The common expression “every cloud has a silver lining” means that even the worst events or situations have some positive aspect. It might seem crazy for studio owners to try to find the positive aspects of a year that forecasts little or no cash reserves with which to bankroll 2021 spring shows, reduced capacity for audiences and performers, and low morale on all fronts. But don’t throw in the rhinestoned towel just yet—you are not powerless when it comes to planning a milestone bash in this new normal. Read on for some ways recitals might look different in 2021, and how studio owners can ensure that clients are still getting the first-rate experience they’ve come to expect no matter the size, delivery method, or budget of your show.
“The pandemic has changed the way we look at our end of the year recital,” Bernadette Doverspike and Natalie Trees, 23-year owners of DANL Dance Center in Coral Springs, Florida, said. “The important thing is that our dancers get to perform and celebrate their hard work—maybe smaller, more intimate performances will be the way going forward. As long as the dancer feels the love it doesn’t matter how big the audience is!” Pre-pandemic, many studios had a beloved local theater or school facility they could count on. These large performance venues had become a home away from home. Today some of those venues are barely even returning emails. Confronted with this reality, studio owners are digging deep into their bag of tricks when it comes to getting their dancers on a stage this spring. Depending on where they’re located and the level of restrictions, some may have already planned to create their own in-house shows again as DANL Dance Center did back in June of 2020.
One of the largest obstacles studio owners are facing is the inconsistency in criteria for reopening and leasing venues. Online ticketing vendor Dance Recital Ticketing states, “We have found that different venues and different local areas have widely different rules for how to sit people in an audience. Some require empty rows, some require a certain number of seats, and some say, ‘use your best judgement.’ The guidance is all over the place.” It’s for this reason DRT created their social distancing tool for ticketing as a way to give buyers some peace of mind, and reduce headaches for the show’s producer—you. Whether you use an online vendor, your theater’s box office, or are printing your own tickets on cardstock at home, taking social distancing into consideration is going to be a must for spring recitals where large gatherings are typical. To alleviate crowding concerns, many studio owners are planning multiple smaller recitals featuring only a few classes at a time, instead of one giant show. If this is the route you’ve chosen, consider plugging your most advanced kids or preschoolers into each performance to show your audience the full variety of what your studio can do, fill time needed for costume changes, and keep the show entertaining for all.
Another golden opportunity in this more restrictive environment is the ability to live stream your performance to viewers at home. Whether out of necessity or as a luxury add-on, live streaming is a way to get as many eyeballs on your performance as possible; you might even exceed your previous seasons’ ticket sales. Think about it: Have you ever sold out a show and wished you could magically cram a few more seats in at the last minute? Have you ever heard from a proud parent that Grandma and Grandpa in another town couldn’t wait to watch the recital video because they missed the show? Many venues and vendors have been diligently working to add new technology and systems to make live streaming easy and profitable, and savvy studio owners stand to benefit. Now Grandma and Grandpa, and an unlimited number of others, can buy their tickets alongside everyone else and ooh and aah over little Sophia’s big moment in real time. A well-organized, professional livestream option for your stage performance means no venue will ever be too small again.
Regardless of how your audience experiences your show, your dancers should still bring the house down with their performance. However, on a tight budget it may feel impossible to make the performers look and feel their best. Hopefully by now you’ve locked down a great relationship with a costume vendor or two and used your ingenuity to get the most bang for the buck out of last year’s leftover or unused costumes. But how can you continue to deliver the wow factor when so much is unknown? “Take what you already have to do and make it awesome,” More Than Just Great Dancing!® founder Misty Lown advises. Even the most mundane processes can be both adapted for pandemic safety and turned into a worthy-of-words event without breaking the bank.
Marisa Mailhes of Red Door Dance Academy in Wylie, Texas handled the dilemma of measuring students for costumes (a no-no in the age of social distancing) in a unique and creative way: she emailed parents a Google form that included an instructional video and asked them to measure at home. Dancers were sent home with their own customized studio logo measuring tapes and Red Door staff took submitted measurements and turned them into costume sizes. The tapes were budget friendly at only sixty-five cents each from an online vendor, and they were a hit with clients. “People love to get free things!” Marisa said. Consider finding an opportunity to give something to your clients, no matter how simple, that will keep your show in the forefront of their minds.
Speaking of simple things, don’t underestimate the power of smoke and mirrors; after all, the old razzle-dazzle is what your audience is there for. It’s easy to become paralyzed by nostalgia for the pre-COVID days, but in this unfamiliar territory it’s your responsibility to be resourceful and find new ways to apply old tactics. Music, choreography, props, lighting, fabrics, special effects, scenery, use of space, even colors themselves become tools with which to transport your patrons to a fantasy world for a little while. Put your imagination goggles on and take a tour of your own storage unit—you might be surprised what you can do with what you already own.
Paying for your 2021 recital is unavoidable, so more than ever you’re going to have to evaluate the ROI (return on investment) of each expense. As many purchases as possible should pull double duty: recital T-shirts that advertise your studio name and phone number, costume cover-up robes that you can sell at a profit, event seating that moves from the lobby to backstage. Perhaps this is a chance to save money over the long term by buying equipment you usually pay top-dollar to rent, like generic props, chairs, crowd control stanchions, or other specialty items. Your challenge isn’t to avoid spending; it’s to lock in value. Use what you have, apply what you know, and make your money work for you.
The COVID crisis brought challenges, but it also forced innovation on a huge scale, particularly among performing artists. If you’re still struggling to find your 2021 vision, consider the story of Dance Theater of New England in Bridgewater, Massachusetts, who went so far as to build their own outdoor theater in order to produce their recitals for the 2019-20 season. Owner Deborah Stanton-Bianca advises studio owners who might be facing creative block to “Close your eyes and remember. Remember what it was like to be that student performer, and how your dance or theater teacher got it done. At the end of the day this is theater.” When Deborah got the call that her spring 2020 recital was canceled, she knew DTNE wasn’t going to go down without a fight. She found other stage alternatives but wasn’t happy with them, and through a relationship with another local studio she came up with a scheme to rent scaffolding, erected a 30’x40’ stage, and repurposed the sheer IKEA curtains from the studio’s lobby as a backdrop. Her team added fairy lights and made a magical experience for the dancers, and by the end even the videographer had tears in his eyes.
Deborah kept hope alive for her students and showed her clients that she cared enough to give them the best. Although she admits to thinking she was in over her head a few times along the way, she credits her mom’s “loving authoritarian” training for getting her through the hard times. “There’s always a way to get it done better than you ever dreamed. Find out-of-the-box ways to make your dream happen.”