Holiday Helper | Hosting special events can spotlight your show during a busy season
by Debra Danese
The holiday season is a bustling time, filled with shopping, decorating, parties, and of course, holiday-themed productions such as The Nutcracker. With so many activities vying for people’s attention, how can you promote your show and maximize your audience reach?
Why not hold an auxiliary event connected to your performance? If you’re staging The Nutcracker, for example, consider hosting a Tea With Clara event, featuring refreshments and a meet and greet with Clara and the ballet’s other characters. Or have your dancers pose in a live holiday window display at a local retailer during prime shopping hours. Does your town hold a holiday parade? Have your dancers dress up in costume and hand out candy canes with your show flyer attached. These events are just a few fun ways to engage the public and introduce your studio to the community at large.
“Everyone on the square started pulling out their phones and taking videos of the performance, then came up to our table for photos with the cast.” —Ashleyanne Hensley
Another option is to partner with a local bookstore or library to give a live reading of The Nutcracker, to familiarize young audiences with the story before they attend a performance. Ask the library or bookstore to create a Nutcracker display with books, CDs, and DVDs for patrons to buy or borrow. Ask staffers to display your show poster, which should list your holiday concert’s dates, times, and ticket prices. Give a condensed reading of The Nutcracker story while some of your dancers perform in costume or mingle with attendees if the space isn’t suitable for a performance. This is an easy and cost-effective way to market the show. You can include a meet and greet afterward, perhaps with photo ops, during which children might hold a Nutcracker doll for a photo with Clara or a toy sword with the Mouse King.
You can also promote your performances by teaming up with other local businesses. For example, Janice Lynn Brougher-Roos, owner of Studio ’91 in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania, promotes her school’s biennial performance, ’Twas the Night Before Christmas, at special events hosted by local retailers—past participants have included a hair salon, a garden center, and a restaurant. Her dancers, dressed in toy soldier costumes, circulate among the customers and hand out show postcards. Brougher-Roos says these appearances help build ties with local businesses. For example, a chocolate shop requested that costumed dancers from Studio ’91 attend their holiday event last year. To reciprocate, the shop provided chocolate at a reduced rate for the studio’s annual student aide party.
Perhaps your audiences dream of joining the Nutcracker cast. Belfast Dance Studio in Belfast, Maine, hosts an annual onsite event called Join-In Nutcracker, inspired by the San Francisco Lesbian/Gay Freedom Band’s Dance-A-long Nutcracker. Belfast resident Arielle Bywater—who suggested the idea of a join-in production to studio owner Lisa Newcomb six years ago—kicks off the event by reading the story aloud from a storybook.
“The idea appealed to me because it was a way for everyone and anyone to participate in The Nutcracker,” Newcomb says. “We live in a rural area, so there aren’t many opportunities for people to perform. We get folks of all ages coming to this event.” The event also furthers the studio’s mission to be, as Newcomb says, “a place where all can express themselves in dance.”
To prepare for their twirl around the dance studio’s floor, attendees arrive dressed in tutus, tin soldier costumes, even Victorian Christmas outfits. “It’s really fun for me to watch what people come dressed in,” Newcomb says. “Some of them really go all out.” Attendees may also come as they are. Dancers demonstrate some basic steps to highlights from the ballet’s score; attendees can follow along, but most do their own thing. Entry is first-come, first-served due to the studio’s limited capacity. The cost is $5 for individuals and $10 for families. All event proceeds benefit the studio’s Children’s Dance Scholarship Fund.
East County Performing Arts Center in Brentwood, California, garners attention for its Nutcracker through a fun and creative cast reveal. According to owner/director Nina Koch, after casting is complete, she and members of the studio’s advisory board drive to each dancer’s house and leave a lawn sign that reads “A Nutcracker cast member lives here” with the role he or she has been cast in written underneath. (Initially, the cast reveal was done the same night as the audition, and the dancers were always on the lookout for signs that night, Koch says, so now she does the reveal sometime within the three days following the audition, to increase the element of surprise.)
The School of The Georgia Ballet in Marietta, Georgia, offers two events tied to the Georgia Ballet’s performance of The Nutcracker, which students appear in. School director Ashleyanne Hensley says that last year the students started a flash mob–style battle in the middle of Marietta Square during the November Art Walk.
“In the middle of festivities on the Square, we had Clara, the Nutcracker, the Rat King, and others battle like they do in the show,” says Hensley. “This is a great place for us to perform for the community and to market the show at no cost to us. We did not promote this performance, but just told people where to be. Clara, the Nutcracker, and the soldiers entered from one side of the Square and the Rat King and his mice entered from another. Our dancers then performed an excerpt of the battle scene. It’s a great social marketing tool. Everyone on the square started pulling out their phones and taking videos of the performance, then came up to our table for photos with the cast.” The school also offered information about the performance at its table.
Additionally, the Georgia Ballet offers a special ticket package, Jolly Trolley, for its Saturday night performance. The company hires a local trolley to drive patrons from the theater to Marietta Square for pre-show dinner and shopping, then back to the theater for the performance.
According to numerous studies, Hensley says, “patrons attend arts performances for the experience. It’s a date night, a special family outing. The theater venue we perform at doesn’t have a large lobby and we cannot serve alcohol. There are no restaurants in walking distance. We had to get creative in making this experience. A few of us on staff solicit coupons from the shops and restaurants on the Square to provide to the riders.”
“The dancer cast as Clara has a joyous time greeting, reading to, and dancing with the children throughout the tea party.” —Jennifer Agbay
Jolly Trolley is not a money maker for The Georgia Ballet, though Hensley says that the package ends up paying for itself. “Renting the trolley costs around $350 and we add a $10 to $15 markup on the tickets for the package,” she says. “It does take a lot of manual labor and time to get the coupons.” She says that the school has received good reviews of the experience, though, and it gets the school’s patrons out into the community supporting local small businesses.
At Ballet Arts Worcester in Worcester, Massachusetts, you can enjoy cookies and tea with Clara before taking in a performance of the studio’s Nutcracker. Dance director Jennifer Agbay collaborates with the Hanover Theatre for the Performing Arts and Wicked Good Cookies. Agbay says, “The dancer cast as Clara has a joyous time greeting, reading to, and dancing with the children throughout the tea party.” The event costs $15 per child for one hour; a theater tour is included.
Hosting or participating in an auxiliary event can set your school apart from the many dance schools staging The Nutcracker or other holiday shows by putting a face to your studio’s name. When the public interacts with your dancers, viewers form a personal connection with what might be an otherwise unfamiliar production.
“The students can be walking around town and people recognize them from our event and our ’Twas show,” Brougher-Roos says. “I think the coolest thing we have seen as a result of our events is that the community knows the show and wants to see it again and again.”
Auxiliary events can also offer your school greater exposure to a wider audience.
“We have had an increase in ticket sales and new audience members from the Jolly Trolley. It has lured the community to our performances as opposed to another production,” Hensley says. “We feel that awareness and consistency in offering these things will also create its own [revenue] stream in the future.”
Debra Danese is a full-time teaching artist who holds multiple certifications and degrees in dance.