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Dance Production

This is an excerpt from Dance Appreciation With HKPropel Access by Dawn D. Loring & Julie L. Pentz.

Enduring Understanding

Dance production is a complex undertaking and requires careful consideration in the areas of stage, costumes, lights, and movement content.

Learning Objectives

  • Illustrate the process, personnel, and elements of a successful dance production.
  • Classify the characteristics of the backstage aspects of a dance production.
  • Define the roles of the dance production staff.
  • Examine the similarities and differences of for-profit and nonprofit organizations.

Although dance performances can occur anywhere, a dance production, or dance concert, typically involves dance performed on a stage with lights, costumes, and music, and the production may include scenery, props, and other technical elements. While there are many kinds of dance productions, the most common format involves one or more choreographers creating dances in one or more styles of dance, in a two-act dance concert. Most sectors within the dance community, including K-12, studios or dance companies in the private sector, and higher education, produce dance concerts in a theater using these elements.

This chapter will separate the production elements and staffing into two main parts of the theater structure—the front of house and the backstage. The space between the two, where the audience sits during the production, is called the house. The space the performers and production crew occupy is referred to as backstage. The front of house involves the house manager, box office, and includes administrative personnel such as the executive director and marketing, and the boards of directors, who may have office space in other parts of the theater or offsite.

The areas of the backstage include the production staff and crew and the choreographers and dancers and involve the artistic director, technical director, stage manager, running crew, lighting, sound, costumes, and dance floor surfaces. All of these areas operate as separate units while the production is being built. Collaboration occurs throughout the process, such as the box office and marketing crew gathering information from the artistic areas that will contribute to the promotion of the production. All areas merge together when production moves into the venue for production week. Meanwhile, on the artistic side, choreographers work with the dancers in rehearsal, and designers attend rehearsals or view films of the choreography to design lights. It is not until the production moves into the the theater, that all of these areas begin working more fully together with the common goal of staging a successful production.

Front of House

The term front of house refers to the work that happens in front of the stage and is considered a part of the development of the dance production. Ahead of the performance, the front of house team prepares to support the production by generating promotional materials for the production. Promotional materials can include posters, mailings, radio advertisements, local newspaper advertisements, table tents located at local businesses, and electronic blasts. During the performance, however, the front of house efforts focus heavily on the box office and house management. While the box office manages ticket sales, the house manager is responsible for the safety of all audience members.

House Manager

The house manager is responsible for managing the front of house areas including the lobby and theater that the public has access to during performances. The house manager directs the flow of patrons in and out of the house, including attending to their safety and comfort, training and overseeing ushers, and coordinating with the box office manager, concessions, and the stage manager to ensure a seamless audience experience from the door of the lobby to their seats. During the show, house managers make sure that late patrons do not enter the theater during a dance piece and allow them to be seated in between performances. During intermission, the responsibility shifts to the patrons’ safety while occupying the lobby areas and for communication with the stage manager when the front of house is clear for the show’s second act to begin. After the show is over, the house manager is responsible for closing out the box office and working closely with the stage manager to be sure that the entire venue is clear of patrons and backstage occupants.

Box Office

The box office is a necessary piece of the production so that patrons may pay for or pick up their tickets to the show in a timely manner before the production begins. While the box office itself is a space where tickets can be purchased prior to or the day of the production, virtual box offices are now common for organizations, and many allow audience members to use their phones to show their ticket. This allows flexibility for the patrons to purchase tickets ahead of time for a production and helps reduce paper usage. The box office staff knows how many tickets have been sold compared to the number of audience members present before a show, and they can alert the house manager to coordinate a delay in the start of the show for a few minutes to accommodate a large number of late arrivals.

Administration

Administrators in the arts, and specifically dance, are the individuals who work in the front of house, performing the many business functions of a production. Administration is also responsible for supporting the backstage work, such as the creative aspects of making dance, the technical aspects of a production, and the personnel management. Administration is also responsible for collaborating with other front of house areas, such as boards, to engage with and search for sources of funding support that can directly impact the production. Colleges and universities have specific degree programs that allow students to specialize in an arts administration degree, and a program such as that encompasses all of these areas.

Executive Director

The executive director focuses on the business side of the production, and this role crosses both sides of the theater, front of house and backstage. This director focuses on budgets and projections for the production, providing support to the artistic sectors of the production. This person may manage the budget, oversee fundraising, and liaise with the board of directors. While this role could be perceived as a prominent one, it is also considered a supportive role, assisting the artist areas in any way, to allow their artistic vision to become real.

Marketing

Marketing for a dance organization and specifically a production has changed with the development and growth of online resources and technology. Marketing today is directed to all forms of social media. A presence on social media is necessary and crucial for a production’s success. While some organizations make it a priority to fund the artists/dancers, it is also important to consider a full-time position for a social media specialist. This may be perceived as an unnecessary cost, but a position such as this could enliven, grow, and strengthen an organization. A social media specialist will first develop a marketing strategy, making clear what will be implemented to successfully support the organization and its productions. Items that most often are highlighted are the organization’s values and dance training, relatable areas that an outsider could connect with, such as community engagement, a focus on diversity, and global aspects that, again, broaden the dance organization’s reach.

Marketing, in its general terms, can include the filming of rehearsals to then be shared online as a way to keep people interested and motivated prior to the event. Other marketing pieces can include printed materials, such as posters and mailings, electronic blasts, and radio and television commercials. Attention to all of these sectors provides general visibility for the production.

Advisory Councils and Boards of Directors

Some supporters want to give money, while others are in a position to donate services. To keep people involved, holding events, such as garden parties and backstage tours, and attending a rehearsal are often appealing to supporters. Other areas that support the development of dance can include boards of directors and advisory councils. When thinking about these areas of support, it is important to also mention the for-profit and nonprofit options, which have distinct differences between them. For-profit organizations have the primary goal of making a profit from the work that is being done, whereas nonprofit organizations are often community focused and work to secure funding to keep the organization moving forward. The board of directors is a group of people who are elected to a position or role and support the organization’s mission and goals. A board of directors can be found in both for-profit and nonprofit organizations. An advisory council is limited strictly to advising an organization’s board or leaders. This kind of council has no power to make decisions and is often seen as a supportive body to the group or organization. This kind of support for developing a dance organization is often found in nonprofit organizations.