PRESS RELEASES FOR DANCE PERFORMANCES
© 2012, Leigh
Witchel. All rights reserved.
Please do not reproduce or distribute for any purpose without written permission.
A release is a utility document: A press release exists to advise the media of a performance – who’s doing it and what it’s about.
A release is used for the following types of media coverage:
Be aware of your readers and why they are reading – this goes to potential reviewers, calendar and listing editors. Most often, reviews are handled by a different person than advance pieces or listings. At The Post I wear all hats: listings, features and reviews.
We’re reading to find out about your upcoming show. Make it easy on us and put the hard facts up at the top before the body of the release: the piece, the dates, the venue, the times, contact information.
A Release Template:
Here's one simple format – others will work. It shouldn't be more than two pages long.
Send this as an email and don’t forget an informative subject line: “Your Dance Company performs Title at This Theater on Date at Time.” If the time changes from performance to performance, use the date and time of the opening.
For Immediate Release
Contact phone #
PRESENTING ORGANIZATION Presents
(Only include if it is sending the release.)
Dateline (Place, date) – BODY OF RELEASE
End this section with information about the performance (gala opening night, any pre-talks or associated events, box office hours, theater location)
(One paragraph per person/organization is all that’s needed. Keep the narrative to nuts and bolts.)
A RELEASE IS NOT AN ARTIST'S STATEMENTDon’t talk about what you want to do. Talk about what you do. Words like “intend” are a red flag in a press release. It’s only useful for writers to know about your artistic process as it relates directly to what’s onstage. Did you spend 14 months learning how to fly fighter planes in order to make this dance? That’s unusual and relevant. Do you intend to examine the fragile nature of relationships? Not so much. Talk about what’s on the stage, not your intentions.
An example: This example was taken from the body of a release from an actual show with identifying details changed or removed. It was a good piece, with a not-so-good release.
Landfall (2000/2012) is a personal look at the body (alternately medical, eroticized and/or aestheticized). Described as “philosophically poetic and exploratory,” the work invites audiences to examine contemporary notions of how we experience the body as both owners and spectators. With choreography and visual design by “Bessie” Award-winner X, the original premiered in 2000 with X and performers A, B and C. The revisited and expanded version features performers D, E, F and G. In returning to this work, X has questioned how his approach to the material has shifted over time, how original intentions could be manifest with increased potency, and how changes that have occurred within his own body affect his frame of reference, understanding, and desires for expression within the work. The central goal of reigniting a certain tough freshness of the original gesture of the work has guided the process, which X has described as an unabashed utopian desire for a community of difference in togetherness that exists in a space beyond shame.
This paragraph is about artistic intentions and process, and that’s not the point of a release. There are no actual facts about what was onstage – which included two men who were naked the whole time. That has to be mentioned, not for morality’s sake, but because it’s the one of the most relevant aspects of the performance.
Here’s a start to an alternative release. It gives an idea of what information a listings editor or reviewer is looking for.
Landfall is about the body and how we perceive it - covered or exposed. Two women in simple dresses share the stage with two naked men for over an hour. Trading roles, dancing together and apart, sometimes with transparent inflatable cushions, the result is an enigmatic dance that becomes witty, spare or erotic as it molds itself to the viewer.
The text of your release should answer two questions:
That sense of cold introduction is what makes a release so stressful for a new artist. It’s hell to get people to pay attention to you when you’re not established.
When I get a release, the first thing I do is look at who’s involved. All releases get placed in a personal calendar of upcoming events that I use to create listings for the New York Post and assignments for Danceview Times. If I don’t see a name I recognize or a hook, it won’t get much more attention until I write listings or make assignments for that week. Keeping up with who’s currently out there already fills my calendar. Let me know who is working on this project, and boldface the names.
If the release catches my interest I’ll make a mental note to see it, and if there’s a good hook a calendar note about 3-4 weeks out to pitch it for a preview.
If I see no names I recognize but the work is an area of interest to me, I may very well go, especially if the company is from out of town.
Figure out your calling card in a nutshell. If you’re new, tell me who you’ve worked with: “Former Bill T. Jones company member X.” The awful truth: this only works if your credentials are reasonably solid. Skip it if they’re weak. If so, consider hiring performers and collaborators with strong credentials.
It doesn’t need to lead but it is important to name everyone involved with the production and their affiliations in brief. I’m looking for a reason to see – or miss – your show, and “Oh, she worked with X” might just get me there.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING?
Recognize a hook and lead with it: What’s a hook? A genuinely offbeat human interest story. An unusual locale. A major revival. A prominent guest artist. An unusual subject matter. They’re particular to every writer and publication. The Post loves offbeat stories and locations; Time Out/NY is more interested in profiling rising artists. Don’t reach - a weak hook will make you seem desperate. And for heaven’s sake, don’t let hooks drive your creative process. But if you’ve got one, sell it!
Use visual language: Try and get a picture in the readers’ minds. If there’s a striking image you know will be in the dance - describe it. “Five women in rags inch their way down a blinding tunnel of light.”
Don’t use your grantwriting materials to fashion a release: Grantmakers are trying to use their money to do charitable work; this makes them interested in the intentions and goals of your work in a completely different way than a dance writer. Nothing will set off my bullshit detector faster than a release declaring that your work seeks to explore the otherness forced upon dancers by society’s distorted views of body imagery. Once again, a press release is not an artist’s statement. Don’t use your booking materials either. A dance writer is not a potential presenter.
Avoid jargon: Performative. Otherness. Queering. Words that are more concept than content. Tell me what you're doing, not what you're thinking, and use English instead.
Don’t claim what you can’t deliver: Reviewers judge you on a press release. I am impressed if what I see onstage is exactly what an artist said she was going to do. It means she is in control of her medium and intentions.
Try and describe what you’re doing accurately and briefly. It’s tempting to want to explain your work as well as describe it. I wrote my own early press releases in the form of an interview. It took nerve and may have helped get me a review or two, but what I said also could have precipitated a few bad ones.
Don’t include throwaway copy because it sounds sexy. You could get crucified. If you call your company “boldly innovative” you better do something never seen before on stage. The first downtown dance show I saw featured someone pulling an Evel Knievel doll out of his ass; are you going to douse yourself with gasoline and light it ablaze?
Reviewers come in all shapes and sizes. “Boldly innovative” works that aren’t may get my goat but another reviewer might loathe anything that smells even faintly of the academy. It’s a crapshoot. Describe your work clearly enough so that people know what you’re doing, but not enough so they can hang you with it. “An edgy quintet inspired by the dada writings of Tristan Tzara, to a commissioned score.” Descriptive, to the point and fair enough – but it had better be edgy. Most critics recognize that you can be inspired by anything and it doesn’t have to show up on stage, but even so, we want to sense the inspiration.
One size doesn’t need to fit all: Since most releases no longer need to be printed, you can customize them a bit. This is labor-intensive, but not that expensive. Unlike reviewers, listings people need exciting copy and especially exciting photos. Releases that go to people in charge of the calendar and listings sections could be crafted more like sound bites. The pre-press this could generate is as valuable as any review. If you’re going toot your horn, this is where you do it.
Does a short personal note help? Yes, if it’s honest. If it’s boilerplate it probably won’t have an effect either way. If I can tell that you’ve actually never read me, it will harm you.
I haven’t made the work yet! I
recognize how difficult this
is if you’re writing about a work that has not yet been made. If any of
been done, concentrate on the major themes and moments you are certain
in the finished piece and use those. If it’s still unmade, say what you
know, i.e. “a new all-female quartet to music by Perotin inspired by
writing of St. Theresa of
NUTS AND BOLTS:
Your advance materials are the first impression of your work: Especially if you’re new, invest in photography that conveys the mood of your dances. A really good picture could evoke more about what you’re doing than several paragraphs and a gorgeous one can give a new artist legitimacy. A professional looking job with a good design and correct grammar gives you credibility. Other media can only help cast your net as wide as possible. I rarely have the time to look at online video clips; another friend relies on them to make decisions about features and previews.
Here’s my standard list of PR tips to make a better e-mailed release: It’s not one size fits all – other writers love PDFs and I don’t bother with them. A good compromise is to send the identical release as both a “light” pdf (under 100k) along with a text release. Avoid sending mammoth photos or attachments unless you know the person needs a high resolution photo.
Dear Dance Producer:
As interested as I am in your work and the NYC dance scene, I get scores of press releases a week. If you want to make sure your release gets in my calendar, which is for both The New York Post and Danceview Times, here’s what to do:
YOUR PRESS PACK:
Press kits serve several purposes, but most writers use them as a reference for background. For us, they aren’t advertisement. They can be electronic, or print and don’t need to be fancy (Booking agents or presenters might want something more impressive.) I don’t read other reviews in a press kit except for background facts, such as when the piece premiered.
Besides your press release, if there is any chance that it would be difficult to know who's who onstage, consider including a photo lineup. This is a reference photo, not one for publication. It does not need to be high quality: line the cast up in costume at dress rehearsal identify each dancer and print it out on regular paper, in color if possible.
Also consider production notes and a brief production history - if this is a major revival, tell us who, what and where of the original production and how long since it was last done. The production notes are again nuts and bolts - anticipate the background questions (where’s the music from? Were the costumes influenced by X?) we might have and answer them.
A final note: Many dance writers, including me, went into the field because we love it. I did what you’re doing and went through all this myself, including getting scolded by a listings editor for asking a question she found ignorant. Even so, we all dream of seeing great work and want to see you succeed. By giving us the information about you that we need to do our jobs in a clear and organized manner, you put your best foot forward.
Last updated May 30, 2012