Who should I submit?

The hardest choice in the world

The hardest choice in the world

Back in the olden days (circa 2002), submitting to festivals was a bit more of a chore; mailing addresses, VHS tapes, CD-Rs with pictures. It was a messy business. On the other hand, one part of festival submissions was easier back then, knowing who to submit. Before improv theatres started growing in many cities, most improv troupes were islands and – unless you lived in Chicago – most performers were in one, or maybe two shows.

It’s a different world now. Performers have more freedom to explore their craft and play with many new players. That’s a great thing. The only tiny downside is that when an exciting festival is on the horizon, we have to ask “Who should I submit to go?” It’s not the hardest question in the world, but here’s a few things to think about to have the most fun year round.

1. Have an honest conversation with your group

We’re improvisors, so we say “yes” to everything. When you ask your friends if they want to go to a festival, they will instantly and excitedly say yes. Then later – maybe – they’ll ask when it is and what it might cost them to go. There is nothing more disheartening than getting accepted to a festival and then having to decline because your troupe can’t get the time off from work. And as a festival producer I can tell you, you won’t get blacklisted if that happens. We understand things come up. But it will lower your chances a bit of further invites.

Have a realistic conversation with your troupe before submitting. Find out who can go, who can’t. If one member can’t make it, will your show still be solid? Will it hurt your group mind to go without a member? Often times the answer to both will be yes and it’s not a big problem, but it’s best to ask.

Pro Tip: Try to bring what you promised to a festival. IF you submitted an eight person show and only seven people can make it, that’s understandable. If you submit a four person show and one person and two different people not in the submission come, you weren’t accurately representing yourself and it will hurt your chances of being invited back.

2. Talk to the festival

Get in touch with the festival producers. They’re always happy to talk to you about your show and offer advices on their own festival. Each festival has their own vision of what they’d like the weekend to be like. They also know how many slots they’ll have available. Tell them about your shows and what each one can bring. They may offer specific suggestions of what is more in tune with their festival. They may offer only some general advice on what they’re looking for that you can consider. Please keep in mind that a festival producer does want to help, but offering advice on which show would be a best fit for their festival doesn’t guarantee acceptance. Most of the time, festivals wish they could invite everyone, but it’s just not possible.

3. Don’t oversubmit

If you feel there are a couple of troupes that might be a good fit for a festival, there’s nothing wrong with submitting both. Smaller festivals will likely not accept both because they want variety, but larger festivals often accept two troupes with some overlapping members. But don’t submit every show you’ve ever done. You know which shows are the ones you’re proud of and which ones are filler. The reviewers don’t. Your good shows will get lost in your own shuffle.

That said, don’t be afraid to mix it up sometimes. You might be on a couple of house teams that travel frequently. But there’s nothing wrong with once in a while taking a gamble and submitting a show that doesn’t travel often. You might not have the name recognition, but sometimes it’s the little offbeat shows that fill a gap in a festival schedule.

Bonus Note: Theatre owners

Most of the advice here was for autonomous troupes that submit for themselves. Many theatres have a slightly different setup where the theatre’s artistic director wants to send some representation of their theatre and needs to choose which shows to submit. A lot of the same ideas can be easily modified to your use, but keep in mind that – especially if your a younger theatre – many of your shows will be pretty similar in style. You love those shows and know the subtle differences between them, but the submission reviewers don’s share that context. Try to view those troupes from an objective point of view and see which troupe best represent your theatre. Keep in mind that you’ll probably be submitting to a few festivals throughout the year and you can always rotate the troupes you submit.

Have a good luck
Make good choices when submitting to festivals and you’re likely to have a more well rounded festival season. Don’t forget, submissions for Eau Claire and Phoenix both close tonight.


Currently Bill is an instructor at The Torch Theatre and producer for the Phoenix Improv Festival. He tours teaching and performing across North America.

Creating Good Submissions, Part III: Who Are You?

Photo by Robert Swier

Photo by Robert Swier

So you’ve created a killer video. You’ve picked a video that represents your troupe’s talent and show well. That’s great. But you still need to make an impression on the festival organizers. If you don’t know them, and particularly if you haven’t built a name for your group, you only have your submission to introduce yourself.

If the submission is done here in the NIN page, it only takes a click. Otherwise, you’ll have to fill out your information again. Either way, far too often, that information is filled out hastily to get a submission in. Taking a little time and thought to filling out the information will be a large step in standing out from the crowd.

First and foremost, read the instructions. If you’re filling out a submission form off of the NIN site, pay attention to what’s being asked for in each field. Nothing will get your submission lowered on a priority list faster than not following directions.

When you want to fill out a profile for your troupe, schedule time to do it. Talk to your troupe about it. Take the time to do it right. Here are some tips on how to fill out a troupe profile that will be read and considered.

Many of the fields will require very little thought; phone number, email address, etc. These are no-brainers, but make sure they’re accurate and formatted properly.

About our show vs. About our troupe

These are two very different things. A description of your show is purely for the sake of the festival planners to know what kind of variety you’ll bring to the festival. A little detail is welcome here, but it’s nothing to lose too much sleep over. “Harold” is a valid answer to this question. If you do have a someone unique or interesting form, please describe it – briefly. There are places for passion and flowery language in your resume; this is not one of them,

On the other hand, a description of your troupe is something to take very seriously. This is your elevator pitch — a chance to be noticed. This is a chance to let the organizers know who you are and what you’re about. Your bio will be read amongst many others that can easily blend together. There are however ways to stand apart from the crowd

Speak of yourself, not the audience — Avoid phrases like, “Audiences will be wowed by our awesomeness.” We all like to think audiences will enjoy us, but that’s an assumption and certainly not unique to your troupe. Speak instead of what is important to your troupe, why you play together, what your play is like. One group in my theatre is almost entirely composed of school teachers. Their show is not specifically academia themed, but their shows are much more likely to be filled with allusions to math, science or American history. Those details can be useful. Share an anecdote from your troupe’s history or a shared passion outside of your shows that brings you further group mind. The people you meet who you want to talk to are people who have interesting and unique things to say, not those who boast about their awesomeness. The same is true here.

Coaching

Please share information about your coach and your coaching history. If you’re currently being coached by someone with a known style or talent, that helps festival organizers know more about you. And don’t underestimate your coach. Even if they aren’t famous, you might be surprised how well known they are. Even before NIN we existed in a small community. If you’re reading this, there’s a 75% chance I’ve grabbed lunch with your coach. But more importantly, it’s important to see that you are being coached at all and are looking for focus and growth. One group once submitted to a festival I ran that boasted “never been coached, never took a class”. Well, “never performed at my festival” could be added to their list.

Please be honest about your coaching. When you say “We’ve been coached by Mick Napier, Joe Bill, Craig Cackowski, David Razowsky, Jill Bernard, Miles Stroth, Dick Chudnow, Matt Besser, Keith Johnstone and Viola Spolin.”, we say “No you haven’t.” You weren’t coached by those people. Part of your team attended a two hour workshop with them… at a festival… while hungover. and you can say that, but that’s not the same. If you really did spend some time coaching with one of them, then by all means say so. But don’t say you were coached by everyone you ever met.

And you weren’t coached by Viola.

Quotes

Quotes are great. They’re not only helpful for review, but if you’re accepted they can help festival organizers promote your show to their local press outlets. Press quotes are great when you get them, but never be afraid to ask for quotes of theatre owners or festival organizers.

History

If you’re just starting to etch out a name for yourself in the national scene, you won’t have much history. That’s fine. It won’t put you out of consideration. If you do have some history as a festival troupe, write it down. It’s a good resource to see your history and what kind of festivals you’ve done well at in the past. This is your “References” section. And if you think we’ll call other festival organizers and ask about you… you’re right. We will. Listing your history is a great chance to get someone we respect to speak on your behalf.

Photos and Logos

As mentioned in Part I of this posting. not every troupe has access to professional photographers or equipment. Professional cast photos are great when they’re available. They can help with promoting the festival. But if you don’t have the means, please include something. Please take the time to take an actual cast photo, not a picture you found on your hard drive when filling out your form of last year’s Halloween party.  I don’t care how awesome your TRON outfit was. (OK I do, but not in your submission).

impr

This is not the best first impression

Some troupes have logos. Some don’t. That’s fine. Logos are helpful to producers if you have one. Keep in mind that if your logo is used, it will be most audience’s first exposure to you. If your logo is something you put together in Microsoft Paint, it might be a good idea to go without.

Create some e-Harmony

You want to travel. You want to play. I get you. I’m a festival producer, but I love to travel and perform as well. It’s the best thing in the world. That doesn’t mean every festival is the best match for you troupe. If you aren’t selected to visit a festival, that doesn’t necessarily mean your quality is not up to snuff. Sometimes your show simply doesn’t fit a certain festival. In the future, this site will have producers from many festivals talking about their festival’s and the types of shows they are looking for. But never be afraid to reach out to festival producers and talk to them a little about what they’re hoping for. Sometimes you’ll realize that your show wouldn’t compliment the festival. That’s OK. Keep looking. You’ll find the right festival for your show.

These are all useful tweaks to your presentation, but the larger overall message is this. Be honest about who you are. Everyone is vying for attention by saying how awesome they are. And no one cares. Be honest about who you are and what you enjoy. Ultimately, it’s the quality of your show that will be the final call for producers if they invite you or not, but an honest presentation will go a long time in getting their attention.

Final Note

Even if you do everything in these last three posts. Sometimes you won’t get invited to festivals. There’s a lot of competition out there. It feels bad to be told no. And believe me, it is the crummiest feeling in the world to say no. But dust yourself off and try again. Don’t be afraid to reach out and thank the festival producers for their consideration and ask for feedback. They’re a fantastic resource on how to continue to grow as a troupe and how to fine tune your submission. They’re almost always happy to have that dialog with you.

Submission for the Phoenix Improv Festival open this fall. I hope to see your amazing submission packet then.

Read Part 1, Read Part 2

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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