Comedy and literary open-mic nights often seem like chaotic and impromptu affairs, riding on the magic of the moment. But you’ll find that they require careful organising. Hazel Davies shares some expert tips…
Stick with a plan
Manchester-based poet Dominic Berry ran the now almost legendary Freed Up poetry night, among others in the city. His nights are relatively purist: “Everyone thinks it’s a great idea to mix poetry with other art such as hip-hop, music or comedy but in practice you need a certain kind of atmosphere to really sink into fantastic poetics and I feel mixing it with other stuff just distracts.”
Fill a niche
Dominic says, “Don’t organise something the same as what other folk already have on, be clear about whether it’s a theme night or whether you’re aiming at a certain group of people.” Also crucial, he says, is that you don’t view yourself as a rival: “Put your night on as a complementary addition to the scene.”
Work hard at the marketing
Rosie Kightly-Stoker is from Leeds. Until recently she ran a Sunday-night comedy night in the city. She says it can be quite stressful to keep on top of paid acts and “bums on seats”: “We had fabulous acts but sometimes they were wasted on people not knowing enough about the place. Getting interest in a new night involves a lot of time, effort and perseverance.”
Use social network sites to promote your night but also ask performers and audience members where they heard about it – and listen to them. Register your night on as many listings sites as possible: on websites such as www.findanopenmic.com and local what’s on guides.
Appreciate your acts
Depending on whether you’re running a literary, comedy night or a cabaret night, you’ll need to decide what or whether to pay your acts. Dominic splits the door money equally between the guests and host: “I feel strongly artists should be given something, even if its just £20. It’s basic respect. If a guest artist is visiting from afar I'll usually put them up and, if they want, cook them a meal.” Also, introduce your acts properly or pay for a professional compere – don’t just usher them on stage wordlessly.
Know your market
Find out what people are willing to pay. Dominic’s nights never cost more than £5, however, he says, “I’m not a fan of free nights as it’s not fair on the organisers or guest performers.” And don’t worry too much about numbers. Says Dominic, “We’re not trying to fill stadiums. Anything between a dozen and 100 people is sound as a pound and you just adapt to whoever's there. There is always a good, community crowd at good quality events.”
Use your contacts wisely
Contacts help. Rosie says, “from volunteering at the local cinema I did a deal where each ticket gave the holder a discount to an event there. We also had a raffle that each person was automatically placed into which meant they got a goodie bag and a free ticket for the week after.”
At Dominic’s nights nobody gets more than a few minutes (unless they are a booked guest artist), “so you get plenty of variety and lots of surprises!” Decide what works for your night and your audience, and be clear on how long each performer can have.
Don’t expect riches
It’s certainly not something you do to make money. Rosie says, “I really do enjoy meeting the acts and seeing the product of hard work pay off but it’s a lot of hard work for no money, though I find it does wonders for my creativity…”
One last thing...
Avoid technical disasters by setting up and testing your equipment well in advance. Job done!
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Image: Words Per Minute by TheArches, available under a CC BY 2.0 license.