Professional Storyteller

Share a Story - Change the World

It's an important issue: I like to pay artists for their work. They deserve it. They work hard. They have a good product that they are providing.

But as a presenter at a nonprofit organization, I also want to save money.

These two paradigms don't need to clash, but I sure wish I could pay storytellers, and any other performers, what they were really worth.

I'd love your thoughts as to how to negotiate these muddy waters!

Tags: hire, money, pay, payment

Views: 34

Replies to This Discussion

Good luck! Grants, of course, are one solution but require a lot of work, paperwork and follow-up. The other solution is to get paying partners; with so many good causes vying for the same dollars, competition is tough.

I don't think there is an easy solution. It's a dilemma all of us in non-profits face. And as a storyteller, I'm often on the other side of the problem--I want to get paid. I understand that the nonprofit is a good cause; however, I have costs associated with performing that have to be covered somehow.

I'd be interested to hear the ideas of others who face this issue.
One possible solution is producing via contingency. (We'll do the event IF enough people want it)
Andrew Taylor at UW Madison noted this at his blog, (link here), that you could use The Point (or similar systems) to guarantee a base level of pay for an artist.

Suppose your budget to hire someone is $200. And you find a performer that would be perfect, but it costs $500 to get them to walk out their door. If you've got a subscriber base, or a dedicated base of supporters, they could help pledge to raise the funds. If enough people do it, it happens (the Web site actually charges their credit cards). If not enough people do it, you don't book the performer.

This doesn't directly tackle your question, David, but it could be a workaround in some cases.

(Especially the case where you're sick and tired of everyone saying "Oh, bring back Milton, we love Milton, how come you don't have Milton again?" and Milton costs four times more than what you can normally budget and you swear if you just had the money you'd hire him again just to get people to shut up)
I have always been a contrarian, and though I have been on the receiving end of grants, I also believe that if we are creating something of value, then our community should value what we do. My theatre company has never lost money and often raises money for our host. We sell tickets. People pay $7-$8 for a movie, $25-$105 for the theater, why not pay $5-$15 for storytelling? Funny though, people don't pay for storytelling. Prairie Folklore Theatre uses traditional folktales, folk music, true history and original songs to tell a bigger story. By calling it theatre, though we are rooted in storytelling and it is often one person standing at a mic telling tales, wrapped in music, with minimalist stage craft, people pay for storytelling, er, I mean theater. Long story short, sell tickets. Raise expectations, raise cash. Admittedly, some night we do not make much, but whatever we collect at the door we share. Recent show we have split the take to earn anywhere from $200 - $500 per performer.
All events I've produced have been for non-profits: local, state, regional & national. Each has a different audience, budget & talent pool. Some have long-standing reputations and audiences; and some are start-ups or one-timers.

For events where the targeted audience is the public (not storytellers), I remember that the public comes because of the Event, not the performers. Aside from Garrison Keillor there is no/little name recognition for storytellers. The general public doesn't see any difference between Mr. Big Name Teller from Somewhere Else and Miss Talented Regional Teller. As long as the tellers provide an engaging performance, I save a lot of $$ in fees and in travel expenses by hiring lesser known tellers. As concert series become more popular, there is a growing pool of experienced & talented tellers who work the smaller venues and are more affordable than the Big Festival roster.

Profit-sharing in lieu of set fees is one technique for producing with a small budget. It can be a budgeting nightmare if the event profit must also support other organizational activities. But the more I share 'ownership' of the event and its success with others (tellers, local community, storytelling fans, etc), the more people are engaged in marketing and promoting the event and getting bodies in seats.

With profit-sharing, it's important that the performers have faith in your integrity and know you will accurately report income & expenses.

To get performers, check your state & local artist rosters. As you continue producing, you'll plug into the word-of-mouth circuit and hear the buzz about others.
>Aside from Garrison Keillor there is no/little
>name recognition for storytellers. The general
>public doesn't see any difference between
>Mr. Big Name Teller from Somewhere Else
>and Miss Talented Regional Teller.

That is very true. Storytelling festivals attract a very different audience than events that pull in the general public.

It never hurts to check with your local librarians. We (librarians in general) tend to operate on slim budgets, so many of us keep our own private lists of local entertainers who charge very little, but give a good bang for the buck.

Many librarians are storytellers, too, and some of us even work for free as an extension of the services we offer in the library.

Several years ago, I did some work with a non-profit (unrelated to libraries) that needed to pay travel expenses for some presenters, but had almost no budget to do so. We got a few donations of items from some local businesses (in exchange for free advertising), raffled them off, and then used that money to pay the presenters. Most of the items were valued at $50 or less, and we sold raffle tickets for $1 each.

Jesse Ephraim
Youth Services Librarian
Southlake Public Library

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