After the Christmas Show one of the main comments I get from students is that they would like to have two shows a year. And every instructor promptly says “NO”. Why? Because to put on a show of that magnitude is an insane amount of work for the instructors.
Most studios do what we did when we started the Christmas Show. They reserve a date at their own studio. Use their own equipment. Create simple routines that can be practiced daily in the performance space. And it is nice simple event. The problem with this model is that you are limited to ~100 people watching and it has the feel of a studio showcase instead of a Vegas Level show. I tend to like to go big….
A few of the time consuming things that people don’t think about for the show include:
- Editing the song files. There are 24 or so songs in the Christmas Show and most require that I edit them to a specific length. Some are super easy to cut and take 15 minutes. Others are extremely difficult and take HOURS. One routine in particular wanted something very specific and to get it to work took me a solid 6-7 hours of editing what became a 2:50 minute song!
- The venue really helps us. Working with Jason at Tanner’s makes some things a lot easier for me. I don’t have to worry about renting chairs or basic room setup, he takes care of it. We meet about 3 times before the show going over details on how I want the room laid out. We also talk about food options and decide what to serve for the party. This past year was nice since we didn’t change venues it was tweaking what already had happened rather than creating.
- Getting stage poles there. First, I HATE stage poles. They are heavy. They require a lot of setup and lots of constant tightening to keep safe. I know I’m neurotic but I don’t want anyone getting hurt on my watch so using the stage poles is a big worry for me. I have an irrational fear that some day the damn think will just break in half. We bought the best on the market at the time. We’ve taken great care of them. But man do they make me uncomfortable. Last year I bought additional weights to put under them to increase the saftey margin. So now we not only bring 3 stage poles that are heavy and awkward to transport, we also bring twelve 25 pound weights. The X-stage bags the stage pole parts come in are made poorly and rip so we can’t just lift them in the bad using the handles because all of them have ripped to shreds. So we carry them piece by piece and protect them from damage in transport. Then we have to remember the tools to set them up.
- Rehearsals on stage poles means setting them up. The aerial studio floor is padded and the stage poles dent it so we had to create a way to protect the floor. When it is stage pole rehearsal days the instructors take a solid hour putting up the stage poles. Then checking them constantly. Then taking them down. Have I mentioned they are heavy?
- Getting aerial in show was a whole new problem last year. We found a rig to rent in Milwaukee so I drive down a few days before to get it and drive it back a few days after the show. Our studio engineer doesn’t love the rig so he reinforces it for maximum stability. We then have to also get the aerial equipment there. Every aerialist likes their own specific hammock/hoop so we have multiple of each. I also back extra span sets since the height is always a questions. It doesn’t perfectly match the practice height so we have to test and adjust at the venue.
- We need a stage. And of course the stage that we could use from Tanner’s isn’t big enough to accomodate the aerial rig foot print. So I rent a stage from a local company. That means deciding the size I want long in advance and ordering. Then sending studio engineer to the venue whenever it is being set-up to help and make it is where we want it. I’m lucky, Jeff with the staging company is really good to me!
- Sound and lights are another huge thing that makes the show special. We have hired a proper company, Event Production Systems, the past two years. They are great! We don’t have a rehearsal with them, however, so I create an outline of the show for them called “technical cues”. It has the song, performer names, starting picture and description of starting picture so they know when to start the music, any specific lighting requests or details for each song, etc. Creating this takes hours because it has to be 100% correct.
- Also created is the stage crew sheet so they know when to move which equipment on and off. There is nothing worse than a show where you are waiting for the set to change. No one’s got time for that! So we enlist a crew of awesome men to make our set changes happen quickly. They arrive early on show day to go over the requirements and facilitate quick changes. All of this is organized and written out in detail to make it work well.
- Photography and videography are things we’ve been adding to the show the last few years. Students wanted to keep memories from their performances so I coordinate with Debbie Daanen Photography to have pictures taken. We’ve worked with Ashley for about 5 years so she does a great job at catching moves in the “best” angle even with the live show. For videography this is only our second year having the show professionally filmed. We went with a new company this year and I spend a ridiculous amount of time trying to find a company that could deliver what I wanted for the price point we could afford. Working with videography when they haven’t seen the show means that I also write out a detailed list of what I want to see in the videos. So far Michael Cortes Pro delivered the promo on time and it was lovely. We should be getting the routine videos soon! Can’t wait.
- Tickets need to be printed in advanced and we keep track of how many are selling. This year with the VIP tables and VIP seating this was an extra headache. But the overall feedback was that people really liked the VIP tables. Next year we plan to expand this so all tables in the facility will be VIP reserved.
- Show order is something I spend a lot of time creating. The show needs to flow and make sense. It also needs to be in an order that keeps the audience attention, has a lot of variation between numbers and allows for quick set changes.
- Bringing all the stuff. Wow. There is a ridiculous amount of stuff that has to be brought to the show. I have a master packing list. Then we load-up on Friday evening and everything is brought Saturday morning. Grip aids, pole cleaning, the squishy floor, all of that has to be packed, loaded, brought, loaded, and put back. It is a TON of stuff.
- Scheduling is probably one of the hardest parts of the show. We have three studios and we still need to run classes. Stage poles can only be put up in the Aerial Studio so that then limits what classes can be back there. Not all our members choose to do the show so I can’t ignore their needs in the months of November and December. I also have a million and six student requests for time I try to schedule around. It is a nightmare. Seriously time consuming and difficult to keep the classes running and get everyone practice time for the show!
- Choreography takes times. Writing out a routine into a way students can understand and getting copies for them. Some groups requested videos be shared of parts so those were made. Every year the instructors start earlier and earlier preparing in hopes that two weeks before the show we aren’t all “oh the show is in two weeks, we should write our routines.” Without fail this is always later than we’d like. This year we started our intro and exit songs in August but were still choreographing on December 3! My staff is AMAZING. They put their own work on hold until their students are in a comfortable spot. Then they get a whole week to focus on what they need to do.
- Pausing our training. One of the biggest things that is put on hold during Christmas Show time is the instructor’s individual training. All of us are on a plateau right now because we haven’t trained anything new in 3-4 months. We’ve been focusing on teaching and the show so our own skills were put on hold. There are only so many hours that you can do aerial arts in a week and September – December they are all taken by our student’s needs. January we get back to training and everyone breathes a sigh of relief when they fall in love with the sport again because of a new challenge.
No joke, I have been working on logistics for the 2017 show for about a month. Now that we have the show to a comfortable place using the stage poles of course I want to change it. So I’m making more work for myself to try to create a better experience for the students. Right now this means a lot of research into box truss and stage configurations. It is a labor of love.
We created a monster when we took the show out of the studio. To be honest there are a lot of days in November and December that I wish we hadn’t so I could sleep. I worry about the stage poles. I worry about forgetting something at the studio that needs to be at Tanner’s. I worry that the students aren’t getting enough rehearsal time. I worry the members who aren’t in the show feel left out (even though they chose to not perform!) I worry that I’m asking too much from my instructors. But at the same time, I LOVE the production we put on and nothing makes me happier than seeing Tanner’s full of people celebrating our amazing students.