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Fawnskin Victorian Festival - a Cautionary Tale

I was hired as dance caller and general consultant by the folks putting on the Fawnskin Victorian Festival. At the time, it seemed like not too bad an idea, since they seemed to have a decent track record with several years of Renaissance festivals and Pirate festivals.

They were determined to put on a "Victorian Ball" in the model of the SDI balls, thinking that by hiring the band and some of the management of the SDI ball, they would inherit its success. My first, and repeated advice, was to warn them that this was a huge risk and that they were unlikely to get many people coming up from the flatlands to attend--but that advice wasn't heeded, and the event crashed and burned, and was canceled at the last minute.

They are not the first however, to succumb to the siren call of the big vintage dance event, and not the first to fail. Here are a few thoughts on that topic.

First bit of advice: Start small and build an audience. Don't assume that just because you get mentioned on the "Dance and History" list that people will just come pouring in. Every group needs to create a relationship with an audience, and build a following, and it seldom works to start from scratch with a big, expensive event. If you are counting on poaching the audience of an existing event, you had better be offering something that sounds better than what they are currently getting.

Second: Be prepared to lose money. Take a hard look at the costs of the event, and figure out whether you can actually afford the risk of it failing.

Note that, of all the choices you might make, a Victorian Ball, done properly is about the most complicated choice you can make. The Quadrilles and Victorian set dances have some very particular choreography, and music that fits this choreography is not in the standard repertoire of most bands. A Victorian Ball requires a lot of preparation, and will often limit your band choices (and increase your expenses) much more than if you went with a different theme.

Third: Make it sound attractive and fun, and then promote it as heavily as you can.

Fourth: the venue REALLY matters. Find a venue that is comfortable and convenient for your guests, workable for your musicians, and feels right with your theme -- and of course one you can afford. Further, a great venue can be a major draw, while a lame venue can be a big disincentive -- and in the days of high gas prices, a distant venue can also be a big disincentive.

There are a lot of other areas where I could derive lessons learned, not the least of which is to be more careful in the future not to associate myself with such hopeless amateurs, but I will focus on issues of deciding whether or not to stage a vintage dance event.

So, the final bit of advice would be to put on an event to have fun, and to realistically assess what you actually need to make that fun happen. Do not put on a vintage dance event with the expectation of riches or glory.



I guess my advice to would-be vintage events organizers is to volunteer with a going concern and see how things should (and sometime should not) be done. As the man said: "you gotta know your territory."

It's worth noting that at PEERS, we actually assume that certain events will be "artistic successes", and make sure that we have enough, known "hits" throughout the year to cover those losses.