The show must go on

It's not easy putting on a show. From deciding what shows to bring in, to finding sponsors, to advertising a show - tabla! goes behind the scenes to learn about the challenges that show promoters face.

A show promoter is responsible for bringing in the performer, hiring venues, arranging stages, sorting out lighting, employing caterers and security personnel, advertising the show and coordinating the sales of the tickets.

With so many hats to wear, it's no surprise that promoters have to carry out a substantial amount of research before planning a show.

To Mr Nipun Paul of Carnival Media, something as simple as finding out what other shows are taking place during a certain period is one of the most crucial research factors in organising a show. "We avoid staging shows on dates when other shows are going on. We also don't want to bombard the audience with too many shows in a given period," he says.

However, Ms Mehak Ankar from Out Of The Box Creationz, who organises performances such as Bollywood music concerts and theatre plays, still finds this a prevalent problem: "Multiple events are being organised around the same dates so audiences feel compelled to make a choice as to which show to attend and which to forgo."

Important to communicate

To try to solve this, she encourages event organisers to speak to each other when deciding on show dates.

For Action Replay's owner Anu Samtani, who brings in theatre, music, comedy and dance shows, choosing a show is largely dependent on researching which artistes would interest the audience. Her research methodology includes speaking to clients and regular patrons and getting their feedback before making a decision.

DML Live CEO Keerthivasan Subramanian, who has brought in stars such as A.R. Rahman and Indian musical trio Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy, has a similar approach: "We bring in shows based on artiste popularity and consumer interest."

Indeed, Mr Paul also believes in "doing shows with artistes that are highly in demand in the market".

He carries out research by sharing his ideas with friends and media partners within the industry and "holding focus groups with our target audience".

He is currently working on bringing singer Atif Aslam to Singapore.

Ms Ankar recounts that she found it challenging to market Trivial Disasters, a play she presented in 2014 which consisted of multiple short stories, as "there were not many reviews of the play online when we announced it". She took a chance and went ahead with it anyway. "Thankfully, it saw a great response."

The grand plan

Ms Ankar likens planning a show to organising a wedding: "You start from liking each other (event and organiser), sourcing the venue, fixing a date, making a feasible expense sheet, planning the marketing campaign and getting reliable associates for marketing and ticket sales."

Among these, hiring a venue on a promoter's preferred date is a common challenge.

Ms Karishma Khanna from Teamwork Productions finds that venues are usually booked in advance, which limits her choices.

Sourcing the ideal venue for a show and the artiste's schedule also go hand-in-hand. Says Mr Paul: "To find a date that matches the availability of the artiste and the venue's availability is the biggest initial hurdle when planning a show."

Getting a venue on weekends also isn't easy, says Ms Ankar, as "sometimes there are multiple events on one weekend".

Ms Reema Kumari of S&R Dance and Events prepares for six months to bring in a show as "a lot of advertisement needs to be done to create a buzz among the target audience, hence proper planning needs to be done before the event".

Ms Samtani shares that when she brought in stand-up comedy group All India Bakchod, the first show was sold out to a younger audience, whereas the second show was sold out to an older audience.

"When we surveyed this, we found out that a show on Saturday works better for older patrons with children while the younger audience preferred a show on Friday as they were more likely to attend it post happy hour," she explains.

Understanding the audience

While different shows appeal to different age groups, she says the results are often surprising. "Sometimes, we target students for a particular show because we anticipate that they will show interest in coming, but it's the middle-aged patrons who end up attending the show," she says.

For example, when she brought in dancer Sunny Leone, she expected a younger crowd at the concert, but the majority of the audience was over 40 - an unexpected result for her.

Ms Khanna also feels that the audience turnout can be unpredictable. "Mera Woh Matlab Nahi Tha by Anupam Kher and Neena Gupta was a play in Hindi, so we were not sure how many people would be interested, but it was well-received and appreciated," she says.

Ms Akila Iyengar from Arte Compass has also noticed a mixed crowd in her recent shows and the unpredictable audience demographic poses a challenge when it comes to marketing the events.

She says: "I need to understand the audience demographic before choosing the platforms to advertise in."

To increase patron support, she tries to put together "an unusual mix of artistes that cuts across various cultures". Hence between ghazal concerts, classical concerts and plays, she also brings in fusion music concerts such as Kaleidoscope of Rhythms.

But Mr Subramanian, who has been in the industry for 10 years, feels that the "audiences are fatigued and there're similar artistes performing too often".

Getting sponsorships

Another common challenge for the promoters was securing sponsorships.

Says Ms Iyengar: "Singapore is a very small market and it's an expensive place to do events. Without sponsorship, ticket prices have to be kept high so we can cover the cost."

She adds that sponsors usually negotiate for the lowest deal and don't understand the quality of the event and the brand association in partnering with the show promoter.

Likewise, Ms Khanna feels that "the market has become overcrowded and a lot of companies agree on small sponsorship amounts which has spoilt the market".

Mr Subramanian shares what he thinks is the reason behind the lack of sponsorships: "There are very few sponsors who target the Indian diaspora. For most of them, it's a small segment and, hence, they won't spend a significant sum in sponsoring the show."

His sentiment is shared by Mr Paul, who says major commercial institutions don't find expats and locals from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh a sizeable segment of their market share, thus it's difficult to win major sponsorships.

VMall's Pamposh Dhar, who organises music concerts and comedy shows, feels that the rise in similar events in Singapore not only results in a drop in audience numbers, but also poses a problem when it comes to sponsorship. She says: "There are too many concerts, hence a number of organisers are chasing a limited pool of sponsors."

Dealing with the unexpected

Not everything goes according to plan, as Ms Iyengar found out. There were a few issues to sort out during her first show Shraddha, a concert by the late mandolin maestro U. Shrinivas, Shankar Mahadevan, Loy Mendonza and Sivamani at the newly-built Esplanade - Theatres on the Bay in 2003.

She recalls: "It was in the middle of the SARS outbreak, where high-end concerts were getting cancelled and we were in a dilemma whether to go on with the show.

"But the show turned out to be successful and it gave us the confidence and strength to believe in what we do. The artistes, audience and sponsors were very cooperative."

Ms Iyengar also faced a technical glitch during singer Hariharan's Ghazal Concert. "We started the show 45 minutes late but the audience were very understanding and the staff at Esplanade helped us to manage it well," she says.

Defining a successful show

Ms Khanna feels that "there is no formula" to a good show: "Some shows work because of the content, some work because of the name of the artiste and some just because we got lucky that day."

Ms Dhar judges a show's success based on its execution, interaction between the performer and audience, occupancy and its entertainment value.

Aside from these factors, Mr Subramanian defines a successful show by the "buzz the show generates and the thought it leaves behind".

While Ms Ankar defines a successful show by the amount of money made, Mr Paul doesn't limit the success of a show to its profitability. Instead, he "believes in its popularity and response to ticket sales".

"The challenges faced in turning a potential concept into reality is the most enjoyable thing of being a show promoter," he says.

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