Last Friday, July 27, we enjoyed an evening of “hand-clapping music and side-splitting stories” in Preston County at the Preston Community Arts Center, a space complete with stage, good lighting, and clean restrooms. With no porch in the area large enough to accommodate a crowd, we tried to re-create the relaxed, flexible schedule of the old- fashioned front porch evening, so common in the past in our Appalachian region.
The evening was a success, by everyone’s standards. Our membership chair offered information on the guild and even supplied membership forms. We added to that table several $1 items for sale: homemade cookies and fudge, and bottled water. Guild members wore name badges (all ten of them!), so the public could speak to members.
The music was provided by the New Diesel Trio, a band based in Marion County (next door to Preston) which features American folk/bluesy numbers and encourages singalongs. The stories came from two distinguished liars, James Froemel—a Vandalia Big Liar from Morgantown, and Kate McConnell—a Three Rivers Storytelling Festival Liar from Pittsburgh. Both are WVSG members. Fifteen-minute sets kept the performances fresh and fun, as we alternated music and story throughout the night. We ended with a door prize of boxed stories!
The New Diesel Trio
We sold 90 tickets for the event, each at $10/seat for adults and $5 for kids; we also raised more than $100 from the guild table, despite the fact that the audience could buy specialty drinks in an eatery that joined the Center and shared bathrooms.
The response to the evening was overwhelmingly positive. Some folks came for the blend of music and story; some came primarily to hear the tellers. The journalist came back (we gave her two complimentary tickets) and is writing a new piece which will be published this week. Our tellers both said they enjoyed the evening. One said, “Lots of fun performing for such a full and welcoming audience” and the other wrote, “Your audience was wonderful—attentive and in enjoying the program.” I saw it as a win-win all the way around! The guild was recognized, we were able to promote storytelling through a formal concert, and we even raised some money for the guild!
Because this single event was successful, I thought some pointers might be helpful to others considering a similar event in a different area of the state.
TO BEGIN, CHOOSE A VENUE THAT IS RECOGNIZABLE AS A PERFORMANCE SPACE. Although the Center required a rental fee, we had an anonymous sponsor pay for it. Area residents in a 4-county area are accustomed to attending shows in this space.
DETERMINE THE PROGRAM AND THE PERFORMERS TO MATCH. In our case, we opted for a really good small band that agreed to a percentage of the gate and two stellar storytellers who would share the same type of story but have different styles. Kate’s dog story and Kennywood story proved a perfect counterpoint to James’ tales of his youth.
DECIDE ON ADVERTISING. BE PERSISTENT AND PERSONAL. I designed a poster with the help of Vistaprint and ordered 4 large posters, suitable for big window display. We also created an 8x11 for posting on bulletin boards, in windows and at the post offices. We also got a free lance writer for the biggest local paper on board, and she gave us good coverage in that paper. I wrote up a promo for 3 other county papers, including Garrett County (MD), all because I learned that folks from Deep Creek sometimes came down for musical events. I wrote personal notes to all papers, asking for publicity.
CHOOSE KEY PEOPLE TO HELP SPREAD THE WORD. Because I was working in my own area, I selected people who would enjoy coming to a program such as this and asked them to sell tickets for me. Each received a packet of 10 tickets. This worked well, because some folks wanted their tickets in hand when they arrived. The seats were comfortable folding chairs, so when the doors opened 15 minutes before the start, folks could choose their seats. Only a few seats were reserved (our oldest guild member who attended is 90 and needed to be close to the front!). We sold 55 tickets before that evening, and we had another 16 reserved at the door, guaranteeing us a fair gate to be divided among the performers. (I could then take a sigh of relief!). We sold another 24 tickets at the door.
THIS PROGRAM GAVE US AN INVITATION TO HOLD ANOTHER CONCERT FREE OF CHARGE AT A SECOND LOCATION IN THE COUNTY. I challenged the audience to buy everything from the guild table if they wanted to see another show as a vote of confidence. They did so. The next program already has a location, so we have already fulfilled requirement #1 (see above), as we plan for a fall event near Halloween.
If you have any questions, don’t hesitate to send me a note. I am happy to share what I learned in more detail. Email is firstname.lastname@example.org.