After 2020’s virtual end-of-year performances, studio owner Chasta Hamilton decided to go big with her recital plans this year. The result: A three-day event run like an outdoor music festival, complete with 14 shows, plus concessions and festivities.
On the heels of a tumultuous pandemic year, studio owner Chasta Hamilton was eager to bring back Stage Door Dance Productions’ recital with fun, flourish and flair.
“Last year we filmed our recital and really missed the interactive component,” she says. “This year’s is a performance and a bit of a party.”
Last weekend, her Raleigh, North Carolina–based studio hosted a three-day Recitalpalooza, styled like an outdoor music festival, at the open-air pavilion of a local Jewish community center. Here’s what it took to put together the event.
A New Venue
With roughly 450 students ages 2 to 18 anxiously anticipating an opportunity to perform again, Hamilton knew indoor restrictions would make it a challenge to host a traditional recital. When she caught wind of the Raleigh-Cary Jewish Community Center’s newly updated open-air sports pavilion, she knew she was onto a solution.
“As we were trying to figure out how to make the performances work, this seemed like a great option,” she says. “It’s such a new structure that it would require intense thunderstorms or hurricane-level winds for weather to be an issue.” The pavilion houses two full-sized multipurpose sports courts and has bathrooms and cooling fans. The dancers performed on a built-out stage assembled on the court.
To fit the venue’s capacity limit of 225, Recitalpalooza featured 14 mini performances—each roughly 30 to 45 minutes—over the course of the three days. Audience members came and went in 225-person capsules, with staff and volunteers greeting them at the Welcome Center station, from which they moved to their seats and eventually to the exit (where they could enjoy fun festival swag and concessions). Families brought picnic blankets and chairs to sit on during their assigned performances and were able to remove their masks while seated.
Covering the Costs
Instead of tickets, Hamilton chose wristbands for recital entry, in keeping with the festival theme. The studio’s $65 recital fee per family covered four spectator passes to the event, professional videography and a livestream of the shows, and swag for participating dancers. Hamilton limited wristband sales to just families of dancers to keep numbers compliant with venue guidelines. (Friends and family unable to acquire wristbands could enjoy a free livestream on the studio’s YouTube channel.)
As Hamilton and her staff were creating the recital budget this year, they prioritized the experience rather than profit. “Our thinking was ‘Let’s give everyone a really great experience so that we can reengage those clients,’” she says. Last year, Stage Door Dance Productions had a film shoot in the studio’s parking lot, with no audience and no additional charge for the experience. Given the circumstances at the time, Hamilton was fine with that, but she wanted to at least break even this year. “Our budget, not including costumes, is in the $18–$22K range,” says Hamilton. “It could have cost so much more than that, but we DIY-ed many things,” including the stage backdrop, changing and holding zones, the balloon arch and the swag zone. The recital fees from families covered the entire cost of the event, minus costumes. (This year, as in the past, families purchased costumes to keep after the performance.)
Hands down, the greatest expense was the venue rental itself, coming in at about $10,000 for the three days. In addition to use of the facility, Stage Door Dance Productions was required to hire four to five venue staff members, including an event manager, facilities crew and security. The portable stage rental and videographer tacked on another $3,000. Other costs included the studio’s staff, purchasing tents, the color-coded wristbands, decorations, festival activities and merchandise. Stage Door Dance Productions’ 18 staff members rotated out over the course of the weekend, and Hamilton engaged roughly 20 parent and teen volunteers to help as well.
Because they needed to keep audiences capped at 225, Hamilton chose not to market the event this year, instead ramping up her communication with families about the new recital format. “Anytime you do something new, you can’t communicate what’s happening enough,” she says. In addition to a detailed recital-info page on the studio’s website and frequent emails to families, Hamilton hosted video tutorials for staff and parents in anticipation of the event.
Though promoting the event didn’t make sense this year, Hamilton is excited to develop new marketing materials from Recitalpalooza as part of a long-term strategy for client retention and engaging new families. On top of filming the event, the videographer will package some documentary-style videos for Stage Door Dance Productions’ social media pages and website.
A Learning Experience
Because there were so many moving pieces between the 14 short shows, Hamilton and staff had to be even more organized this year than ever. But Hamilton knows that her dancers and families saw and appreciated the extra effort. “The most important thing to me was to make sure that the families knew we were going to have something this year,” says Hamilton. “We want to end on a high note. We are looking past the event and into the future of the studio.”