Imagine scheduling 100 dance companies to perform during the course of two weekends in two different venues (in different cities, no less), while taking each artist’s genre, technical needs, and availability into consideration.
It makes my head hurt just to think about it, which is why it’s a good thing our Production Manager Jack Carpenter and Production Associate Micaela Nerguizian are in charge of this enormous project.
The auditions process for the San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival is far more complicated than I realized. Our artists don’t just sign up on a list and show up with their costumes or regalia and their musicians; they must first complete a detailed application.
As you’d expect, we ask our artists for the basic information about the genre they represent, who will be performing, etc. But we also ask them for a comprehensive description of the background of the piece(s) they will present on our stage. The Festival is looking for more than dances that are interesting and entertaining. Here’s more from our website:
“The San Francisco Ethnic Dance Festival seeks to present dance forms from around the world that are rooted in a cultural tradition. We are interested in dances that reflect all aspects of culture, including sacred or spiritual dances, social dance, secular or vernacular dance, dances from life cycle events, and innovative work based in traditional dance forms. World Arts West recognizes that many dance forms stem from multiple roots, and are often influenced significantly by the context of presentation on our Festival stage.”
We ask our artists to explain how their costumes or regalia relate to the information provided, how the music relates to the context, what the lyrics (if any) mean, and how they learned the dance, among other things. That’s already a fair amount of work before anyone even sets foot on the stage.
Once we receive all of the applications, it’s up to Micaela to compile each group’s vital information on a spreadsheet. Then, Jack, somehow, like a magician, turns this into a master schedule. At each step of the way, he has to consider the availability of each artist, what sorts of stage sets or props they might have (we can’t schedule two groups with complicated props back to back), whether they have live or recorded music, and which genre they represent, in order to keep the audience and the expert panelists from being overwhelmed by any single style of dancing from hour to hour, AND to keep the show moving along at a good pace.
This master schedule includes not just each group’s audition time, but what time they’ll get to their dressing room, then into a warm-up room, and finally, to the stage. It’s incredibly detailed, and inevitably, changes before we get to either venue.
After the master schedule is completed, Micaela starts compiling all of the information each expert panelist receives, which includes those application forms, sorted in the order in which each artist will take the stage. The panelists are asked to read through all of these before the auditions, so they know exactly what to look for when the dancing starts. Can you imagine?
Micaela also puts together a very detailed email confirmation packet to send to each auditioning artist, which doesn’t sound like such a big deal until you consider that she has to make sure she’s sending the correct information to its intended recipient… 100 times over. A mass email just won’t work in this scenario, and while she was working on sending this year’s confirmation emails, I saw her massaging her hands and wrists more than a few times!
All of this work is worth it in the end, because we got to experience four days of thrilling dancing, and our Artistic Directors are now able to put together a dazzling lineup for our 35th Anniversary Festival. We’ll let you know when the lineup is ready, and when you’ll be able to buy tickets.
Coming up next: Some observations from the wings.