Creating Good Submissions, Part II: Choosing a Show

You must Choose. Choose wisely.

When submitting to a festival, it’s often hard to decide which is your “best show.” It may be a relief to know that most people reviewing these submissions don’t want to see your best show; that show has already happened. Festival producers want to see a show that best represents what they can expect to see at the festival.

Of all the factors that contribute to choosing a show, two stick out far more often than any other as bad choices — and often lead to shows getting looked over. Avoiding these two pitfalls will greatly help your chances.

  • Showing your best show ever … from 2008. Many submissions come in with really tight, funny shows. This is the same submission video that a group has been using for years. The players have grown since then. The cast might not even be the same. It’s not representative of the work they are doing now. More to the point, it begs the question, “If you haven’t done a show this good in five years, why would I believe you can deliver this at my festival?” Don’t show your favorite show from the past if it doesn’t showcase who you are now.
  • Showing your most recent show ever. Many groups don’t record their shows and rush to make a submission video days — or even hours — before the submission deadline. That’s putting all of your eggs in one basket. Also, it puts an undue amount of pressure on the performers to play beyond their normal game and for a camera they aren’t used to. Most submission shows filmed the day before deadlines are not the best work and it also sends the message that this show was recorded only to satisfy a requirement and that shows a lack of self-respect.

Just like Goldilocks, you need to find a solution that’s somewhere between the two; something that’s just right. Get in the habit of recording shows often, not just when a festival is approaching. This will give you more options to choose from and less pressure on any specific show. For some groups it is unrealistic to record all shows or to archive them all, but keep at least a handful of recent shows whenever possible.

Now that you have a few shows to choose from, selecting them can still be difficult. Here are a few things that will be noticed:

  • This looks like they're having fun

    This looks like they’re having fun

    Start out strong — A show with a strong opening will always work better than a show with a strong ending. Your show is being viewed by people reviewing many tapes. Your potential festival gig will be for an audience that has seen several shows that evening. Both of these are different audiences than the audiences you have in your regular shows who may see only one or two shows a night. A weak opening will let the show blend into the many other shows being seen, and a strong ending might not be met with an active audience.

  • Have fun — So many submission videos look like the performers are nervous about being on video or just plain not having fun onstage. Just enjoy the chance to play with people you love. If you enjoy being on stage, we’ll enjoy watching you.
  • Choose the show that has your voice — The people in your town enjoy your show, there’s something special and unique about it — showcase that. Even if that show is a little rough around the edges, showcase what makes your show different than the other shows out there. That’s what people come to festivals to see.
  • Watch before you submit — Sometimes shows feel different onstage than they do watching from an audience point of view.
  • Don’t send a highlight reel — Unless specifically asked for, no one wants to see a highlight reel. That’s not what the festival audience will see. Submit a complete, unedited work.

Don’t make this decision on your own. Talk with your ensemble. Watch a couple with them. Discuss which show you best want to represent your group. Upload it and link it to your NIN page and it’s ready for submission. The video portion of your submission is complete. Now what about the rest of the package.

More to come dear readers in the final part of “Creating Good Submissions.” Read part 1

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