Securing artists for our programs: not a simple task

At the Fredericton Playhouse, we present a number of different programs every year, each intended to foster the community’s interest in and appreciation of the performing arts.

I thought it might be interesting to explore one of those programs, our Spotlight Series, and explain how we develop this series to bring diverse international touring artists to our stage each season.

Some of our patrons may not realize that our programs, while important to our organization, are a relatively small part of our business. Most of the artists who perform on our stage in any given year are actually presented by organizations who rent our facilities; around 25-30 performances each season fall into our Spotlight Series, and we present several additional shows in our Kidstage Series.

Other Playhouse programs include Experience More!, a series of workshops and learning activities presented in conjunction with the Spotlight Series; Arts are for Everyone, an access program that aims to make the performing arts accessible to all regardless of barriers; School Field Trips, a series of matinee performances designed to expose students to live performing arts; and The Playhouse Honours, an annual recognition of a member of our community who has contributed significantly to Fredericton through the performing arts.

Expo Hall | Hilton
The Association of Performing Arts Presenters’ annual marketplace in New York City is one of the places the Playhouse team finds artists to invite to Fredericton.

While each of these programs plays an important role in carrying out our mandate, the Spotlight Series is our flagship program, and embodies the values of our organization. When choosing artists for this series, our primary goal is to bring artists to Fredericton who would not otherwise be presented in our community – whether by our own rental clients, or by a different venue or festival. This is a vision set by our entire organization, including our board of directors.

When programming the series, we consider a number of factors. We always look for high artistic quality, and we also want to ensure the series has a mix of known and unknown artists, as well as a mix of different genres, disciplines and scales of production, to make sure the final series is both diverse and compelling.

There are a number of ways we find and select artists for the Spotlight Series. Our director of programming, Valerie Hillier, and I have developed strong relationships with managers, agents and artists over the years, and we rely on these connections to be kept in the loop on opportunities to bring new and exciting work to Fredericton.

We are also part of an organization called the Atlantic Presenters Association (APA). Through this group, we’re able to work with a number of regional venues and organizations like ours from all over Atlantic Canada.

Our involvement with the APA is crucial. Each year, members of the association will suggest different performers they want to have in their communities, allowing us to then work together to make a joint proposal to artists to entice them to come to the Maritimes. Because the Atlantic Canadian provinces are often viewed as remote from the rest of North America, it is often the only way to attract artists –    ensuring they have a full set of tour dates when they visit our region as opposed to coming to one city for a single show.

Another way we find and procure artists for our Spotlight Series involves attending various showcases, conferences, festivals and arts markets. Valerie and I both attend a number of these events each year, on a regional, national and even international scale. Every January, for example, Valerie attends the Arts Presenters conference in New York, one of the world’s largest performing arts markets.

There are a few different elements involved in these events. First there are showcases, during which artists looking to tour will perform excerpts for representatives from the performing arts industry. This is an excellent opportunity for programmers like Valerie and I to discover something new or see firsthand what an artist has to offer onstage. There are also trade shows that connect programmers with artists, artistic companies, managers and booking agents. And finally, there are the hundreds of meetings, giving representatives from presenting venues like the Playhouse the opportunity to meet with artist representatives to start discussing deals for future tours and engagements.

Before anything is finalized, other members of the Playhouse staff sometimes need to be consulted as well. If a show has unusual technical requirements, for example, we will have a discussion with our technical director to make sure the performance is feasible for our venue before proceeding with an invitation or offer.

We also explore what the artist can offer for our other programs. They might have experience leading a particular workshop that could be included in our Experience More! program, or perhaps they have a show that would be a good fit for our School Field Trips.

When we’ve made a decision about a particular performance, our director of programming will invite the artist to perform at the Playhouse, and will negotiate an agreement that outlines how much the artist will be paid and other conditions like travel and technical costs.

Planning the Spotlight Series is a cycle that never ends. Throughout the winter we are busy contracting artists for the coming season before announcing our lineup in the spring. But no matter what the time of year, we’re constantly talking to managers, agents and artists; attending conferences, showcases and festivals; and working with our regional partners in the Atlantic Presenters Association to plan our seasons. We’re currently looking forward to sharing the fruition of this work when we announce our 2017-2018 Spotlight Series early next month.

Tim Yerxa is the Executive Director of the Fredericton Playhouse.




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