Be That SomeBody!

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Be That SomeBody!

Five things to remember when starting up a pole show AND how I went from wanting more live pole shows to actually providing them.

I’ve been a dedicated poler for well over ten years now. Since the very early days of YouTube when nobody could have even fathomed a Rainbow Marchenko, or even a Spatchcock. I remember when I first saw a Deadlift and thought it was some kind of sorcery.

Back in those days we ate up pole videos with a spoon, there were so few of them. It was a time where literally the only places to see pole performed was at a strip club, and I had never even heard of pole competitions. When competitions first started in Melbourne (held in dingy clubs on freestanding poles) I was there, fascinated and excited to see what other people were doing and inspired for my own training.

As the years have gone on, more and more competitions have cropped up, and the production standard has become world class. The venues have gotten larger and more opulent, the difficulty of the pole has increased exponentially and the variety in styles of performance is nothing short of spectacular. What pole has become never ceases to amaze me.

However, what has been a continued source of disappointment for me is the lack of opportunity for pole performers to get on a stage and actually get paid for it. The scarcity of a proper show where I can go and admire my favourite performers doing their thing. Where the artists at the top of their game can showcase their own creations that have been spawned purely from a desire to entertain, not influenced by a judging criteria.

This is not to disparage competitions, as they are undoubtedly important for us all in the community, and many wonderful things have come about from having them. However, I really enjoy heading out for a night of entertainment and I could never understand why pole dance seemed to feature so infrequently at any show I went to – when it is such an incredible performance art to watch!

In March 2014 I was at an Australian national competition Aerial All Stars, where I saw aerialists alongside pole artists, at an incredible venue with a stunning production value. While the show itself was spectacular, a competition is still a competition. It was there that frustration hit breaking point for me.

“Somebody needs to create a proper show for all of us to go and see pole without it having to be a competition!” I remember grumbling to my fellow teachers at the pole studio where I work. As a throwaway line, without really thinking I added “Maybe I should just bloody do it!”.

“Well, maybe you should!” was fired back at me (read subtext “I dare ya!”). And there I had it. The gauntlet had been thrown down. It was on.

Since that day, I have put on four pole-based variety showcases and am staring down the barrel of the fifth one for Halloween 2015. My only qualifications to start with was: a long history of being a performance lover; taking part in four medium-scale productions for my pole studio’s end of year student extravaganza, and; a stubborn and passionate work ethic with pretty good attention to detail. So really, not much.

The first event was a steep learning curve and I took a big hit to my bank balance. Since then however, I’ve not lost money and have had overwhelmingly positive feedback from each one.

So here are five things to remember if you are thinking about treading a similar path.

1. Find An Awesome Support Network To Help You

If you’re human, you are bound to know people. People know stuff. Think about your circle of friends and acquaintances. Who has skills that might translate to helping you on this? Anyone who knows anything about: digital marketing; sales; websites; design; event managing/co-ordinating; any aspect of production; entrepreneurial types; media; sponsorships; merchandising – will be invaluable. Buy them lunch and pick their brains.

If you’re part of the pole community, you’re bound to know someone who has been involved with productions, or would like to give you their advice on some aspect of the creative process. Most studios do their own student showcases – speak to a studio owner about things you’ll need to organise. If you can, get a friend to help you out so you can bounce ideas off them. It’s easy to get fixated on your own ideas and beliefs – other people will help you break beyond your limitations if you ask.

Remember on the day you’ll need other people to run things for you. This will usually mean a Stage Manager, a Production Manager, a Floor Manager, a door person/raffle ticket seller, pole cleaners and stagehands. Even with all these people helping, expect to be run off your feet! To make their job easier, create run sheets, stagehand sheets, tech sheets, door lists, logistics lists – get as much information out of your brain and onto paper as you can.

Building a show from scratch is a huge task. The smaller the scale, the less work will be required, but be prepared to put in hundreds of hours to get it off the ground. The more shows you do, the easier it becomes as you’ve already laid the foundations. But you’ll need to enjoy the process and be dedicated to it, because you’re not likely to see much financial return early on.

2. Create Something You Would Like To See

What is your vision with this project? Make sure to stay true to that as much as possible, because your inspiration will bring the show to life. In the end, the show itself is what will keep the audience coming back for more. Just remember a few key things when structuring the show.

  • Ally Cat ImageDo the performers complement each other? Sometimes getting too many performers with a similar style can reduce their impact. People like to be surprised – keeping a variety of performer styles keeps the pace up and the audience engaged.
  • Are the acts taking the audience on an emotional journey? If you are running a variety night, it’s good to give the audience a variety of emotional experiences too. This could be through a variety of genres for example comedic pieces, theatrical pieces, lyrical pieces, sexy pieces as well as dark pieces. If your acts are very moody, perhaps consider getting an MC who is quite funny to lighten things up a little. Audiences love to laugh.
  • Do the acts all need to be pole? If they are all pole, make sure you have some group numbers and doubles pole to give some variety to the energy on stage.
  • While it’s good to have a few headliners with a high profile to get people in, the crowd-pleasing acts are just as likely to be performers that nobody has ever heard of. Do your research, always be on the lookout for people who might add value to your night.

3. Know Your Audience

This will make a huge impact on how you market, as well as how you structure your night. I started out paying hundreds of dollars to distribute posters and postcards to cafe’s and local businesses, before abandoning it as I realised my audience was better reached through targeted campaigns online.

Now I save on printing costs by halving my poster/postcard print run, and I do distribution myself. This is only at places such as pole studios, circus schools, and places like local tattoo parlours where I feel there might be a potential audience and my posters aren’t swallowed up by a wall of other advertising. For my first event I spent around $2000 on a radio/magazine campaign that probably yielded zero hits. Even though it felt important when I saw/heard it, it didn’t translate to sales!

In reality, if you are running a pole night, your target audience will start out as your local pole community. They have the most reason to want to come, and will take the least amount of convincing. Let them convince their non-pole friends. Focus your attention on letting them know exactly why they shouldn’t miss out on your show. You know what they will enjoy, and who they want to see, because you are already part of the community!

Remember:

  • Don’t bother with the shotgun approach unless it costs you next to nothing.
  • Social media is your biggest ally when getting the word out.
  • In the beginning focus 80-90% of your marketing efforts and budget specifically to the pole community.

4. Make Your Sponsorship Drive A Top Priority

Sponsors are one of the keys to running a successful event. The beauty of sponsors is that by forging an alliance with them, the result is win-win. They want to talk to a targeted group of people, and you are gathering that group together ready for them to talk to. They have products/services your audience values, and so your audience will get more from your event than just the show.

Your keenest sponsors will tend to be small to medium scale businesses who provide some kind of product or service to the pole community. Cast your net as wide as you like, but these are the businesses who will be most responsive. Unfortunately many of them will be working with very small marketing budgets, so keeping costs manageable for them will help you bring them on board.

Having them pay something towards a presence at your event is ideal, but also be open to looking at ways to increase their value to your event through In Kind sponsorship. These businesses typically have products and/or services that cost them comparatively little, but are high value to your audience. One of the best ways I find to recoup costs of the night is through a raffle. Put together raffle prize packs with donations from ten or more sponsors, and suddenly your prize packs can reach over $1000 in value. Your audience will then be happy to pay dollars for raffle tickets, and you’ve translated products to actual cash. The sponsors get extra exposure through promotion of these packs, so everyone wins.

If you are planning regular events, looking after your sponsors is EQUALLY important as both your marketing strategy, and creating a memorable experience for your audience. It’s not just about being available to them for communications (though this is important), it’s about ensuring their needs are being met, and they are getting value, exposure and appreciation by being present at your event. You are effectively selling their product just as much as they are, for the duration of your sponsorship relationship – so I also recommend forging relationships with businesses who you believe in and trust to give a good product/service.

Make sure that after the event you contact each one personally, not just to thank them but also to ask for honest feedback. Being responsive to their needs and opinions will help keep them happy, but also help you to provide a better sponsorship opportunity in future events.

5. Be Strict With Your Budget

I had visions of grandeur a la Cirque du Soleil in the beginning (I’m a Pisces, what can I say?!). Finally I settled for “scaling down” to a mere $25,000 production. (Figures discussed here in AUD) Now, this was a giant motivator for me to recoup costs but in the end I still fell short about $5,000 (although it could have been far worse!). The reason was because I had NO idea about budgeting, and ways of keeping costs down. Here are a few considerations to start:

  • You should aim to break even at about 60% capacity.
  • Explore different options for your venue, can you find somewhere reasonably small (around 200px) for your first show? Can you negotiate a cost based on ticket sales or bar sales? You won’t know until your first show how much community support you have and venue hire will be one of your biggest expenses.
  • I’ve run three events at this size (200px venue), and my budget can sit under $5,000 – half of this goes to performers
  • Will you be rigging the poles or using free standing poles? The difference in costs here can be in the realm of $5,000, and while rigged poles give far superior performance quality, it might be best to sacrifice this in the early days to keep ticket prices down as people get to know your show.
  • Don’t expect artists to do freebies for you, but be clear to them that you are just starting out. Some will be willing to make reductions to their usual performance fee, especially in the beginning, to support you and what you are trying to do for the community.
  • Does your venue require separate insurance for the show? Shop around here, it can mean hundreds of dollars difference.
  • Explore options for performers to promote their own studios or private businesses in exchange for a performance. The exposure is valuable for some people and they will jump at the chance – if it enhances your night at no cost to you while giving them marketing exposure then it’s win-win.
  • People will want to help you. It’s a fun project, so put the word out there for your stagehands, pole cleaners, door people, raffle ticket sellers etc. This will save you money, just make sure you make it enjoyable for them. It is fun for some people to do this kind of thing so don’t be afraid to put the word out! If you can afford to give them something in return do so.

Running a pole performance night can be a lot of fun, and in order to educate the public on what we do, I believe they are invaluable. It’s also important for us as a community to support one another, and providing this opportunity for our top artists is good for everyone. It’s inspiring to watch for the beginners and advanced polers alike.

If you are moved to create a show, I would say go for it! It’s a wonderful experience. It can also be extremely stressful and anxiety-laden so be prepared for a roller-coaster, but the reward of creating something you’re proud of is very satisfying. Just believe in yourself, and you can make it happen!

Category: Charity, Competition, Discussion, Tips

About Ally Cat

Ally Cat is a restless entrepreneur with a passion for pushing her own boundaries. She is a Naturopath and Massage Therapist who teaches pole at Bottoms Up! Burlesque and Pole Studio in Melbourne, as well as 80's/90’s dance fitness, and owns almost enough lycra to dress an entire mardi gras. She recently won the title of Victorian Pole Amateur Champion 2015, and was a finalist in the Australian Pole Championships 2015. She's a lover, a fighter, and a fun junkie.

Instagram: @pandemonium_hq

Visit Ally Cat's Website

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One Comment to “Be That SomeBody!”

  1. Lisa D says:

    Great article Ally! x

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