Thanks for volunteering to serve as a Master of Ceremonies (Emcee) for the Alaska Folk Festival. This is a fun, highly visible job. We think you have the talent for it, and hope you have fun.
Welcome the audience at the start and introduce each act; keep the ball rolling during the two-to-three minutes between each act. While the Stage Crew changes the stage set-up from one act to the next, keep attention on you, the Emcee, and away from the stage change. Armed with many "thank you's," important announcements, reasons people should go out to the Membership Table and become an AFF member, information about dances, workshops, and other AFF related events, maybe a few jokes, and you're set. If you follow a few basic points you can't go wrong.
Now, for some details. Even if you have been an AFF Emcee before, read over these notes as a refresher. There is a lot of useful information in what follows, and probably some things you never knew.
Part one: BEFORE THE SHOW
Part Two: BETWEEN ACTS
Part Three: TALKING ON STAGE
Part Four: GETTING ORGANIZED FOR TALKING ON STAGE
Part Five: THINGS NEVER TO SAY OR DO
Part Six: YOUR TEAM
Part Seven: THE HARD PARTS
1) WHEN TO ARRIVE
SHOW UP AT CENTENNIAL HALL NOT LATER THAN 6:30 P.M. FOR THE EVENING SHOW, OR 11:30 A.M. FOR THE WEEKEND AFTERNOON SHOW. Time passes very fast the last half hour before the concert (which start at 7 PM and noon, for evenings and afternoons, respectively). Showing up late adds a lot of unnecessary stress for everyone. ARRIVING EARLIER IS EVEN BETTER.
2) YOU'VE ARRIVED
Someone will be there to give you a briefing and information about the various things the Festival would like you to announce from the stage during the concert. Look over the material on the Emcee clipboard (a concert schedule, announcements, and such). Put on your Emcee button.
3) INTRODUCE YOURSELF TO THE STAGE MANAGER
While, YOU are in charge of the performance, your Stage Manager is your First Mate! Develop a good working relationship with your Stage Manager so YOU don't have to go looking for the next act. The Stage Manager will report to you any No-Shows or other problems, so YOU can make decisions on program changes.
4) THE EMCEE CLIPBOARD
On the Emcee clipboard, you'll find pages with the latest concert schedule (a Daily Schedule), lists of various people and businesses to THANK, a page to fill in with names of the Stage Crew, Sound Crew, membership table and other VOLUNTEERS for the concert. You'll also find info on the dances and workshops and other events, plus other assorted information and announcements. These various announcements have been organized to help you decide what and how often you should make them.
5) PLUGGING AFF MEMBERSHIP
An important part of your task as Emcee is helping folks decide that THEY should become AFF members. Individual memberships are the biggest source of money to pay for all this fun and why the Alaska Folk Festival continues to be free to performers and audience members alike. Think about some creative ways you can convince folks to be come members. For a start, there is an all too common misconception that the AFF gets Centennial Hall for free. Far from it. The AFF pays Centennial Hall $8000-10,000 to rent the building for the week. That ain't free. Add your own ideas.
6) THE WIRELESS MICROPHONE
The Chief Sound Engineer will brief you on the use of the wireless microphone.
7) RESERVED SEATING FOR YOU
The front row of chairs behind the monitor sound board is reserved for the Stage Crew and Emcee -- you.
1) STAY ORGANIZED
Before the first act and between acts, you'll be organizing what to say when you next go on stage. The clipboard will have a lot of stuff on it.
2) TALK TO THE NEXT ACT BACK STAGE
Also, take the time to go back stage and chat with the next act a bit. They should be there five to ten minutes before they are to go on. You might collect some information about the band that you could use on stage while you are talking as the Stage Crew is setting them up. Make sure you know how to pronounce everyone's name.
3) COLLECT THE NAMES OF VOLUNTEERS SO YOU CAN "THANK" THEM.
Go to the membership table and the sound boards and the Stage Crew to collect the names of the folks who are also volunteering for this concert. You can never thank people enough. There should be a sheet on your clipboard that will help you organize those volunteer names.
1) THE CONCERT IS ABOUT TO START
Right before the start of the concert, The person in charge of the KRNN-FM radio broadcast will help rev up the audience and (when KRNN-FM is ready) finally cue you to start talking. Welcome folks to the whichever evening or afternoon concert it is of "the 34th Annual Alaska Folk Festival, live from Centennial Hall." (You DID know that this was being broadcast live on KRNN, didn't you? AND, on the internet at www.ktoo.org ?)
2) INTRODUCTION TO THE CONCERT
Welcome everyone at the start of the show, including the radio audience. Introduce yourself and the first act, which will already be set-up behind you, and ready to go.
3) THE REST OF THE CONCERT
For the rest of the evening take the stage as soon as the act finishes their last song. It's important to keep the show rolling, and to discourage any thoughts of encores. Don't cut off their applause, but do not wait for the applause to fade to get on stage. Get right up there, Let the applause fade as they leave, then say, "that was ... [act name]" maybe add, "from ... [the town they come from]." Do not comment on their act unless they levitate or spit blood and fire. It sounds insincere to say "Wasn't that great" after every single act.
4) TALKING WHILE THE STAGE CREW SETS UP THE NEXT ACT
While the previous act is leaving the stage and the Stage Crew is setting up the next, do a little patter (work your way through some of the announcements, "thank you's, AFF membership pushes, etc.) as the Stage Crew works away. The Crew will get the musicians right up there and into position and will be setting the mikes as you talk. The performers will start strumming and talking into the mics. It may take anywhere from 30 seconds to three minutes to set up the next act. Keeping checking the set-up process -- but DON'T draw attention to it. The audience's attention should be on YOU. The Stage Crew Leader will try to let you know when they are done.
You can be creative: do a ten second interview with a band member who is ready to play or just let the audience know about upcoming workshops. Be prepared to keep talking, but keep an eye on the stage crew. You want to keep the ball rolling, but not talk a second longer than necessary. Their set-up is part of their 15 minutes -- SO IS ANY TIME YOU WASTE BEFORE INTRODUCING THEM. When the act is ready to go, introduce them and get off the stage.
The band members will be saying "check" into their mikes, strumming and such. The Stage Crew leader or band leader may say "we're ready." You may ask if they're set to go - but do it OFF-MIKE (turn away from your mic). Lead into your introduction of the act as you see them wrapping up. "We've got three more acts up tonight, and now, here's..." or "These folks have been playing together since they were high school sweethearts 15 years ago in Anchorage. Here's..."
Announcing the act is always the last thing you say. Set them up for applause: "Please welcome...:" or "Put your hands together for..." that kind of thing.
5) END OF THE CONCERT
Close out the concert after the last act by thanking people for coming and inviting them back to the next concert.
1) BEFORE THE FESTIVAL, you may want to prepare some ideas - learn about some upcoming related community arts events, gather festival-related stuff, etc. You want to have plenty of fodder. Magic tricks, little contests, funny hats, special "awards," whatever you're comfortable with.
2) ANNOUNCEMENTS: You will have up-coming AFF event announcements to make, thank you's, membership information, updates and such from the festival volunteers in the lobby at the membership and merchandise tables. You can't say it all, so pick a few different info pieces for each time you are on stage. It's a good idea to check in with the Membership Table a time or two during the evening. You don't want to stray too far from the stage as a rule, but you do have ten minutes between acts. Just pay attention, SOME ACTS DO NOT GO THE FULL 15 MINUTES.
3) WIRELESS MIC PRECAUTIONS
Do not take the wireless mike out in the hall. That can cause problems. Leave it at the monitor board so that you know where it is.
4) Talk to the band backstage before they go on, during that ten minutes when they're waiting in the hall. Make sure you know how to pronounce their names correctly, ask a few questions, see if they have anything special they want by way of introduction. You can learn little things that help later when you're introducing the band.
5) You will get notes about lost kids and cars with their lights on. It's your call. We can't pitch commercial things, but festival related stuff is fine.
1) Do not draw attention to problems or delays on stage. Take everything in stride. Distract attention away from stage problems and there will be some. Don't ever say "aren't you ready yet?" or "As soon as we're ready here we'll get started." Just keep the ball rolling; you have lots of other things to talk about. The audience can see what's happening, and you need to reduce the tension the musicians and Stage Crews will undoubtedly be feeling.
2) Sometimes an Emcee will announce the act before it is ready to go, leaving an empty time on stage. Avoid this by unobtrusively paying attention to the stage set-up progress, a quick glance from time to time, will do.
3) Sometimes an Emcee won't see that an act actually has been ready to go for a while; that slows things down. Keep in tune with what's going on behind you. When the act is ready, quickly wrap up what you are saying, introduce them and get off. Their 15 minute clock started when they first walked on stage. Don't waste their stage time.
4) Do not make fun of anyone. This is suicide; Emcees have been booed down for it. Even good natured ribbing does not go over, unless the person is right there and clearly enjoying the repartee. Jokes about Canadians, banjo or accordion players, or any "inside' jokes fall flat every time.
5) Watch yourself for the tendency to repeat the same phrases. This is common, things like saying, "It's great to be here," or "Wasn't that great," or "You'll love this next group," every time.
6) There will be reasons to talk with the Stage Crew or stage manager about something up coming. Whisper and keep it short, though, You discussion can also go backstage, in the hallway. If you are in that ballroom, be aware that these hushed conversations are far more disruptive and audible than they seem, or can be visually distracting. So, at the very least, back away from the stage into the shadows
The stage manager will make sure the bands get to the stage. This person will locate the bands, usually in the practice rooms, about an hour before they go on. The stage manager will get the logistical needs taken care of, have the musicians fill out the stage diagrams and such.
The Stage Crew (3-4 people) will herd the players on stage, set up the mikes, shift the piano, plug in the amps, all that stuff. Look for the Stage Crew Leader to let you know when the act is ready to go, but don't rely on that, alone. When things go wrong these folks can look bad, and it's not usually their fault. Make them look good. Ideally the stage manager hustles up the band, the crew bustles around getting them set, you talk, and two minutes later people are applauding their introduction and the music starts.
Sound crews. There's a crew at the monitor board to the side of the stage. They make sure those speakers on stage sound good so the musicians can hear themselves. The house sound (for the audience) is mixed from the back of the room. You may, at times, interact with both these Crews. Help them if they ask. The 15 minute timer is at the Monitor board keeping track of each act's time on stage.
Centennial Hall staff and Goldbelt Security. These folks will be on hand to help you how ever they can.
The 15 minute time limit:
The Monitor Board Crew manages a timer. You also need to watch the time (you're wearing a watch, or course). Acts get 15 minutes from the time the Stage Crew starts setting up their act -- so, that 15 minutes includes their set up time. We are a flexible, like 30 seconds or 1 minute long is fine, but if acts take five minutes to set up, and then play a full 15 minutes, the night really drags and the later acts really suffer. It's unfair to everyone.
You want to run a tight ship, and it all comes down to the Emcee.
Most people will time their sets at 12-13 minutes, and do three or maybe four songs. They'll usually cue you to their last song, as in, "We'll do one more. "This is our last song. If this comes about 10 or 12 minutes into the act, it's perfect.
For each act that has been on stage for 13 minutes, one of the Monitor Board folks will turn on a RED LIGHT sitting on the center-front of the stage. This is their "two minute warning". If they are in a song, it should be their last. If you have heard them say that was their last song, then things are cool. If you don't know their intentions, you have to pay close attention. They may be fine; end their song, receive their well earned applause and leave the stage to you and the Stage Crew.
Or, they occasionally may not ... . That's when you have to step in.
Stage hogs, hams and lost souls.
These folks are not paying attention to the their 15 minute limit or the RED LIGHT and may need to be helped off stage gracefully. Because you are in charge and your authority is above reproach.
You CAN do this.
If the "two minute warning" RED LIGHT is on, don't interrupt them on stage mid-song, but definitely don't let them start another when their time is up. This is where you turn on the mic and say "Let's hear it for ..." while you walk on stage. People will rarely argue with you, because they don't want to look bad. But sometimes they ARE confused, and can't believe their time is up already. Be nice, but firm. Their 15 minutes IS up.
The wireless mic make this easy, too, since you can actually start talking when you are still down on the floor or climbing the stairs. You don't have to wait to be up on stage to take control back.
Nerves and adrenaline tends to fog performer's brains on stage. The AFF takes note of folks that go over-time; and, we let them know by letter of their goof.
Just remember, YOU are in charge.
There are no encores (except the guest artist). Sometimes folks time their sets without introductions and other talking, and then get carried away with long winded introductions and other chatting. They may be really surprised to find that they've finished their second song at 13 minutes, and understandably disappointed. Others are just trying to sneak in extra time, or don't think the rules apply.
Kids love the front row of the festival, and often little kids will pull on mike cords or try to sit on the edge of the stage. Don't let them, and remind parents to pay attention. There will be BLUE tape on the floor delineating the off limits areas around the stage, point it out as needed. The Stage Crew NEEDS this area clear to do their work. If the kids want to dance offstage in the wings, and they are safe and out of the way, it's fine.
NOISE from children may become an issue, especially if children are playing noisily off to the side of the stage. This is distracting and disrespectful to the musicians and audience. Emcees can be instrumental in keeping this under control. Remind the parents to be responsible for their child's behavior.
These useful devices are an increasing problem at all performance venues in Juneau. Since people come and go in the AFF concert hall and people frequently do not understand how disruptive their cell phones are to others, one announcement of "Turn off your cell phones," just will not be enough. So the "Turn off your cell phones" message, bears repeating, throughout the concert. WHEN (not if, unfortunately) a cell phone intrudes into someone's act it is VERY rude and disrespectful of the performers and discourteous to the rest of the audience.
On the busiest nights people will sit in the aisles, potentially impeding quick, emergency exits. This is against fire codes because it is unsafe if we have to evacuate the building in a hurry. If you notice this or Centennial Hall staff asks you to make an announcement to clear the aisles, good naturedly insist folks scoot over and clear the aisles. If we don't keep the aisles passable, the Fire Marshall may come down on us.
Food & Spills:
The vending machines in the Lobby will be operating. This is great, but sometimes people spill things. Some years the Festival has to pay a lot of extra money for clean-up. Tell people to act like this is their own living room. If something gets spilled, have them contact an AFF staff person, who will alert Centennial Hall staff. Quick clean-up saves the AFF a lot of money in clean-up costs after the Festival.
IN CONCLUSION -- A good Emcee will make the evening. It's great to be super funny, but all you really need to do is be collected and upbeat. A relaxed and personable style goes a long way. Relax; be yourself; and, have fun.
Last revised 4/1/08