Door-to-door costume delivery. Renting a movie screen to screen your virtual showcase as a drive-in in your parking lot. Giving every dancer the chance to have a private, red-carpet experience, even if it means sanitizing your studio 20-plus times in one day.
While these ideas may have sounded inconceivable a year ago, they are just some of the ways studio owners got creative with their end-of-year recitals in 2020.
Easing Up on Absences<p>For starters, Gold suspects many studio owners won't have ironclad attendance policies in place this year as a contingent for recital participation, and he approves. "If my policy had been that you can't miss the last six classes before recital, I might just leave that out this time around," he says. "It doesn't mean it's gone forever, but during these times, I should be a different teacher—more understanding."<br></p><p>Joe Naftal, marketing director of Dance Connection, run by Mary Naftal, in Islip, New York, agrees. "With our red-carpet recital in July, there were kids who hadn't attended class consistently since March but who still signed up for the recital," says Naftal. "We had a teacher in front of them, and we told them: 'Kids, you can do whatever—you can improvise, if you want,'" says Naftal.</p>
Virtual Performances<p><span style="background-color: initial;">A virtual recital experience doesn't just offer clear health and safety advantages—it also opens up new creative avenues for studio owners and allows them to reach a wider audience. Jessica Zamarripa, artistic director of Laredo School of Contemporary Dance in Texas, worked with a video editor to create a "Brady Brunch"–style short film of each of her recital dances. It was an intensive process that required weeks of filming, but her hard work and creativity paid off: "Students said they loved performing for the camera," says Zamarripa. "They felt like stars—all the attention was on them."</span><br></p>
Leveling Up Marketing<p><span style="background-color: initial;">A virtual recital also lends itself well to digital marketing, as Lown discovered. "Our recitals this year were marketed primarily inside of our private parent community on Facebook," says Lown. "We asked the parents to share pictures of their virtual and red-carpet recitals and to tag us. We had hundreds of shares and thousands of views. We've never had such good PR during our recital as we did during the pandemic."</span><br></p><p>Even once the pandemic is in the rearview mirror, offering digital content as a part of the recital experience can provide owners with ready-made, easy-to-share promotional materials for social media.</p>
Keeping It Personal<p>Another plus of pandemic recital adaptations? Giving families more intimate recital experiences. Dance Connection went the red-carpet-recital route in July, holding 500 individual shows over a nine-day period. Though Naftal admits that's not a sustainable practice in its current form, there were important takeaways. "It was a really good way to connect with the parents one-on-one at the end of the year," he says. "You don't get that at the regular recital."</p>
Location, Location, Location<p><span style="background-color: initial;">Gold thinks outdoor recitals will become staples for the foreseeable future, citing a studio owner who's already planning to have an outdoor show—her second—at the end of this studio year. "She wants to be ready for whatever circumstances lie ahead, and an outdoor show offers surety," he says.</span><br></p><p>When he had to scrap original plans to have an outdoor company showcase in July due to New York health protocol, Naftal had the showcase filmed instead and then premiered it in the studio's parking lot as a drive-in movie with a rented screen. "The kids were actually more excited to see it at a drive-in theater, because it was something different," says Naftal. "They said, 'Oh, we get to see ourselves?'" Though Dance Connection's focus is currently on keeping 2021 performance experiences as close to "normal" as possible, Naftal is keeping the drive-in premiere option in the back of his mind. "We have a full slate of contingency plans—reduced capacity, hybrid, virtual," he says.</p><p>Lown says she's open to alternative locations, too—like performing for nursing home residents in a courtyard as they watch from inside, which her studio did in October—as a way to safely reach different audiences during the pandemic. She's already booked her 2021 recital venue (an outdoor covered stage with plenty of seating room) and is fashioning the event as the Misty's Dance Unlimited Fest, with music, food trucks, cotton candy and photo opportunities. "The parents went nuts over the idea," she says.</p>
The Revenue Question<p>Though recitals have historically been moneymakers for owners—bringing in anywhere from 10 to 25 percent of a studio's annual revenue—the 2019–20 studio year was a major exception. "It's a huge loss for almost any studio," says Naftal. "We lost ticket revenue, the merchandise we would've sold, concession sales." For the Naftals, it's a loss they're willing to take if it means families might be more inclined to return this studio year. "We needed them back in the fall, when they might be out of work and deciding between cutting dance or other expenses," he says.<br></p><p>That's not to say that a virtual or otherwise reimagined recital can't be a revenue opportunity. Zamarripa, for example, is already thinking of selling digital downloads of her studio's showcase. "At some point, I want to make the Vimeo video available to the public for purchase," she says. "And in the future, I would maybe charge a small fee if we have a livestream recital option—maybe $5 a ticket, as opposed to $12 tickets for our typical recital. But it's not going to become a main source of revenue."</p>
From Zamarripa's virtual recital earlier this year. Photo courtesy Zamarripa