Did you ever get so engrossed in a project that you didn’t want to stop working on it?
People were calling you for dinner . . .
The kids needed your attention . . .
It was time to go to work . . .
. . . and it felt absolutely torturous to remove yourself from what you were doing.
Here’s my question . . .
Whether it was family history, a favorite car, a musical instrument, a specific artist, or even something as random as collectible brass picture buttons from the Victorian era, could you put a performance piece together surrounding your area of interest?
Think about it.
There are organizations out there whose missions involve educating and inspiring the public about (fill in the blank with whatever your project was).
Most of these groups have not-for-profit status, meaning they can write grants to fund special projects and public programs.
Do you see where this is going?
There’s probably funding to hire you for performances. Multiple times, in multiple venues.
A Case Study: Button Mania
Let’s take the brass buttons example from above, because I think it will be harder than most (and, I know absolutely nothing about it).
Now, I’m NOT suggesting that you put a performance together about Victorian buttons unless buttons are your thing, so you’ll want to be thinking about how this would work for your area(s) of interest.
If You Were Into Victorian Brass Picture Buttons, You Would Know…
….and I just learned from Collectors Weekly that:
“These charming discs were stamped with images taken from everything from operas to children’s books. In fact, if you wanted to tell the world you were a fan of a work of literature, you’d sew buttons featuring scenes from the novel or story on your coat or shirt. Other picture buttons took their cues from nature (flora and fauna), the sciences (stars and moons), or mythology (cupids and fairies).”
So let’s say you’ve spent countless hours researching these buttons – you know where they were made, by whom, and where the brass came from, and you’ve uncovered some great stories about who wore them, when, and why.
Those stories you turned up about how people used the buttons are going to be the heart of your performance.
Write some songs, put a theater piece together, research the (insert your artform) that was popular at that time in that place, and put it together with the stories.
Create something new using this material you’ve found.
Who Will Care?
Lots of people. Read on…
A quick internet search just turned up an organization called the National Button Society. Just by exploring this very first search result on the very first page of Google, I discovered a trove of possibilities for work:
The National Button Society Conference – they have an annual conference, which would be a perfect place to perform your new concert, theater piece, story cycle, magic act, juggling show, or whatever.
The website also lists dozens of regional and international button societies. Each of these groups has their own annual event, and several are also engaged in the work of educating the public about button collecting. How better to do that than through live performance?
Here’s where things really expand exponentially. Who else is going to be interested in your Victorian button performance, other than button people? Well, people interested in Victorian times, for one. The general public. Seniors. Historians. Students learning about Victorian history. Teachers. NPR!?
You’ve got a really cool angle now, and the material is yours – you dug it up and put it together in this way.
I know, this button example is a bit abstract…
I don’t do shows about buttons.
For me, it’s always been about American and New York State history and heritage, digging up cool forgotten music that tells stories of these earlier times and gives us some feel for how people lived.
But if it could conceivably work for buttons, it could almost certainly work for something you’re passionate about.
Let’s Brainstorm Some Ideas!
There’s a “Comments” section below. What do you think?
About The Blog
Since leaving a white-collar marketing job in 1992, Dave Ruch has been educating and entertaining full-time in schools, historical societies and museums, folk music and concert venues, libraries, and online via distance learning programs.
Along the way, he’s learned a great deal about supporting a family of four as a musician.
The Educate and Entertain blog provides articles, tips, encouragements, and how-to’s for regional performers (in any region) interested in making a great full-time living in the arts.
Hi Dave, My name is Todd. I have been working on a show for some time. It is aimed at 3rd to 8th grade or so. I tried it out on a summer camp. It was a great learning experience for me. I wasn’t really happy with it but the kids loved it. I’m certified to teach humane education through The Academy of Pro-Social Learning. I use games to teach about each word Respect, Encouragement, Compassion, and Kindness. The highlight or center of the show is a highly trained dog that has been specifically trained for the show. Using specific behaviors, he appears (tricks) to know math, his colors, and he is able to pick a person out by knowing their name. Along with many other tricks.
I haven’t been too aggressive at getting gigs or marketing because I don’t know where to begin. Do I call schools up, assembly show promoters? I still need that first and second gig to get some marketing material. My wife and I just bought a large RV and I’m willing to travel. I just can’t get my foot in the door. Any advice would be Great. Thank You for your time. Todd
Hi Todd – I think you will find a wealth of articles on this blog to help you with your exact question, starting with How to Get Gigs in Schools
I love your ideas!
Awesome example Dave…whodda thought there would be that much interest in buttons? Guess ya never know lol
Dave, There’s a perfect story for your button obsession example. The Queen’s Museum, by Frank Stockton. It’s about everybody having their own unique focused interest and Buttons play a major role. You can find it online for free here. https://www.gutenberg.org/files/12067/12067-h/12067-h.htm#chapter4
Hm, intriguing! I’m crazy about herbs, herbal medicine and herbal lore. I could put together a show around Scottish herbalism, with Scottish music (I play Celtic harp) and folklore. I’m sure there are Outlander fan clubs, and of course there are any number of Scottish clans that gather in America, I could also perform for herbal conferences — and teach classes there too. If I include magic in the show (fairy lore related to plants, mythic tales, plant magic) then I could possibly widen my audience to fantasy/myth-related venues. Also, anything related to historical reconstruction (esp. if I choose a time period — say, the Outlander time period). Scotland is not Ireland, but I imagine I could promote a show like that to coincide with St. Patrick’s Day. In that case, I might slant the lore in common, swap some tunes and tales, but I imagine I could structure an Irish show in a similar way. Then there are arboretums and botanical gardens, and their events … I could also be sure to slant the offerings to families and kids …. Thanks for this post, and for getting me imagining!
Sounds like a great plan Jane. Keep us posted!
This idea is really interesting and I do think it could work if you know how to do it. I’m not sure how I could do it… I mean, the thing I’m passionate about is the Beatles, so I guess I could do a tribute concert covering their songs and such, along with originals of mine to show how they inspired mine? Actually, that’s not a bad idea at all….
Sure, or how about packaging Beatles songs around themes, like “The Beatles on Love,” “The Beatles on Relationships,” “The Beatles on Submarines of Various Colors,” etc.
(OK, not that last one…)
Do research at your local museum or university or public library for ideas. An obscure artifact, book or article can give ideas for songs, stories, music, or presentations. The public historical archives or online archives are my favourite place to find material. “So much scope for the imagination” as Anne Shirley would say.
Very good Dave, I love the way something so abstract can lead to interesting story programmes. I do projects like this myself. One I did recently was with a museum of eastern Art in Dublin, Ireland. They had a fragment of the Egyptian Book of The Dead and I put together a show of songs about the journey to the afterlife. They were all songs I was singing all along so all I had to do was research the museum artefact and write some concert notes which told a good story. The name of the show stood out and got a lot of press -all down to creative titeling. It’s like you always say about specialising and making your music a fit to their needs.
Those are really great points Lorcan. Lots of the material may already be under our belts, and we just need to “package” it around a theme with some engaging stories and context. And yes, the title of the program is critical. Cheers!
Hi Dave, thanks for gettin’ the creative idea juices flowin’ again! I’ve had some success with a Prov. and Fed. Parks tour model (Lake Superior Region of Ontario) where I had a “captive” audience (campers!) that wanted something to do before hittin’ the tent for bed! I only had to make one digital poster and the park rangers plastered it all over campgrounds and at some of the parks i performed at rangers went around telling everyone in person to come out to the evening’s performance! Where this ties in to your article: I arranged a few Canadian Traditional tunes (Fish of the Sea, Brave Wolfe and etc.) to be sprinkled in with my own orig. music classical guitar music (some of which was also inspired by Canada: ‘Along French River’) set and this was what gave me my ‘in’ to the parks – Canadian content! I hope this is useful! -Tod
Great idea Tod! Thanks for sharing.
My passion is promoting Caribbean Food. At the moment most people’s perceptions of Caribbean Food is that it’s Brow Chicken and Rice and Peas, or Fried Fish with plantain and rice and peas or Curry Goat with Rice and Peas and so on.
Nothing wrong with good homely cooking and I love it but most people are not going to go out to a restaurant that serves basic fare.
What people don’t realise that there is such a thing as Gourmet Caribbean Cooking but few Caribbean cater for this in the UK.
People often say “Lets go out for a Chinese/Indian/Thai/Italian/French and so on but how many people say “Lets go out for a Caribbean?|
So how to convert this passion into some sort of gig? Well every year at my local church hall there is a Caribbean Evening which I cook and help out for. At this evening we have a buffet food and also a steel band plus some other singers when we can get them.
We feature a specific Caribbean Island every year. One year we had Cuban and people were surprised at the variety eg Cubans eat more than pork lol!
The hall is decorated in a Caribbean theme and the tickets always sell out (100 max).
However that’s only once a year and the customers are loyal return customers.
So how to market extra events such as the above?
1. Contact Caribbean High Commissions/Embassies
2. Contact cultural friendship groups. These groups’ names usually start with Anglo…… Society etc eg Anglo Spanish Society or Friends of……
3. Inform relevant local newspapers – they are usually starved of fresh local news. (How many times can you write about Aunt Matilda’s cat stuck up the tree?) Could also get free advertising as a result.
4. Get sponsorship from local Caribbean food retail outlets
5. Hire relevant bands but care needs to be taken that not too much of the budget goes in those costs. Bands should note they are getting exposure in addition to their fees an if they handle that well they should make a little extra money. Also make sure bands promote the event – maybe give them a share of the door as an incentive.
6. Have tables for hire for people wishing to sell food but not food that competes with the buffet eg sell coconut tarts, coconut sugar cake, rum truffles and so on. Also tables selling Caribbean crafts. We have every year a Grenada Heritage Day which has stalls selling Caribbean food, drink, arts and crafts and Caribbean fruits and vegetables.
7. Have someone demonstrating how to cook Caribbean food.
8, Have an exhibition telling the history of Caribbean food and produce. How chocolate is made, how nutmeg is grown, harvested and so on. Make it a hands on exhibition.
9. Ask bands if they have Caribbean food themed songs. I did a quick search and came up with this URL.
Well the above is a start 🙂
I love the idea of themed meals with matching music!!!
Thanks a very concise look at the way I work. I love historical storytelling and spend considerable time digging up the stories of the past. I do market these specialty gigs, but not as well as I should – Thanks for the reboot!
Thanks for chiming in here Carolyn. There are lots of articles here on the blog about marketing our performances to libraries, schools, community events, arts centers. etc. Hope you find some useful ideas.
I love this idea!!!!!!!
So glad to hear that Leslie! Let us know what you come up with…
Tis true. I have been doing themed shows in Australia around both Judas Iscariot and Tasmanian history. It has meant I can get booked twice for the one festival, or visit the same venue sooner than I otherwise would have done with a standard “one hour set” kinda show.
Daniel – great to hear from Australia. Excellent points regarding repeat bookings – I’ve seen the same thing here in the US.
Dave- I just discovered your blog a few weeks ago through the Storytell listserv. Thanks for some exciting, thought provoking ideas. I have only just started reading your articles and it is already giving me new ideas and directions. Thanks for sharing your insights. This one about creating work from an interest or passion was great. I am working on a story right now here in Iowa that has New York connections. It is about Bill Johnson, the hero of the Patriot War and his daughter Kate, Queen of the Thousand Islands. Thanks for the inspiration.
Darrin – I’d love to hear more. When you get the story into shape, I hope to hear it. Glad the articles have been useful!
Great post Dave! You seem to be a big advocate when it comes to educational/theme shows. This is something that I’ve only dabbled in. I need to seriously look into this. Another way to discover new gig possibilities is to be on the lookout for new “trends” taking place in your community. Here’s an example: Just by reading the local newspaper, I’m finding that some towns are sponsoring a thing called “touch a truck” where children are invited to fire houses and first aid facilities to look at and play on all the equipment. A nearby town had one recently. They served refreshments and also had a magic show. They are certainly going on my hit list. Next year, they will hopefully have Bill the Juggler! After doing research on google, I’m sure I’ll find more of these events taking place. I also work a lot of outdoor festivals. Another new gig opportunity that I’m exploring are food truck events. These are starting to become popular in my area as well. I noticed a few of them featured musicians, so this might be worth looking into for musical talents.
Hi Bill – thanks for checking in here and adding some value to this post. I think it’s exactly that kind of entrepreneurial approach that keeps some artists ahead of the curve, so to speak.