Monday, February 22, 2016

How to decide whether to cancel a concert or singing workshop

It’s your worst fear: despite all your hard work publicising the event, only a handful of people turn up. Or the musical director is taken ill. Or perhaps the venue burns down.

empty seats
photo by B Rosen

The difficult question is: can you continue or should you cancel? And if you do decide to cancel what’s the best way to do it, and what are the implications? There are no easy answers, but here are some things to consider.

perhaps you should have cancelled

When I first started out I used to run a weekly adult education class called Songs from around the world. One week just two singers turned up. We tried three part harmony. They never came back! Perhaps I should have cancelled.

My first choir did a concert at a folk festival. We managed to muster around 20 singers and we sat in the audience enjoying the other acts until it was our turn to go on. When we stood up, there were only about two people left in the audience. Perhaps we should have cancelled.

I used to run singing summer schools during the long break to keep the singers in my choir engaged. One year I managed to muster loads of new eager singers who turned up to the venue I’d booked only to find it was locked. We went up the road to the local pub and asked to use their function room, but it was booked. So we ended up singing in the pub garden. It put lots of people off and many singers never came back. Perhaps I should have cancelled.

A friend and I were travelling in southern India and booked to see a Kathak show. We bought our tickets in the morning for an evening performance. The performers were already starting to prepare and put their elaborate make-up on when we bought our tickets at 10am. When we arrived at 7pm we were the only two audience members! The performers insisted on doing the show which we enjoyed enormously, but it took some time to get over our embarrassment. Perhaps they should have cancelled.

possible reasons for cancelling

It’s really hard to decide whether to cancel or not, especially since a lot of hard work has gone into the event, whether it’s a singing workshop or a concert.

Here are some reasons why you might think about cancelling.

  • low numbers – despite all your hard work in publicising the event, just a few people turn up. It doesn’t seem worth carrying on. There used to be an Equity (UK actors’ union) rule that if the number of actors in the cast outnumbered the number of audience members, then it was OK to cancel the performance. But choirs sometimes have over 100 singers, which might mean lots of cancelled concerts.
  • venue/ equipment problems – nobody turns up to unlock the venue or the PA system breaks down or the piano doesn’t arrive in time. Circumstances beyond your control, but pretty hard to continue.
  • people problems – illness is one of the biggest reasons that people can’t turn up, but it can also be injury or family bereavement, traffic jams or transport breakdown. It’s OK if it’s a couple of singers in the chorus, but if it’s the musical director or a soloist or the accompanist then that’s a big problem.
  • under prepared – the concert has arrived, but you may feel that you’re just not ready. There may have been a lot of absences or cancelled rehearsals or the complexity of the repertoire was underestimated. The big question is: do you go on knowing that it’s not up to your usual standards, or do you cancel?
  • acts of god – these are easier to deal with because they affect everyone and not just the singers or workshop leader. Things like flooding, transport disruption, strikes, etc. There’s usually no alternative but to cancel.

There are ways around most of these situations though. For example, if the piano doesn’t turn up, you could just perform acappella. If your MD or soloist is ill, there might be a substitute. If the audience is very small, it still might be worth continuing.

how to cancel

If you do decide to cancel, how do you go about it?

  • let everyone know – it’s important to let people know so they won’t have a wasted journey. For a workshop you may well have a list of names and contacts so send emails and make calls. Depending on your concert ticketing system, you may also have contacts for some of your audience members.
  • arrange for refunds – you will also need to contact people to arrange refunds. Make it clear how and when they will receive their refund and if it includes reimbursement of any booking fee. If the event has been re-scheduled, give people the option of carrying their payment forward.
  • let the venue know – and anybody else who might be involved, e.g. equipment hirers, caterers, etc. The sooner you let them know, the more likely it is that you can reduce your overheads. Let them know why you’re cancelling. If it’s due to ill health they might consider a reduction. If you have event insurance, contact your insurers as soon as possible.
  • put a note on the door – you’ll also need to make it very clear to people who might turn up on the door that the event has been cancelled. Not only a sign on the door, but a person to there to explain what has happened and to let people know when your next event will be.
  • get the word out as widely as possible – use social media to get the word out too. Maybe even local radio. Use as many outlets as possible.
  • use it to your advantage – try to be as positive as possible. Offer alternative events that people can come to. Try to spin it to your advantage.

In my next post in this series I’ll be looking at the implications of cancelling, but also some things you can do to avoid cancelling in the first place (or ways of turning it to your advantage): The costs of cancelling a concert or singing workshop (and ways to avoid it in the first place).

Chris Rowbury



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