Selecting a Venue
Usually finding a venue that has a mission aligned with your work is ideal. What are the performance places in town? Are some of them focused on work of an experimental nature? queer? jewish? musicals? butoh and eastern theatre? circus arts? If your work fits into an identifiable category and there's a venue that's known for that genre, producing your show there may bring in the venue's audience as well as your own.
Other things to consider in venue selection might include proximity to public transportation, size of the stage, size of the off-stage, technical capacity, lobby display space, reputation of the space (including their success rate with publicity), and any needs specific to your show.
Do thorough research about the space. If possible, see a show there. In San Francisco many of the spaces are tiny spaces carved into available odd nooks and crannies. I have seen many a show in The Garage, a well-known intimate performance space, that has had quiet moments interrupted by jazz music floating in from the bar next door. These are important considerations in choosing a space.
In researching the cost of venues, make sure to look into all hidden costs. Are you required to work with the venues technicians? Is there a minimum pay time for hang & focus? Is there some tech time included in the rental costs? Are you hiring their house staff or can you bring in volunteers, How early can you get into the space on show days? Does the venue provide insurance or is it your responsibility? Do they provide publicity services through their flyers, website and mailing list or is that an additional cost? Do they staff a refreshment table or can you do that and take the profits? Do you need to pay up front or do they take it out of the ticket sales? Make sure all of this is in the contract and ask directly if there are other costs or potential costs that might surface.
Performers, in my experience, are usually quite intelligent people. They are often sacrificing a great deal to do what they love. It behooves a director or choreographer to be sure their agreements and communication is clear with performers and all other staff members. Of course, projects are often under-funded and rarely does a performer get paid what they deserve. Many dancers have begrudgingly internalized a lack of value for their exceedingly hard-earned skills. Often they understand that the project has little money or a questionable budget and want to participate anyway. However, clear agreements and follow-through on promises goes a long way in maintaining and keeping relationships.
If your staff has been promised a certain amount, it is up to you to pay them, regardless of funding falling through. If you don't know what the financial terrain will look like, offer clear "if this than this" terms. If this grant comes through I can pay this much. If we sell out this many shows I can pay this much. If your financial resources are low, you might consider what other payment you can offer. Are there body workers who offered to donate to a silent auction that would give to a dancer instead. Can you offer consultation on one of their developing pieces or publicity/grant materials? Can you put ads for their business in the program? Can you offer them recommendations when asked? Can you bring snacks to rehearsals?
The dance world in this country is not wealthy monetarily, but often artists have resources they can offer each other that exist outside of market values. Notice that your own work is also probably not being valued at a reasonable rate and see how much of these kinds of non-monetary compensations can come through your network rather than through your own hard work. At the end of a long production process, having a large debt of many barters is sometimes no worse than having financial debt.
Here is a production timeline outlined adapted from Jessica Robinson's timeline in her Boot Camp for Artists Course. It is a good scaffold from which to create your own:
9 months - Venue Scouting
8 months - Select venue. Sign contract. Book tech time.
7 months - Select Design Team (Lighting, Sound, Costume)
6 months - Meet with design team.
5 months - Select Production Team (Stage Manager, House Manager)
4 months -Production meetng with design and production team.
Finalize working budget.
3 months - Check in with venue re: specific needs
2 months - Production meeting
-Determine necessary equipment & place orders
- Identify videographer
4 Weeks - Confirm tech staff.
- Create a detailed schedule for tech week.
- Work in Progress Showing
3 Weeks - Recruit volunteer ushers, set up & clean up staff.
2 Weeks - Production Meeting
1 Week - Confirm ushers, Production Meeting, Load-in, Cue-to-cue, tech and dress rehearsals
1 Week - Wrap up finances with venue & artists
- Thank You notes
2 Week - Wrap-up meeting with cast and crew
3 Week - Submit final reports to funders
Communication with Technicians and Designers
Any choreographer/ director should learn the basics of stagecraft, if only to be able to communicate clearly with technicians. Learn the names of the basic lighting instruments.
Par cans - throw a general wash.
Fresnels - create a spot.
Footlights - Shoot up from the ground.
Side light, front light, silhouette - refer to the direction from which the light comes.
Gels - color inserts.
Gobos - an insert into the gel frame that creates design effects (i.e. for a forest scene)
While knowing the basic language of communication is helpful, it is the designer's job to design. You can use textural, poetic and emotional words to communicate the look you'd like (words like warm, cool, intimate, washed-out, tentative, morning time, harsh, piss yellow parking garage, hellish, day on the beach). It isn't your job to know how to achieve these looks, just to know what you want. If you're collaborating, make sure you've communicated with your collaborator about the different cues and looks ahead of time. If possible, choose one of you that will communicate with the technicians and make final decisions. Too many cooks here can be quite frustrating.
If the piece is improvisational, be sure you either have technicians willing to play a very powerful role in the improvisation or have clear cues for them. Sound cues and timing cues can be quite helpful in improvisation or when there is not time for the technician to become familiar with the show. Also, theatrical technicians often use scripts for their cues, which have many more landmarks than does a dance piece. If you're presenting a dance piece, and depending on visual cues, make sure your technician has an eye for movement or use a time cue.
Your technician is incredibly important in your show. I once had a technician I'd worked with on a project who was amazing. Years later I worked with him again. Unbeknownst to me, he had become a substance abuser in the interim. He came to our second show inebriated and was passing out when he should have been running light cues. It was disastrous and somewhat traumatic. I don't wish that on anyone. The technicians run the lights, sound, and video. They are the gods of the world you are constructing. Make sure you have great references and trust in your technicians.
Building trust, respect, and clarity of agreements through good communication seem to be the primary guidelines for this work with all staff, funders, publicity contacts, collaborators, venue staff, and anyone else involved. These qualities are often sacrificed under the ego strain and logistical stress of running a performance. In my experience, the more we can return to these along the way, the more solid, satisfying, and sustainable our art making process becomes. I imagine the same is appliccable in our lives.