Booking a tour

Isabel Tamen is the Executive Director of Richard Alston Dance Company. In December 2011, she took some time out of her busy schedule to speak with Katherine Rothman about her role.

You were a founder member of Richard Alston Dance Company. How did you bridge the gap between performing on stage to Executive Director of the company?

By pure luck! I was pregnant and had been dancing professionally for 13 years. I knew I was ready for a change - a career move. At the time London Arts Board in partnership with Independance were advertising to give grants to ex-performers and retrain them into managers. The idea behind it was that having been an artist yourself one would understand “artists’ needs” better.   I went for the interview and was fortunate to be awarded one of the two placements on offer. The great thing about it all was that you had a chance to re-train by sitting next to a very experienced dance manager and learn hands on rather than go and study at a university or college. It was meant to be a two year placement, but it turned out to last just one year and you had the chance to manage two of your own clients too. I left Independance in 2000 and my first management job was as General Manager of Henri Oguike Dance Company (1999-2009).

One of your many responsibilities includes booking each tour the company embarks on. Can you explain what this entails?

It’s quite a complicated and long term process. First of all, I need to make sure there are enough rehearsal weeks to prepare for a tour. So the discussion that comes first is how long Richard and Martin will need in the studio with the dancers in order to get programme A, B or C ready for touring. Once I have that answer, I start ringing the theatres, convincing them to take the Company on and getting pencilled dates in the diary. Planning times vary greatly; I begin conversations with the larger scale theatres first, around 18 months ahead of time. For a smaller venue, like our own here at The Place, it will be something like a year or even six months ahead of time.
To be honest, the dream of any manager is to be able to organise a tour that makes geographical sense, but it often doesn’t work out that way. Contemporary dance tends to fit in a theatre’s programming schedule at the last minute. We fit into what they call a split week, usually made out of two days of Contemporary dance, a bit of comedy and a night of a music concert. Theatre programmers don’t often know when these split weeks are going to be, as they fit in the longer productions first, generally plays and musicals. So we pencil dates in the diary and then wait for confirmation at a later stage. Also theatre programmers are very hard to pin down as they’re so busy, so I tend to arrange direct meetings with them when I travel with the Company on tour. I get them to watch the performances and then try and pencil dates there and then.

Every day in the office is different, but if you had to describe an average day, what would that look like?

At the beginning of a week, I try to write a large to do list so I come in and look at that first thing at the beginning of each day. The truth of the matter is you never quite know what your day will be like. It changes so often and you find yourself constantly multi-tasking and deviating from your original plan of action. So my general plan needs to remain flexible.
In terms of actual tasks, they vary immensely during a day. I deal with anything from tour booking, music collaborations, Richard’s independent commissions for other companies, budget planning, managing personnel, issuing contracts for venues and artists, making final decisions on dancers’ schedules,  travel and accommodation arrangements based on what plans the Company’s Administrator has pulled together, proof reading marketing materials, preparing board reports and lots of meetings.  There is a lot of tossing and throwing between what’s happening right now and having to plan of what’s coming ahead.

Do you have any advice to people interested in arts management?

If you are a professional dancer make sure that you do not embark in this profession too early – it’s very important to be ready for a career move after dancing. I loved my dancing days and feel very fortunate to love my new managing career as much – it all happened at the right time for me. 
Try and test the profession first prior to making a decision. Think about what you enjoy doing most and how you like to work. If you don’t cope well with stressful situations, enjoy multi-tasking, networking, travelling and hard work this isn’t the job for you. Be ready to be fast on your feet and combine precise detail with the bigger picture. However, watching the dancers on stage on a very good night makes up for all the hard work in the office - it’s very rewarding and highly stimulating!