By Brigid O’Leary
Guess what? Spring is here! Or rather, it will officially be here soon (March 20th is the vernal equinox). March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb, and is followed by April showers that bring May flowers. Weather this time of year can be unpredictable, at best.
I’m Laughing at Clouds
In truth, organizations across the country face unpredictable weather while trying to schedule events and fundraisers throughout the year.
HEY! Helping Empower Youth is 501(c)3 youth leadership development program in Atlanta with a mission “to provide an opportunity to inspire, motivate and mobilize young people to take action that changes their world.” The organization aims to hold three larger-scale, planned fundraisers and a couple smaller, more spontaneous, fundraisers a year.
“We plan according to the season and what we plan to do for that season would be [an event to] maximize the fundraiser potential. So, in the spring and summer time things are usually outside events we can do. Last year we did a kick ball tournament in the summer,” explains co-founder Marc Boyd.
A native of the city, he is familiar with the general weather patterns that have the potential to disrupt plans for outdoor events and fundraisers and takes that into consideration during the planning process.
“There’s always an alternative day; a make up day, I guess you could say. Whenever we do something … outside we have a plan for the weather. There’s always a facility we can utilize. The kickball [event] was at a rec center with a field but they also have a gym and we could have moved inside and have activities prepared if we needed to,” Boyd adds.
In Fredericksburg, Va., Stage Door Productions promotes theater through performance, education, and outreach – and it holds to the same thought, though preparing for outdoor events depends on the event itself, points out Matthew Armentrout, Stage Door Productions president.
“If it’s a major production, you do want to have a back up plan, but the more you warn that this is the situation, the more understanding people will be,” he says.
Both HEY! and Stage Door Productions turn to local businesses to help raise money as well, partnering with different companies and receiving a percentage of the sales made during a certain time period. It’s a method that some school systems have adopted as well and promote as a “spirit night” and can be organized quickly and easily during stretches of weather that might make an outdoor event hard to plan and execute. Stage Door Productions was holding such an event at Panera the day Armentrout was interviewed for this article and Boyd spoke of a similar fundraiser HEY! held at a local cigar bar. It was one of the smaller, more spontaneous events the organization puts together in the course of a year.
While these kinds of fundraisers are easy to organize and pull off, they are far from the only fundraisers organizations use to draw attention – and donations – to their cause.
Stage Door Productions holds between 6-10 fundraisers a year, including the 5K run every March and the plays the group performs. Some of the plays they perform are held outside; last summer they hosted several weekends of Shakespeare plays staged at a local park that were free to the public.
“We’ve never had negative feedback because of the weather. People understand it’s out of our control. With the 5K, we have a contract that says we hold it regardless of weather. If they sign it and it snows and they decide not to go, it’s on them, not us,” Armentrout continues. “[It] depends on the production. This summer we didn’t have a contingency planned unless we got rained out for an entire weekend, then we would have been looking to reschedule. That’s one of the things we are planning is for [this year], an indoor contingency plan, so long as we have a venue. Five to six years ago we had a performance outside and near an indoor venue. We were charging ticket sales, we had to get inside. If it rained, we told the audience, ‘meet you inside in 30 minutes.’”
In that case, a venue was available and ticket sales need to be honored, especially considering that ticket sales from one Stage Door Productions performance finance the next production. But not every event needs to be moved indoors.
“The [5K] race goes rain or shine, so we think we can still offer a fun event, it just might be different. We had flurries one year, we’ve had rain dumped on us, we had one beautiful year with a high in the 60s. But it’s the nature of the 5K, if you’re signing up in March, you prepare for any kind of weather,” says Armentrout. “For our clientele, most of them are used to running in all kinds of weather. If there was a lot of snow, we would encourage people to come out as long as it was safe and we might change it to a walk and make it fun and that would be the accomplishment to show we can adapt to whatever comes our way.”
A little rain or wind doesn’t always put a damper on a free outdoor performance for Stage Door Productions, either.
“In a show that was very windy, sometimes you can work with it. I was in a production once, outside, that was very windy and parts of the set were moving. We worked it into the play,” says Armentrout. “For summer we are constantly watching the radar. If there’s going to be a thunderstorm, we’ll go ahead and postpone the show. Shakespeare in the Park was free so we didn’t have to worry about refunding tickets. The forecast predicted [at one show that] we’d have one good hour before the rain set in. We did the first hour, and warned and the audience that if it saw thunder and lighting, then “good night!” We had audience members helping move scenery and everything. That’s part of it. We have a play in February, one in April, a Youth Production in May, – we stagger things so that we have one major event per month. We are very aware of what time of year it is and what is coming.”
Let the Stormy Clouds Chase Everyone From the Place
Being aware of what’s coming includes the potential weather forecasts that are likely to influence how an event takes shape, and keeping an eye on those weather reports continuously right up to the start and sometimes through the event if it looks risky.
“If you’re doing certain activities, there are restrictions above or below a certain temperature. The specific temperature tells you and – this has never been an issue but – I know off hand, if the potential for a certain types of inclement weather [are present] those are factors, too; if there’s a certain degree of lightning strikes as predicted on Weather.com … Sometimes the facilities, depending on where you are, will monitor that. At my job on the flight line we know that if there are a certain number of lightning strikes within a time period, it’s not safe. The same applies for events. Certain weather conditions are just not safe and if those conditions are present, you move it indoors,” Boyd says, explaining the circumstances that would prompt HEY! to make changes to an event.
Safety is same reasoning that governs Stage Door decisions about outdoor events as well.
“We would never perform in a dangerous situation but if it’s a light rain it would depend on the event or production. Same with the summer program, we make sure there is some shade or we perform at 6 pm. So it was cooler, and we’d end the show before sundown, when the temperature dropped,” says Armentrout.
From Boyd’s perspective, safety is a significant part of planning for outdoor event and fundraisers.
“First-aid of course. Make sure whatever it is [you are hosting] there is water and temperature control. Permanent shade. A tent is always helpful, especially if you don’t have a building and you’re out in the middle of nowhere. You’ll need a base of operations, where you’re going to be or hand out supplies or whatever,” he says, when enumerating what factors were important for anyone planning an outdoor event should remember.
“The electricity – as far as having a DJ or music outside – be aware of the cords and where they are. That’s an issue that [people have to] pay attention to, cords getting unplugged, people are stepping on them, things get turned off and you don’t realize it. Be cognizant of where the plugs are and safety. I always like to keep them elevated, off the ground, where the connections are,” he continues, “Water – make sure you have a good water supply that people don’t have to go far for, either water bottles or a cooler and cups. Make sure you have cups. There are biodegradable paper cups. You can even get the funnel ones. They’re the best. They stack on each other.”
Signage is important, too, Boyd explains, because sometimes it’s all an organization may have to direct participants and volunteers to where they need to be.
“You may be in the back of an outside space and you want to make sure people can find that base of operations, where the tent is,” Boyd adds.
Singing, and Dancing in the Rain
If all the other safety components are accounted for and weather alone is the determining factor if an event takes place or not, decisions are best made based on the factors at hand: venue availability and the importance of that one particular day or time slot.
“Shakespeare in the Park was free and it wasn’t a big deal if we had to postpone because if someone wanted to come, they would come for another performance,” says Armentrout. “We’re lucky with productions. We run 6-7 performances. Unless all 6 or 7 get rained out, people have a chance to come see it.”
An organization should consider contingency plans based on the relative importance of the event.
“It’s like asking ‘are we going to get married outside?’ If you really want something to happen, you make sure you have a way to move it indoors if there’s bad weather,” Armentrout says.