I was starting to despair. Universities and international schools would respond to my messages with interest and then back out or disappear.
I‘ve been pitching and promoting my show, Alien Citizen: An Earth Odyssey, all year long. I’ve emailed people at colleges, universities, and international schools individually and I’ve mass-emailed even more of them via MailChimp.
I’ve done this since January without fail while also working on a gajillion other tasks for this small business.
By June I was seriously contemplating the possibility that I would never perform the show again, because no one seemed to want to pay for it. This was especially disappointing because I only intended to perform it for one more academic year and I thought pitching it as the “final tour” would help with bookings.
It was looking like I had made a mistake.
Then: I booked the show at a community college in Florida! I was flabbergasted because I never thought a community college would have the budget for a guest artist. My ignorance is really something.
I ended up performing the show in Tampa in September. Now I have two more college bookings set up for 2019!
Meanwhile, I almost had an international school booking for January in Singapore. It seemed like a sure thing…but it fell through.
Then it looked like a university was going to screen the film of my show this month. At last, a non-conference, non-classroom screening for a wider audience!
That fell through as well. You win some, you lose some.
I’ve learned some valuable lessons this year about booking the show. I wrote extensively about touring in the past, but we learn more as we go. Here are some new tips:
1. I’ve said it before but it bears repeating: don’t give up and do follow up.
For the Florida booking, a friend recommended the show to that campus and I gamely followed up. I was pleasantly surprised to receive an immediate, positive response. I replied again but didn’t hear back.
Out of sheer stubbornness I contacted them months later…and now I’ve performed my show in Tampa to a warm and engaged audience in a lovely community college theatre!
2. Community colleges with performing arts buildings are absolutely worth a pitch.
To my surprise, many community colleges do have a budget for visiting artists and it’s not miniscule. We negotiated and I lowered my rate for Tampa, but I still made more than I was paid by Ivy League campuses back in 2014, my first year of touring.
3. Personal email messages and mass e-blasts can both work.
The Florida booking was instigated by email messages I sent individually. The two upcoming US college bookings were instigated by MailChimp e-blasts.
Of course, it’s more efficient to draft a chain of messages that you can schedule to go out regularly to hundreds or thousands of people via MailChimp.
Still, I send individual messages when the recipient and I know someone in common, or when I’m following up after a long delay and don’t want them to receive a mass e-blast yet.
Of course, if you’re just starting to pitch your show, you probably don’t have a database of contacts to e-blast. As you send individual messages, you can add each person’s info to a marketing automation platform like MailChimp or Constant Contact, etc. Follow-up messages can be scheduled to everyone via the platform, which will save you time.
I make my MailChimp e-blasts look like regular email messages. No layout, no images, nothing but words. The design is called Plain Text and it looks exactly the way it sounds. Email servers might still recognize that the message is coming from a marketing automation platform, so those messages may still end up in Promotions or Spam. However, I think enough messages get through…because they’ve lead to bookings.
4. If you can afford a paid intern for even one or two months, it’s worth it.
One of my upcoming college bookings is at a campus that my intern entered into the CRM (Customer Relations Management program). The college would never have received my regular e-blasts if my intern hadn’t entered the campus into the CRM, which is synced with my MailChimp account.
Quick side note: a CRM keeps track of your contacts and all of your correspondence with them—both the individual emails and the e-blasts. You can prioritize contacts as “Leads” and do other cool stuff. If you sync the CRM with the marketing automation platform, you only have to enter new contacts into one program in order for them to pop up in the other.
Back to the intern: you may wonder how I could afford to pay anyone. I had set money aside for taxes that were not owed in the end (oh glory!), so I used that money to hire a senior at my alma mater. She was highly intelligent with a good work ethic. We met via Skype and I taught her how to use the CRM. She immediately began researching international schools and US colleges/universities to enter into the system. She only added contact info for people who might truly be interested in the show: directors of international student centers at universities, drama teachers at international schools, etc.
I could only afford to hire her for five hours per week for two months. In that time she entered almost 500 contacts. One of them has led to a booking that will pay much more than it cost to hire the intern. The booking will be a strong source of income that month, so: yay for interns!
5. Raising your rate won’t kill your chances of getting your show booked.
I doubled my rate a couple of years ago and subsequently feared it might be the reason I didn’t tour for two years. Then I remembered that I hadn’t been pitching my show to anyone with any regularity during that time because I was:
- in post-production for the movie version of the show
- working on a business plan and other time-consuming small business stuff
- leading workshops
- rehearsing, promoting, and performing the show in a festival in L.A.
- pursuing my acting career
- overexerting myself in general.
Of course I didn’t book the show out of town for two years.
Once I put my nose to the grindstone and started pitching the show regularly, it took six months for a booking to finally came through, followed by two more—and they’re all paying the new rate or close to it.
As you know if you’ve toured your show at all: touring is hard work. My 80-minute show is a tremendous workout. Performing it with jet lag adds to the challenge. Just traveling to the location can be exhausting: there’s luggage (even though I try to pack light); the carry-on with all the props is very heavy; I fly economy/coach and sometimes have to switch planes midway; and there’s sometimes at least a nine-hour time difference between L.A. and the booking location.
We have to keep our shows “in shape,” which means we have to run lines and rehearse the performance until it’s up to snuff in the weeks leading up to the booking date. This is time consuming and we’re not paid for our efforts during that period.
So: charge a decent rate. Ask around. Newbies might charge as little as $500 while celebrities might charge $10,000+ for a single performance. A good rule of thumb that a solo-show veteran recommended to me: when you start pitching your show for paid bookings, if you have to travel, make sure you’ll walk away with at least $1000 after expenses. It’s not worth the investment of time and energy otherwise.
As your list of bookings grows, you can raise your rate.
Of course, if you’re on the fringe festival circuit and are not booking paid performances at this point, the above is for you to consider if/when you want to turn your show into a source of greater income. I followed the veteran’s advice and learned quickly that she was absolutely right. Touring a show takes a lot of work beyond the actual performance, and we deserve to be recompensed for that.
Have you found other, better ways to get paid bookings without a booking agent? Please share if so! If not, I hope the above is helpful.
BONUS: Whether or not you’ve read or liked her books, this is a great TED Talk for when you’re feeling discouraged:
The fringe benefits of failure by JK Rowling
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Thank you for reading my twenty-ninth post, especially after the long gap between this and the last one! I love your comments! Please feel free to leave one below.