A Performer's Point of View
By Mark Nizer
So, you hit an NACA showcase and see a great act that everyone loves. You rush to the Campus Activities Marketplace to book it for next semester. It was such a great act and seeing it live made all the difference in your decision.
The next semester, however, you have graduated and this gig passes to your successors, who have never heard of the act. They have never seen it and are so busy with their own schedules and all the acts that they like and are booking that your choice is put on the back burner.
Your successors don't bother to promote the show for two reasons: they are not excited about it and don't want to be responsible for someone else's choice.
And the performer shows up and doesn't see any of the promo they sent months ago and no other mentions of the show anywhere. Four people from the programming board show up for the event and another $3,000 of student activity fees float out the window.
It's a bummer scenario that has happened to me and other performers so many times I can't count. The performer is disappointed and the programming board is disappointed. Luckily, none of the students are disappointed because they didn't even know out about the show.
First, Get Great Entertainment
To avoid being part of this kind of scenario, choose acts that will please a vast majority of the students on your campus. If you consistently take care in choosing great acts, your audience will be used to being amazed and will come back for more. One lame show, though, and you start to loose bodies.
Trust your predecessors' decisions and get to know the acts they booked. With promo instantly available on the Web, you can quickly learn everything about any act coming to your campus. If it's a band, get your school radio station to play its music. Post videos and reviews on Facebook. Tweet a couple of jokes a day to promote a comedian. Email a video link to promote that insane stunt your juggler just did in which he juggled a propane gas tank.
Look at It from the Performer's Point of View
In every college gig, a performer is coming into an unknown situation in which they know they could be dealing with an inexperienced person who has never presented an event before. Therefore, please be able to answer these questions:
What does the performer need to do the best show for you?
What is the best venue for the performer? (A programmer waiting too long to reserve a space is often the reason I have performed in hallways on occasion.)
Did you read the performer's rider? (Often, in my experience, programming boards have students who are new to this business and don't take the time to check the rider for small details that are critical for the show.)
Van Halen were famous for having a clause in their contract rider that required a bowl of M&M's with all the brown ones removed. Many people think it was a stunt to show how important they had become and that they could ask for anything and get it. In reality, it was a safety measure. Van Halen's show included a lot of pyro and staging that required careful set-up and rigging. If the rider was not followed to the "T," a dangerous situation for performers and the audience could result. If the M&M's in the dressing room contained brown ones, the band knew the host did not read the contract rider and was not ready for the show.
For most college gigs, reading the rider ahead of time may not result in a life-threatening event, but it shows you care and is an indication that everything else required is likely to be taken care of.
Get the Word Out
Getting the word out used to be a matter of putting up posters and creating chalk drawings on the quad cement to announce an event. In many cases, as a part of promotion, I have been asked to go to the dining room, jump up on a table and do a mini show. To me, this always felt like a bad way to promote a show that should already have been in the minds of every person there. I have always thought this meant the show was not being promoted and asking me to do a mini show was a lazy, last-ditch effort to fix things.
A teaser in the dining hall can put a stage performer in an awkward situation. You are trying to promote your show, but jumping and yelling during someone's dinner makes you look more like a nut case than a hip performer the audience would be excited about seeing. (Professional theaters, on the other hand, go to great lengths to keep performers hidden until the event begins.)
Know the Secret of Three
To get someone to attend a show or act on something, it's believed they need to see information about it at least three times. So, putting a up posters all over campus is one, a full page ad or cover article in the school newspaper is two, and a blast on Facebook with video posts and reviews included is three.
But, just doing three things doesn't mean everyone is going to see all three, so the more you do, the better:
Add a giant banner in the cafeteria.
Draw a giant chalk announcement in the quad or, better yet, get 200 glow sticks and lay out the name of the show using them to build the letters. As it gets dark, this will look soooo cool.
Someone once printed my name and show time on hundreds of ping-pong balls (I juggle five using my mouth in my show) and handed them out all over campus.
In my street performing days, before my show started, I would lay a kid down on the ground and carefully draw an outline of their body with them holding a machete. By the time it was done, I had a huge crowd and an outline of a body on the ground that I could refer to throughout the show. Needless to say, HILARITY ensued.
Well, What Are You Going to Do?
You can just pull the wool over your eyes and hope the show promotes itself, or you can do a few simple things to get people excited about a show you chose from among thousands of possible artists and attractions to perform at your school. For me, college gigs have consistently been among the best I have ever had. They have also been some of the worst.
Which it is gonna to be is up to you.
Mark Nizer, a long-time NACA member, is an award-winning juggler and comedian who incorporates 3D technology into his performances. Among many honors, he is a first-place winner in the International Juggling Championships and has received multiple nominations in NACA's Campus Entertainment Awards. In addition, he has multiple TV credits, ranging from Just for Laughs and Caroline's Comedy Hour to the Jerry Lewis Telethon and Entertainment Tonight, among others. For more information, visit http://nizer.com or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
"Curtain Call" is a regular feature of Campus Activities Programming™ in which performers or agents who are members of NACA share anecdotes that help illuminate their perspectives and experiences in the college market. Entertainers and agencies wishing to submit a prospective column should contact Editor Glenn Farr at email@example.com.