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Have Yourself a Merry Little Show

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How to plan and market holiday performances

By Rhee Gold

Does the thought of presenting a performance during the holiday season make you shudder with horror? Read on—this article, and the “Holiday Show Sampler” in this issue, might make you tingle with excitement instead.

Why do a show at such a busy time of year? The simple answer is that it’s good for the community, and your business. The period from mid-November through December is a great time to offer families that are looking for activities to enjoy together an occasion to be entertained. Parents are more likely to take their children to a holiday dance performance than they are to an annual recital or year-end performance. The diversity of content and length of many recitals can be a deterrent; holiday themes typically interest children more than standard recital fare does. Also, recital season coincides with graduations, weddings, and proms—commitments that can prevent potential students and their parents from attending your production.

Children are already excited at this time of year, so it’s a great chance to capture their holiday spirit and spark their imaginations. Inspiring young children to appreciate dance—and to want to be up on that stage—is good not only for your school but for dance education in general. And if you offer a January registration at your school, the timing is perfect to show potential clients what your dance program is all about.

Start planning early
Summer is the best time to start developing your holiday performance concept and strategy for success. Consider getting together with your faculty or other dance teachers for a fun brainstorming session. The best part of the decision-making process for a holiday show is that anything goes! One thing to keep in mind, though—a holiday performance should be family entertainment, with something for everyone, from young children to grandparents.

Start by contemplating the following:

  • Do you want to do a traditional Nutcracker or put a creative, modern twist on the old tradition? Can you include music and themes that allow you to integrate various dance forms, like hip-hop, jazz, tap, and modern?
  • Is it important to avoid a religious theme that could offend certain audiences? Or would your viewers appreciate a religious theme that incorporates diverse beliefs?
  • Do you want to come up with your own unique dance tradition to celebrate the holidays?

Practical considerations
Get all your students involved in the holiday performance. Don’t think of it as another opportunity to show off your best dancers; they have plenty of chances to shine at competitions or other concerts. Make this show a performance opportunity for everyone in your school, regardless of age or skill level. According to my seminar statistics, recreational and preschool populations comprise 85 percent of American and Canadian dance schools, compared to the 15 percent of students who participate in intensive or competitive programs. If you want to build a strong base of recreational students who will be loyal to your school, create dance experiences that involve everyone, from preschool to advanced.

Borrow an idea from ballet companies that alternate casts of children in their Nutcracker performances. Why? It’s a good strategy to increase ticket sales. The “babies” draw the most guests to annual recitals, so the more of your school’s younger set you can include in the performance, the better. The audience will love them, no matter what they do!

Why do a show at such a busy time of year? The simple answer is that it’s good for the community, and your business.

Consider taking the concept of inclusiveness a step further by involving your students’ parents. I once saw a Nutcracker spin-off that included a routine by parents who performed a soft-shoe to “Old Bones,” sung by George Burns. It was fun, entertaining, and an audience favorite.

Save money and create goodwill
Create a fulfilling experience for everyone involved and cut back on production expenses by earmarking the proceeds from your holiday show for a charity. When choosing an organization, keep in mind that one that benefits children dovetails nicely with the holiday spirit and makes a good partnership for your students. A benefit performance can offer some advantages, including qualifying your school for nonprofit rates for auditorium rental, program or poster printing, and other expenses. Also, local newspapers and radio and television stations are more likely to cover your event if it benefits a nonprofit organization. That’s good for charity and your school.

Even more important than minimizing your expenses, a charitable performance teaches students about the value of dancing for the benefit of others. Be sure to spend some time talking with them about the nature of the charity they are dancing for and why you selected it. They will learn how lucky they are to have healthy bodies that allow them to dance and appreciate what those who are not so fortunate have to live with every day. What a great lesson to learn at dance class!

Marketing
There are two aspects to marketing, the short- and the long-term. The immediate goal is to sell tickets for a performance. But in the long run, marketing keeps your school’s name in the public’s awareness, and that’s good for business. The fact that your school is out there, regardless of the reason, only helps to promote everything that you do. Of course, selling tickets or promoting a performance may have the added benefit of attracting new students to your school. So keep in mind that just as the show itself might increase your school’s January registration, the marketing you do for it may boost future enrollment as well.

Let’s look at specific marketing techniques. First, include an announcement about your holiday performance plans in a new studio brochure. News about a holiday show will get your current students excited that something different is in the air, and it may attract new students. If you have an email list, be sure to send an announcement to that group as well.

In September or October, hold an audition (maybe only for the lead roles). It could be open to everyone interested in participating, whether or not they are registered at your school, or it could be an in-house audition open only to your students. Create a press release announcing the audition and send it to the local newspapers. Be sure to invite a photographer from the paper to shoot pictures during the audition process.

Send the same press release to the chamber of commerce and local businesses. This will inform the business community about the performance, bring your school’s name to their attention, and familiarize them with your project. Then, if you need to solicit donations or advertising for the program, they already will have heard of your school and the upcoming performance. Some businesses might be willing to help sell tickets. Keep this group on your mailing list for all performances.

In early October, bring in a volunteer photographer to shoot head shots of all the participating dancers. Create a press release that the dancers’ parents can send (with their child’s head shot) to local newspapers announcing that their child will be performing in a holiday show. Sometimes this approach works better than a press release from the school; newspapers may be more willing to run a story about a child in their community than one that promotes a business. Ask the parents to follow up with the newspaper to be sure that the release was received and find out when it might run.

Encourage your students to send the press release to their families and friends to encourage them to attend the performance. Be sure it includes your website address so that readers have the opportunity to learn more about your school.

In late October or early November, bring the photographer back to shoot pictures of the dancers learning their choreography and rehearsing for the big show. Use some of the photos to create another press release; also include information about how to purchase tickets. Again, send the release to local papers and have your students distribute it to friends and family.

About three weeks before the event, distribute posters or flyers announcing the performance, dates, and venue to the dancers. Give 10 of them to each student and ask them to post them around town at libraries, grocery stores, and other businesses and on community bulletin boards. This is also the time to run a small ad in your local newspaper, perhaps combining publicity about the show with information about your school’s upcoming January registration. If your budget allows, continue to run small ads right up until the show date. Also, call or send press releases to local radio and television stations and ask for a spot on their shows to discuss your performance.

With this planning and marketing time line in hand, you’ll be ready to get to work. But where do you find the time? you might ask. There’s no magic bullet; you simply make the time. It’s the season of giving, and there’s no better gift to give to your community than dance.

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September 2014
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