Tagged: production

How to decide which material goes into the finished piece?

How to decide which scenes to keep in your piece?

Creating a stage performance is an individual process. Every artist has his own way of doing it. But there is one guiding principle that will transform our creation from an unsorted puzzle into a finished piece that makes sense. Making sense to be taken with a grain of salt as it is in the eye of the beholder.

The basic structure and its implications

One thing is sure: our piece has a beginning and an ending. In between, things are happening. Sometimes a lot of things, sometimes almost nothing. But those things in between are what messes up a lot of works, that started with brilliant ideas.

It’s easy to disregard the importance of this middle part, as the first impression and the last image you remember from a piece are defining moments. But it is this middle, that makes the difference between a persuasive speech and meaningless babble.

Only keep things that make sense in the context of the piece

Every scene in your piece should be necessary to bring you from the beginning of your piece to the end. It needs to change something. It can either be an action that alters the state of our world or introduce new information that makes our viewers understand. If a scene does not change anything that brings us closer to the end or gives us new insights, it needs to go. 

To call this shot, it is important to know what you want to achieve with the production.

Removing scenes can be hard because we fell in love with them during the process. I recommend putting them into your treasure chest of ideas. Maybe you can build another piece around them, another time.

Let me close with an example: Our short piece is about a young lady that is an unhealthy relationship with a boyfriend. Throughout the piece, she understands that he will not change and decides she is better of alone and therefore ends the relationship.

Her being at work on her laptop is a necessary scene when she talks to a colleague who helps her to come to a conclusion or when she meets someone better for her. It is not required if we show off that we can use tutting to visualize the work with laptops and tablets.

All of this would change when the piece would be about showing what you can do with tutting, but that was not the goal in the example.

Defining the World of the Piece

Define the World of the Piece to make it easier to immerse yourself into the performance

To share something with an audience, we need to understand it first. The journey of sharing what we want to show starts with understanding the matter. To do so, we define the world of the piece. 

Defining the world of the piece means describing the circumstances in which our dancers live on stage. Those circumstances are the facts of the piece.

The world of the piece looks very different when we compare strictly narrative pieces with plain concept pieces. But as soon as the world of the piece is defined, the work inside this world is the same.

What is the World of the Piece?

These are the major points that come to my mind when I define the world of a piece:

  • Where and when is it happening? Place, and Time.
  • Who are the characters? 
  • What is happening? Story.

Place and time define all the circumstances and tell us where to look for references. A crew that presents a piece that is set in London of the Victorian Age needs to start their research in books and movies about this time. If the same crew is presenting a piece that is solely based on geometrics without referencing a real epoche or place, they shall still define their place and time as well. It makes a difference if you dance in a cube that is precisely the size of your stage or empty plains that extend into infinity.

Knowing who we are on stage is the next part. The range goes from full characters with backstory and individual goals to abulic agents of a system that is based on the ideas of the piece. Characters with a backstory are easy enough to understand, but what do I mean by agents of a system?

In concept pieces, you might not play a person or someone with feelings. You may represent a drone that follows simple programming like “repeat choreography A until you collide with dancer 2”. This task could be done with or without emotional involvement. Defining it creates the character. Not defining it creates confusion and inconsistent interpretation by different performers. This confusion can be part of the concept, but then it needs to be clear and becomes part of the world of the piece.

In every piece, something is going on. The story of the piece. It can be traditional storytelling or just a description of what is happening due to the abstract concepts and ideas that shape the piece. But there is always something happening. If that would not be the case, why would we make a piece?

Examples

Let me finish this with two examples. The first, from my older piece barcoded: The protagonists live in a slightly futuristic version of our world where the majority of people consents to what they want in their fellow citizens. Everyone who is outside these parameters is thrown in a penitentiary and kept there until they fit into the regular world. The dancers are those outsiders that are abandoned by society. We learn their backstories, the reasons for their imprisonment and accompany them on their attempt to break out of the prison.

As a contrast, here is an example of a piece that is not based on storytelling (you already heard about this one above):

The world of the piece is empty plains. There is no border as it extends into infinity. There are no landmarks, no irregularities, no texture. The plains are inhabited by dancers who follow a complex program that contains choreography and timings that are based on geometrics, perfect square angles. There are no decisions to be made, no questions to ask, no emotions to feel. The program is set and was decided by randomization. The performance is one of a million possibilities. It’s not the first one that is happening – and it will not be the last.

Both worlds are clear. One based on a storyline, the other based on a concept. We work with these descriptions to immerse ourselves in the matter.

It’s time to create worlds. Let’s do it.

How much does it cost to make a dance piece?

How to create the budget for your dance piece production

One of the first questions that pop up from people interested in doing something on their own is: “how much does it cost to make a piece”? This depends on your goals, and therefore I can not answer it. But I can show you how to answer it yourself.

But first: You don’t need any money at all to create a dance piece. When you work with friends or your crew, in your spare time, have a composer/producer as part of your team and have a venue where you can play the piece for free, you can do it without investing a cent. This possibility is one you should consider if it is about creating your first piece because it takes away a lot of work and pressure.

When you are creating a big production, work with casted dancers, use mainstream music, costumes, and a state of the art set, you will need to budget all these positions and see the end-result on paper (or your screen).

Creating a budget is not that hard, but it is time-consuming and a matter of thinking about all details. I usually start with an excel sheet template to get a rough overview. You can download my template here. It helps me to get an idea about what I will need. There are numbers in there to show how it works, but you need to replace them with your costs. If you don’t have an excel license, you can open the file in Google Docs or Open Office. Both of them are free to use. As soon as you found your workflow, I recommend you create your own template that you tailor to your needs.

The biggest part of the budget are the people you work with. You want to pay them a fair price. A fair price differs from country to country and is also a matter of the situation of the people. For Austria, there is a recommendation of the IG Freie Theater to pay professional freelancers who work in your production EUR 3.000 per month. This amount is considered a fair price for a month of work with the same volume as a regular full-time job (5 days a week, 40 hours per week). However, it assumes your crew consists of pros who do what they do in your production for a living. On the other hand, paying that is the same as putting your team on minimum wage.

The second biggest part is usually housing, food, rehearsal room rent, and travel for your team. If you are lucky enough, this block can be zero if everyone lives in the same town, and you have a room that you can use.

Everything else is a matter of preference and if your production needs it. Walkthrough the template step by step and see if the point applies to your creation.

At the end of the calculation, we usually add a safety buffer. It should cover things that came up spontaneously or because we forgot something. I love to use 20%, which is high. Most other producers I know calculate with 5% to 10%.

In the second (much shorter) part of the budget, you see your income. In general, it is composed of public funding and ticket sales. But you can put everything in there that you can make money with. Merchandise would be an option, but don’t forget to put the costs you will have to create it in the budget as well. Crowd Funding is an option.

I also add a line “your own money.” This one is visualizing how much money I will need to put in to break even. At the end of the calculation, you want the income to be equal or higher than the costs. The “your own money” line, shows you how far you are away.

A side note: In most cases, when you apply for public funding, your costs and income need to be equal to be eligible for financing. “Your own money” (with a more fancy term, depending on your location) is a way to make this happen.

That is the process. Take the time, break down your project, ask people for what they take for the job you want them to do, and find out what your piece will cost.

Usually at the end of the calculation, we have a sum that is far beyond what we can easily lift. In that case, or when we get less public funding than needed, we can reduce the budget. Whenever we do that it is important to be transparent about our decisions and who gets paid how much. Communicate this before you agree with people outside your core team to work on a project together. This avoids arguments because everybody who is not cool with how things are set up, can say no to the project before it starts.

The Trinity of Dance Production Personnel

Producer, Choreographer and Director are the three key roles in any dance production. photo: Dusana Baltic

In every dance production, there are a couple of fundamental tasks that you have to handle. In big productions, they are spread out over multiple people; in smaller ones, one person might do all of them. I already covered some of the basics in Dance Theater Production in A Nutshell.

The three roles that I call the Trinity of Dance Production are the producer, the choreographer, and the director.

When it is possible, I recommend having multiple people to avoid conflict in one person trying to take care of various things at once.

The Producer

The tasks of the producer are to produce a dance piece. Obvious eh? But what does it mean? The producer is in the lead of putting together the best possible team to handle the job and to enable them to do their job without having to worry about anything else. 

He is also the one who should keep an outside eye on the work and needs to flag when the involved artists lose their way – meaning that he tells the director and choreographer if they are missing the goal of the production as previously defined. Read about the big questions in the production process if you don’t know what I mean.

The producer takes care of all the orga work around the piece like the budget & accounting, finding sponsors, getting rehearsal rooms, securing showings, accommodation, food & travels (if needed), doing promotion, press work, dealing with collecting societies & taxes and doing everything else that the dance production process runs smooth.

His job also includes knowing when to involve the choreographer and director into decisions and when not. Hiring dancers without the choreographer and director does not make sense, but telling those two that we can’t hire a specific dancer because he is too expensive does.

The crucial quality of producer is the ability to work structured and have an overview of everything that happens during the dance production.

The Choreographer

The choreographer’s job is to create the dance. Depending on her work style, she can do this all alone and then teach the dancers, or she can develop the choreography together with the dancers.

It is also her responsibility to lead the rehearsals and push the dancers to perform as good as they can. She should have an eye on the physical fitness of the dancers and make sure to make recommendations on how to improve it if needed.

The choreographer needs to be well versed in the dance styles that the piece uses, and she must have a good understanding of the music, space, timings, and dynamics. 

The Director

The director is the one who is responsible for refining and executing the artistic vision of the production. This means he is in charge of the implementation of the story in narrative pieces or the idea and concepts of a piece if there is no story.

He should also work with the dancers on developing their stage character and guide them on their emotional journey through the piece. He helps to build the world of the piece in the mind of the dancers. And he decides whether an interaction or passage makes sense in the piece or not. Therefore, he feedbacks the choreographer when specific parts of the choreography need to be changed or cut.

The director should know about the principles of storytelling, piece structure, and dramaturgy. He also needs the abilities to make the dancers find and explore their character.

As already mentioned we don’t have three people all the time to take care of all these tasks but having them gives everyone the possibility to focus on what he does best.

There is also one more “role” in the production that is important. Please meet:

The Initiator

The Initiator is the one who started the party. She is the person who got the ball rolling and initiated the whole production. It’s the one who said “let’s do this”. In most cases, the initiator takes one or multiple roles from the production trinity and it rarely happens that someones who initiates a production is not more involved.

Depending on the relationships in the team the Initiator might change the roles that I described. For example, when I start a piece, choose the dancers and bring the producer on board afterward. In that case, the producer had no saying in the cast, which would usually be a part of his job description.

Things like this should be discussed before you commit to working together. Having disagreements because you simply did not talk about it and assumed something, can ruin every production.

The big questions in the production process and why to answer them

Five Questions to answer before you start your dance theater production

I already mentioned the important questions to answer in the overview of dance theater production. Now it’s time to go into detail and find out what the answers can do for you throughout your journey.

The five big questions are “what”, “why”, “who”, “when” and “where”. The order is in my personal perception of their importance. “What” and “why” are at the beginning as the answers to them will have an impact on the questions “who” and “when”.

What do you want to do?

The “What” is the one master question that makes a lot of decisions during the production obvious if you take the time to answer it. It is about goal-setting from the art side of things.

What is is that the piece should do? This is primarily about what you want to show to your audience. Do you want to tell them a story, a philosophic idea, show outstanding choreographic skills, introduce a concept, show a puzzle of multiple ideas? This could go as far as “introduce a sponsored product” or “present fine art piece x in a dance piece”.

Can you commit to one goal? I highly recommend doing so. If needed choose a primary one and add some with lower priority because often the needs of multiple will not collide.

Now, if a question arises during the production you can go back to what you already know to move fast. Let’s say you are doing a story piece and have an outstanding choreography that you can keep or not. You just need to check if it advances or adds to the story. If not, get rid of it. Vice versa if you committed to showing the best choreography possible, adding a hint to a political situation is not as important as hitting the high notes of the music.

There is also the idea to figure out the “What” along the way. That is fine if you are willing to take the time to answer questions in the rehearsal process, lose valuable time and more important momentum. I disagree with that approach and advice to define what you want to do before jumping into the production.

Why are you doing it?

The “Why” is about goalsetting from the production side of your work. Why do you want to do this piece and where do you want to go with it?

  • Do you just want to try if you can make a piece?
  • Establish yourself as a producer, choreographer or director?
  • Rep your crew on a new terrain?
  • Build a company of professionals that will be relevant on an international scale?
  • Do you want to provide enough income to feed your whole team?
  • Is it about you or the piece? Be honest with this question. You don’t have to share the answer, but it will help as much as answering the other ones.
  • Maybe the answer is “it is part of my education as a dancer”.

With these answers you will be able to find out if you need a big budget, have a restricted timeframe (because if you need to pay people, time is money), need to hire people for costumes and stage design and so on.

Who to pick for the team?

If you answered the “What & Why” the answers should not be too hard. This stage is about finding the right balance of your skills as the one who runs the show, the skills of the dancers and other artists and the necessities of what you need to succeed with your goalsetting.

If you want to rep your crew, you already know who to pick as dancers. You just want to see if you can do it? Pick people who are on your skill level as it will make the journey more enjoyable. If you want to establish yourself as a choreographer you should first create choreography and then find the right dancers to learn and execute it fast and precisely. A mind-bending story that touches people will need dancers who know how to work with emotions on stage and project them to the audience. A piece that takes movement design and composition to a new level needs dancers who have an easy time working with concepts and the capability to execute the kind of moves you want. These can range from precise tutting, over-complicated rhythms to really athletic power moves.

As I said, it’s easy to answer if you know your what and why.

When are we going to create the piece?

This only a matter of organization. You need one or more rehearsal phases that are long enough to breathe life into the idea and polish it until it’s good enough to be on stage.

I recommend at least two rehearsal phases with a little bit of a break in between to reflect and correct the course without time pressure. If it is doable, let the last rehearsal phase directly transition into your showings.

If you have your people before you have the dates set, Doodle is your best friend to find dates easy.

When you have the rehearsal rooms ready and booked before you fixed the team, when you cast them for example, don’t choose people who are not available then. If you cast, put the timeframes where people need to be available in the casting info. This saves you and the people applying time.

Where are we going to rehearse and perform?

This goes hand in hand with the “when” as availability of rehearsal rooms and stages are a deciding factor. When you work with your crew only or have a good deal with whoever owns your regular practice spot, rehearsals might be easy. If not, ask around in dance studios, youth centers, culture centers, schools, sports societies and whatever comes to mind in your area. Having a big network of contacts definitely helps to find a room.

Finally, you need a place to perform at. This is a little bit more tricky as you want to rehearse a few times on the stage of your first showing and need to negotiate a good deal to have those extra days without burning all your budget. Negotiating with theaters is worth an own article later on. Again, if you are lucky and know the right people, this one is easy going. There are also dance festivals all around the globe that might be a good starting point for your research if you don’t have a connection to any stage.

Armed with the answers to the questions above, we can start by jumping in pre-production. See you there next week.

Dance Theater Production in a Nutshell

An empty dance theater stage

As a result of a recent survey on my Instagram, the next big topic for my blog will be Dance Theater Production. Today’s first post will give you a top-line overview of the things I will cover, in greater detail over the next few months.

Preproduction

Preproduction is all the work that you usually do before you hit the rehearsal room. It consists of defining the 5 big W questions, being “what”, “why”, “where”, “when” and “who”. By far the most important ones are “what” and “why” because they will help you answer questions that pop up along the way.

In the preproduction phase, you usually decide on the topic or theme that the piece is about. You do the research around the said topic and decide on the dimension and timelines of the piece. You also decide on the basic look & feel and if you want to work with existing music or need it custom-made.

Base on those decisions, you create a budget and work on funding (if you choose to). You also start to recruit your team. Depending on everything you decided before you will or will not need:

  • at least one dancer (which could also be you)
  • musicians or a music producer
  • a stage designer
  • a costume designer
  • a light designer or light technician
  • a choreographer
  • a director
  • a producer
  • a photographer
  • a videographer
  • a graphic designer

You can find those people either by casting them or you know people you can ask.

Production

This is the phase where you create what’s happening on stage. All the artists that are involved do their part to create the dance, the music, the story or concepts, the costumes, the scenery, the visual and emotional identity of the piece and everything else.

That is the part of the process that is glamorized by most people and it is also the most intense part for everyone involved. The most difficult task in the production phase is to keep your team on track and together. That task is in the responsibility of the trinity producer/choreographer/director which can be three people but it could also be one. Leadership skills are what makes all the difference now.

It is also the time where it shows if you know what you want to do well enough. When you did your homework, you will be able to answer essential questions that arise very fast. If you have a structured workflow, your rehearsals will be so much more productive. When you give clear tasks and boundaries all your artists will be able to explore the matter of the piece freely and propose exciting material, instead of a basic one.

It is also the phase of polishing the material to the level of perfection that you want for your piece and the time to vigorously remove everything that is not necessary.

Performing

Here is the fun part. When you did an amazing job in production, performing is a blast. For the choreographer and the director, the job is done and in big productions, they are usually only there for the opening and closing nights. In most smaller productions those are dancing themselves as well and on stage with the rest of the team.

Again it is more about your leadership, than real work. Keeping your team fit – mentally and physically – is the hot task now. Depending on your playing schedule that can be easy going (weekly show) or a real challenge (2 daily shows for a longer amount of time). It is about ongoing corrections, not falling into bad routines, exploring the piece anew every time and being in the moment when you are on stage.

Tour Management & Marketing

Tour management and marketing don’t fall into the timeline “preproduction – production – performing”. They usually are running parallel all the time and in the hands of the producer. He or she will take care of promo materials, negotiate with potential venues and organize the dates. Producers also juggle travel planning and coordination (often down to booking hotels and flights), press work, advertising, and most of the stuff that people don’t think about. For example, dealing with copyright collecting societies, taxes, event registration, driving that injured dancer to the hospital, find spare parts for the damaged scenery and so on.

In short: the producers should get more love for the whole process as they have a lot of work, but no glory because they are not part of the performance most of the time. If you are lucky you can hire specialists for some producer tasks like press and advertising, but most people starting out do everything themselves. Therefore, I will cover everything as good as I can.

As this series will be with us for some months, let me know if there are topics that you are especially interested in, so we can talk about those earlier.

About Asking The Right Questions

You need to put the right questions in your book to get answers worth your time

For me, creating any kind of artistic work and most of my regular work is about asking and answering questions. To maximise the potential of our work and the answers, it is essential to ask the right questions. To find the questions that are worth your time and the time of your audience.

Whole industries ask and answer the same questions over and over. In advertising and marketing, it is often about how to reach the maximum amount of people. How to keep their attention for the longest time possible.

As artists, it is our responsibility to ask different questions, to show the world that there is more than what they are used to see. As artists, we ask questions that go deeper. We avoid scratching the surface by only interrupting the audience on social media because we have something to say that needs more attention than the swipe of a finger.

We want to ignite thoughts and spark ideas, or at least take their thoughts away from the everyday business for a short while. You can’t do that by touching the same topics, they already know. You can do it by asking questions that matter.

I believe if asked the right questions, most people will use their answers to lead themselves to an appropriate outcome. 

Mary White

What questions are these? Probably the same questions that really matter to you. Find out which questions you want to be answered and then do it. If you care for the questions you ask, people will too because someone genuinely exploring an interesting topic, is always worth following.