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to a successful showcase performance

compiled & illustrated by John Byrne

47 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XT

Published by Stage Books, The Stage Newspaper Limited, 47 Bermondsey Street, London SE1 3XT

Copyright © The Stage Newspaper Limited 2007 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review. Distributed by The Stage Newspaper Ltd. Stage House 47 Bermondsey Street London SE1 3XT Disclaimer: We have taken all steps possible to ensure the accuracy of the data in this publication. All resources and links were checked for accuracy at time of going to press, but the publisher has no control over, and assumes no responsibility for, the content of outside resources nor does the inclusion of a resource in this publication indicate any endorsement of its content or any related services by The Stage or persons or any bodies connected with the paper.

This publication is respectfully dedicated to the memory of Peter Hepple .

He has written and co-written a number of popular career guides for singers. for over 30 years. He has also worked as a script doctor for several West End and touring shows. fringe. The company has also published Showcall. teaches voice production and stagecraft skills and has produced large scale clubland corporate events all over the UK. Britain’s leading directory of light entertainment performers. The successful series of Showcall Showcase events are widely recognised as some of the most important showcases in the light entertainment calendar. John has had a regular ‘agony uncle’ role on BBC London’s popular overnight show Late Night Dilemmas with Valley Fontaine and has contributed both in front of and behind the cameras to a wide variety of programmes ranging from Nickelodeon TV . fringe theatre. covering events throughout the UK. He also reviews the annual drama school showcases. As a journalist he has worked as entertainment reporter for the Yorkshire Weekly newspaper group. Since 2004. PAUL VALE has been a key contributor to the US publication Make-up Artist Magazine for 6 years. news editor for The Mercury Newspaper in Sheffield and is sole regional representative for The Stage. Paul also regularly reviews West End. MARK RITCHIE has been a professional singer and comedian for 25 years. presenters and performers. . For 9 years he was the Make-up Consultant for industry make-up supplier Charles H. The Stage has been reporting on and providing information for the UK entertainment industry for over 125 years. Mark is also involved as a creative consultant for theatre and holiday centre production company TPO. DEREK SMITH has been one of The Stage’s main showcase critics for more than 10 years. burlesque and cabaret shows for The Stage. In addition to his work as weekly advice columnist for The Stage. giving workshops and advice on all aspects of theatre make-up and styling. dancers and comedy writers and is also the regular advice columnist for Young Performer magazine. Fox Ltd. CBeebies and Five’s Milkshake to Sky News and Get Your Act Together with Harvey Goldsmith. and education officer to the International Make-up Artists Trade Show for the last 2 years.First printed in 1880. regularly contributes to The Stage’s various light entertainment supplements and compiles the paper’s weekly Backstage technical news. JOHN BYRNE has years of experience as a personal advisor to many successful entertainers.

. . . .Contents Introduction . . . . . . . . . 21 . . . . . . . . 9 Publicity and flyers . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 15 The critics rave . . . . . . . . 19 In closing . . . . . . 7 Preparing for a showcase . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 17 Thank you for the music . . . . . . . . . . . . . 11 Image conscious . . . 13 Showtime! Ten tips to make the most of your ten minutes . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .


a showcase gig (especially at top flight events such as Showcall) can be the key to new work. a magician. It doesn’t matter whether you are a singer. who are ready. more work and better work if it goes well. be they for corporate work. There is a tremendous amount of live talent around. And in most cases the point where those two worlds collide is the live showcase performance. a tribute band or a speciality act: your talent may be unique. willing and able to provide employment for good live acts whenever they can find them. there are plenty of eager bookers. you are probably already heartily sick of the old chestnut that it’s all about chasing ‘15 minutes of fame’. doing a private showcase for a booker or agent. On a brighter note. hard step-by-step process for all of us. and your presentation should be unique. turning it into a career involves a lot of hard work.Introduction I f you’re serious about making your living as an entertainer. or even taking a shot 7 . The truth is that even if you do get that elusive break. even a casual reading of The Stage will show that this is simply not true. The glut of reality shows over the past few years may have given the impression that it’s possible to walk in off the street and be transformed into a pop idol or chart topper by one big break. Usually short. much as the reality shows we have just been talking about might be cited by cynics as one of the reasons why ‘variety is dead’. a comic. cruise work or club work. both in terms of new performers taking their first steps into the spotlight and vastly experienced performers delighting audiences jaded by too much video with the excitement and exhiliration that only the live experience can produce. first time or highly experienced. Whether you are performing at Showcall Showcase or some other showcase event. But the route to success is the same long. More to the point. dedication and a determination to keep developing and polishing your act in front of as many different audiences as possible. usually performed as part of a larger event that involves lots of other acts and usually nerve wracking for performers.

but in truth it is a combination of things I have observed. may I on all our behalves wish you every success with your showcases and invite you to let us know what tips here work for you. Unless otherwise indicated the information you are about to read has been written up by me. I can assure you that having worked with and watched hundreds of performers over the past one of those dratted reality shows. what new ones you discover that might be useful for future editions and what Dear John and The Stage can provide further information on to help you even more. technique or guru (myself included!) which can lead to big steps forward. but please don’t just stop at reading them! 8 . It is simply thinking outside our own box. much of what you are about to read may seem entirely obvious. Of course you won’t be able to make those decisions until you try out the stuff in this guide. Conversely it is often not some expensive seminar. the information and tips in this booklet can’t guarantee success – but it’s been put together with the help of some highly experienced showcase experts. it is the most basic mistakes that we all make (myself included!) that do the damage. have been asked about and most importantly have had the privilege to learn from many highly experienced and successful showcase performers at Showcall and elsewhere. to help you make the most of that magical window of time when all eyes and ears are on you. so do enjoy reading the following pages. With that in mind. In thanking the many generous and highly experienced contributors who have helped me put together this short guide. doing our research and listening to people who know what they are talking about. Our aim is to guide you on what to do. the reasons why acts don’t reach their full potential and performers don’t make the living they should are rarely complicated. From choosing the wrong song for the wrong audience to horrible marketing materials to sloppy image. incredibly simple and stuff you do already. and often more importantly what not to do. and the course of your next year in the business depends on what you do in the next few minutes.

especially if you are an independent act (i. They have no time to make the mental leap required to see how your existing act. and the compere calls your name. It’s your job to know that and to have made any changes necessary in advance.. For the performer who is working regularly. More to the point. It is also a real 9 . Rehearse. Firstly. It might be that you are highly experienced and can comfortably do a one or two hour show. it can be very frustrating trying to secure slots on showcase bills. But there are two barriers to proper rehearsal which should be mentioned here. you should have done the important stuff long before you’re in that situation. The better ones such as Showcall are often fully booked up far in advance. you’re waiting in the wings. It is surprising what you can achieve when you rehearse something specifically for that slot. if you are new to the business. here are some pointers to consider before the next one… Rehearse. perhaps for the showcase after the one you were actually trying to get into. You need to be focused on what the bookers for the market you are aiming to break into are looking for. without agent representation).Preparing for a showcase Y ou’ve booked your slot. If you are not performing regularly.e. But the ‘show’ you are being asked to put on for your showcase is likely to be around ten minutes. Big mistake: the date can creep up on you before you know it. might be adapted to suit their needs. with some of the bigger agencies block booking in their own acts. and the one place you shouldn’t start rehearsing is during your actual performance. What’s the most important thing you should do when the curtain goes up? Actually. Rehearse Obvious? Perhaps. it is easy to put off knuckling down to sorting out what you are actually going to do in your spot. Bully for you. if you do secure a place it might be quite some time away. This is especially true if you are doing showcases with the aim of expanding into new markets. the point about performance and rehearsal not being the same thing is also worth making. If it’s too late for this showcase. no matter how great.

10 .shame how many performers who can easily bring the house down for an hour or two don’t even get their build up finished because they were relying on the luxury of extra stage time which simply doesn’t exist.

I have also seen some acts where the flyer was more polished than the actual performance. Even the most expensive paper or print in the world won’t save a horrible design though. Shop around. Here are some basic tips to help you get this important aspect of your work right first time: Go for value over price A good flyer does not have to cost the earth. which if I had seen the flyer first. and get several quotes if you are using a designer or printer. Sadly. And you know something? In some cases. Whether your flyer or poster comes via post or email or is on a wall. Since there are often more acts than bookers have time to see at a Showcase. After all. Your flyer.Publicity and flyers A picture may be worth a thousand words – but some of the words most appropriate to describe many of the pictures and flyers that come my way in the course of an average Dear John week (never mind what The Stage’s hard-pressed editorial and advertising staff are expected to turn into usable printed matter) are not necessarily suited for use in a family publication. but slightly better quality may make you more money in the long run. the good impression created from a well thought-out flyer was enough to make me forgive the rough edges in the actual stage show. The trick is to get the best results with what you have got. agent or audience member has with you it is even more essential. 11 . or check out who printed flyers you have liked for other artists. is ‘set in stone’ until you do a new one. I have seen many perfectly good acts. The cheapest paper may save you a few quid. I would never have given the time of day. your act will get better with experience. as the first contact a booker. Certainly go for quality if you can afford it. your flyer is sometimes just as important as your act when it comes to attracting work. Ask to see examples of previous work. once you have had it printed.

Even if all that you have to pay as a result of their helping you out is the copying and postage costs. not with the readers. Before you splash out on an expensive print run. 12 . And then go and get a proper photograph taken. show the prototype to a representative sample of people who know you and your act enough to be honest. Please use a recent photo that actually looks like you. tell us what your name is. But if a number of different people can’t read or understand what you are trying to tell them. you are not saving money. Lots of tiny text. Send the money to me instead and I will donate it to the Theatre Museum or some other deserving charity. ropy photos (see above) and 27 different typefaces will not get your work noticed any quicker. your kid or your mate Kevin unless they can produce them to professional standard. it’s your flyer and your money. or a catchy tagline) and tell us where you are on or how to contact you. By all means make your own decision in the end. ask what format they are needed in beforehand if you are not sure. And that’s all. Get a second (and third) opinion You are not the best judge of your own flyers or photos (and sometimes your agent isn’t either). Keep it simple and to the point The best flyers give some impression of the kind of act you do.Don’t rely on your friends’ good nature You wouldn’t ask your mate Kevin to play piano for you during your showcase if he was still on lesson one of a home study keyboard course. You’d be amazed how many don’t. your mum. give us one or two reasons why we should bother seeing/booking you (perhaps some lines from a couple of good reviews. the fault is with your materials. After all. Please don’t use photos or any other marketing materials designed by yourself. Unless we notice the fact that it should be in the bin. If you are emailing photos or sending them to publications such as The Stage or local papers to be reproduced.

The Stage’s image expert. is on hand to help. avoid fashionable. A healthy. Go to a specialist retailing in performance make-up to track down a good match and don’t wander too far from your natural tone. 13 . Male orientated products which are now easier to get.Image conscious by Paul Vale Like your act. calm performer on stage. Paul Vale. Most men will shy away from the idea of wearing any form of make-up on stage. even skin tone can be achieved using a selection of foundations available on the market. Hair & make-up The purpose of make-up in this instance is to enhance your natural features. Unless you are a tribute act and need to remodel your face with make-up then the rules are fairly straightforward. healthy and have impeccable genes. Lip colours should be carefully applied and particularly in the case of singers should be fixed using a good sealer. Your hairstyle will probably vary immensely during your career. Here is how to make sure your first impression is the one you are actually aiming for. you may still need some help. such as tinted moisturisers. which do exactly as they say on the tin. O ne of the vital ingredients in a showbusiness career – or a showcase appearance is that all-important first impression. Ladies may be at more of an advantage when it comes to styling and colouring and will realise the pitfalls of long nights under hot stage lights and how it can stress the hair. will allow men to achieve at least an even skin tone and even macho men may also benefit from anti-shine creams. your image should be sorted out before you step out on stage (and also before you ever appear on a poster or flyer). trendy colours as they can become unfashionable very quickly. For this reason try to avoid any treatment that will add to this problem such as over perming or strong bleaching and always go to a professional. When creating an image. but even if you are young. A small amount of product will take away the shine from under the spotlight and enhance the impression that there is a cool.

told your first gag or played your first note! Ideally your outfit will reflect the nature of your act. is indeed slimming and often very smart – but it can look unadventurous. bookers and even fans and to this extent you are still very much ‘on show’. Off stage Lastly. Your stage costume (and you must always think of it as such) is a reflection of your professional persona and not your personal taste. or at least has been tailored to your shape. on the other hand. putting the audience at their ease and helping them in their own mind establish how you want them to react to you. such as thickening sprays. You will probably be called upon to meet agents. Even Robbie Williams had to forgo the cut-off tee-shirt and jeans and don a suit for his foray into period music. check in with a reliable stylist to help you choose your wardrobe. however casual the event. Whenever possible ensure that you change from your stage outfit back into your own clothes to suit the venue you are performing at and remove any make-up. Costume On stage. 14 . It is far and away better to get something that is either made especially for you. lycra and bright colours may reflect your personal taste but if your catalogue of numbers feature hits from the West End then you may need to think again. Consult a specialist hair stylist instead: there may be a better new look you can achieve. Black.The colour and thickness of the hair will be a problem facing many men as male pattern baldness and greying might not be in keeping with your act. Bursting onto the stage in a mass of sequins. remember that once you step off that stage the show is not necessarily over. If Swing is your thing then avoid jeans. the immediate impression you get of an act is usually of what they are wearing rather than how they look. especially against the invariable black backdrop of a stage. Products are available to counteract thinning hair temporarily. not your clothes. It is a very simple philosophy but one that can easily be misjudged. but please try to avoid a ‘comb-over’ as nothing ages a performer quite so much. however comfortable or good they may look on you. Lurid colours and flashy fabrics have their place but remember you want the audience to remember you. Work around this when choosing an outfit and if in doubt. Professionals will respect the time this may take but there is nothing worse than seeing a performer relaxing in the bar in full stage make-up and costume. producers. It gives the audience their first impression and – literally – colours their judgement even before you have opened your mouth to sing.

They are hoping you will be the entertainer they need. the compere and/or some of the bookers well. But here are some things to consider which may help: 1. trust that it still works. at least in the session you are part of. If you have done this showcase a number of times. Do what you can do well. The audience at a showcase wants you to succeed. do not be tempted to do lots of in-jokes the rest of us will be confused by. What? You don’t have any emergency material? Get some! 5. not to enjoy itself. the same joke – has been done too often by previous acts. Keep an eye on similar acts to yours. If you normally get a good response from your material. and wouldn’t be here if they didn’t need entertainers. In fact the better you are. 3. The showcase audience is there to work. you won’t get the response you would get from an room full of ‘punters’. Don’t lose confidence early on as many performers have been known to do (it is lonely out there). 2.Showtime! Ten tips to make the most of your ten minutes N ot even Dear John can guarantee your success once you step out on stage…that’s up to you. and know the musical director. for example a song in a certain key or a particular impression. the audience and often a variety of factors outside the control of either party. If the same song – or worse. It comes across as 15 . No matter how good you are. This is not the gig at which to break in new material. don’t do it – and we will never know. consider dropping or changing it unless your version is radically different. They have invested time and money coming here. 4. If there’s something you can’t do. the more silence you may get back: bookers may be too busy noting your details to join in with your sing-a-long section.

has about five thousand ways to ask ‘what kind of work are you looking for?’ and he’s a past master at making even the most nervous act look good (and occasionally pulling a more arrogant one into line). The chat is important. Try to avoid the standard heckler put downs. 7. veteran compere of many Showcall Showcase events. even if they are loving you. they should keep it down to a whisper. 9. if it’s a key part of your act still do it with confidence. cocky and will lose you new gigs. so make sure you make it clear to the audience what you are available for and how to get hold of you if the compere misses either point out. if it is obvious work it into your act. stop. If necessary.rude. your mates will probably be booking you anyway. Don’t go over time. Start a knock on delay that makes us late home and you’ll see how quickly love will fade. so however your act goes. your chat with the compere afterwards and networking all the time you are there. Remember there are three parts to a showcase: your act. 8. Other showcase events may not have the same quality of host. 16 . 10. but they are working. 6. take a breath and start again – but never blame anyone else publicly even if it was their fault. Yes. work with it. After all. particularly for people talking while you’re on. be confident about it – even if it’s just having the confidence to admit that you were shaking. When something goes wrong mid-act (notice the ‘when’) if it’s not obvious to anyone else. too. Some kindly person will help you out with answers and even by being a ‘stooge’ if you need one. so believe in yourself and we will. not here to be entertained. Even though you may not get the response you normally get to singalongs/ talk to the audience material. Tufty Gordon. The bookers are here to see how professional you are and that includes dealing with glitches. They might even be talking about using you – and if they are bookers or agents they have heard all the lines before anyway. It’s your confidence and presentation we are looking for.

first impressions really do count” “Entertainers who are polite and courteous to the stage crew and those in charge of making a showcase happen. I asked Mark and Derek for their top likes and dislikes at showcase events. Derek and other Stage contributors. Sensible performers will learn from what they have to say. but the smarter operators simply know the job and are a doddle to get along with” “Singers/bands performing their own material. but highly experienced and respected reviewers full stop. No performer likes criticism. any style. Here they are (compiled as one list): Likes “Professional presentation/image . whether or not they actually like it and we have often seen the improvement when performers who have taken on board some of the critics comments.The critics rave M ark Ritchie and Derek Smith are not just highly experienced showcase reviewers for The Stage. but having been an audience member at shows that were reviewed by Mark. Let’s hear it for creativity!” “Speciality acts – any kind. I can honestly vouch for the fact that how they call it is pretty much how it was – and also that their take is usually very much in line with what the bookers are thinking. So often acts arrive with only their own agenda in mind . any level of madness always welcome” 17 . return for subsequent showcases. Showcases such as Showcall owe their reputation for quality to the firmness and honesty of reviewers like Mark and Derek as much as to their fairness.

For instance. either as soon as they walk on stage or in the first few minutes anyway. the worse the act – usually” “Singers who insist on giving us the same popular song of the moment. River Deep Mountain High.“People who have done their homework and know exactly what kind of work they want to do. with Mustang Sally. Hanging around and hogging the limelight really is both selfish and pointless” 18 . they have wasted half their allotted spot” “Terrible. or how difficult it is to know what to do in such a short space of time.but several at one go” “Acts who use up valuable time by reminding us what little time they have. As a result showcase chestnuts are created. tacky wigs of the kind often sported by Tina Turner tributes. Most of the bookers know exactly what they are looking for and normally have the act sussed . club acts and cruise ship acts require completely different modes of presentation and the ambitious show business ladder climbers should have watched those ‘in the know’ to check out what is required in terms of use of the stage and overall approach” Dislikes “Messy medleys which only succeed in murdering not just one good song. The worse the wig. My Heart Will Go On (from Titanic) and This Is The Moment (from the musical Jekyll and Hyde) being the prime examples” “Acts who insist on over-running their time. et al. In the time they take to inform us of this.

and there are several reasons for this: 1. Some artists work on circuits where there are only two piece bands (ie. 19 . it is obvious that you can work with a recording of a band (i. s the degree of ignorance about how to work with a band or a sound system when performing at showcases – never mind when you are actually trying to do a gig. they would have lost his or her slot and wasted the journey. bass guitar and lead/rhythm guitar. consisting of keyboards. keyboards and drums). For example. completely different) which you must bring with you so that the musicians can accompany you. Mike Watson: M any artists now work only with backing tracks and as such have no experience of the needs of musicians. is the chance to work with our top notch band of live musicians. However. Your audience: they are almost all professional agents and bookers who know the business and want to see you work live with both tracks and band. a track) but the reverse does not always hold true. though. one of the most worrying trends in live performance.. drums. Here are some basic points that would make life easier for you and the bands who have to work with you from hugely experienced (and patient beyond the call of duty) Showcall musical director. We want people to use the band at Showcall. At Showcall. Each one of these instruments requires slightly different music (in the case of the drums. Those of you who have performed at Showcall Showcase before will be aware that the band is always helpful and has even played for people who have turned up without any music at all where it was possible to do so! But this is only in an emergency.e. even among singers. If you work with the the band. if a performer finds that their minidisc is damaged and I hadn’t written out the music. The Stage very generously p rovides you with a four piece band to use at your discretion.Thank you for the music by Mike Watson A huge advantage of events like Showcall for new acts and experienced ones alike.

drums. Otherwise the sound person has to eject one and wait for the other to load – and you’ll only have yourself to blame if there are delays. 3 piece arrangements (keys. 4 piece arrangements (keys. drums + two copies of the keyboard part for the bass and lead) Please make sure that the music is in folders or that the sheets are clipped together in the right order and the right way up. As Showcall Musical Director I will accept any of the following (as will MDs at most events or gigs of similar quality). bass & lead guitar) 2. We don’t seem to have anything else to do that week so we might as well play for you! Joking aside. one of the main benefits of performing at Showcall Showcase is the facilities it provides for promotional material such as showreels and photos. Because every performance is recorded to DVD which you will then be able to use to promote yourself. drums. It keeps music live 4. bass + a copy of the keyboard part for the lead) 3. That means having the correct music with the right number of parts and being familiar with it yourself. you can find arrangers via sources such as The Stage but don’t leave it too late! A good showcase band is there to help you but we need your help to do that! 20 .2. it’s important to give the band the correct tools to work with so that your performance comes out the best it can be. 2 piece arrangements (keys. If you don’t already have this material and are serious about your career you really should be aiming to get it sorted out: 1. If you think you will need help with your arrangements. please make the effort to put all your tracks on minidisc in the right order if you want your tracks to run quickly and smoothly from one to the other. if you are working with tracks. You are restricting your fields of work by only working with tracks 3. While we’re on this subject.

You can also chat to fellow showcase participants and aspiring performers on our friendly StageTalk message boards. including Dear John. do keep us posted on your progress and I’ll look forward to seeing you with a bulging diary full of showcase bookings in the very near future! John Byrne dearjohn@thestage.getmemyagent. the latest news and the earliest notice of new booking and employment 21 . please do visit my own site at www.In closing I hope the information in the preceding pages has been useful to you-but as we noted at the beginning. You can keep adding to your bank of experience and knowledge by visiting the many useful advice sections of The Stage’s website. why not start at the top and talk to the friendly people at www. Wherever you get your information from. act doctoring or getting an agent. it can only be useful if you decide to put it to use. Every success with your career in the for further details. If you are interested in coaching. our numerous How To features and our Legal Eagle about why any sensible act should make sure they are featured there. there is no substitute for getting out there and doing a showcase. With that in mind. though. and of course a weekly subscription to The Stage brings you a wealth of details about upcoming events.


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