After having a conversation with a fellow rennie this weekend; I wanted to talk about the concept of entertainment at events in terms of compensation and the value of an entertainer when it comes to events. So far I have found two general reasons for entertainers to be booked at comic book conventions and events such as ren faires.
#1 Entertainment exists to keep people at the event longer than they might otherwise stay.
#2 Entertainment exists to pull people into events who otherwise might not go.
Now we can further break this down into two distinct categories of revenue; the idea of pulling people into an event is the idea of increasing attendance to the event and having larger ticket sales. While keeping people at an event is an attempt to increase the chances of them purchasing something that they might not otherwise actually purchase. Lets discuss these differences from the perspective of both the entertainment and from the event orgs/runners/promoters
Now for the event orgs/promoters/runners reading this; this breaks down into the question of where your profit comes from in the short haul and long haul terms. It’s a thinly veiled secret that comic-book conventions, ren faires, and similar events are very well themed and organized flea markets. Ticket sales mean absolutely nothing if foot traffic at an event is not consistent. For those who are not in on the profit margins; it is normally understood that the ticket sales for a faire or event cover what is considered the operating cost at the event. Any profit margins (that is to say money that the event actually makes) are usually made from the vending end of things.
Likewise of course if you can’t attract patrons to your event; venders don’t matter. But that’s a different sort of question; what we are discussing in that case is the use of social media and the entertainers fan base as a form of advertisement to an event. But the dialogue here is that poor vending (high turnaround ratio on vending) means that an events ability to be sustainable over the long haul (reinvesting profits as well as making up for lean years) is compromised. Additionally, there are plenty of events/cons/ and ren faires in which high ticket sales occurred but there was not enough entertainment and vending to keep people there , creating severe problems for the following year for these events. To that end then I can’t perceive the idea of exclusively hiring entertainment based on fan base to be a good one.
So entertainment at events is required in some balanced capacity or form regardless; or rather we can use another word.
Content is material that fills up necessary time at events and is designed to keep patrons engaged with the event; so a charity ball, variety performance, and “street bits” could all considered to be content. Within the confines of conventions content can be seen in voice actor panels, artist discussion groups, and cosplay lessons. But I need to discuss this from the perspective of entertainment as well.
Now for the entertainers/content generators, first not all content is equal and therefore not all compensation is equal. We have already established that events run on two criteria when judging entertainment/content. The first is one’s ability to entertain (or to distract) patrons while the second is the ability to bring people into an event. I want to discuss the latter here because in the grand scope of things this is one that is in a way trickier from the entertainer’s perspective.
First, the fact is that there is no implicit relation between one’s ability to entertain versus ones social media following. A correlational component can be suggested but not a causational (meaning there is a chance that if you are a good entertainer you will have a good social media following but it is not guaranteed). There are a number of factors that goes into this discussion.
~social media ~available equipment ~available content ~societal standards of beauty~
And to be honest most of these factors requires a sort of investment in resources. Proper SEO, social media presence, website (and hosting), scheduled photography are not cheap; a videographer who is editing and recording by itself can be extremely expensive. In the grand scheme of things you can easily spend thousands of dollars alone on the necessary equipment, booking agents, classes, etc. And on top of everything here; most event promoters have not kept up with the changes in social media that now require events/individuals to pay a premium for the same level of promotion and advertisement they used to get for free.
So, to be honest, when an event says or suggests that they are interested only in compensating entertainers with an established fan base who will bring people in it roughly translates into the following statement:
“We are only interested in hiring someone; that either has already spent thousands of dollars or someone else has spent thousands of dollars selling to the public”
So to entertainers who desire compensation while this is not the heart of the argument that is being used; this is the logical conclusion of said argumentative process. That means; that this argument needs to be waged from a completely different direction.
These conditions create several problems that I want to talk about
#1 Entertainer Burn Out= Due to various conditions; entertainers are not able to support themselves and their art and eventually wind up leaving the various performance communities that they are a part of due to financial reasons.
#2 The Problem of Compensation= How do we compensate entertainers in such a way that we reward them for their time.
#3 Entertainers As Pulling People In Vrs. Entertainers As Keeping people there
Before I begin the wrap all of this into a ball; I want to say two things. Events are an investment; there is no guarantee of success no matter what you do. Secondly the ball is not in my court on this; I have the ability to argue and discuss but I don’t have the ability to make the decisions that will have an impact on this one. I am sorry orgs/promoters/runners; but the ball is entirely in your court on this one as ultimately the resources, money, and choices run through you.
Argument: Create the climate in which good entertainment can thrive.
#1 I feel fairly certain that I have provided the underlying argument for why paying entertainment at an event for their ability to keep people present is a fairly good one. But to wrap it up; if you wish to keep venders happy you must keep patrons not only coming through the door but wondering around, enjoying themselves, and taking their time.
Removing frustration and annoyance from patrons will go a long way to keeping money flowing into venders and back into the event. That is where entertainment comes in. Quality paid entertainment is necessary for long term feasibility at events.
#2 While it is relatively easy to look at performers as a means to an end, there are a limited supply of us in a given region. Offhand within two hours I have five jugglers (and troupes) who I am competing with for bookings and gigs. As the needs become more specific the amount becomes smaller and smaller. If we limit it to jugglers with a ren faire appropriate show all of a sudden I become one of two (three depending on time of year) in the same range. If you want a juggler who does cigar boxes there is only me.
If you as an event org decide to take the methodology of “free bookings” that will turn into a continual relationship which is actuality a consistent stream of booking new performers every year you are essentially going to start “burning” through entertainment faster than it can created or require you to reach further out to people who will be required to spend even more money to get your location. This is ultimately an untenable situation as many event organizers have discovered.
#3 Create an event where people want to be there for the experience of the event rather than the specifics of the event . By defining entertainers by their ability to bring people to the door rather than by the quality of their entertainment you can end up limiting the people who want to come to your event . Free entertainment is the counter to the idea of “con stress” or events that require payment for everything. There will be people who simply do not want to come because they can’t buy anything. Having on site entertainment allows people with a little bit of cash to have a good time, spread the word about said good time, and maybe buy a small 10-20 $ article or two.
If we were to look at the finances of it; if we were to look at a fairly average entertainment act they might charge anything between 250-900 per day for their services . With ticket sales at anywhere between 30-60$ for an event six-eighteen people per entertainer choosing to come because of the availability of free entertainment just paid for itself. Bear in mind of course this is an average for a single person; when we get into troupe performances, large scale touring productions, and the concept of headlining acts (remember the rough translation) these sort of numbers don’t really apply any more.
I feel that between all of these arguments; they suggest that creating a sustainable entertainment culture is vital to the industries that depend on entertainment.
#4 Compensation is dependant on the skill of the performer. Create a culture that allows good entertainers to flourish and rewards them accordingly.
One of the limitations for entertainers and performers is in terms of the difference between having a fan base and having a good show. A lot of the time question boils down to cost.
Compensation doesn’t have to be strictly limited to cash.
The Philadelphia Juggling Club doesn’t compensate in cash for the performers who help with their conventions show rather they give them professionally shot and edited footage of their performance. That same cost could easily reach 500-600$.
The New Jersey And Pennsylvania Ren Faire (among others) provides improve lessons for their unscripted casts. The cost for comedy lessons is normally approximately 400$.
The Philadelphia Ren Faire has helped provide a number of unscripted cast members with Character Head Shots. This can between 150-450.
Theater communities provide fringe festivals which allow performers to rent theaters for productions at a fraction of the cost. Instead of paying 1000-3000 you are being gifted with a rental at 500$.
These are orgs who are using their available resources to help performers get noticed, get good, and get the experience necessary in such a way that they minimize expenses but maximize the effect.
Many of these things are options that are available to conventions and similar events; such as professional photographers and videographers; amongst other chances. Can’t afford to put a performer up in a hotel at 125$ a night. Get a air bnb for three-six performers. Instead of saying no and thinking in terms of assets; think about it in as investments and try to think outside of the box. Give them the chance to turn into a performer worth 900$ a day.