How to Organize Talent Night
Master of Ceremonies (MC): Designate a Master or Ceremonies a few days before the event. This person should be someone who can get the attention of a crowd, who can unite with the camp director, and who is strong enough to say no to requests by people who want to perform if there is not enough time to accommodate all the volunteers. (Alternatively, the camp director can put the program together and hand over the performer's list to the MC.) It's possible to have two MCs, but please be aware that this could take up more time, especially if they have some banter going on between them. If your program is really full, the MC (or MCs) have to make sure to move the acts through the program quickly, and not take up extra time.
Introduce the MC: Announce the MC in the morning of the day of talent night and explain to participant that they should ask the MC to put them on a list if they want to perform. If you want all workshop groups to perform a skit or song, explain it to them clearly.
Ideal Length: The ideal length for a talent night is 90 minutes. Less is fine for a small week. The total program should never last more than two hours, including opening songs while everyone is gathering, closing song and prayer. Remember, less is more. Stop the program when the excitement is at its peak, and people will fondly remember it. Go on for too long, and people get bored, and some parents with young kids that should be in bed will be unhappy. Make sure to start on time, and absolutely don’t let it go past 10pm.
Encourage Everyone to Participate: Group performances should be given priority over individual performances. Ideally all education groups should offer a performance, even if it’s just singing a song together. Ideally all kids should be on the stage at some point.
Whole Purpose over Individual Purpose: The purpose of the talent night is for the camp to spend a great evening together. If all education groups have a skit, and there are many individuals who want to perform a song, it won't be possible to accommodate everyone, and some individuals will have to sacrifice performing for the sake of the whole. It is the responsibility of the MC to keep the program within the agreed upon length.
Number of Performances: Based on timing past Talent Nights, we know that the average performance length for a song is about 5 minutes. However, the average length for a group skit is twice as much (10 minutes). We have seen skits that were 20 minutes long! This time includes the setting up of props and adjusting of microphones in the beginning, the announcement by the MC, and the applause at the end of the performance. If you plan for a 90-minute program, not including the closing song and prayer, then you should fill no more than 18 time slots and count each group skit (i.e. an act, as opposed to a song) as taking up two time slots. So, for example, if you have one group of Twinkles, Moons, Suns, and Quasars each, and two groups of Comets and Supernovas each, you already have 8 skits which counts as 16 time slots, and you only have room for two more individual acts if you want to be sure that you won't go over the 90 minutes.
Be Clear About Time Limits: Individual performers should be told they have a maximum time of 3 minutes at sign up time. Unless there is a shortage of performers, they should be told that they can perform only one song. (There can be exceptions, for example in response to a standing ovation.) Groups performing skits should be told that they have have a maximum time of 6 minutes for their skit.
Screen Performances: The MC should know what the performances are about and ask as sign up time. Skits and stand-up comedies should be screened ahead of time to make sure they are not inappropriate or offensive.
Sound Check: If any performer(s) require the use of background music, the MC will have to organize a sound check with a member of the staging crew (or whoever is responsible for the sound for the talent night) before the talent night starts to make sure everything works smoothly. We advise against the use of streamed music, as wireless reception at camp is not ideal, and this could easily lead to substantial delays.
Give Guidance to the Group Leaders on How to Prepare a Skit: The group leaders should receive some guidance about what type of skit is appropriate. Meet with them during their group leader meeting on the day before talent night. Skits should be uplifting, and good should win over evil. If the groups can't come up with a good idea for a skit, it's okay to just sing a song, maybe one where the lyrics were changed to reflect the camp experience of the participants.
No Late Additions: Anyone who lets the MC know only during the talent night that they want to perform should be told that it's too late to make changes to the list of performances. At this point it really is too late, because the MC doesn't have time to screen the performance or ask relevant questions.
Up Next, On Deck: Before the MC introduces an act on stage, he should announce who is “up next” (following right after this performance) and “on deck” (performing after the “up next” act). The “up next” act should be gathered outside of the Rec Hall behind the stage already, and the “on deck” act should move there once they hear the announcement. It might help to have a staff member with a flash light behind the Rec Hall to monitor the groups "on deck."
Youngest Participants Go First: Have the youngest group go first or second, then the second youngest. It's OK to have an individual performance in between, but the youngest kids should perform early, before they get more tired the later it gets. Also, some parents might want to get their young kids to bed before the end of talent night.
Plan the Order of the Performances: Put some thought into the order of the performances. Open the evening with an uplifting song/act by a confident performer. Try to create a build-up, with some of the best performers toward the end. The last performance before the closing song in particular should be a strong one.
Stay on Schedule: If the program runs way behind schedule, the MC might have to ask one or two of the performers scheduled toward the end to drop out. This is hard to do, but better than going way over time. It helps to let some people know in advance that they "are on the waiting list" and can only perform if the program is on time.
End with Emotional Conclusion: The evening should end with an emotional conclusion that creates a feeling of unity among all. You should count about 10 minutes for that. Recommended: A song or two, followed by a prayer. Good songs for this are “We Are the World,” “I’ll Never Leave You Anymore,” and “Time to Say Goodnight.” The closing song is often done in a large circle so people can see each other and feel connected.
Closing Prayer: The prayer should be offered either by the camp director or the MC, or someone with confidence (and advance notice). The person offering the prayer needs a microphone.
Thanking Staff: Some camp directors use talent night to publicly thank all staff members for their work (others do it during the final meeting in the morning of the last day). This is best done before the closing song, not afterwards.
Put together by Claude Aubert, June 2015. Updated in September 2018.