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Comedian Ethan Andrews talks curating a killer event from the ground up.
Sustaining an artistic career in Australia requires a do-it-yourself attitude. Frustrated by a lack of opportunities to perform stand up comedy in my hometown, I decided to take on the role of event producer. Since 2015 I’ve been producing live events in Newcastle including showcase gigs, writers meetups and the city’s very first comedy festival, Not Just for Laughs. Before I began producing these events I had no previous experience, but now I know that a lack of resources shouldn’t be a concern. Producing events – live readings, open mics and launches – builds community and is rewarding in ways that few other artistic pursuits are. All you need to do is find the right venue, nail your budget and get busy promoting.
Choosing a venue
Once you have figured out what your event will be, the most important decision will be choosing where to have it. If you have strong ties to a local café or bookstore, that’s a no-brainer. But if you don’t have a go-to venue, well… why not host it at your house or the park down the road? A casual BYO get together sounds like a bloody delightful (and cost-effective) afternoon.
Another alternative is to embrace a unique location and let it shape your whole event. I’ve performed on public buses and in barbershops, but by far the best event I’ve been a part of saw me naked, drinking free VBs at Finland’s Embassy in Canberra. Sauna Saga at Noted Festival 2016 took a venue normally off-limits to the public and created something every event should aspire to; a truly inimitable audience experience.
Working out your budget
You can make this event happen for free. Remember that, because expenses can add up quickly before you have any guaranteed income. Generally, the biggest budgetary issue will involve your venue arrangement. This will require much consideration on your part and some negotiation with your host, but I like to stick to the principle that if other people are making money (from drink sales, for example), you should be too. For small-scale events, you should never pay venue hire fees and as a reference, remind yourself that plenty of pubs put up $200-$300 per week on trivia nights. This golden rule is a little flexible, if you need a one of a kind space or if your venue would have to operate outside of their usual business hours.
Once you have an estimation of expenses, you can determine how much income you need to generate. Popular options for live performances include set ticket prices, or a ‘pay what you can’ donation system. If you’re launching a product, free entry (or an entry ticket that includes a copy) might be the best way to cover your costs and make a neat little profit. Don’t think it’s too soon to approach local sponsors (craft breweries can be quite generous) and explore grants and funding opportunities either. If you have other artists getting involved, when it comes to money you have to be upfront. Payment is not always necessary (performances at an open mic being the best example), but when it is, a flat fee per job is ideal. Another option is a door split, in which the producer and artists divide income according to a set percentage.
Drawing a crowd
When you first pictured your event, you probably had guests already in mind. In addition to these loyal friends, family and literary peers, there is a whole other crowd waiting to discover your event. To reach them, think like a tourist. If you were visiting or new to your city and were interested in live lit, where might you look? Niche FB groups, tourist and visitor websites (most have events calendars you can contribute to) and even Gumtree are opportunities reach potential crowds.
Don’t neglect traditional media too. Make yourself a poster (no graphic design experience needed thanks to Canva), write a press release and get in touch with newspapers, student media, and local digital and street press. Often content goes unpublished just because editors are time-poor so reaching out with some ready to publish digital content (your press release) could be the difference in breaking even.
Producing is often a thankless job, but making cool stuff happen opens up new creative networks, income streams and the potential to create something larger than your own art.
Ready to start producing? Check out our opportunities board or sign up for Bloc Boost to stay up to date with industry opportunities.
Ethan Andrews is a stand up comedian and events producer from Singleton. He lives in Newcastle and tweets about rugby league and fast food @heyethanandrews
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