Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and attended to with diligence.
— Abigail Adams
Craving some more stage combat? Some fighting and community?
Plan a workshop!
Few of us are lucky enough to have a community close-by, so you may find yourself in the position of creating your own training opportunities. It takes some organization and a bit of research, but start small (one or two days) and go from there. Here are some tips* to help you get going.
First, consider what kind of workshop you want. A specific weapon to work techniques? Get some challenging choreography that you’ll rock by the end of the workshop? An acting approach to work the moments before, the acting within the fight, playing the injuries, the post-fight (death and/or consequences)? Do you want to make this an opportunity to work with an artistic director (create connections and maybe work opportunities in the future), or bring in a favourite fight director? Your choice may be affected by the space available to you. If there are only small studios available on the dates you’re looking at then perhaps acting, unarmed, knife or domestic violence are the best options available to you. Decent floor space, but no ceiling height? Rapier or smallsword might be in order. Still seem like there’s too many choices? Take a look at your favourite shows or movies, look at what’s being done at your local theatres, or choose a historical or cultural site in your hometown and build a workshop themed on that. You have the opportunity to create an exciting learning environment for yourself, plus your choice will change who you’re marketing the workshop for. After all, you want other people to join you. Unless you don’t. In that case, bring whomever you want, book a space and have an awesome private or semi-private lesson! Or, you could make it an excuse to travel somewhere new and go to visit the teacher of your choice.
The advantage, however, to creating a workshop for the public is that you make contacts in your community, and the additional people help you to cover expenses.
When determining how much to charge for the workshop, write out all your expected expenses and estimate what the workshop will cost you**:
- Instructor’s costs: teaching fee, travel, accommodation, per diem, luggage fees (don’t book the travel yet, just estimate your best and worst cases)
- Local expenses: studio rental, equipment rental, advertising, parking
- You may also wish to budget a little extra for coffee, snacks and water. If you don’t make enough to cover it, no worries. Just don’t advertise that you’ll have it and then not have them available.
Ways to keep your costs down:
- Is the teacher willing to be a guest in your home, or in the home of a friend? (rather than paying for a hotel)?
- Can you provide (tasty and nourishing) meals for your teacher-guest rather than handing them a per diem?
- Use companies like Expedia and SkyScanner to find the cheapest options.
- Get on the mailing lists for various airlines, etc (Westjet, Porter, the train…) and find out when the seat sales are. Sometimes you can plan the workshop around those times and save yourself some travel costs.
- Maybe it’s a matter of piling a small group into a van and making a road trip of traveling to the instructor rather than having them come to you.
- Do you have inexpensive studio space available already through connections, or can you run the workshop at a less expensive time of day (weekdays, as opposed to evenings or weekends tend to be cheaper)?
- Can you borrow the equipment you need rather than renting it? Or run a found weapons course, and have everyone bring an object or two to fill out the scene, no rental required at all.
- If you’re doing a sword and shield workshop, start with a shield-building workshop with the costs of the materials built into the workshop price, and then everyone gets to take their creation home with them. Sometimes creative options like these pay off.
Next, do some research into pricing for similar training opportunities. If you’re in an area that doesn’t offer stage combat classes, look at acting classes, fitness classes, personal training, voice lessons, any movement discipline (circus, horseback riding, yoga). You’ll get a huge range of prices which may help you get a sense of what range people are willing to pay for a workshop with a professional.
Now that you know what your expenses will be and what you might reasonably be able to charge, figure out how many people you need in order to break even. You may have to play with the numbers. You can adjust how many hours and how many days you’ll make the workshop. Maybe have the instructor arrive on Friday morning or afternoon, have the first session on a Friday evening, and then wrap up a little early on Sunday, taking the instructor to the airport/train station/bus depot that evening, avoiding a few extra nights in the hotel. But, before you look at settling on a specific price, start looking at your advertising options, specifically any email newsletters available to you like the Equity E-Drive. The E-Drive requires that CAEA members receive a 20% discount. Rather than pricing the workshop and then giving a 20% on that total, make the discount the number you need to break even. For example, let’s say that you need 5 people at $80 each in order to cover all of your expenses. Rather than charge the Equity people $64 (suddenly you need 7 people to break even), make the original price $100 per person, and then make the $80 your discount***. If you feel that the $100 is too steep, then lower the prices accordingly, knowing that you’ll need to have a few more people in the workshop before you can cover the expenses.
It might happen: you may not be able to fill the workshop. There’s a couple of questions to ask yourself:
How much you are willing to personally invest in the workshop? You may not be able to get enough people in the workshop to cover the expenses, like the studio and instructor fees. However, if you consider that you would have to cover your own fees when attending a similar training opportunity that you yourself didn’t organize, that might be just fine. If you are going to host your instructor at your place, you’ll have a little extra time with them, and you may find that you gain a lot of knowledge during your casual time with them. You may find that your workshop has sparked the interest of others around you, and suddenly you have training partners year-round! The benefits will likely reach far beyond this initial time and money investment.
Will you go ahead with the workshop no matter how many people register? If not, figure out what all the cancellation policies are (travel, instructor, studio, rentals…) and factor any fees and deadlines into your activities. For instance, if the studio will let you cancel without any consequences two weeks prior to the workshop, make the day before that the deadline for registration so that you don’t lose any cash by canceling. If you will go ahead no matter how many people register, I suggest that date is still a deadline, but make it an Early Bird so that you can get a sense of the interest. You’ll find out if you need to get on the phone and do a lot more follow-up.
If you build it, they will come… if they know about it. I won’t talk much about advertising as I haven’t done any formal study. But from my own experience, do consider this:
- don’t just rely on a Facebook event. Follow-up when people click “going” and “maybe.” Send private messages to people you have connections to that might be interested. Have a contact that you know can’t go? Ask nicely and they might re-post the event.
- Start getting the word out at least a month ahead, if not two or three. Depending on the cost, you may need to give people a lot more lead time in order to round up the cash.
- Have an Early Bird discount. It helps to get people to register early, and give you a sense of how much interest is out there.
- Make sure your poster is clear and concise: Who? What? Where? When?
- Have a link to a website with an easy name. You can go to any number of URL shortening sites and create an easy to remember site: www.tinyurl.com/fightblog, for example. If you’re tech-savvy, your workshop information page may already be easy to read and remember, like www.paddycrean.com and www.fdc.ca/the-worlds-2016
- Can you co-produce with a related company? Will you list their information on your poster if they put your workshop on their website?
- Put the information where the people you want attending will see it, especially if you’re not getting enough people through word-of-mouth. Acting classes, coffee shops, casting houses (you know, the cork board where everyone puts their postcard), and movement studios are some good options. It may not be necessary to print a thousand postcards, but make the information available to the people you need to see it.
- Ask for help. Do you know someone who is good at administration or loves PR? Get them to help you, and pay them or offer them something wonderful in return for their expertise (a well-cooked meal, or free admission to the workshop, maybe).
Fight people are wonderful people. You already know this, or you wouldn’t be so excited about planning a workshop. Don’t be shy about asking if someone will come to teach a workshop for you. Each instructor will have their own requirements. Find out what they need in order to visit you, and provide it. If they’re currently out of your range, you may want to ask if they are willing to negotiate. If they aren’t, then say something to the effect of “thank you for your time”, put their info into the “next time” file, and ask them again when you are able to. You may, however, be pleasantly surprised and find that they are happy to make adjustments. Be your delightful self when figuring out the program. Your instructor will likely ask you what kind of workshop you’d like and what material you’d like to cover, so feel free to make requests. You may also want to ask what they feel is a good jumping off point once you’ve shared your ideas of what you’re looking for. “You don’t know what you don’t know.” Let their expertise guide your choices at this point. Don’t forget to talk about the money parts. Some people get uncomfortable with it, but you’re doing business. As much as we are all passionate about The Art, most of us are doing this to earn a living, as well as for the joy of it. I personally endeavor to be clear and concise with these matters, and then we can move on to the “nerding-out” on stage combat, acting and martial arts!
At the moment, this may seem like a lot of work, but remember that after all the planning and phone calling is done, you’ll be so excited about the fantastic upcoming opportunity! There are so many benefits to planning your own workshop. You get to work skills that you are excited about or feel the need to work on. You’ll foster your own growth and the growth of people around you. The first time may not be terribly successful, but you’ll get better at it every time (eventually, you may even start to make back a little bit of money). Don’t get frustrated but take it as a learning experience in all ways. Meanwhile, you’ll improve your training and create a network of people who are interested in the same things you are.
Don’t wait for it to happen, you can make it happen.
*Please note that I am not an expert in workshop planning. This advice is based on my own experiences, and you will likely find that you have to make adjustments for your particular situation.
**I am attempting to include a version of the spreadsheet I use when figuring out my pricing. I’m not the most technically capable person, so we’ll see what happens!
***To find the 100% price, multiply your 80% price by 1.25. For example, I want to charge $75 as my lowest discount price. $75 x 1.25 = $93.75, so my full price is $93.75.