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Welcome to another episode of the Balanced Ballerinas Podcast! I am your host, Georgia Canning and today we are going to talk about the behind-the-scenes of planning and producing a dance concert!

I’m sure being the new year that you are bombarded with goal setting, habit trackers and all sorts of specifically new year new me topics, so I thought this would be a breath of fresh air to kick start the topics of conversation in the Balanced Ballerinas community…

Speaking of conversation within this wonderful community, please don’t forget to join the ‘Secret Balanced Ballerinas Facebook Group’ asap! If you are not in this group, you are missing out! It brings me so much joy to see conversation between ballet teachers, studio owners, parents of ballerinas and adult ballerinas. So go click join, I’ll be sure to accept you (everyone is welcome!) and let’s get into todays topic…

Question from Erin: “I’m interested in the makings of a concert, I’m sure there is far more that goes into it than we could ever imagine!”

In all honesty, I could talk about this for hours and go into every detail but I think the easiest thing is to break it down into documents. I have a lot of seperate documents for seperate parties when it comes to the concert.

But before we get into that, preparation for the concert begins as soon as the previous concert finishes. I’m not even joking. The day after our concert, I email to theatre to give them a run down of our bump in and out times, any feedback in regards to their team and the running of the show… and then I book in for the following year.

After this email is sent I then send an email to our videographers and photographers to thank them for their time and effort… and you guessed it, book them in for the following year! Your big and very important vendors need to be booked 12 months in advance and because these are companies and businesses outside your own, you need to ensure you have them locked in and under control.

I have used the same theatre and photographer for the past nine years – shout out to Move Photography who are incredible! However I have been through MANY videographers before sticking with the one we have now (who we have worked with for the past 3 years). Video is tricky. A lot of people think videography is cheap (for some unknown reason – I think it has something to do with DVD’s back in the day being so affordable that people expected their child’s concert DVD to also be affordable).

We started our videography journey with a high quality, high price option and had many complaints about the cost. Then we decided to go with a very low cost option that turned out to be (expectedly) very low quality. During this process I actually polled our clients and asked for their opinion and the feedback I received was that they enjoyed the cheaper price with the higher quality videography – no surprises there and honestly not an option that was available at the time! It was so frustrating because I couldn’t win.

Fortunately with advancements in technology the gap between cost and quality has closed slightly and we now go with an amazing company who offer a very affordable service but every student has to purchase a copy of the concert. Instead of it being an ‘option’ which can leave videographers and studios out of pocket, for the price of two coffees every student receives a digital download of the concert which they can share with friends and family. This also stops people from purchasing one copy and sharing with their circle of friends!

Anyway, moving onto concert documents!

I have so many during concert time and the first thing I do is create a folder on my desktop that houses all of them. To be honest, I don’t know if this part of the conversation is a little boring, but you asked for the behind-the-scenes so this is it guys…

The first document is our ‘End of Concert Note’ that has all the details for our studio families. This is usually just copy and pasted from year to year, with minor tweaks from past year learnings, constantly streamlining our process… however the past two years also had a ‘covid section’ that outlined any additional requirements that were enforced by the government health directives.

The note includes venue and date, parking, an explanation of their concert invoice, commitment, where to purchase tickets and who needs tickets (explanation of prams not being permitted in the theatre etc), hair and makeup, photography, videography, raffle, what to bring, what to wear, arrival and pick up times for both the technical rehearsal and performance days, covid safety directions and a final call for further questions via email.

As you can see, a lot of information has to be communicated to families and I really break it down into those sub-headings so its not just a huge page of text which is difficult to navigate. The hardest thing about concert time is actually getting parents to READ the notes and we often receive many phone calls saying, “I can’t really be bothered reading it, can you just outline the important details for me?” To which I reply that I have really been as succinct as possible with the information and its important they sit down for five minutes to read in its entirety.

It’s important that you approach these kinds of conversations with care. I know for example that parents are extremely busy around this time of year, usually very overwhelmed, but as my Mum says, “Welcome to being a parent!” The way I tackle this is that I explain the more organised you are before concert weekend, the more confident your little performer will be on stage… that always seems to do the trick!

Now something really important; We don’t overload our students and families with MULTIPLE rehearsal days/periods…

When families change to our studio after being for sometimes many years at others they comment on how easy our concert weekend is. And that’s all it is – one weekend.

We have always run a technical stage rehearsal day on the Saturday with performances on the Sunday. As our studio grew in size we added two performances (a matinee and an evening) to accomodate all the families coming to watch. But yeah, we keep it really simple with those two days!

Side note: as we’ve really grown in size we’ve actually run two concerts every year for the past five years… one for our Pre-Prep to Prep students that our performance teams also perform at in November and then a month later our big end of year concert in December! This allows us to celebrate every tiny tot and ensure that they’re not tired and overwhelmed amongst the ‘big girls’ in the December one. It’s important that to create a beautiful experience for those little ones who are participating in their first dance concert and having them part of the big one doesn’t really allow the attention to detail and care that they deserve in that moment. And this particular concert only runs for one day – rehearsal and professional photographs in the morning and then their parents come back to watch them in the early afternoon for one session!

The next important document is the ‘technical rehearsal run sheet’!

This document is broken down into 10 minute time slots to accomodate every concert items technical rehearsal, staging and professional photography. This is the document that I send to all my staff (including photography and videography) so everyone is on the same page with how the Saturday will run. This document does not go to families or students. I can’t stand running late (a trait of many in the performing arts industries!), in fact I usually almost always finish early and this document keeps me and the team on track.

Once I know the routine titles and themes, I begin creating the ‘stage manager notes’ and the ‘audio and visual tech notes’…

I told you I have a lot of documents during concert time. The ‘stage manager notes’ document is for the stage manager (aka. me!) and the person on opposite prompt side fo the stage. This person stands on the opposite side of the stage to me and as I call each number they ensure that each group is ready to go and that all props and quick changes are accounted for.

This document lists every event taking place just before the curtain opens, from curtain warmers turning off to the announcement of an interval. Obviously that includes every performance item and we even put wether the item starts on or off stage, props involved and wether it includes a visual video backdrop to be cued.

Since having all my fancy podcasting equipment I also pre-record every announcement, introduction or call for interval. Having to pull your headset off and grab a microphone to make an announcement can be really annoying and I’m often out of breath or anxious with a wobbly voice. By pre-recording these simple announcements I have a more polished concert that flows… no “Testing 1, 2, 3! Is this mic on?” And for the past couple of years I’ve even experimented with adding sounds that match the theme of the concert. Last year we had water and bubbles to match our ocean theme and this year I had birds chirping to match our seasons theme. Super fun and creates atmosphere and vibe for the audience!

Fun fact; I have never been in the dressing rooms during concert time. I mean obviously I go down to wish everyone luck before and help reset or pack down afterwards, but when the show is happening I am side stage on prompt side with a headset on calling the show. Via this headset I talk to the person on opposite prompt side assisting me and the lighting and audio technicians in the tech booth. I have always found this is to be the safest spot for me. I am too much of a micro manager to be in a dressing room space with over one hundred and fifty students. I trust my staff to have everything under control and I am honestly blessed beyond belief to have a business partner (aka Mum) who is a magician with organisation, costume design and dressing. Which we’ll get to in a second…

That second document I mentioned, the ‘audio and visual tech notes’ is a document that I send to the audio and visual technicians that is more of a table with the following headings; item number, start on/off stage, projection/hd, style/mood, costume colour and staging notes. This document assists them immensely with their job and ultimately makes rehearsal days run smoother. Instead of me trying to tell them what I want as the students are rehearsing on that Saturday, they can look at this document and begin listening to the music and plotting lights days before, making final adjustments on the actual day when they see the dancers in front of them.

On that note, I also trust the technicians completely. This is their job after all – their expertise! And I’ve found that when I let them go creatively, we achieve a far better outcome. Obviously there are times when something isn’t working or I have a very specific vibe and direction I’m going for, but in general I always let the experts do their job because that’s the kind of respect I expect from people employing my services.

In saying that though, I actually choose every backdrop for the concert. Not lighting, the lighting just compliments the visuals that are on the back LED screen. The visuals are either a still image, moving video or combination of both if we’re getting real fancy. Finding the perfect visual for each performance item can take me months!

Now I know some people will be listening to this and thinking ‘What happened to a lovely hand painted, hanging backdrop?’ Yeah, no! Whilst that’s cute and sometimes I wish I was in a country town and could have a quaint backdrop that didn’t change for the entire performance, we run what I would call a big city studio where parents and students expect a full visual experience with all the bells and whistles. I mean students can create the most amazing videos on their iPhones so its only natural for them to expect that on the screen behind them whilst they dance.

The technology that an LED screen provides actually has its perks; I use hardly any props to set the scene or vibe of a piece… and I hate props! Always have. I think you’re just asking for trouble with multiple props. Let the dancing speak for itself! Not to mention that children drop, break and loose props…

Okay so I think that’s documents covered! Now onto costumes and theme…

Question from Kate: “How do you choose a different theme every year?”

Good question Kate. Honestly, there are some years that I have no idea and decide in about June when my Mum begins harassing me for costume notes (which is when the costuming process begins). And then there are other years when I have the theme ready to go in December for the following year!

For example, one year I went with Christmas because I was feeling really uninspired by anything around me and that just felt like an easy go-to. Another year I had the theme already worked out 18 months in advance – after watching Breakfast At Tiffanys on a cold Winters day I decided to do a Tiffanys inspired ballet complete with Pre-Primary’s dressed as diamonds running out from behind a giant tiffany blue box! Another year I took direction from the students who were Harry Potter obsessed so we did a Witchcraft and Wizardry theme that many (still to this day!) proclaim as their favourite ballet we’ve ever created.

When it comes to the classics; Nutcracker, Swan Lake etc… I really steer clear of these because I find very few families are interested in watching an old-fashioned ballet and it’s more fun to have a bit of a creative licence and come up with a fresh concept thats a bit more modern. In my opinion (and I’m sure many will disagree), leave the classics up to the professional ballet companies!

But on that note, I think it’s really important to strike a balance between executing your vision for the concert and realising at the end of the day it’s just a children’s dance concert. By making this comment am I in no way diminishing the importance of creating something spectacular for children. No no! I’ve just watched too many studio owners (including mine when I was a little ballerina) get incredibly flustered and stressed over students, other teachers, volunteers, audio or lighting technicians not getting their vision. At the end of the day, it’s not about us (the studio owner or choreographer)… it’s actually about the children and the weekend being a positive experience for all.

Before I go into every concert weekend I tell myself, a child will probably drop a prop, the lighting guy will probably miss a cue, a students hair piece will probably fall out… things inevitably happen (I mean, you’re working with children!) and a child’s dance concert is not going to be perfect! This little pep talk that I give myself is probably why so many people ask me why I’m so calm during concert week. And when you’re quietly calm and confident, everyone around you adopts that vibe…

Last year I expected so many things to go wrong and just accepted it. But guess what, hardly anything went wrong and I think that’s because I was ultimately the most prepared I’ve ever been, in my ninth year of running a concert and exuding a quiet confidence in the process. I also had an incredible team this year that really pulled everything together in an elegant and professional manner… I was so proud of them!

Question from Summer: “I would love to hear about preparing for concert week please!”

Concert week is funny Summer! In the week prior I’ve ticked off everything I need to do so that I can enter concert week feeling incredibly organised and on top of everything. But the main reason why I tick everything off two weeks prior is because in that final week there is ALWAYS unforeseen things that pop up!

Sometimes your technicians contact you to let you know a backdrop isn’t working well or one of the audio tracks isn’t up to scratch. Sometimes a group of costumes were supposed to arrive but are stuck in transit. Other times you have a student injured and need to re-choreograph sections and sometimes you just need many more hours in the day to respond to parents enquiries about concert weekend.

But usually in the week leading up to the concert I go through all the documents I’ve mentioned and ensure everything matches and resend copies to all staff so they’re prepared and confident leading into the weekend. I also prepare certificates for graduating students, thank you cards for volunteers, a participation medal for every student and start assembling gifts and catering for staff on concert weekend. I like to make sure everyone feels appreciated and well fed. No one likes a hangry dance teacher!

So far in this conversation I haven’t even begun to cover social media marketing, ticket set up, event signage, dressing room allocations and program artwork. I also keep notes under a simple ‘concert’ heading in the notes app on my phone for any random things that I need to recall, remember or respond to. For example, my 2021 notes section had notes about a technicians name I kept forgetting, my personal guest tickets, a switch in the dressing rooms and a parent who insisted her daughter is asked if she needs to go to the bathroom every hour. Honestly, I do actually pass these messages onto my team and they are brilliant at actioning these sometimes unnecessary requests.

Question from Bethany: “How do you deal with selecting students for roles and handle disappointed children?”

In all honesty Bethany, this is another reason why I avoid the classics like Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty. Too many main roles and that means too many disappointed faces. When you’re running a recreational studio I really don’t believe it’s necessary to announce to the studio who is playing the lead role or post a cast list.

If I ever need to dish out a lead role it goes to one of our graduating senior students or someone who spends more time at the studio than any other student. And these instances are rare! For example, in my Tiffany’s ballet I wanted a short solo to depict the scene where Audrey is playing guitar and singing Moon River on her window sill. I had three seniors graduating that year and two of them had a duo they were performing to celebrate so I offered the solo to the third senior so she had a moment in the spotlight.

In my first year or two of owning a studio I made the mistake of handing out some ‘lead roles’ and it just led to bullying, bitchiness and unnecessary drama. I’m just not about it and really can’t be bothered, so I just try not to ever put myself or my students in that position.

Another question from Bethany: “My only performance experience as an adult ballerina became a bit heartbreaking because of how the group was divided into two groups. How do you manage your adult performance groups?”

Firstly, I am so sorry that you had such a poor performance experience. As I’ve mentioned throughout this episode, a concert should be a wonderful and positive experience for all involved and teachers should never take actions that divide the group so much that it creates a sour taste in ones mouth.

Once upon a time I ran an ABC (Adult Ballet Company) who very successfully performed at competitions and then again at my younger students end of year concert. It was a wonderful experience and we had many fun times. Unfortunately as the studio exponentially grew over the last couple of years I had no room in the timetable to accomodate such a class… but I do actually hope to bring this option back to my adult dancers in the future!

A few things to consider from your teachers point of view though… I know that a lot of my students who were in the group but new to the ballet felt more comfortable always being in the back rows. However one day I did have a client ask if she could be in the front and when I did pop her there she came to me again and asked if she could be put in the back again as she couldn’t handle not having anyone in front of her.

This kind of back and forth – whilst I love feedback and collaboration – was honestly really disruptive to the planning of choreography and I wish she had of trusted me and my knowing of what she can and can’t handle. I also find that in an adult performance you can have so many varying abilities, strengths and styles! Whereas with children, they have all been taught the same style and are at a very similar stage in their training.

I’ve often thought about how I will structure the new Adult Ballet Company when the time comes and I have a few ideas up my sleeves, but for now my answer to the original question (How do you manage your adult performance groups?) is that I handled my adult ballet performance group with a lot of difficulty… it was challenging!

Why? Costuming is a big one. Whilst everyone wants to wear a costume, adult bodies and minds have very different thoughts on colour, cut and design. Some want to wear a tutu whilst others couldn’t think of anything worse! Usually I had to make the final call on costumes and some weren’t happy with the final choice. Another is scheduling and commitment. There wasn’t a week that went by when I wasn’t receiving messages an hour before rehearsal started with every excuse under the sun and I’ll be honest, it was exhausting and really took away from the experience of other dancers who showed up religiously every week. I also had an adult client show up to a performance drunk… but that’s a story for (maybe) another time!

So moving forward I have (with hindsight) thought about some structure and ideas that combat commitment, costuming, choreography and technical ability whilst still remaining true to the wonderful beauty of being part of such a special group of women (and men!)

Question from Erin: “What is your opinion on concerts in general? Do you think they take away from class learning? One of my previous studios only did a concert every second year with a simple classwork showcase every other year…”

Great question! Firstly, whilst I totally respect your teachers decision and can see why she made that decision… I think not having a concert every single year is detrimental to the success of your business. The concert is the beacon of light at the end of the tunnel for most students! Especially those that don’t do ballet exams or competitions, they need something to look forward to and show off their skills.

Especially in covid times, studios often can’t have ‘parent watching weeks’ or even parents popping into the foyer to say hello due to capacity restrictions. And whilst we now run digital parent viewing weeks, it’s just not the same! The concert reminds parents what they’re paying for and more importantly this allows the studio director to address the community they love and serve…

Every year I prepare a speech that only goes for about five minutes and I usually talk about our goals as a studio, dreams for the students or a theme that’s inspiring and driving me. But most importantly I thank everyone for giving their child the gift of dance. You can send all the texts, emails, newsletters and printed notes home but you will never have a captive audience like you do at the concert! If you’re a studio owner I implore you to ALWAYS have a speech prepared. It’s not cute to just awkwardly say, “Oh hey, thanks for coming and uhhh yeah I’m not good at speeches!” Whether you like it or not, you are a role model for your entire community and most importantly for their children – show up prepared, poised and humble. And if you’re not the studio owner, all teachers should also present themselves well and never underestimate a well thought out post on Instagram thanking your students and dance community.

We have covered a lot today and I just wanted to say that I have had so much fun sharing this behind-the-scenes look at concert time with you. Of course theres actually so many things I didn’t cover but I think this gives you a pretty good snapshot! If you enjoyed I’d love you to let me know via my latest Instagram post – I’m going to post a photo of me during concert time, backstage with my niece at her first ‘big girl’ concert…

When the curtains closed on the evening show and I took my stage managing headphones off, I do what I always do, quietly stand side stage and watch my students dancing and cheering, riding high from the buzz and excitement of concert weekend. Trust me when I tell you, it’s a beautiful sight. Then I spotted, for the first time, a family member amongst these students… my little niece Pippa is the first family member I’ve ever taught at my studio. This is a new experience for me. Her eyes locked with mine and in that moment I couldn’t help myself, I scooped her up and gave her the biggest hug. It’s funny because she never usually lets me do this… ever since she started ballet I’m no longer ‘Aunty Georgia’ and I’ve become ‘Miss Georgia’ at family events – I’m not sure she can seperate the two.

Pip is a beautiful soul that thrives on discipline and respect. It’s adorable. But I think that’s why she’s more into copying me than she is into having chats or hugging! However in this moment she just let me hold her and melted into my arms. Part concert exhaustion and a small part of me wants to believe part love and pride – for her aunty who pulled off a pretty damn good concert this year!

Anyway, our backstage photographer captured this exact moment and I’ll treasure this photograph forever. So go comment on it so I know you listened to this episode!

Welcome to 2022 Balanced Ballerinas! I’m feeling optimistic and pumped for the year ahead, if you need any help with goal setting or BALANCE head to balancedballerinas.com for my FREE intention setting worksheets – there’s actually a link in the show notes below or send me an email to [email protected] as I love to hear from you.

Peace and pliƩs always!

Georgia