How to Run a Poetry Night: Planning
Events in the poetry world are run by Producers. What is a Producer? Anyone who arranges an event or project. I know a lot of people who don’t consider themselves Producers despite arranging events, and I know people who consider themselves Producers having never run an event. Producers make things happen, they gather people and create moments in which art is held centre stage. Without the Producer, nothing happens.
This is a crash course for Producers—or those wanting to become Producers—on how to run events, assembled from pieces of information I have received from Producers I worked with when I was learning, and lessons I have given Producers I have since mentored.
Before you even begin trying to start an event, it’s vital you plan properly. The planning stage comes before you publicly announce “Hey, I’m going to run an event.” It is perhaps the most important step but oftentimes I see people trying to skip out on it and jump straight into the meat of the job. As a result, they undermine performers’ confidence in them. Here are the things you will want to consider before promoting your event.
1. Set a goal in private
Do you want to earn a certain amount from the door? Or do you judge success by attendance? Privately, work out your goal, make sure it is realistic, and keep looking to improve on it in the future.
2. Start small
It’s better to build up than fall down. Work out what you can do and then do that; don’t push yourself too far and wind up running a terrible show. A bad show is hard to come back from down the line.
3. Ask for help
Reach out to people who have done this before and shadow them, if they will let you. Most people are very positive about more events and will be happy to share their knowledge. This doesn’t mean send Kate Tempest a message (unless she’s a friend, in which case send her to me!) but instead ask to help out with another local night.
4. Pick a suitable venue
Pub gigs suck unless either they have a separate room or you can fill the entire place with poets. The general public doesn’t want to hear poetry encroaching on their evening, even if it’s good, unless they have specifically attended your night. Most people in pubs are there to drink and hang out with friends. They won’t make good audiences.
5. Don’t saturate the market
Be wary of putting events too close to others; there’s a limit on how much poetry and audience can watch. Don’t get into competition with your local scene. Give them space and promote them as well; friends are better than rivals. Don’t try and do the same thing as the people near you—let everyone provide something unique.
6. Less is more
It’s better to be in demand that overflowing. Stick to a limit of performers and keep to that. People need to value the chance to perform at your night.
7. Make time for new poets
Invite people you haven’t had down before and save slots for new talent. Fresh blood grows the community and keeps things exciting.
8. Plan early
Account for people to show up a little late, get drinks, and chat to people. There’s a difference between Doors at and Starts at. Having a cushion at the beginning will stop your show overrunning; it will let people settle down beforehand and mean you don’t have to make up for lost time.
9. Get your shit together
Do you need gear? Is the room you’re using going to need amplification? Remember to account for bodies absorbing sound. It’s better to have a microphone that goes unused than need one and have nothing on hand.
Getting a solid plan together means you will be going into the event with confidence that you know what you are doing. There may come a time when your planning is more akin to remembering what you did before, but that comes with experience. To start with, make a list and check it twice.
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© 2018 Connor Sansby
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Connor Sansby is a Margate-based writer, editor, poet and publisher through his super-indie Whisky & Beards publishing label.