Part 1: Costs and Space
by Jonatan Gomes
posted August 8, 2018
Event planning is a huge part of the dance community and hosting artists from out of town is essential for expanding the knowledge, skills and diversity within your community. I have been hired by a lot of people and companies who are fortunate to have a grant writer on their team, but that probably accounts for about 2-5% of all contracts work. The vast majority of all my travel gigs are hosted by other artists, who like myself, just have to learn this stuff through trial and error. Having been hosted in cities around the country as well as hosting a few out of town artists myself, I feel very fortunate to be able to say that the vast majority of which have been successful. Needless to say, there have also been a number of gigs that didn’t quite turn out the way I had hoped.
Whenever I am being hosted in another city, I like to be as engaging in the community as possible. I really like getting feedback from the workshop attendees about their experience, if they felt they learned things they can put to good use, if they feel they have enough exercises to work on afterwards and so on. I can generally get a sense of that from the students expressions and participation levels throughout the workshops, but what is not always so apparent, and equally important, is how well the host fared from the event.
Personally, I don’t think it to be very polite to directly inquire to the host specific business related details on the event as it may appear that I’m questioning their business practices, but I do like to ask them how they felt about the event and if they were happy with how it turned out. Almost always the responses are very positive and enthusiastic, but sometimes I will hear a tone in the voice or read an expression that suggests there may be a thing or two that wasn’t exactly spot on. Granted, event hosting can take a lot out of a person, it is a lot of work and most of us feel pretty drained afterwards, regardless of how successful the event may have turned out, so maybe that is what I am sensing. In this case I might ask my host how they did, and it is great to hear things like, “Yes, it was great! The dancers all seemed to really enjoy the experience and it is very nice to have the musicians perspective.” and so on… Where then I may casually ask, “Great! but how did YOU do?” (because I really would like for my hosts to make money as well)
After carefully dancing around the subject of money without actually bringing up the word itself, I will get all sorts of responses ranging from, “Yeah, we did really good, just a bit tired though” to a sadly more common, “Oh we don’t do this for the money, we really just like to bring art to the community and make it grow.” Which is a beautiful thing, however, everyone has bills to pay, not to mention, the more money you make, the more events you can have, the more art you can bring to your community and the bigger it can grow.
I have hosted enough events myself to know that great attendance doesn’t always mean good money for the host. There is often a lot of overhead to consider such as venue and studio rental, flyers and promotional materials and most of all, the travel and lodging expenses of the artist. That being said, I feel this is an important enough topic to share some of my experiences with others. Maybe you’re thinking about hosting an event yourself and are not sure where to begin. Maybe you have hosted events in the past that didn’t go so well, but rather than throw in the towel, you want to give it another shot. Perhaps you have hosted before and it was successful, but you would like it to be better. Whatever the case may be, I want to share with you a few things that I have found to be very helpful when it comes to event hosting. I’m not claiming to have the magical recipe to putting together the perfect event, especially with so many variables to consider. However, I feel pretty confident when I need to host someone in my city due to a few tricks I’ve picked up along the way. Maybe some of these will work for you too.
ALWAYS PLAN EARLY! 4 Months in advance is a basic minimum.
Establishing a base cost for your event:
Every artist is a little different, but most of us have, or at least should have, a standard contract for out of town work that is separate from our local work contract. You should never feel embarrassed to ask the artist to explain their contract if there is anything you find confusing. Also, if there are aspects of their contract that you feel will keep you from hosting them, be sure to express that thing to them, ask them if there is any way to negotiate something a bit more accommodating to your ability. I personally put a lot of “wiggle-room” in my contracts so that the hosts are free to work with me comfortably, but in a way to where I will still get paid accordingly. Not all of us artists do this, so do not be too upset if an artist is unwilling to negotiate, it is unfortunate, but if their expenses or demands are too far out of reach, then it may not be to your benefit to host them at that time. Later on though, after gaining a bit of experience with more accommodating contracts, you can try for the bigger names with greater ease.
As I said before, every artist is a little different, some of us charge a percentage of the workshop and performance income. Others have flat fees or even hourly rates. It may be harder to calculate your initial overhead through percentage based contracts, but often those are the most flexible to work with financially. Therefore if you have a reasonable idea of attendance and financial flexibility within your community, then you can easily come up with a ballpark figure to get a sense of your capacity to host this artist. Keep in mind, attendee rate and financial flexibility are topics I will cover soon enough, so don’t give up just yet if this portion seems out of range for you. Also, do not be alarmed if the artist asks for a deposit up front. This is to ensure that in the instance you decide to cancel the event, the artist will be accommodated for any loss of revenue from other potential gigs they may have missed due to agreeing to your event.
Be sure to check upcoming events in your area before booking, competing with other events is a no no!
Travel and lodging are two basic expenses that you will have to deal with. Planning early helps you to find better airfare rates as well as prepare all other odds and ends. Airfare sometimes, depending on current gas prices and other considerations, can often be surprisingly more cost efficient…but not always. Some artists are willing to drive if the distance is not too great. I personally am willing to drive to many gigs as long as the driving time does not exceed a certain number of hours. If work is expected of me on the day of my arrival, then I will limit my driving options considerably.
Artists can be funny about lodging, each person has his or her own comfort levels that must be met. If we are uncomfortable where we are staying, it may affect our performance. Personally, I am fine with a couch anywhere that has a shower and wifi, so long as said location is devoid of humans prone to suspicious and questionable behavior, screaming babies and creepy crawly things that get on you when you sleep. But other artists prefer and even demand absolute privacy and more specific accommodations. Granted, the champagne glass filled with only the brown m&m’s every morning in the artists dressing room is perhaps a tad too far reaching of a demand, (I had to remove this request from my contract for obvious reasons) But you should never be too shy to ask the artist if they would be comfortable staying at your or a friends home as this can cut down considerably on your overhead. I think most of us will agree to this, but may have some specifications. I know a few of my friends and colleagues have in their contracts such things like; suitable house, apt or loft space with kitchen, bath all to myself. So you may need to make arrangements to stay at a relative or friends house if need be. Don’t worry, in the end, this will also save you money. (Just pray that they don’t confuse your 16th century Ming vase for the bathroom and you should be fine.)
Never forget to have fun and share the fun with others!
Where to save, where to splurge: Suitable Performance Space
As I mentioned in the previous section, finding suitable and cost efficient lodging for your artist is a good way to save on cost. There are quite a few other things as well that you may or may not have considered, but remember, cutting down on cost and cutting corners are two separate things. I have done many events to where both the workshops and performances were in the same location. This is pretty common way for hosts to cut cost, just be sure that the location has an efficient sound system, restrooms and offer some sort of refreshments to the guests on the day of the performance. Workshop space should be well lit and all the things the artist requires should be present. If the same location is to be used as a performance space, please be creative.
Try adjusting the lighting to fit more of a “show like” atmosphere and provide good seating arrangements for audience members. Having an announcer is important and adds to the “showtime” feel. Do everything you can to make the performance event as fun as humanly possible!
Sometimes a separate venue is needed, night clubs or event halls are best, and though not always cost efficient, are almost always a big win for your audience members and will help you immensely in the area of ticket sales. (Though I generally prefer Night Clubs to Event Halls because night clubs have potential for random foot traffic, especially if it’s in a cool part of town.) People are generally more inclined to go to an event if it’s exciting, almost no one is going to enthusiastically pay $10-20 to attend an event at an old folks home or a junior high cafeteria. Providing a fun and memorable experience for your audience is more important than most people realize because you don’t want this to be your last event! Fun! Never forget the importance of that word!
Restaurants are sometimes used, but are excluded from many contracts, including mine, for even though many of us depend on restaurant work in our weekly to monthly performances at home, few of us wish to travel umpteen miles to perform under the same conditions in which we must endure on a regular basis. The all-too-familiar unsavory atmosphere of wall-of-sound-like chatter from the regular customers just wanting to dine and could pull a hair if Naima Akef herself returned from the beyond to perform for them, Waiters walking back in forth in front of the the performance space, clumsy people spilling foods and drinks and dishes on the floor, shall I go on? Most importantly, your ticket sale options are pretty much out of the question if you go with a public restaurant, unless of course you rent the space out, in which case, you may as well go for the night club or event hall at that point because the restaurant owner is going to charge you an average of what they would generally make on that night, (regardless whether they sell a ton of food and drinks or not.) which will likely be a weekend and their busiest time as well.
Do not feel discouraged at this point, however. Yes, if you’re going to have a gala show, it must be on point, but if the venue is more than you can afford, or you feel will severely cut back on your profit potential, don’t give up, just keep exploring your options. This is why it is always good to plan things way in advance. Ideally, if you are thinking about hosting someone, go ahead and start scouting venues and locations before you even contact the artist. Don’t be afraid to get creative. Often a simple redecoration of a sizable enough dance studio or neighborhood community center is plenty fine. String up some festive lights and other decorative items (kill the hospital bathroom-esc fluorescent lights that make everyone look like a blemished space alien), provide seating and refreshments, get you an announcer and viola! Instant Night-Club!
Always stay on good terms with your local dance community friends, you need them and they need you!
This photo: 2014 – Adam Riviere, Andy Smith, dancer Deniz, Jonatan Gomes perform at event sponsored by
ISAMETD(Indiana State Association of Middle Eastern Teachers and Dancers)
Top of page: Devilla Raks and Jonatan Gomes perform during the Buff Bellydance Showcase in 2015
at the Rumba Room in Downtown Memphis, Sadiia Lamm‘s event.
Coming Up: Part 2: Community and Networks – Every Host’s Lifeline
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