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A dancer's guide to booking conferences.

Ever wonder why some dance companies go on the road and others seem to stand still? As a choreographer or company director, do you have a show you'd like to tour, but don't know how? Getting a gig can seem mysterious to the uninitiated. Randy Swartz, a presenter for more than thirty years, laments that "the booking business is a big, black hole for a lot of dancers."

Part of Swartz's job as artistic director of Philadelphia's Dance Affiliates is attending booking conferences. If you want to know how the business works, you have to understand what goes on at the conferences.

A booking conference is a marketplace for the performing arts where artists, managers, and agents "sell" their product to presenters, the people who book performers for theaters or other venues. It's a place to forge relationships.

The most prominent conference of interest to dancers is sponsored by the Association of Performing Arts Presenters (APAP), and is held in New York City each January. There are also three significant regional U.S. conferences (Western Arts Alliance, Arts Midwest, and Performing Arts Exchange--a joint effort of the Southern Arts Federation and the Mid-Atlantic Arts Foundation) and many international meetings, congresses, and world arts markets.

Prepare to be overwhelmed the first time you go to APAP. In January 2003, some 3,500 attendees visited three huge "resource rooms" filled with 338 booths representing all performing arts. The four-day event was packed with forums, panels, seminars, workshops, and committee meetings. The program listed about 700 official showcase performances (some were repeats), about 400 of which included dance. Many artists or their agents also scheduled showcases or performances around the city hoping to attract conference attendees to their work.

Swartz, who views himself as "a bit of a showcase nut," saw nineteen dance companies in one day at APAP. "There's an artistry to showcasing," he says, and he wishes more choreographers understood that. "It's not a performance; it's a very artificial situation. It's in essence a twenty-minute commercial for the company." He goes on, "Presenters are looking at you like no real audience ever would. They're asking, `Is this worthwhile artistically? Can I sell tickets? Will my community support this company? Is there a hook I can use for marketing?' Presenters have to determine not only whether a performance is worth a $25 ticket, but whether they should fork over several thousand dollars to a company and risk their reputation besides."

For your showcase, California-based arts consultant and agent Rachel Cohen recommends you put forth your most engaging, highly polished work. She says you should never show a work in progress--it's too risky.

Jodi Kaplan, who runs a dance agency in New York (and soon also in Los Angeles) and teaches booking process workshops, urges artists not to exhibit or showcase at a conference unless they're ready to tour.

"You never get a second chance at a first impression," she says. You need professional-looking promotional materials--a great press kit and video are essential. You also need a viable management structure, someone who can handle contract negotiations and the logistics of touring. "Presenters," Kaplan notes, "don't want to do a lot of hand-holding."

Swartz agrees, citing "aggravation factor" as important to presenters. "[Is the company] going to be needy, or have last-minute demands, like asking for a babysitter, an interpreter, a pianist for class, or more time in the theater?"

A company must know what it needs well ahead of time. Presenters do talk to each other; a company that creates bad buzz may have trouble securing future engagements.

Exhibiting at a conference can be a big investment, and not necessarily the best use of resources at the beginning of your career. Registration fee, booth rental, and the expense of producing a showcase can easily add up to $2,000 and more.

If you haven't toured before, it's unlikely that you'll find an agent willing to offer full representation--agents, like presenters, prefer to work with companies that already have a track record. However, some agents, in addition to their regular client list, have a supplemental roster of newer artists. For a fee, you can display your press kit at their booth and perhaps even receive a showcase time slot. Kaplan is expanding her "boutique roster" to include representation at four U.S. conferences, a showcase at APAP, and group and private consultations. The annual fee of $2,500 is a bargain when compared to the monthly retainer plus commission required for full representation.

There are other ways to gain exposure at conferences as well. New York arts administrators Barbara Bryan, Carla Peterson, Tricia Pierson, and Janet Stapleton banded together with thirteen choreographers to build national visibility for their work in experimental dance forms. Their Dance Cooperative, now in its third year, rents a booth at APAP and produces a showcase. By sharing resources, the cost of this representation is kept to a minimum--$600 this year.

Conferences are an opportunity to make initial contact, not where most of the deal making takes place. "Booking is about relationships as much as it's about art," Kaplan says. The comfort level of presenters with a company or agent can be as important as artistic quality. A conference can help you create rapport because you or your manager or agent have a chance to meet eyeball-to-eyeball with presenters. Kaplan suggests that ready-to-tour artists try out one of the smaller regional meetings before taking on APAP.

Do your homework before you arrive at the conference. Find out who a presenter has booked in the past and focus on those who are most likely to have interest in your company. Contact them in advance and tell them the location of your booth, invite them to your showcase, and try to schedule an appointment. And make the most of networking at the conference. Sign up for a conference mentor to give you pointers and help make introductions. Attend seminars and luncheons and make friends with the people next to you. Kaplan, who's been attending booking conferences for more than a decade, sets goals to meet new people each time.

But don't expect bookings to happen overnight. Cohen says that even if you have representation, "an agent isn't your mother. It's not like they click a magic wand and all of a sudden you get work." In general, presenters schedule more than a year in advance, and may follow a company for a while before engaging it.

Rebecca Stenn, artistic director of New York-based Rebecca Stenn/ Perks DanceMusicTheater, says she used to call her agent "every five minutes." Now she's learned to wait. Stenn says the relationship-building process is ongoing. "If you do a performance and they like it and enjoy working with you, then maybe they'll invite you back two or three years later for a weeklong residency that involves teaching," she says. "And then maybe, down the road, you'll end up doing something more intensive."

Kaplan says it usually takes three to five years to build a company into a viable touring entity, depending on the level of support of the company's board, whether the artists have had prior touring experience, and the quality of the work. While artists are often in a rush to get their work seen, presenters, on the other hand, can be more than willing to wait. Make the best work you can, be smart about letting people know what you're up to, and start planting the booking seeds.


Undergraduate Study/Continuing Education

BRENAU UNIVERSITY, Department of Art and Design, One Centennial Cir., Gainesville, GA 30501, 770.534.6240,

HUMBER COLLEGE, 205 Humber College Blvd., Toronto, ON M9W 5L7, Canada, 416.675.6622,

OKLAHOMA CITY UNIVERSITY, School of American Dance and Arts Management, 2501 N. Blackwelder, Oklahoma City, OK 73106, 405.521.5322,

PURCHASE COLLEGE, STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK, School of Continuing Education & Professional Development, 735 Anderson Hill Rd., Purchase, NY 10577, 914.251.650,

SUMMER INSTITUTE FOR ARTS MANAGEMENT, University of Massachusetts Amherst, Arts Extension Service, Continuing Education Bldg. 358 N. Pleasant St., Amherst, MA 01003-9296, 413.545.2360,

Graduate Study

AMERICAN UNIVERSITY, Department of Performing Arts, College of Arts and Sciences, 4400 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20016-8053, 202.885.3420,

CARNEGIE MELLON UNIVERSITY, Master of Arts Management Program, H. John Heinz Ill School of Public Policy and Management, 5000 Forbes Ave., Pittsburgh, PA 15213-3890, 412.268.8436,

OKLAHOMA CITY UNIVERSITY School of American Dance and Arts Management (See contact information in Undergraduate Study)

NEW YORK UNIVERSITY, Performing Arts Administration, Department of Music and Performing Arts Professions, The Steinhardt School of Education, 35 W. 4th St., Ste. 675, New York, NY 10012, 212.998.5055,

UNIVERSITY OF AUCKLAND BUSINESS SCHOOL, Graduate Program in Arts Management, 1-11 Short St., Auckland, New Zealand 64.09.373.7599 x85023,

Leadership/Professional Development

ASSOCiATiON OF PERFORMING ARTS PRESENTERS, 1112 16th St. NW, Ste. 400, Washington, D.C. 20036, 202.833.2787,

EMC.ARTS, 506 S. Main St., Blacksburg, VA 24060, 540.953.1752,

EXECUTIVE PROGRAM FOR NONPROFIT LEADERS-ARTs, NATIONAL ARTS STRATEGIES Held at Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305, 505.737.9644

VILAR INSTITUTE FOR ARTS MANAGEMENT, John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, 2700 F St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20566, 202.416.8821,

WESTERN ARTS ALLIANCE LEADERSHIP INSTITUTE, 44 Page St., Ste. 604B San Francisco, CA 94102, 415.621.4400,


JACOB'S PILLOW INTERN PROGRAM, P.O. Box 287, Lee, MA 01238, 413.637.1322,

VILAR INSTITUTE FOR ARTS MANAGEMENT (See contact information in Leadership/Professional Development)

Also, check your local college or university and DANCE MAGAZINE COLLEGE GUIDE ( for courses in arts management and administration.


Can lean times for arts presenters be a boon to solo artists? The conventional wisdom might be to think that when money is tight, booking a solo act could be less expensive than a large dance company, which garners a large fee. But it's not that simple.

"It's a challenge to present solo artists economically," says Walter Jaffe of Portland, Oregon's, White Bird Dance, a presenting and producing organization. When he booked Margie Gillis for the 2000-01 season, he says, "She bowled the audience over." But she did not sell out the 476-seat theater.

"The [artistic] fee is not the bulk of the cost," says Ivan Sygoda of Pentacle, a New York firm that specializes in management and booking services for small dance companies. A presenter must consider production and advertising expense, and in terms of marketing, name recognition is a major consideration. The more well known the artist or company, the easier it is to fill the house.

"I have presenters say to me, `I can't afford to bring an inexpensive company,'" says Sygoda. " ... The difference [in fee] becomes marginal when you think of what you put out on the back end [in marketing]," he explains.

Some presenters fear that a performer alone cannot command a stage. "The perception is that it's not as interesting," says Kathy Hotchner, director for the Scottsdale Center for the Arts. Hotchner books four to five dance concerts a year for an 800-seat theater, but as of yet, no solos.

Matching solo work to the right venue can help. Karla Hartley, for instance, presents solo works in a 150-seat, black-box theater, the Shimberg Playhouse, at the Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center. "[Soloists] do need more support, but we've got a groove now on how to make it work." Hartley adds, "One of the two dance programs I present each year will be a solo artist. It's the perfect space for them--they've been very successful."

David R. White, of New York's Dance Theater Workshop, founded the National Performance Network to help offset the financial risks of presenting lesser known companies and solo artists. NPN provides a 40 percent subsidy of the artistic fee to presenters such as Hartley in forty-three U.S. cities.

Laura Colby of Elsie Management in Brooklyn points out that college and university teaching residencies can be a viable way to enter the performing circuit. "You may not be able to get your regular performance fee," says Colby, who has represented Risa Steinberg, Sean Curran, and Mark Haim. "But if you already have a teaching gig, you might ask for [an additional] $1,000 performance fee." Colby says that although the schedule of teaching, setting work, and conducting lecture-demonstrations can be grueling, such residencies offer a chance to refine one's work and build credibility.

"You just don't get booked into the Kennedy Center," says Colby. "There is a lot of work that goes into getting there. There are appropriate levels for work--you have to build yourself."--Theresa Howard

Jody Sperling is a dancer, choreographer, and dance writer based in New York City.
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Title Annotation:marketing the performing arts
Author:Sperling, Jody
Publication:Dance Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2003
Previous Article:From artist to impresario.
Next Article:Dissent and the dance brigade.

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