Some handy tips and insights to help you lower your stress and ensure a positive and successful school assembly!
School Assembly Success Tips:
How To Book A Great Cultural Enrichment Assembly Program for Your Elementary, Middle or High School and…
Lower your stress level
Save your school money
Eliminate the risk of a “dud”
Make a positive difference in the lives of your students & teachers
Dear PTA/PTO Cultural Enrichment Chair, Principal, Teacher, Librarian,
Somehow it happened. You “volunteered” to book the cultural enrichment assembly programs.
You’ve been handed the “FOLDER.”
It’s bulging with brochures, fliers, catalogs, and postcards trumpeting a dizzying array of cultural arts programs. You know the one right?
- Where to start?
- How do you know what’s good and what’s not (or even available)?
- How do you avoid hours and hours of research and telephone tag?
Here are a few things to watch out for that I’ve picked up over the 15 years I’ve been performing in schools. Some of this stuff I learned the hard way. Some of it I learned from the people like you who have booked me and shared their stories of what “those other” school performers did or didn’t do…
At the risk of sounding self promotional I’ll also share 9 ways I strive to make your life easier. I’m proud of the years of experience I have and the consistently positive feedback I get from teachers, PTA/PTO volunteers as well as the thousands of students I have the privilege of influencing each year.
Here we go:
How can you tell if the school assembly performer is any good?
1 way to discover if an act is good will be the number of years they’ve been doing school shows. If you see a particular group or artist’s brochures year after year chances are they are good. It’s too expensive to keep doing this if you aren’t getting gigs. So the established artists have usually proven themselves.
The beauty of performing for kids is that they are brutally honest. If you aren’t connecting as a performer you get instant feedback! Those of us who are still around year after year have taken the “feedback” and used it to improve our shows.
One way to give yourself some reassurance that your potential performers can handle school audiences is to inquire if they have any actual Arts In Education training. When I was first starting out I took a number of courses and training programs through the Westchester County Arts Council and the CT Commission On The Arts. The artists on each of these rosters had to be approved by a committee of their peers who were also trained in Arts In Ed.
There are storytellers and there are storytellers. Anybody can call themselves a story teller and put together a brochure and send it to a school. Storytellers are easy because they usually don’t need a lot of set-up. Usually the school sound system is fine. You give them a microphone and a class of water and they are good to go. Challenges?
- Are they boring?
- How interactive are they?
- Can they handle the special ed kids?
- Can they handle a group of 5th graders combined with a group of kindergartners?
- Are their stories appropriate for the age levels you are booking them for?
I have had the privilege of seeing a couple of amazing tellers who could take a room full of K-5 students and literally mesmerize them. Regi Carpenter in the Ithaca NY area and Tom Lee in Connecticut are two examples that jump to mind. One day I was unloading my trailer full of drums and sound equipment, already working up a sweat to set up my show. And here comes Tom Lee. Nothing to carry. All he needs is his voice. So one suggestion? Check out your local libraries and storytelling events. The CT storytelling Festival is a very cool place to experience some of the best storytellers in the world. Sometimes you need to see for yourself how someone interacts with an audience.
I’ve also had the insider privilege of being an artist in residence at a school in Elmira NY. I got to experience several assemblies and visiting artists as well as the teachers and administrators reactions to them while I was there. One storyteller had in her contract that the school had to provide a Turkey sandwich for lunch.
What ended up happening was that the vice principal (who was pretty much the busiest person in the school) ended up going to a local deli and buying the woman her special turkey sandwich as requested in the contract. Why should that be the school’s problem? She created stress and inconvenience. Personally, I bring my own lunch and my own water. I go out of my way to make my visit easy for everyone (including myself). It lowers my stress to not have to depend on someone else to feed me. That’s a win/win in my book.
“Don’t Waste Our Time” – Teacher to PTA Cultural Enrichment Chair
It’s not enough anymore to have an assembly featuring a specific kind of music or art form. When I was in 6th grade the PTA of my school booked the Smith Street Society, an authentic Ragtime Band. They did a little bit of introduction to the historical setting. But mostly they played Ragtime. It was awesome and I still remember it all these years later. Now there seems to be an agenda to ensure everything supports more than just any particular art form. It’s not about entertainment. It has to support the CURRICULUM. One PTA Enrichment chair recently said: “The teachers approached me and said, ‘Please don’t waste our time with fluff.’”
It has to be educational. Assemblies are not about entertainment. They are about supporting the learning process. Magic shows don’t do that unless the magician addresses the history of magic or how he learned his craft. Jugglers need to address physical fitness and hand eye co-ordination.
You should be looking for performing artists who have been trained in Arts and Education concepts. Hiring the local rock band because they do some good covers of 60’s tunes isn’t enough. A local rock band that can teach the history of the 1960’s using the music from that time period could be a solid choice. But you want to be sure they can handle all the other aspects of performing in schools like timeliness and audience management.
One of the comments I get a lot from teachers is that they appreciate that I leave the students calm and ready to go back out into the hallways to their class rooms quietly. A lot of performers who are used to non-school kid shows rev them up and leave them all crazy. You might want to ask your performer about that.
Interactivity and Audience Management:
There is a huge difference between performing for kids and performing for adults. Just because someone is a published author doesn’t mean they will do a great assembly. I’ve heard PTA horror stories of authors who came, read from their book answered a few questions and charged a hefty fee. I’ve also heard about performers who tried to shush kids who were not paying attention and then got all irritated and lost control of the whole group… Not good. I learned early on a number of positive reinforcement techniques to elicit rapt attention. And then in my training as a teacher of Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP) I learned even more. I can even handle the much feared 8th grader. :o)
Timeliness and Punctuality:
Not only do you want to book someone who shows up nice and early for the assembly programs, but you want to be sure they “get” the tightness of a typical school schedule. Can they adjust their shows to end at a specific time? I recently had to shorten one of my programs in order to be done by 11:00 am exactly because the custodial staff had to come in immediately and get the “cafe-a-gym-a-torium” ready for lunch. I was flexible enough to do that. An artist who goes over time in that situation can cause a huge amount of stress that ripples throughout the entire school. I used to do some shows with a wonderful African drummer. Unfortunately he lived in his own time zone! I never knew when he would show up. And his shows always ran over. Not cool in a school.
Personally I find showcases to be a frustrating and exhausting experience. In over 15 years of fulltime performing I’ve only booked only a few shows through showcases. The problem for me with them is that each performer has only 10 or 15 minutes to “showcase” what they do. Sometimes it takes me 15 minutes just to hand out all the cool sound effects instruments I use with some of my stories! I do drums, I do songs and I do stories…if I did just any one of those in my little 10-15 minute slot you’ll have the wrong idea about what I do.
If you have a whole day to spend on it and you can handle 6-8 hours of nonstop performers pitching you, go ahead. You probably won’t see me there. Most of the PTA folks I deal with have families plus full time jobs. They don’t have a lot of time for this volunteer position. I try to make it easy for them to make a decision and get the task done and off their to-do list without having to take time out of their busy lives. I also save time and hassle (not to mention money) for folks like you by doing my own booking. I have an 800 number and a website where you can get in touch w/ me directly any day of the week and at any time convenient for you. If you don’t get me immediately it’s usually only a few hours before I get back to you.
Auditory & Visual Proof:
Sometimes you need to see it with your own eyes. Other times you can get an idea from the artist’s website if they have audio files or a CD. I was lucky enough to be able to record one of my live performances (which is a tricky thing to be able to do). One of the reasons I give it away freely on my website is so that everybody on your committee can get a listen. To get your instant digital download just follow this link: Get Your FREE CD NOW!
You can hear the kids coming in to the auditorium as I’m doing my overtone singing. You can hear them talking and then beginning to quiet down to the point where you could hear a pin drop. Later in the program you can hear them interacting and laughing and participating. That’s helpful to have when you’re making a decision.
I was also lucky enough to get permission to video one of my DrumSongStory School Shows performed for the Children’s Community School in Waterbury CT: See video of my “Beyond The Borders” program
Other times you have to depend on the opinions of others. That means testimonials. Read them. Referrals. Call them. I’m happy to give you a referral. Most people never ask for one though.
Remind the custodial staff the day before about the assembly and express your sincere appreciation for their extra efforts. If the assembly is taking place in the gym and your event will be displacing the gym teacher for the day, mention the event to them the day before and also express your appreciation for their generous accommodation.
Everything is negotiable:
When it comes time to book your artist please remember that those of us who make a significant amount of our livelihoods from this work invest huge amounts of time and money making sure our “product” is first rate and something you and your students will remember for years (in a positive way :o)
That being said, please remember that everything is negotiable. If you have a tight budget there are ways you can make it worth it for your artist to lower their price.
- Can you arrange to have them perform at other schools or libraries in the area?
- Can you book it at a time that is normally slow for them?
- Can you be flexible enough to schedule your assembly at a time when the artist is going to be performing nearby?
- Can you arrange for a lot of press coverage?
- Do you have school resources like a video club who can record the performance and provide the artist with a decent quality video?
- Even photography is hard for us artists to get because there is so much red tape in getting permission to photograph kids. If you have a parent or teacher who is great with a camera or a photography club and could make arrangements for great action shots of the performer you might be able to negotiate a seriously reduced fee.
Just remember when negotiating that it helps to offer something in return for a price reduction.
If there are any other questions or issues to address that would be helpful for you to know I’d be glad to hear about it so that I can add it to this article.
Thank you so much for taking the time out of your busy life to ensure the students at your school have the kinds of quality experiences that will last them a lifetime!
Next I share with you 9 Specific Ways I strive to make your life easier:
9 Ways I Make Your Life Easier
I reflected a bit on the things that I do to make your life as easy and hassle free as possible while at the same time delivering the highest quality school programs humanly possible. This may sound self promotional. Well it is! I deeply and truly believe that I would be a great choice for your next assembly or family concert! One of the keys to my success has been focusing as much on you and your needs and challenges as a volunteer as I do on the students and teachers.
Here’s what I came up with:
My proven, kid and teacher tested assembly programs support school themes and curriculum areas, inspire love of learning, even help teachers teach better.
I’m dependable and “compulsively” early. Since 1993 and thousands of shows I’ve never canceled and only postponed 3. I usually arrive at least an hour and a half before show time. You don’t have to wait around wondering if I’m going to show up or not. This saves you stress and possible embarrassment.
I’m easy to work with. I’ve heard plenty of stories about other performers who didn’t know how to deal with special-ed kids or with the tight time constraints of a school schedule. It’s no accident that I get compliments all the time about how well I handle mid-program distractions. That reflects positively on you.
I’ve been checked out and trained by some of the best Arts In Education specialists in the country. For a long time I was an artist on the roster of the CT Commission on Arts, Culture & Tourism as a “master teaching artist.” I’ve also been trained by the Westchester Arts Council as well as the Arts Council of the Southern Finger Lakes.
I come prepared. I bring a state of the art sound system, drums from all over the world and a HUGE drum I carved out of a tree trunk. So you don’t need to worry about whether it will sound and look good. It will.
I’m easy to set up for. All I usually need from you is 3 armless chairs. It’s that simple.
I do my own booking. This means you don’t have to deal with a middle man. When you call to find out if a date is available, you don’t have to wait for my booking agent to call me and me to call my agent back and then the agent give you a return call. I’m reachable directly. I give you my e-mail and cell phone. I usually return my calls within the same day. Less “Phone Tag” for you.
I can handle a wide age and developmental range. Because what I do works on so many levels I frequently do shows for audiences of K-8 as well as family concerts. Not many other artists can handle that age range successfully. What’s that worth?
My programs are affordable. If you divide my single show fee by the typical audience size of 300 it works out to less than $5.00 per child. For a large school where three performances are needed, the price often works out to less than $3.00 per child. Also with my block booking discounts, the more schools you have in your district the more each school saves. See my pricing chart for current fees
I’m sure I could come up with a few more ways I strive to make your life easier and less stressful while focusing on doing the absolute best I possibly can to provide you with an incredible assembly that educates as much as it entertains. But I’ve got to get ready for my next show and I like to be EARLY!
All the best!
Mark Shepard, DrumSongStory
Fee free to call me at 888+598+7709 or e-mail me at mark [at] MarkShepard.com
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