Show-Me at a Showcase

                                                                                                      By Marilyn Kinsella


A.    Finding the right showcase for you talents: Are you willing to travel? Do you want to remain a regional teller or become nationally-known? The following list starts with the smaller showcases and ends with the national showcases.  

          1. Libraries

Throughout the United States the state libraries are sectioned into systems. Many of the system libraries hold annual showcases either as stand-alone events or as part of a workshop day. Call the system libraries in your state to find out when they are held. I have not come across any that charge the performers for presenting. However, I have had a state-wide library conference that was including a showcase ask for a $20.00 fee for a five-minute workshop. (See below) Most of the attendees will be looking for programming for their Summer Reading Program. The S.R.P. usually follows a state-wide theme that are chosen two years in advance. Get to know your local children's librarian or call the system periodically to find out when the theme is chosen. It is very important to adjust your storytelling program to the summer reading theme. Give your program a title that incorporates the theme. For example, in 2005, the state theme in Illinois was "Super-Heroes: Powered by Books." I offered a program called "Goin' Ape over Super Heroes" that featured my ape puppet dressed as Spiderman, stories about Anansi, the African Spider Man, and a puppet show about Anansi.

However, the library showcase may invite teachers and other special events' coordinators. If there are others besides librarians at the showcase, be sure to include some information on how you can adjust the program. For instance, for schools you may have a study guide for the teachers, and you may want to change the title of the program. Example: my Anansi program may be better suited for Black History month. It may be called "Anansi the Spider: Africa's Finest Superhero."

Libraries often hold their programs on weekdays - Monday thru Thursday. Some will have evening events, but most have morning or afternoon shows. They usually don't pay as well as schools but they are often amenable to block booking on your behalf. (See below) Often they are willing to pay a higher price, if this is a special event such as the opening or closing of the SRP. They will be looking primarily for programs for elementary age students and some pre-school programming. Today, more are looking for teen programs and some are looking for adult programs as well. Others will look for "family events." Have your promotional literature show the span of ages for which your storytelling can adjust. Most programs are 30 minutes in length, but others can go for 45 minutes to an hour.

 There is usually no compensation for the showcase for travel or overnight stay - although some librarians open their homes, if necessary.

          2. Schools

State-wide PTO or PTA conferences sometimes hold a showcase that is sandwiched in among other workshops. The attendance at the showcase can be greatly hampered when it is not the only choice at a particular time slot. It is important to remember that even though these parent organizations often pay for the school assemblies, they do not actually select the artist. This scenario has happened at other conferences as well. It does not work to have other options available when a showcase is planned.

I have not come across showcases at teachers' conferences in my area, but they may be held in others. At the county-wide teacher's institutes (if no showcase is available) offer to do a workshop (sometimes they even pay an honorarium). At least for those attending you can semi-showcase your talent and give some educational lessons to go along with the program. Call the superintendent's office in the counties that you are willing to travel to get information on Institute Days. I think the best exposure to get into schools is through the arts council's showcases. (See below)

If you decide to do school showcases, keep in mind that most schools need to know the educational value of your presentation. In your promo material highlight whatever standards your state mandates for its schools. At the showcase show your study guides that go along with specific stories or story programs that you have developed. (Go to Study Guides) Your showcase needs to show a wide variety of the types of programs that you offer. So, give snippets from the best of your different programs. Be sure to include which programs offer anything pertaining to character-building, drug prevention, literacy (often funded through grants) and mandated programs such as - the Holocaust, state history, Native Americans, etc. Do your homework - keep a finger on the latest trends in education and reflect that in your showcase and promotional material. Expect to do 45-minute to an hour performance at schools from classrooms to full assemblies from Monday-Fridays. Your fees should consider the amount of times you tell, the size of the audience, and how long the performances are. Have your fees readily available as you talk to prospective clients.

There is no compensation for mileage, motel, or food

           3. Arts Councils

If you wish to broaden your telling area to statewide, consider getting to know your state arts council. In Illinois they have an ArtsTour roster to get artists into schools with up to a third of the cost paid for. You need to apply to get on these rosters. Then, once a year, they hold a showcase. Showcase times are at a premium and registrations need to get in early to get a spot. They also have a room for displays (See below). In the past there was no cost for the showcase, but with cuts in their budgets, they are now asking for some help. They have been generous enough in the past to offer mileage for those coming further than a hundred miles and a room for one night. It's a great way to get to know your fellow artists and to build networking...and getting jobs is an added bonus!

The way they run the showcase in IL, you are competing with others - four 15-minute showcases run concurrently. Sometimes people stay in the room, but sometimes they want to catch a glimpse of all four so you have movement. It is key to get the attendees back to your display, so you can talk to them one-on-one. I have my attendees fill out a note card with their contact information on it. At the top of the note card I put my booth number. I do not collect the note cards during the session - only at my booth. (that is key) I tell them it would be used in my database to send them periodic storytelling information*, but also for a raffle to be held every hour at my booth. I show the calendars with my card attached to it.  They actually seek me out - first to give me the card and then to come back to see if they had been selected. I am able to make double/triple contact with them. *I also tell them that when they receive my e-newsletter all they need to do is respond back if they do not wish to continue to receive it. That notice is at the bottom of every e-mail that I sent to them.

          4.  Professional Showcases

I have not pursued the "high-end" showcases. They are expensive and they are highly competitive. You have to be at the top of your game to even be chosen to be in the showcase. They will usually ask for a DVD of your performance as part of the audition. If you choose to go this route, get a high-quality DVD made of your best work. If you are willing to invest in yourself, this is the way to go. The website below gives some arts council showcases and the larger professional showcases. There may be more than these, but it is a very useful site: This is the only directory of its kind on the Internet. Since most showcases are annual events, listings will remain on this directory before and after the showcase date.

Sidebar: Some storytellers send in videotapes if they are not able to make a particular showcase. It has been my experience that these videotapes are not very useful in getting jobs.

  1. How to prepare for a showcase

  1. Expenses  The bigger the showcase the more you will need to invest in your storytelling. Just keep in mind that it's not all about the job. There is networking with fellow performers and laying groundwork for future jobs. As a bonus - keep all your receipts...every penny is tax deductible if you claim your storytelling income on a Section C.

a. Handouts, folders, business cards, brochures, and packets Get yourself a graphic artist to develop an attractive logo to use on your many promos. Have quality promotional material made with the logo that also includes: letterhead stationary, return labels, and envelopes. Use a good grade of paper. Your promo material speaks volumes about the kind of professional person you are. All promo should have your contact information and  a link to your website. No website? - get one. Handouts are useful to promote a particular program that you are currently trying to promote. Don't try to clutter it with too many ideas; stick to one point. Refer back to your website for further information. Folders - get a novel color and put your promo inside. Have it labeled "storyteller" for easy remembering. Otherwise, most of your work will go into the proverbial circular file! Make it easy for the clients to keep you material. Business cards - essential. They are like seeds that fall from your pocket. Sure some will fall on rocks but others will take hold in fertile soil. At the stationary stores they have magnets - just the size of your business card. They make great giveaways. Some tellers prefer the engraved cards and they are classy - no doubt about it - but you are limited to colors and what you can put on it. And, you have to buy in bulk. Then you are stuck with a thousand cards, if they become dated With a good stock card you can put your basic info on the front and contact info on the back. Of course, then you can't use the magnet idea. Here is one place to get attractive business cards that speak to storytelling:: Brochures - I had mine professionally designed, but I only make up 10 at a time on heavy-weight paper. If someone asks, I give them one. But truly - they are expensive and all that info can go on your website. I really do not recommend investing in a thousand slick brochures. It is very expensive and the information can become quickly dated. At least on my computer generated cards I can easily change the information at my fingertips. Packets - These are important to have, but only give them out after you have the contact. It is far too expensive to hand these out to everyone. Each packet should have a good professional, headshot picture or an action picture. You should fill it with the particular needs of the showcase attendees. A packet for a librarian would have different info than one for a teacher. You can put Xeroxed copies of your news clippings, price breakdowns, news releases, and reference letters. Make the outside of the packet attractive and have your business card attached to the inside.

b.      Giveaways – what works and what gets pitched; suggested retailers Try to find personalized giveaways that have uses and have your info on them. Make a storytelling demo CD. I had mine professionally recorded and had a student reproduce them for $.25 each. Cost of the blank CD and jewel cases and insert all came to around $500.00. Pens and pencils with your name and website on it are always good and inexpensive. Here is just one website:  Everybody likes magnets! Go to for ideas on magnets. For a truly interested client there are calculator key chains that are fairly inexpensive, but you will need to put your contact info on it. What better way to remember you than a mouse pad! These are more expensive unless you buy in bulk but here is a web address: Cheap key chains, funny little rubber characters, stickers - usually get pitched. Here are some sites that offer a veritable plethora of personalized promotions:  or  or

c. Prizes – How much and how many? If you have a showcase and no display area, the emcee can hand out the note cards while you are starting your showcase. Have the attendees them fill it out, and ask the emcee to collect them. At the end of your showcase choose one of the cards for the prize. If you have CD, that would be best, but just make sure your contact info is somewhere on the prize. Now, if you have a booth - Have the prospective clients fill out an entry blank with your booth number on it during your showcase. It must be handed in at the booth. Others, who didn't attend your session can simply fill it out at your booth. During the breaks from the showcases - usually about every hour, hold a drawing. Make a display with the prize and the name of the winner (s). This prize could be a basket filled with seasonal items (and your business card!), a calendar like the ones on (with your business card!), a copy of your CD or audio tape, or you may even find something for a grand prize. If no one comes to claim the prize, I do not send it to them. It's cost prohibitive. My prizes are about $5.00 each for a total of $30.00. If the organizers ask for an attendance prize from you, make sure that (you guessed it) it has your business card on it.

d.      Video taping/audio taping – homemade vs. professional I have seen more and more tellers use DVDs at their booth with the sound turned way down so they don't infringe on other booths. The ones I saw were professionally done and very compelling. Most DVDs were shown on their battery-run laptops. Keep in mind that the organizers often change more for a booth if you require electricity. Some places will offer the TV/VCR/DVD, but at an added price. I do not recommend that you show a homemade video of your storytelling. It will look unprofessional.

e. Booth and showcase fees? Some showcases will have free booths and others a basic fee - anywhere from $200.00 - $800.00 for a booth. This is especially true at trade shows where you are competing with book companies and other businesses. Try to go together with other tellers, if that is the case. Dividing the booth by four makes it reasonable and it allows you to take needed breaks. Other places (again, some are free) charge $20.00 - $50.00 to showcase only. But that usually includes a listing in an entertainers' booklet or on-line listing service.

    1. Performance

a. Time constraints This varies from showcase to showcase - 5 minutes, 9 minutes, 15, and even 20 minutes. If you have a short showcase (under 10 minutes) don't talk about yourself. Give your bio along with any Q&A at your booth. Have your showcase timed to the second. It is very rude to go over your time. It's not fair to the others who keep to the time. You can go under...but not over. As a time-keeper myself, I know it is difficult to have to cut someone off, and it makes you, the performer, look unprofessional.

b. Humor Keep it light-hearted, smile, and act like you are having a good time. Don't be afraid to laugh at yourself ,because no matter how hard you prepare, the unexpected can always happen. Turn your energy level up a notch. Project your voice. Be flexible, but be in control.

c. Teasers When doing snippets and need to stop a story at a strategic place, say something like...."and now,  for the rest of the story....just contact your friendly storyteller at www....."

d. Showcasing for your audience’s needs I touched on this above, but if you are showcasing for the libraries keep in mind the summer reading program's theme; when showcasing for schools, present those snippet stories that go along with the curriculum; when showcasing for professional showcases, show your best stuff.

e. One story vs. a sampling I've seen both work. The best kind of showcase story is one that shows your range of work - different character voices, songs, magic tricks, funny parts and sad, etc. I have a personal story where I can pigeon hole three other types of stories with just one or two lines from each. When I have a five-minute showcase, it's the best. You may have a dynamic story that so fits the theme that it would be the best just to do that one story. But, if you are doing a program that has many other elements - a puppet show, sing-a-long, etc, it's best to keep to a well-prepared snippet from the story...just enough to give them a rich taste of the story. Then, you can talk about the other elements, too. And, again for schools, you will want to show the range of types of stories that fit into a variety of curriculum tie-ins. So, you will want to do snippets from each story.

f. Audience involvement Part of being an entertainer is to keep the audience with you. Try to find ways to have them answer individually or respond as a group with you. It keeps them involved in the process.

g. Theme – libraries often have a summer theme I already wrote about this above. But here are a few more examples. A few years ago the SRP was called Reading Rocks. This could be taken two ways - rock stars or stones. My husband and I collaborated on a program called "Stories 'n Stone" that sold very well to the libraries. "Devour a Book" I had stories that had eating or food in it. One year I did make an error in judgment. The theme was "Lights, Camera, Read". I went with the Lights part and my husband I collaborated again on fire stories and how to make fire. This did not sell. Not only were we teaching kids how to make fire, but the theme really was about Hollywood star types.

h. Questions and Answers? Use as much of your allotted time as you can to do a performance. Your promo material will give your bio information. If they have questions, steer them towards your booth or tell them that you will be there at the end of the showcase to answer their questions. However, if you have a 20-minute showcase, you may have time for questions.

i. No-no’s – running overtime, not being prepared, disorganization, etc. I don't think I can stress enough about going overtime. It makes you look unprofessional, it makes the other performers angry, and it stresses out the emcee (trust me, I've been the emcee!). A showcase that has been practiced has more fluency than one in which the performer thinks he/she can just wing it. Have everything you need set up and ready to go. There's nothing worse than having your audience feel sorry for you because something is not at your fingertips. Make sure your mic is off, if you are wearing it. One time someone left the stage, and we heard a detached voice say, "Well, that was crap." During your performance - don't talk about what you do - do it! Whether you choose to tell one story or snippets from several - do tell! Tell - Sells!


C.  Manning a Booth

                   a. Making the booth informative and eye-catching:   

Photo albums - Bring along your old photo albums for them to flip through. Be sure it includes your news coverage. Colorful paper - Mount your pictures and other promo on top of brightly colored paper. Lettering - Make it bright and contrasting but not overly curly-cued. You want them to easily read your display. Table cloths - This may or may not be an issue. Some booths are already furnished with black drape. Others you are just given a table where a table cloth would help dress it up. Flowers - optional but remember how much space you have. Rugs - Optional.  It depends on how much space you have. If you can take the table and pull it back to the drape, you'd have space for a small decorative rug. Just remember the more you bring, the more you have to schlep back and forth. Stand-ups - great for a single promotion that you want to highlight on your table. Tri-folds - these can be purchased at a stationary store for minimal amounts. Most are already colored so you don't have to add a background. I add some borders and colored paper for mounting my pics and it looks great. Don't try to get by with poster board. It looks cheap. Exhibit boards - you can go to any extreme with these, but if you plan to do a lot of these, they can save you money in the long run, Backdrops - Some conferences don't allow you to pin or stick anything onto the drape behind you. But, you can dangle stars or other signs from the pipe in the back of the drape. Find out what the rules are and follow them. Gimmicks - Try to be doing something to attract the clients - a magic trick, a puppet, etc.  VCR/DVD - already discussed above

                                                b. Booth considerations: dimensions, tables, electricity, chair, lighting

Most conference coordinators will send you this info. Again, there is usually a charge for electricity, but many laptops run on batteries. If you have a lighted display case, obviously you will need to have electricity. They give you one chair, but I bring along my tall stool that I use in storytelling. It makes me more visible and it's easier than getting up and down from a chair. There will be times when you sit for a long time waiting for the breaks to come along. Bring something to read or work on. I like to go around and see the other displays and get more ideas for my own booth.

c. Laptop with professional looking video of a performance This seems the way to go when trying to sell yourself at a booth. Just remember to keep the volume down until someone comes along who is interested in hearing it.

d. Conversation – finding out what their needs are and how your storytelling complements them You need to ask leading questions to get the clients talking about they do. Then listen and respond with what you are able to do for them with your storytelling. Don't assume anything. I had an ESL person come by. I thought I couldn't help them because I don't speak a second language. I came to find out in conversion that they weren't even looking for a bi-lingual teller. They provided the translator when necessary.

e. Developing a mailing list – prize drawing, sign-up sheet The database that you garner from this booth, may just be your most important thing you go away with. Many of the clients can't book you at that moment, but if you keep in touch through a friendly email with storytelling info on it, they will most likely remember you, when they do need a storyteller.  You can do this through a prize drawing or at least have a sign-up sheet. Not all showcases allow the distribution of the names of the attendees.

f. Fee schedule with discounts:   Block-booking - This can be tricky and time-consuming. Some libraries try to keep their prices down, so they will do this for you. If you have an agent, they can work on getting more than one booking in a day. So, have your breakdowns handy. Say, you want $600.00 for storytelling per day. The first performance is $600, but a second performance would break it down to $300 each. A third performance will break it down even further - $200.00 each library. That is a price that most can afford. Piggyback booking - Agents will offer this. It's where a  library or another site books several acts from the same agency, and they give a discount. Attendance discount Offer a discount, if they book that day. Free performances - offer one free performance for every 10 you book.

g. Calendar: Have your calendar on hand for those who want to book NOW,

h. Give-a-ways – chocolates, magnets, pens, etc Already wrote about most of this. Chocolates and other treats are nice, but they are "consumable" and won't leave a lasting impression...except on one's hips. Chocolate is good draw, however!

i.  Handouts – business cards, brochures, print-outs made especially for the event Most of this has been covered, but you may want to have a special handout made with the name of the event, the date, your pic and bio, and info about your showcase.

j.  Box of necessities – tape (electrical, masking, and clear), scissors, safety pins, pens, sign-up board, paper, string, paper slips Keep this special box in your closet at home. It's your showcase/booth box. All these items are inexpensive, but very necessary. You don't want to be without!

k.  No-no’s Going outside your booth to rake people in - Wait patiently for the people to come into your space. When they do, draw them in with a question or a puppet, etc. If you have lunch together, pick a table where your friends are not sitting. Sit with the clients and make that added contact during lunch. Noise level - Remember that there are others next to you. Keep you voice to a strong but not distracting level. If you have a DVD - keep it down until someone really wants to hear it. Taking others' space - The space you have may start to get smaller, when you are putting the stuff up, Don't let it flow over to another's booth.  Leaving early - Most conference require you stay to a specific time. Unless you have a pressing engagement, stay. If you must leave, talk it over with the conference organizers, don't just leave. 


D.    Follow-Up: All of this will be like yesterday's wind... unless you follow up.

  1. Post cards - Send a postcard to the attendees thanking them for coming to your booth.
  2. Newsletters - When you get your website up and running, put a page on it with your e-newsletter. Send occasional emails to the attendees with updates on storytelling.
  3. Phone calls - I wouldn't call unless the attendee really showed some interest. I know some storytellers do cold calls and do get many jobs that way. It's just not in my comfort zone.
  4. Thank you notes to showcase organizers - A common courtesy. Putting these showcases together can be a thankless job. A drop of honey can go a long way