There’s a lot to think about when you’re planning a performance set list. If your choir is performing a single work, the running order might take care of itself, but if, like my choir, you perform mostly individual songs, you’ll need to think about the order in which the audience will hear them. Here are five top tips for helping you to plan your running order.
Planning a show is all about getting the balance right for your singers, yourself and for the audience.
Firstly, list all the songs you have and note which ones are upbeat, which are softer or slower and which are real show-stoppers. Divide your performance into two acts and make sure that the beginning and end of each act are strong numbers. This means you will immediately grab the audience’s attention and leave them wanting more at the interval and end of the show. Think about how you mix different styles. A beautiful ballad will have more impact if either side the songs are of a different, more upbeat style, whereas five ballads in a row will not have the same effect.
Entrance and exits
In addition to considering the balance of music in your show, you must also consider how many times your choir will have to go on and off stage. It might be that your choir remain on stage for the whole event but if you are mixing in solo or smaller group performances this can create more variety and also give your singers a break.
In terms of the full choir performing, it can take a few minutes to get into position, particularly if you are a larger choir in a fairly compact space! When planning your running order think about getting the choir onstage and letting them sing at least two or three songs before they leave. This helps them warm-up and relax into the performance and also saves the distraction of moving them around too much. If you have your choir sing a song then come off then on again a song later for example, the audience are going to get very distracted.
Adding a range of performers and musical styles in your show can create a welcome variety for the audience. It is also a great way for you to give budding solo singers or small groups the chance to perform. When we put on concerts for our choirs, we usually run a small series of workshops for up to twenty singers from the choirs, who then perform an additional two or three songs in the show. This is great fun and provides them with an alternative performance experience. It’s great for those who would like the challenge of a more exposed role on stage without necessarily singing solo.
I always go by the motto ‘less is more’ when planning a show. You may have three hours of amazing material but do the audience want to sit there that long? Far better to leave them feeling upbeat and wanting more than to see them snoozing or checking their watches! At the same time you don’t want them to feel short-changed. As a guide I would recommend two acts of 45 to 50 minutes each with an interval in the middle. The interval allows everyone to refresh and also enables the audience to stretch their legs and enjoy a drink.
When planning your performance take a moment to consider your performers and what their experience of your running order will be. This links in to all the other tips above. Think about mobility, how often do the choir need to go on and off stage? Are there people who will struggle with too many entrances? Do you need to make provisions or seating arrangements for some? Also, make sure that singers will be performing regularly enough. If you tip the balance with solo or group acts and the choir are left with just a small amount of singing, then they may feel short-changed. If the concert is primarily for the choir then make sure they are the main event.
Finally, think about the demands of the singing which ties in nicely with balancing the styles of music. If your singers are expected to sing several big upbeat numbers back to back, then they may quickly feel tired and not give such a good performance. If, however, you have considered the balance and mixed the styles of more and less demanding vocals, then you will find they have more energy and in turn enjoy the experience more.