Before we begin the process of booking the professional performances for an upcoming season, there are a number of important details that must first be addressed. As a component of the college, our first priority is to serve the needs of the students and the college itself. Second, we focus on serving the needs of the community surrounding our campus. Third, we serve as an assistant to the college foundation in development and fundraising. Finally, we provide a potential space for local organizations to rent for special events. With those priorities in mind, my process (more or less) moves along the following tracks:
GENERAL COLLEGE EVENTS
My first step is to place all of the college events into the calendar. This includes start dates for semesters, holidays on which the college is closed, and spring break. I then add the following events for which the FPAC is used:
ACADEMIC MUSIC & THEATER EVENTS
After placing all of the mandatory college events into the calendar, I then work with the academic music and theater departments to plug in all of their performances and events for the year, including:
Once we have created a calendar covering all of the holidays, college events, and academic events we are then ready to start looking at dates for both our Mainstage Season and our Sunday Salon Series. As you might guess, we have very limited dates available to book at this point, so shopping for shows becomes quite challenging. The considerations are not so much about money, but about availability at the specific times we have space available.
Another major consideration revolves around staffing. Even if a weekend happens to be free on the calendar, we have to consider the workload in the surrounding weeks. If, for instance, we have a week during which there are several college events and we book something on the weekend then the following week may need to be cleared so that we don’t overwork our staff. We have five full-time staff, four of which work on the shows (me, the box office manager, the technical director, and the assistant technical directly). The additional 20 – 25 part-time staff members work in the box office, scene shop, and backstage during shows. For those of us who work full-time, we simply cannot work a full 40-hour week and then also work several weekend shows. An occasional 60 hour week is possible, but to do that every week would burn us all out in a very short time.
In my next post, I will discuss how I curate and choose the specific productions. Until then, please take a moment to visit our website for information on our upcoming shows.
All the best,
Now that our 2014/2015 season is underway, I have started to turn my eyes towards booking for the 2015/2016 season. Yes . . . I have to actually think about dates as far ahead as June of 2016! When I start this process, there are always questions from patrons about how I actually put a season together. Thinking about that, I decided to put together a series of blog posts about that process.
For this first post I will begin with clarifying some terminology. Every industry has its unique jargon, and ours is no different.
PRESENTING and PRODUCING
The FPAC is primarily a “presenting” theater. In my field, people who hold jobs like mine are called “arts presenters.” But what does that mean? In general, there are two types of theaters: producing and presenting.
Producing theaters are those similar to places like the Goodman, Steppenwolf or Chicago Shakespeare all of which operate their own spaces. Also, producing theaters can be a group like the Beverly Theatre Guild which doesn’t own a permanent space, but uses other spaces. The common theme here is that they all produce their own work. The pick shows, they hire staff, they cast the shows, and then they produce them. Everything is controlled by the producing organization.
Presenting theaters have a space and then hire artists to perform in that space. Some presenters are genre-specific and only bring in certain types of shows. For instance, a presenter might be a classical music presenter and only book those kinds of shows . . . or perhaps a presenter that only brings in Broadway touring shows. The FPAC is what is called a “multidisciplinary” presenter. We bring in a variety of performances in multiple genres.
ROUTING and BLOCK BOOKING
Most artists are represented by an agent. That person, in return for a percentage of their fees, does all the work of booking the artist. Some artists are self-represented so that they have total control of their schedule and also keep all the money. In both cases, however, one of the most important jobs is crafting a logical series of performance dates. When artists are on tour, they are travelling extensively all over the country and in some cases all over the world. It would be impossible (and ridiculous) for them to accept contracts without thinking about a route of travel. This part of the process is something handled by the artist or their agent. As presenters show interest in hiring an artist, the agent carefully plans where the artist will be at any certain point in time so that they can create logical and reasonable routes of travel.
One of the most interesting ways we can get an artist is through a process called “block booking.” I am currently the president of the Illinois Presenters Network – a consortium of arts presenters from all parts of the state. Almost every state and/or region has similar consortia. When we are planning our seasons, we start to communicate with each other about which artists we want and when we might want them.
At this point, I might say to someone in southern Wisconsin or another part of Illinois, “Hey. I am thinking about booking Joe Schmoe String Quartet. Their price is kind of high, though. If I book them on Saturday, November 10 would you be willing to book them on either Friday or Sunday? That way we can get a reduced price.”
That’s how it works! If we can guarantee several dates in a tight geographical region over a specific short period of time, everyone ends up getting a discount and the artist gets to make tons more money than they would if they just had the one performance.
As a specific example in our current season, we are presenting the New York Gilbert & Sullivan Players in “The Mikado.” Our show is on Friday, April 10. That same weekend, however, they are performing at North Central College in Naperville on Saturday, April 11. I worked out that route with the director at North Central and we both got a reduced fee from the company. Yay!
For my next post, I will dive deeper into how I begin to create the booking calendar and how I start the process of choosing artists.
Until then, I hope to see you at the FPAC!
Tommy Hensel, Managing Director
Greetings! This season I have decided to create an ongoing blog to provide a “behind the scenes” look at the crazy world of the Fine & Performing Arts Center at Moraine Valley Community College. Please visit this site for information about our booking process, contracts, artists, fun facts about how we do business, and anything else that might happen to cross my mind.
We hope to see you during our 14/15 season . . . and please drop me a line at HenselT2@morainevalley.edu with any feedback about the blog.
FPAC Managing Director