2. Production

2.1 Collaborators
Whether you find a presenter to buy your work or you choose to self-present, there are a multitude of tasks involved in the process of creating a dance piece for the stage. As a choreographer, you are likely to take on a lot of the workload, but you won’t want to do it all alone. Be prepared to give up some control and delegate. After artistic creation, the choreographer’s main role is to direct the entire process as a team leader.

Defining Yourself
For artists involved in their first productions, incorporating as a company is not recommended. It involves paper work and legal protocol, and there are few advantages. It is important, however, to determine and commit to a structure of operations for each particular production. Traditionally, a choreographer is an inspired individual with a strong vision of many, if not all, aspects of the creation. She may be very directive in her relationships with her collaborators, or she may be open to creative input from others.

A collective is an alternative, anti-hierarchical structure. Most collectives form because the artists discover they share an artistic vision and work well together. The choreographers might equally share creation and interpretation of the movement, or they may take turns choreographing and dancing. Mandala Sitù, a collective created by former LADMMI students, commissions works from more established choreographers, dance and share the administrative duties. Other collectives form mainly to share resources, sharing rehearsal space and occasionally presenting work together.

Whichever structure you choose, it is important to understand and own it. Define and honour the rights and responsibilities that titles give you and your team members. Figuring out how you work is an important first step towards organizing yourself.

Roles and Responsibilities
There is no set model for the roles and responsibilities involved in the creation and presentation of a dance piece. Although they can differ with every production, they must be clearly defined each time. The lists below include many possible situations. Obviously, in smaller productions, various players take on several different roles. You and your team have to work out how to divide the tasks. Know which person is wearing which hat, and when.

There are several major aspects to each dance production with various roles falling under each of these. The most important role is the production manager, who oversees and coordinates the entire production. The production manager works in liaison with the choreographer and the technical director organising production meetings, creating the production schedule, negotiating contracts, tending to all aspects of the venue, and managing a project budget and possibly even the bookkeeping.

i. Artistic
• The choreographer is the production’s artistic director; he creates the choreography and chooses collaborators.
• The dancer learns, creates, interprets and performs the work.
• Designers design the set, lighting, props, costumes, sound and video. They conceptualize,
create and communicate the environment of the piece, and direct assistants such as carpenters, costume makers and musicians.
• The rehearsal director regularly attends rehearsals and helps the dancers clarify and perfect their movement; the outside eye givesfeedback on the piece.
• The dramaturge supports the creative process through assisting research and development, possibly helping the audience to interpret and contextualize the work, as well as documenting and archiving it.

ii. Technical
• The technical director oversees all technical aspects of the production. Generally, a theatre has its own technical director, and your production team may or may not need another one.
• The technical crew is in charge of hanging and focusing the lights and speakers.
• The lighting and sound operators operate their respective control boards, cueing lights and sounds during the performance.
• The stage manager works backstage during the show doing everything from ‘calling’ the show to helping with costume changes, set transitions, and general technical assistance.

iii. Promotional
• The photographer takes photos.
• The press agent or publicist is responsible for media relations: soliciting previews and reviews of the show.
• The graphic designer creates the poster, flyer and program, and sometimes the press kit.
• The poster crew must be coordinated to do the distribution of posters and flyers.
• The videographer films the piece.

iv. Administrative
• In a dance company context, the general manager oversees all company operations, writes grants, deals with paperwork and plans, together with the artistic director (usually the choreographer), a strategy for the company’s long-term goals.
• The administrative assistant assists the general manager.
• The accountant or bookkeeper keeps track of expenses and revenues.
• The development agent seeks presenting opportunities for the work.

Finding Your People
It is best to start making contacts while you are still in a pre-professional environment, where keen young experimenters are looking for experience. Look for dancers by taking dance classes or holding an audition. It might be a bit harder to find designers if you don’t have personal contacts but you discover who’s out there by attending dance, experimental music and alternative gallery shows. This will also help you develop an idea of your own aesthetic, and eventually, a vocabulary with which to approach and consult potential designers.

Put up signs on music, theatre, design, film, and/or photography school or department bulletin boards, at dance studios and art galleries. Check the Québec Drama Federation talent bank. Hold auditions and interviews. Ask trusted friends and artist peers to suggest possible collaborators. Don’t just take anyone who shows an interest – you want collaborators who are stimulated by your concepts and who will fly with them without taking over.

The production manager or the choreographer should write contracts for all the collaborators involved in the production: dancers, designers, publicist, technicians, etc. They allow you to clarify the responsibilities for each role and the approximate time needed to fulfill them. When dealing with money, it is best to have everything on the table to avoid unpleasant surprises or bad feelings later on. Creating your own contract is a valuable learning experience.

Be sure to include these bare minimums:
• the names and addresses of the two participants (one requesting the service, i.e.: the choreographer, and the other providing the service, i.e.: a dancer, designer, etc.).
• the service rendered;
• the name of the production and relevant dates (performance, rehearsal, set-up, etc.);
• the monetary transaction: how much, how and when;
• any additional terms or special clauses;
• the dated signatures of each party, in the city of…

Use an existing contract as a model. Many professional Québec dance artists have become members of Union des artistes, which provides them with a model contract (“contrat type” in French). For resources for preparing contracts, consult the CADA Ontario’s Professional Standards for Dance, CADA/BC’s Basic Dance Agreement and the CanDance Network’s Artist Negotiation Tools.

Management Strategies
Be as systematic and organized as possible when managing your production. Managing people is no easy task – it involves maintaining a balance between giving enough direction and giving up control. It is essential to respect the people you work with; be clear with your expectations and with each team member’s artistic freedom. Plan feedback sessions into your schedule or touch base with your team regularly right from the beginning to keep the process on track. Communication and planning are essential and time-consuming. Don’t underestimate the work involved. Leaning on your colleagues and friends in a crisis will work only a few times before their generosity runs out. Burning bridges and overspending aside, the most dire consequence of haphazard management is producing work that does not reflect your artistic talent.

• Give yourself enough time to be organized.
• Remember to delegate, especially in small productions where it’s easy to take on too much.
• Try to anticipate what could go wrong, prepare alternate plans and problem-solving strategies.
• Be realistic about time and money, adapt your methods and materials to your budget.

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2.2 Timeline
Once you have set your performance dates, take out a calendar and start scheduling immediately. Work backwards from the presentation date and include post-production tasks. The schedule will go through many changes, and eventually, you will detail the breakdown of each day in the theatre. A schedule is also helpful for working out a budget. Organize production time into pre-production, production, and post-production tasks.

i. Pre-production
• First steps include locating a venue, choosing a presentation date, finding dancers and collaborators, and working out a preliminary schedule and budget.
• During the creation and rehearsal period, you create and then perfect the piece in studio. Design elements may be constructed elsewhere while you work with fake or ‘working’ props. Consider using with production and design elements as early as possible as they inform the work.

ii. Production
• Prior to your presentation, bring the set and costumes into the theatre. Dancers should spend time on stage to get used to its dimensions and the floor surface.
• A technical set-up time must be scheduled for the technicians to hang the lights on the grid according to the designer’s specifications, put in the proper gels and adjust light angles and focal points. This is called the ‘hang and focus’. They will set up the sound equipment at this time. Depending on the technical specifications of the space, this will take from two to twelve hours or even longer.
• The setting of intensities or levels is when the lighting designer builds the cues (quality, content and timing) for the piece. She usually requires someone (a walker) to be on stage to see how the light looks on a body. The cue-to-cue (Q2Q) is a practice, for the benefit of the running crew (lights and sound), of all the transitions in the piece, and is a chance to make intensity adjustments. Depending how long the piece is and how prepared the lighting designer is, this should take from one to four hours
• The dress rehearsal is a performance of the piece with all of its finished elements. It is done in full costume, in real time, and with full technical elements, but without a real audience. Do on-the-spot troubleshooting and leave time at the end to make necessary adjustments. You can invite a strategic audience to stimulate performance energy. If time and budget allow it, you can even schedule a preview, which will act as a second dress run. Charge a discounted admission, and target school groups or seniors.
• The show begins opening night and ends closing night. The length of the run depends on your budget and the availability of the theatre. Consider whether you prefer a fuller house over a few nights or a thinner audience over a longer run.
• The strike is the session during which the technicians, stage manager, and anyone who can help, take down the set, the lights, and clean out the theatre. Make sure to return borrowed or rented items in their original state.

iii. Post-production
• Make copies of the video recording for your dancers and designers, keeping the original recording for your records.
• Wrap up loose ends. Hold a postpartum meeting with those involved in order to get feedback in all aspects of the production. Close your budget by paying all those who need to be paid and balancing the books. Your funding body may require a project report, and thank-you letters are a good idea if you hope to get support from the same people again.
• A post-production party is essential. It must be rocking; just make sure there is a dance floor.
• In order to archive the piece, set aside a few copies of your poster, flyer and program, and remember to store this documentation properly. Gather all photographs, press clippings, TV spots and radio interviews. Dance Collection Danse has a small, practical guide for archiving: Building Your Legacy: An Archiving Handbook for Dance.

How much time do these steps take? In the pre-production phase this depends on you, your creative process and your budget. Once you get into the theatre, however, technical demands reduce scheduling flexibility.

• Dancers don’t need to be present in the theatre until the cue-to-cue. Although this process can be a bit tedious, it is necessary to be quiet and respectful, particularly towards technicians and designers. There is a saying amongst theatre people: technicians are never thanked when the show goes well, but when the show goes badly, they are the first to be blamed. It would be wise to avoid this faux pas.
• You might want to take advantage of your time in theatre to shoot a good video for future promotional needs such as supporting documentation for grant and residency applications.

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2.3 Money Management
A budget has two elements: income and expenses, and the totals of each of these aught to balance. Budgets go through several drafts, from initial estimate to final budget. Expenses fluctuate depending on your ability to predict expenses and the accuracy of your estimates. Income depends on the number of sponsors you get, whether grants come through and show attendance. You should prepare two budgets from the very beginning – one being a worst-case scenario, the other being the best-case scenario; plan for both.

You can download a sample of the items you will probably want to consider including in your budget here: budget model

Creating a budget takes some research, and involves pricing the various elements that cost money during the life of the project to give you an idea of how much money it will take to avoid a deficit. A realistic and balanced budget is essential for grant applications. Don’t be afraid to ask funders and other dance professionals about the going rates. Include what are called ‘in kind’ amounts – support in a form other than money (ex. studio time, reduced collaborator fee, etc.) to which you can attribute a dollar value. These amounts must appear on both sides of your budget, as expenses but also as income, even if no money is exchanged. Most of the following expenses and revenues apply in most cases; some apply only if you are self-presenting.

Rehearsal studio rentals generally cost between $10-20 per hour. There are ways, however, to get inexpensive or free studio space: using your alumni status at your former school, through a relationship with a company that allows you to use their space when they are on tour, or even by trading work for studio space (cleaning, administration, etc.). Residencies are an increasingly popular service from many studios, theatres and companies, and provide a concentrated block of time for free. This time can be used for creation if in a studio, or for working on technical/lighting concepts if in a theatre. Most places offering residencies require that you submit an application, and they select amongst the applicants.

If self-presenting, the cost of the performance venue varies, to some degree, according to the length of your run. When negotiating the price of the venue, make sure you know what is included in the rental price. Are you taking the full income at the box office or is there a sharing arrangement? Do you have to hire the venue’s technical staff, their box office and front of house staff? What is the over-time rate? Are there handling costs for the tickets? If you accept credit cards as a mode of payment for tickets, do you have a service fee to pay? Are they giving you any advertising in their season program?

With low-budget, first works, it is likely that any fees involved will be symbolic. However, when working with less experienced people you have another form of currency to offer – you are providing them with an opportunity to develop their skills and build a résumé. The going professional rate is $10 to $30 per hour for rehearsals depending on the experience of the dancer, and anywhere from $50 to $200 per performance. Bartering may also be possible if your financial capacity cannot support full professional wages.

To determine your designers’ wages, carefully consider the following questions: who is constructing or operating the designs? Who provides the materials to create these designs? . Some designers may want to negotiate “droit de suite”, a means by which they share in the proceeds of successive sales of the work, after its initial sale. Make sure all details are clearly stipulated in their contracts. In professional theatre, designers generally earn between $500 and $3000, depending on the production.
Small non-union theatres generally pay skilled technicians $12 to $15 per hour. A head technician gets a premium of $2 to $5 per hour on top of this rate. There is a four-hour minimum call on all jobs, and a higher rate for over-time.

The production manager is often paid a flat rate, anywhere from $500 to $5000 per production. A professional press agent can charge between $800 and $3500. A symbolic fee for someone starting out might be $200. Fundraisers and ad-sales people generally work for a commission, anywhere from 10% to 40% of their sales. Be sure to clarify what happens when they secure a service rather than money. Volunteers might be helpful for ushering or selling tickets, when not provided by the venue/presenter.

Promotional Costs
Photography costs should include an honorarium for the photographer and printing costs, and sometimes a fee for the right to use the photographer’s copyrighted material. To save time and money, do it yourself with a digital camera.

Price poster and flyer printing according to your needs and tastes as colour and paper quality can considerably increase the cost. With a good design, you don’t need to spend too much money on extras. In any case, approach your printer with a budget and ask them what they can do for you. The cost of 500 to 2000 flyers will be anywhere from $5 to $800.

Hidden Costs
Account for the unpredictable expenses that pop up in the middle of a production. Take the total of your expenses, multiply it by 0.15 and add this amount to your expenses; it is your 15% contingency or emergency fund. Remember to account for sales tax when budgeting for expenses such as space rentals. Also, many venues require that ticket sales be taxed.

It is never be easy to predict income. Do not count on any grants or private funding until they are confirmed. Always have a plan B. Do not assume a high income from ticket sales. It is standard practice to estimate that 40% of tickets will be sold. Take (# seats) X (# shows) X (ticket price) X (0.40) to calculate this amount. Evaluate your fundraising efforts three weeks prior to opening night. It is unlikely that much more can happen in the period left, so it’s a good idea to adjust your budget accordingly at this time.

To keep track of your spending, you need to do some kind of bookkeeping. Create a payment schedule – evaluate who needs to be paid promptly and who can be paid after the production is over. Keep all receipts and invoices, and clearly label each one with a date and item. Doing the majority of your transactions by cheque facilitates tracking spending, though it can be useful to withdraw some cash for small miscellaneous expenses (petty cash). Periodically transfer this information into a spreadsheet to monitor categories and tabulate subtotals. You can create your own system using the following models: bookkeeping worksheets.

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2.4 Financing
Unless you plan on paying all of your production costs out-of-pocket, it is absolutely essential to raise funds in order to finance your project. There are two sectors to approach for money, the public and the private.

The Public Sector
The ‘public sector’ designates government funding agencies, which require that you write grant applications. As most arts councils do not fund the creation of first works, emerging choreographers are more likely to receive an employment project grant that targets youth and the acquisition of marketable skills. Writing grants helps organize and articulate your goals, and these are essential steps towards creating a good fundraising package with which to approach the private sector.

Public sector funds include national and provincial arts council grants, employment grants, and grants geared specifically for youth. In addition, local national and provincial deputies occasionally offer ad-hoc support. Consult the RQD’s up-to-date list of grants available to artists for more details. To prepare for grant writing, contact the various granting bodies or download the necessary forms and guides from their web sites. Read the text carefully and make sure you gather all the supporting documentation required, such as letters of support from experienced artists, mentors or presenters. Don’t be afraid to call and ask questions. It’s also a good idea to send your résumé and a brief project description in for review early – at least one month before deadline – to get feedback and to confirm your eligibility.

If you fit into their age restrictions, try starting with employment grants as these are easier to get, and the experience will give you a better shot at arts council grants. Meanwhile, it is still important to write arts council grants, both for the practice and to make a statement of need to all levels of government.
Give yourself plenty of time to prepare, plan and write your grant. You may need to do several drafts. If you can get your hands on one, read over a successful grant application, and make sure someone proofreads yours before you finalize and send it off. Many people apply for grants and there is a limited amount of money available, so don’t get too discouraged if you don’t receive a grant you put a lot of blood and sweat into writing. Ask for feedback from the granting agency and take their comments seriously.

Exploit your cultural specificity: if you have German heritage, solicit the Goethe Institute, which has a cultural mandate. Perhaps other countries have similar institutions or envelopes as part of their embassies. The Canada Council for the Arts’ Equity Office focuses on supporting Canadian artists of African, Asian, Middle Eastern, Latin American or mixed racial heritage, and their artistic practices. Aboriginal artists likewise have a department providing specific grants. There is also a possibility of extra money with the IPOLQ program through the Canada Council for the Arts if you are an Anglophone living in Québec or a Francophone out of Québec, so make sure to specify your mother tongue in your grant.

The Private Sector
Private sector funding denotes money, objects or services received from individuals, small businesses or corporations. Whether you are soliciting donations, sponsorships or ad sales, fundraising is essentially a sales job, requiring motivation, focus and persistence. Worship the person who takes on this job for you, if you are so lucky as to find one.

Fundraising activities like throwing bake sales, raffles or benefit concerts are common ways of raising money. Any of these may or may not bring in money, depending on how well they are managed. For a benefit concert, try to secure volunteer performers who draw a big crowd, and do not plan it too close to the actual performance dates. Use these events to advertise your show as well as to raise funds.

When seeking sponsorships, approach businesses that have some connection to your community, a vested interest in dance, or in you personally. Make tangible connections between your work and the private sector. A sponsor gives money or services in exchange for recognition and visibility by having their logo on your promotional material. Sponsors are therefore interested in your marketing plan, which should detail how many flyers will be made, how and when they will be distributed, expected media coverage, etc. Your ‘sponsorship kit’ should explain the event, introduce the choreographer(s), and outline the benefits of becoming a sponsor. Make sure to present a clean, organized image and bring budgets and business proposals when meeting with potential sponsors.

Adapt your sponsorship kit to generate advertising sales in your show’s program. This ‘ad sales kit’ details the dimensions, formats and rates for advertising space. Target businesses whose services you might require, and ask for the services (rather than money) in exchange for advertising space. Advertisers are interested in the size and nature of your audience, and your program.

It takes audacity to approach the private sector – try to stay positive and believe in yourself. Even if you aren’t immediately successful in your search for funds, you are developing relationships with businesses and individuals who may become patrons in the future. Treat sponsors well by inviting them to the opening night and sending them a thank-you letter with the program when the show is over.

Private sector arts grants do exist, though these are hard to come by as the well-known foundations tend to be bombarded with requests every year. If you wish to try your luck with these, the Québec Drama Federation maintains a list of private foundations that might be useful in your funding search.


  • To get financial training and employment advice, check out employment centres such as Youth Employment Services (YES), which give a workshop series for artists.
  • Take a grant-writing workshop offered through Diagramme or the Regroupement québécois de la danse.
  • Keep an updated artistic CV ready for applications that come up suddenly.

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