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How to put together a variety night.

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Whether it's for charity, for a stag night, to make money or simply for the good 'ol fashioned fun of it, the basic plan of how to put together a variety show/evening remains the same. Any night you arrange will need a good structure, a interesting bill of performers, a suitable venue and a packed and up-for-it audience. Making sure you keep on top of these mainstays will give shape and structure to your night, around which you'll be able to add all the bits and bobs, all the quirks and craziness that're individual to your night, theme, company or group of friends.
What you'll need: 
A Theme
A Venue
An Audience
The money or help to put the evening together
A Crew- particuarly lighting and sound technicians
CHOOSE YOUR THEME: Burlesque, Comedy, Best of British, Variety etc. The list is endless. The starting point of any night is your theme. This might just be something that interests you, or perhaps it coincides with an increase in popularity in a certain field that you think you might want to tap into, or is synonymous with the evenings aim (see STEP 2). Whatever it is should be decided right at the very start of your planning process. The theme will be the basis of the rest of your plan and will be what you build your evening around.
DECIDE UPON THE EVENING'S AIM: Is this a charity event. Are you planning to charge people entry with all profits going to the charity of your choice? Is this for a friends stag do? Will all the acts have something to do with his interests and upcoming nuptials? Or have you noticed a gap in your local area...realised the regulars at your pub might adore an evening of old fashioned variety acts? Your aim may well need to be decided at the same time as your theme for the evening. It's most likely that the two will either overlap or compliment each other in some way. It doesn't matter what the aim is, but once you've decided what that is do keep it in mind. If you're looking to earn money from the evening, then that knowledge needs to be behind every other decision you make. Likewise, if the event is for a certain cause, make sure that you don't veer off course when something interesting but entirely inappropriate is presented to you.
SET OUT THE STRUCTURE FOR YOUR VARIETY NIGHT: Now you've selected both your aim and your theme, it's time to structure your night. It's usually best to keep things simple: the show -without any extraneous additions- will be enough to keep you busy. So, rather than trying to create an entire evening of events both on and offstage, it's much wiser to put all your time and energies into producing a slick, fun, impressive show. You still need to work out exactly how the programme will stand. Do you want one headline act and two smaller acts? Do you want all the acts to perform for the same amount of time? Do you want an interval? Two intervals? Write down everything you want from the evening and edit and edit until you have a nice, streamlined plan of action including how much money you are willing to spend on the night. If you're feeling a little more adventurous you might want to introduce a way of the theme covering not just the show, but the whole evening. e.g. How will guests be greeted at the door, is there a dress code, will drinks and dinner be themed?
FIND A VENUE: Now you know how your night will be structured, what it's in aid of and what sort of audience you're hoping to attract, it's time to find your venue. If you're planning a low key, smaller variety night it's best to look at function rooms above pubs. So long as you pick a good area, and visit the pub a few times to see what the clientele and sound quality are like, this is often an acceptable choice of venue. If you're looking at a slightly larger scale variety night, using bigger names, are confident you can attract a large crowd etc. then it's possibly to look at hiring larger function rooms or theatre spaces. Be upfront and honest about what your venue should expect. Are you going to offer them a door split of the takings? If so make sure you can guarantee you'll make your money back. Or, if they're a pub, can you prove to them that you can increase their bar takings enough for them to offer you the room for free? If you're expecting to make money, perhaps it's best to pay a venue a straightforward hire fee. You need to make a small budget plan based on your available finances and what you expect to make back on the night. If it's a stag do, the simplest way to make your money back is to get all your attendees to split the cost of the venue hire. There are all kinds of ways to make your venue work for you, so make sure you try all of them before settling. Once you've picked your venue, do make sure that they either own or can house technical equipment. If they don't own any, you'll need to factor rental into your budget.
SORT OUT THE LEGALITIES: It's really important that you make sure your event is legal. If you're holding your variety night as a private function, you shouldn't have to do much in the way of legalities. If, however, you're planning on making money out of the evening you need to double check insurance, performance licences and public liability rules. The likelihood is that your venue will already be covered for public performances, public liability insurance and the like, so you shouldn't need to worry about that. You should be certain that all of these things are a-ok before you go any further with the plans for your variety night.
CAST YOUR SHOW! You already have your theme, aim and structure for your variety night. So you must have a pretty good idea of what kind of acts you want and what you can pay them. Auditioning acts can be expensive and time consuming and a much more exciting, enjoyable and, often, effective way of finding your acts is to attend other variety shows that are similar to the one you're planning on hosting. Watching acts this way means you'll see them in their natural environment, get the opportunity to talk to them and learn more about how best to set up your own night. If you don't have time to do this you can always book your acts through word of mouth or watching their performances on YouTube. This can be risky though and doesn't really show you their capabilities in terms of live performance. Be wary of booking people through adverts rather than hand-picking them. There's often a discrepancy between how artists describe themselves and what you're ultimately expecting. Don't forget to cast an emcee to tie all the acts together. Variety nights need someone impressive and exciting to warm the crowd up, respond to the acts and introduce each performer.
ASSEMBLE YOUR TEAM! To ensure that the night runs smoothly you'll need the following: -Someone to run Front of House to make sure that only the guests get in and that your money stays safe -A Stage Manager/Someone to ensure the show itself runs smoothly -Lighting and Sound Designers, Technicians and Operators (this can often be just 1 or 2 people) If you're saving money you might want to take on some of these roles yourself or using friends. So long as you do your homework and keep yourself organised there is no reason why you shouldn't be able to do almost any of the above jobs well...with the exception of technical assistance. Unless you have friends who are capable in this field you should definitely invest in someone to organise this side of the night. If your lights and sound go wrong, much of the atmosphere will be lost. You can contact University Drama Departments or Amateur Dramatic Associations via telephone or the internet if you're low on money, and you might find a willing student happy to help just for the experience. Make sure you get a reference for such a person though.
ADVERTISING: SELL, SELL, SELL! If your variety night is part of a party or private event you don't need to market your evening past sending out invitations and counting the RSVPs. If, however, you're doing this to raise or make money, it's important you get the punters in! You -or something with computer skills- should draft up a simple but eye catching poster and flyer design with the information of the show, the price, the place, the time etc. displayed prominently on it. About a month before your event, you should get a number of these printed and distribute them in the areas where your potential audience are most likely to be (e.g. students at universities, regulars at pubs etc.). Using facebook and online events websites are also effective marketing nowadays, plus you can always try contacting the local newspapers and radio stations. To do this just go to the website of said paper/radio station and go to the 'Contact Us' information. Just phone and tell them what you're doing. It's often pot luck whether you get featured, but try to put an interesting spin on what you're doing. You can sell tickets using online ticketing booths which means you can keep an eye on presales.
SHOW TIME! By now everything should be coming together for your variety night. Whether it's a tiny event for friends, or your first shot at producing a professional entertainment show...Good Luck! So long as you've kept an eye on your budget you should be just fine financially -although there is of course always a risk in this things- and you will hopefully have followed your beautifully created streamlined plan of action (STEP 3!) for the night through all the way to it's completion. Once the show is underway...sit back, relax and survey your work!
Keep calm, focus on the job at hand, put people you trust in charge and on stage and most importantly HAVE FUN! Variety Nights are a wonderful British tradition and you've now joined them in variety history! Put a smile on your face and on the face of every single person in your audience! Break a Leg!
As with any entertainment venture there is financial risk
Do work hard on getting your audience in, don't become complacent
Do not let anyone get the better of you: Keep your eye on any contracts, legalities etc. that might pop up
Make sure you sign contracts with your performers so that they don't drop out at the last moment


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