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Archive for February, 2011

The Gratis Factor: 5 Tips for Getting Entertainers to Donate Shows

Posted by Joe M. Turner | on February 23, 2011

Last week I had the opportunity to be part of a wonderful tradition here in Atlanta.

Joe M. Turner with Bert Weiss of "The Bert Show" on Q100 in Atlanta

Joe M. Turner with Bert Weiss of "The Bert Show" on Q100 in Atlanta

Bert Weiss, host of Q100‘s “The Bert Show,” created a foundation (along with his wife Stacey) to help children with chronic or terminal illnesses experience a magical weekend with their families at Walt Disney World. The first trip happened in 2003, and “Bert’s Big Adventure” has been an annual event ever since. One of the most anticipated parts of the Adventure experience is the huge send-off party, staged in a ballroom at a local hotel and featuring a variety of entertainment. “The Bert Show” itself is broadcast live from the event each year. This year, I was asked to be a featured entertainer at the event, performing magic for these families and helping them create magical memories that they’ll have forever.

Entertainers of all kinds and at all levels are approached constantly about donating their services for charitable purposes. Even if we could perform at a different charity event every day, we would only scratch the surface. There are literally more good causes and worthy events in the world than there are days in any performer’s entire career.

How can you get an entertainer to consider donating a show for your cause? Consider some of these keys to unlock the door to a gratis performance.

1. A little respect goes a long way.
No entertainer wants to be thought of as “and we’ll have a magician, too, or a singer, or maybe a clown or something.” Having your professional services requested for free as a disposable afterthought is discouraging. Being treated as a generic commodity who is completely interchangeable with any other performer doesn’t inspire generosity of spirit. When you call a performer, have a reason that you want that particular individual at your event. As Uncle Sam said, “I want YOU!” Demonstrate the same respect that you would show to someone who was considering donating several thousand dollars to your organization, because that is what you are asking some performers to do.

2. Quantify “exposure.”
As the old saying goes, you can die from exposure. Most entertainers are promised untold heights of publicity and exposure for doing charitable events. Then the story appears in the paper or organizational newsletter saying, “… and there was also a wading pool, a petting zoo, a banjo player, and a magician.”

The positive PR that comes from charitable events is a great tool for attracting a variety of companies and individuals to your cause. Don’t promise some nebulous “exposure” – give the facts on how you can really get that person’s or organization’s name out. Will their logo be included on shirts, posters, and programs? Will they be considered a sponsor at a donation level equivalent to the fee they have foregone? Will the organization include their name and web site in all promotion of the event? Will their appearance be promoted on air or on the microphone at the event? Will there be someone on hand to give a real introduction to start their show?

The best way to get a performer to commit to your cause is to specify that they will be included in promotion and publicity of the event, and that you will provide specific introductions and leads to them for future paid engagements. Charitable organizations are always run by people who interact with other donors, both individuals and corporations. Those are potential clients for your entertainer; help them make those connections and you may just wind up with free shows for ALL your events!

3. Be honest about the money that is really being spent.
It is, at best, a faux pas to ask one entertainer to donate performances when other providers of goods or services are being paid; at worst, it is demeaning. Is the venue itself being donated, or are they being paid – even by another donor or a sponsor? Is the food being donated, or was it bought – even at a reduced rate? If you are asking an entertainer to donate his or her services, be ready to explain why his or her livelihood is of less importance to your charity than the providers you are willing to pay for, even if the rate is reduced. There may be a real reason your organization has made that decision, but you should be willing to talk about it honestly instead of trying to hide it from the performer.

4. Help the entertainer deliver the value they have pledged to your organization.
Let’s say your entertainer agrees to donate a performance for your cause, and has arrived on site. Don’t make the mistake of minimizing or undercutting the value of that donation; instead, find ways to maximize the impact they can have on your event.

  • When it’s time for the performance, don’t just send them into a crowd or onto a stage with no build-up. Give them a strong introduction, preferably by the event’s host or the charity’s top official at the event. Give the attendees a sense that what is being contributed is valuable and worth their attention; it will help your event have a greater impact on everyone present.

  • Don’t interrupt a performance to place attention on another person who has arrived simply because he or she is “a celebrity.” Would you interrupt someone who was in the process of signing a check to your organization? The value of the donation is undermined when the presentation is interrupted. If the show needs to be shortened or rescheduled during the event, work it out with the performer before he or she takes the stage. A working performer almost certainly sacrificed more to be there for you than the celebrity did. Please honor that.

5. Know the tax law regarding donations.
Don’t offer to give performers a letter to “write the show off on their taxes.” You cannot legally deduct the value of services you perform for a charitable organization. Instead, work with them before and after the event to provide the testimonials and referrals that will help their business grow and enable them to make more donations in the future.

Bottom line – doing unto others as you’d want them to do for you isn’t just a great way to look at the reasons performers have for donating their services; it’s also a helpful rule of thumb for how to treat them as part of your event. Generosity goes both ways.

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Re: Vital Eyes

Posted by Joe M. Turner | on February 11, 2011

“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burden of it to anyone else.”
— Charles Dickens

Last week I traveled to Delaware to perform at the Dickens Parlour Theatre, a 50-seat venue in the small town of Millville. The theater is the brainchild of Rich Bloch, a brilliant man and performer who I’m proud to call a friend. I performed in the first incarnation of this venue in Atlantic City a few years ago, but the new venue is truly amazing.

Joe M. Turner | Dickens Parlour Theatre

Joe M. Turner performing with two volunteers at the Dickens Parlour Theatre.

The theatre is built in what used to be an old work shed with a raised platform in the back. It has been transformed into an elegant Victorian parlour, with 50 theater seats in elevated rows facing the stage. There is plenty of wing space, a nice backstage area, and excellent lighting and sound capabilities.  It is a delightful, intimate space that is perfect for the performance of magic and mentalism, as the famous writer and amateur conjuror Charles Dickens himself used to do for his friends.

So charming is this wondrous venue that it has attracted some truly excellent performers.  I am honored to have trod the same boards that have recently featured Bloch himself as well as Harry Anderson (of Night Court fame), Bob Sheets (a master comedy magician – more about him later), and many other skilled magicians and mentalists.  Outside the world of magic, the theater has also hosted excellent musical acts and recently featured the off-Broadway hit Zero Hour, written by and starring Jim Brochu, who garnered Helen Hayes and Drama Desk awards for his amazing portrayal of Zero Mostel.

This little theatre, a “hidden gem” according to many writers, was a dilapidated work shed that became the site of truly magical experiences for audiences because Rich Bloch saw beyond what it was to what it could be… and set about realizing that vision and revitalizing that property.  As was recently reported in a cover story in MAGIC Magazine, this is only the beginning – the theatre is soon expanding to include a close-up magic performance gallery and a cafe’ in another building on the property.

“This is a world of action, and not for moping and droning in.”
— Charles Dickens

Dickens Parlour Theatre logoOn Friday night, Bob Sheets came to see my show.  Bob is a skilled close-up magician and comic stand-up magician.  He is also very knowledgeable about the art of theatrical performance; he is a longtime student of famed Broadway performer Bob Fitch, whom I’ve also been privileged to know and get occasional coaching from.  (I remember seeing Fitch as Rooster Hannigan in Annie back in the original Broadway run!)

After my performance, Bob Sheets hung around until the crowd was gone and then joined me onstage.  He shook my hand, congratulated me on the show, and then gave me perhaps the most valuable gift a performer can receive:  honest, constructive feedback from a credible, helpful critic.  Bob saw my performance, complimented me on the things I did well, and helped me see places where I could improve what I was doing.  Some concepts were simple and easy to execute instantly; others will require more work.  But I trusted him to be honest and constructive, and I really appreciated his candid opinions on what I was doing well and what could be improved.

To be clear – Bob emphasized that the show was good, I was good, and I would never have to worry about doing a “bad” show for an audience.  He also complimented the construction of the show and my writing, which he considered excellent.  The question he posed was – how can it get better?  How can every moment get better?  How can everything the audience sees get better?  How can what I say be presented more effectively?  As a performer and communicator, these are crucial elements for me.

Of course, beyond the “knowing” comes the “doing.”  As Dickens said, it is a world of action.

Because Bob was willing to be honest with me, and because I was willing to listen to Bob and take action, he was able to help me work on my performance in much the same way that Rich works on the theater itself.  Bit by bit, day by day, show by show.  Take away what detracts.  Add what is needed to give more impact or a better experience.  Never settle.  And before you know it, you’ve converted a work shed into a theater, or a good performance into a great one.

It takes an outside perspective to evaluate the reality of a performance.  Outside eyes are vital to the performer’s ability to improve; it is nearly impossible to do sufficiently honest self-assessment.

If you want to revitalize what you do, get some “vital eyes” looking at you.  Where are you getting an honest, credible outside perspective on your work?

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