I am probably one of the few dancers who can say this, but I am loving the online showcases happening right now. Pre-Covid-19, I performed about 6+ times a month. Getting to interact with audiences and perform with my friends is one of my favorite things. But with social distancing and venues stopping live shows, I realized performing the way I was used to is not possible or safe. I started off really uncomfortable with the idea of not being able to interact with audiences and honestly, I’m not the most tech savvy. But then I began to consider it from the audience's perspective.
Being able to attend a show in person can be tough. You need to be able to get transportation, find a place to park, be able to navigate small crowded spaces, have to wait in line for a restroom, sit in place for hours, and then rush back home to whatever obligations you have at home. We are putting a lot of expectations on our audiences to come out to watch us! But with an online show, you can have people from all over the world join you in ways that make it accessible to everyone. I’m so excited for the world this is going to create.
Booking an online show:
When booking a show online, you are not held to dancers who are close to you. You can ask your very favorite dancers to join you. In booking, I am a huge fan of a curated show. Unlike a regular show where anyone can join you are going to book intentionally and deliberately. I try to find a way to book that represents a lot of styles along with lots of kinds of people. A show that only shows one style of dance or one kind of person isn’t reflecting the world we live in and as a producer we have a responsibility to book a varied show.
I believe this booking paradigm builds a stronger show that is worth the price of admission. I am not creating shows that are appropriate for a dancers first performance. There are a lot of options for that kind of show and I am not interested in making another. I want to create shows that show the very best of belly dance. This pressure is even more intense online when people have a limited attention span. In an in-person show a weaker dancer is protected because people don’t want to be seen leaving a dancers set. Online they can just flip over to Instagram and never come back. You need to build a show that keeps audiences engaged from the moment the emcee starts speaking to the close. I found it’s helpful to co-produce with other producers from different dance lineages to get different perspectives. Also, as a producer I have been spending so much time watching other dancers and creating a wish list of all my favorites I want to ask to be a part of my show.
Promoting your show:
Once you have your amazing cast (and very engaging emcee, which can make or break a show) you need to begin the event creation and promotion process. Online shows are easy and cheap to put together. Going online removes some of the barriers producers have had in the past, including the cost for a venue.
Right now most producers are putting together Zoom events they stream to their social media platforms or send out a link to join the event via Zoom. There are other options, but it looks like this is the platform most producers are using. You can create an event on Facebook and begin to invite every person you have ever met. I have found online shows are getting a lot more interest than any in person show I’ve put on. We have a show this weekend and we already have over 400 interested and going on Facebook. You have the opportunity to create a show that could never happen in the real world- take advantage of it! Ask you performers to help promote and invite people. I also like to promote the performers the week up to the show with some information on the dancers. You can have a lot of fun with this. Our most recent show was a pro-mask show. So all our dancers sent in masked selfies to help promote the event.
Producing a smooth show:
As a producer you are going to have to do some technical hand-holding. Our job as producers is to make our performers look good and feel good while doing it. That means you are probably going to be communicating with them more than you usually would. Please note: all of these technical guides are coming from someone who is not tech savvy and only for a live show. Your personal computer configurations might be different from what works for me.
` We have found a lot of success in setting up a tech rehearsal at least a week before to make sure everyone’s camera, sound and background match the feel of the show you are going for. I prefer simple, well lit backgrounds unless the dancer is choosing something different for an artistic purpose. For example, one of our performers wanted to do a piece on feeling isolated, so they did their entire piece from their tub. It was amazing to watch how we can meld our environments and our dance in ways we never could on stage.
When leading the tech rehearsal you want to walk through each dancer’s camera placement, the confines of their space, and costume concept, and make sure the sound sounds good. A note on sound: some people like to share the sound directly through zoom. It gives the best quality but there is a lag. The sound and the music are not going to match up perfectly. As a performer I prefer to play off a speaker, turning on the “original sound” feature and increasing the sensitivity of the computer's microphone. I stay muted for the rest of the show and unmute before my set.
I try not to tell a performer how they should perform, but if you are asked, larger movements and bigger props show up better on camera. If the dancer is going to do level changes I would have them run that through. I saw a dancer who decided to do work on their knees. It would have been lovely (I’m sure) but the camera only recorded their chest due to the level change. What an unfortunate way to present your set!
Another thing to practice is the “spotlight” feature. The emcee will toggle the screen from themselves to the performer. This can bring up a blue box alerting the performer they are being spotlighted and asking if they want to be unmuted based on the sound configurations. That’s important to let performers know about this before the set or it can be jarring.
Because Zoom charges different prices depending on the number of attendees you can judge based on ticket sales, pre-registrations or just stream it from Zoom to Facebook (for a show based on donations) and not have anyone but performers in the Zoom event. Streaming to Facebook can lead to Facebook taking down music very quickly after the show, so that is a risk to be aware of while making the decision on the platform you are going to use. You can use this to promote your show. Tell audiences “make sure to watch it live because you might not be able to again” just like an in person show.
The day of the show:
Now you have done almost all the hard work to produce the online show you have worked so hard for. Trust you have booked great performers who are going to do their best. Sometimes technical glitches happen. To help with that, I suggest having a performer chat that the audience can’t see to discuss any problems the audience or the performers are seeing. In our first show the first dancer had a music malfunction and their music didn’t play to the zoom meeting their entire set. We had a quick chat and asked that dancer if they wanted to perform again. They felt so supported we made it possible for them to have the set they imagined. You need to stay engaged and ready to handle any issues. Just like an in-person show, having an emcee who is also a performer and knows how to stretch is very helpful. If you enable comments during the stream, you can encourage folks to give compliments and clap at the end of dancers sets in the chat box.
That’s it! Your online show is done. Take off your makeup and take a nap. You’ve done a great job and allowed so many people to join together to a show that is as unique as you are as a producer.