Posted by: Del Suggs – Saltwatermusic.com
Has this ever happened to you: You’re at the APCA conference, watching this incredible
duo showcase. You get so excited, and you want to book them– but you can’t figure out
how to present them on your campus. You think– Sure, they are great in the showcase,
but you don’t have a theater on your campus.
Or how about this: you love all the showcasing acts, but you can only afford the least
expensive performers. Where would you put a solo, duo or trio on your campus– when
students only turn out to hear big bands?
Whether you can only afford small acts, or you happen to find a small act you love, you’re
actually very fortunate. Some big acts– concert bands or illusionists, for example– can
only perform in a traditional theater setting. Smaller acts, on the other hand, can truly be
presented almost any where on your campus. Let’s consider some alternate uses for
smaller, easily produced acts.
There can be any number of reasons to invite a performer to campus– as part of an
ongoing entertainment series, for a special event, as a complement to a traditional event
(homecoming or spring weekend). Maybe a performer offers a program that ties in with a
national awareness week, or would be an appropriate addition to a community event.
The entertainment can be culturally enriching, or have an educational slant, or simply be
entertainment for entertainment’s sake –something that can be overlooked on campuses.
College and university life can be very demanding, with academic deadlines, work
schedules, cocurricular and civic obligations. Entertainment can be the way you spell
"relief." A performance that allows or encourages people to set aside the details of their
day-to-day responsibilities for a little while and relax, sing, laugh, dance or simply reflect
on the talent and beauty that an artist might share accomplishes a great deal. People leave
an event refreshed, rejuvenated and ready to go again. They’ll be looking forward to the
next show whether it’s a week, two weeks or a month later.
Ordinarily a program– whether it’s a concert, coffeehouse house show, comedian,
performing arts– features the "performance." People are there for the performance, as
opposed to putting the performer in a situation where a group has gathered for another
purpose. The show might take place on a concert stage with theater seating, a function
room in the campus center, or possibly a residence hall lobby. Regardless of the facility,
there would be a defined stage area, appropriate lighting and sound, and, most
importantly, the seating in the room would be arranged to focus everyone’s attention on
Consider bringing in a second act as an opener. This opening act slot is a prime
opportunity for using a smaller act. Don’t be afraid to mix and match here. You could have
a male duo open for a female comic, or have a storyteller open for a mime and offset the
physical presentation with the spoken word. While we’re on the subject of openers, if
you’re doing a major concert with nationally recognized talent, you should consider using
a campus favorite as opener.
Small, easily produced acts also fit easily into larger special and/or traditional events. For
example, a "welcome back" barbecue might be the perfect situation for that trio you saw
showcasing but couldn’t figure out how to fit into your schedule or your three-hundred
seat auditorium. A solo acoustic performer is a nice addition to an activities fair– loud
enough to entertain and draw people to the event but not so loud that representatives of
clubs and organizations can’t tell you who they are.
Half- time entertainment at a football game is expected. A flat bed truck with a sound
system and a small act driven out to the fifty yard line is a bit out of the ordinary. Plug it in
and do a twenty-minute set, unplug it and drive away. It can and has been done! You
might try clowns or some form of broad, physical comedy at center court for a basketball
Small acts can add sparkle and draw attention to events that might otherwise be fairly
mundane. Perhaps an organization on campus wants to make and sell tie-dye t-shirts to
raise money to sponsor a thanksgiving dinner for local needy families. Have a couple of
tie-dyeing booths on site and let anyone donate a dollar and dye a shirt. Announce that the
shirts will be auctioned at a comedy show the following week. Invite a representative of a
local human services organization to speak on campus, during the auction and/or as a
separate event. Have the M.C. or one of the comedians be the auctioneer. The day of the
dinner you might have a caricature artist , roving artists doing balloon animals, face
painting, sleight of hand, etc. Turn it into a party. A string quartet or classical guitarist at
dinner can provide just the right ambiance.
Easily produced acts can be especially helpful in attracting people to another event or
entertaining a group gathered for a purpose other than the performance. If your campus
elections are typically a low turnout affair, a performer at or near the polls entertaining and
constantly reminding passers-by to vote might be just the thing. Same for voter
registration drive, etc.
Where people are likely to be waiting in line (for what might seem like years) some music,
comedy, or maybe a caricature artist would be appreciated. Does registration or drop/add
ring a bell? You might even approach the registrar’s office to see if they’d like to
cosponsor with you! Do students wait in line to sell back used books to the bookstore?
How about your college blood drive? What could be better than having a laid-back
musical act play while students are waiting and giving blood. It helps them relax, and
takes their mind off the issues at hand.
Music works for any kind of waiting. If you bring in a popular novelty, such as wax
hands, candlemaking, or caricature artist, remember it takes time do complete those
things. Stage a musical act near the novelty, and your students will be entertained while
they are waiting to be drawn or waxed. You’ll have fewer complaints about the lines, and
fewer students will walk away without participating.
Many artists’ performances involve issues larger than the hour or two on stage, such as a
musical performance that focuses on women’s issues, or the history of the underground
railroad, or a dramatic presentation on native American culture. These artists often offer
seminars, lectures and residencies in addition to their performances. Get these performers
into the classroom, too.
Keep in mind that any act you bring to campus for a program may be of special interest to
different groups and make an effort to target them. For example, the psychology
department might even recommend that students attend a performance by the hypnotist or
mentalist that you’ve contracted for homecoming. Perhaps the theater department might
offer technical support for the mime you are featuring on Parents’ weekend. Take
advantage of every opportunity to invite and involve as many different segments of your
college community in your programs as you can.
Instead of bringing in one solo artist a week, you might offer a “singer/songwriter night”
featuring three or four in a round- robin performance with a songwriting seminar
following. How about a show featuring student talent using a professional comedian as the
emcee– just like an APCA showcase!
You’ll find that professional performers active in the college market are usually willing and
able to adapt to your performance situations. If you’re considering using an act in a unique
situation be sure to discuss everything in detail well in advance– if a cellist is expecting to
perform in a concert hall, but arrives on campus to find out that you decided it’d be cool to
set her on a small stage at the bottom of an empty swimming pool to draw attention to
water quality issues there could be a few tense moments! Don’t forget that touring
performers have experience with lots of different situations. We can very often help with
organizing your event, and making it a success.