps keep everyone on the same page.  It also eliminates you (the director/producer) getting a million email questions about everything.

I emailed my guest artists approximately once a month with updates and deadlines.

Have a system for your communication

For instance, the first email contained information about marketing — official photos, hashtags, and links to where the event has been posted online.

The next email had information regarding technical rehearsal and an outline for show week.  I made sure to send this email 6-8 weeks before the shows so everyone could confirm their spot for tech or let me know if they had a conflict.

After I heard from each artist, I sent another email confirming the schedule.

Keep everything documented and everyone on the same page

Google docs is a great way to share lots of information with a group of people. You can send just a link to a read-only document.

It’s easy to access and eliminates people needing to download a document you’ve attached to an email.  For me, the best part is that you can update the document without having to send a new link to everyone.

how to run a dance show

Use Google Docs for universal and simple communication

I found that checking in with everyone every couple of weeks made it feel like we were all moving forward in the process together.

I ended each email giving an overview of what I would be asking for next, “In a couple of weeks I will need your edited music.”  This gives everyone a head’s up for what they need to work on.  In general, people like to know what to expect, so be clear and transparent.  If there is a question, I guarantee you will receive an email about it.

Ensuring promotion on social media

In addition to checking in with everyone via email, I set up a social media posting schedule.  I asked the artists to use a specific hashtag for the show (#dancingthedistance) when posting.

I searched the hashtag frequently and could repost all of the exciting photos and videos of each artist in their process.

It was a simple way to unify the show and promote each artist at the same time.

dancing the distance - how to run a dance show

Act like a professional and be respectful

Lastly, when it came time for tech rehearsals and show week, I made every effort to welcome each artist when they arrived and give them an update such as ‘we are running 5 minutes late’ or ‘feel free to start spacing while we finish up checking the light board.’

I have had the experience of arriving to a shared show, no one says hello, there aren’t any signs up for the dressing room or show order, and I am instantly frustrated because I have no idea what’s happening.

Taking the time to say hello, give an update, and post the show order are little things that allow people to get in the loop and feel like they know what’s happening and where to be.

Selling tickets and getting butts in seats

As a method of insuring ticket sales, I asked each guest artist to sell a minimum of 10 tickets to the show.  This guaranteed that we would have X number in the audience each night.

As an added bonus, if any artist sold over ten tickets I offered a generous share of the sale.  Each artist had the opportunity to be paid for their performance.  For me, this was an extremely effective method to get more butts in seats.

The last method of tracking sales and seats was using an online form for advanced reservations.  There are also simple websites that offer online ticket sales, consider using:

But the actual reason for doing this, people that reserve or buy in advance, are going to show up.

I kept a spreadsheet with a running tally for reservations and noted which company the tickets were reserved for, making it easy to see who was turning up and who they wanted to see perform.

When it came to the actual days of the shows, I knew we were going to have a great audience turnout.  I had already done the work to promote the show for several months.  The guest artists had done their job to promote their work and maybe even receive a stipend.

Instead of no one showing up, I ended up with a packed house on Friday and a sold out house on Saturday!!  I actually ended up stressing that we didn’t have enough chairs!

The shows were a giant success

The artists had a wonderful time performing for a full house and the audience was treated to two evenings of dynamic, diverse, exciting local area dance artists.  It was a giant win and I absolutely recommend you trying a similar method in your next show(s).

Overall, running a show doesn’t need to be scary.  By using the method outlined in this post, I was able to ensure that I would have butts in seats as well as a dynamic and exciting show. Also I was able to meet many of the artists working in my local dance community and connect with them on a personal and professional level – something that I really value.

The shows were both financially and artistically successful.  I am pleased to have received a ton of positive feedback from the artists and the audience. It gives me good reason to believe the artists will want to work together again, and that more exciting and successful shows are on the horizon.

I hope that you have found this method both informative and easy to follow.  Creating successful dance shows takes a lot of preparation, but I can tell you from experience that it is worth it and you will be very happy with the results.

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