So yesterday I posted about doing a dinner theater play to help raise funds for your not-for-profit. I included a portion from a script I wrote a while back & some videos that my husband had shot and edited for the event. In this post I hope to dive deeper into the logistics and give you some helpful details for actually putting this fund raising together. If you want more ideas for the actual play, just ask. I’ve got lots of scripts and ideas for new ones!
In the early days of doing these ‘dinner theater’ types of events, my husband and I performed for small groups and even for a few high schools. One high school in particular sold tickets and made it sort of a homecoming dance alternative (not sure if they were having problems on campus to cause them to ditch the dance??) In later years, we held theses fund raising dinners for church crowds and local communities primarily around Valentine’s Day.
My advice when you first start going down the road of throwing one of these plays together – START PLANNING EARLY. Figure out what month you’re doing this in (at least 3 -4 months in advance) and get busy! There is nothing worse than having to throw together food, costumes and props at the last minute. It would make for a terrible evening for your attendees if you were grossly disorganized and running around frantically.
Secondly, determine who you want in your audience and how you can make the event enjoyable and appealing to them. If you’re performing for teenagers, try to have lots of well put-together multi media (music/video/lighting/etc). Older crowd? Choose some songs and themes that would appeal to them. Pick a date that ideally doesn’t conflict with major holidays or community events. What type of food do you want to serve? How do you want to serve the attendees? And then for the clincher – how much do you charge? Teenagers have smaller budgets… It’s the older crowd that normally can handle a steeper ticket price.
Ticket prices can make or break this event by the way. If you don’t have a solid budget from the beginning, you’ll likely go over budget quickly. Between food, decor, props, food, rentals, etc, you’re looking at some hefty operating costs. So talk early, soon and often with your team of volunteers. Decide and agree together on what is truly essential and what isn’t. What can be donated (maybe actors can find their own costumes and makeup?) and what needs to be purchased? Since you’re a non-profit, you are more likely to find donors who will happily donate to your dinner theater event.
Get your script finalized. Or at least close to finalize. Figure out who your cast of actors will be, and realize that your script will most certainly change. If you’re writing it, I urge you to EDIT, EDIT, EDIT… Keep it as tight as possible. There are lots to be said about script writing, but I’ll move on for now.
Figure out how to market to your potential attendees. Fliers, traditional mailers, a small website or Facebook page, email blasts,Twitter – use anything at your disposal to get the word out about your event.
Break up your group of volunteers into ‘teams’ or departments. Costumes & makeup; Script/story; Directing actors (lots of rehearsal leading up to the event!!); Props; Decor; Ticket Sales; Marketing/Promotions; Rentals for dinnerware/tables/chairs; Food prep; Food service (which actors will participate in doing); Media (video/audio/lighting); Set up & Clean up… The list can and will grow! Meet with them frequently to help them trouble shoot any problems or to brainstorm more wonderful ideas.
My idea of an ideal evening would go as follows:
6:15 – Guests check in and enjoy appetizers
6:45 – Guests are given new ‘identities’ or character names that go along with this interactive play (find names at their tables). They are seated and welcomed. Explain what their donations are going toward. (Keep this rather short. Get the show going first!!) Let them know this is an interactive play so they may be called upon to participate in some small way. Quick explanation of character names, etc. Get started!
6:55 – Play begins, Act 1
7:15 – First break from play. Actors (in full character) and other volunteers serve 1st course (salads, bread, or whatever). Actors interact with attendees by using their new identities, etc.
7:30 – Play resumes, Act 2
7:50 – Second break from play. Actors (in full character) and other volunteers serve main course. Usually this is a “mystery” dinner theater play so that this point someone would come up and ask the audience table by table who they think the culprit is (‘who-dun-it’) in the play. This can get pretty funny as tables start to get a little competitive.
8:10 – Play resumes, Act 3 (final act!)
8:30 – Do a quick presentation of your non-profit organization (by this point, people are entertained but tired!!). Ask for donations (have jars in middle of table perhaps?) or let them know how they can become more actively involved in helping your cause. THANK THEM!!
8:45 – Dismiss!
So it’s a rather long evening, but again you can potentially gain some committed donors and volunteers for your non-profit!
P.S. I think I’ll do one final blog post on this idea tomorrow and include some more resources and documents.