All festivals are different. Lots of them specify what kind of festival they are and lots don't. For some, the kinds of teams they're looking for depends on the kinds of improv that are done in the region and what the local audience expects. For others (like TBIF), the whole idea of a festival is to cultivate an eclectic mix of long form improvisers who push the boundaries and alter the traditions of the art form.
Before you submit to any festival, you want to do your research. That means checking into how much it might cost to, say, take your 12 person improv team to that festival TJ & Dave are going to be headlining, whether it's reasonable to make your duo partner travel overseas just so you can teach a 2 hour workshop, or whether your short form team that dresses up like the cast of CATS is going to match well with the other teams that are typically featured at the festival. Here's a few tips about what to look into before submitting your team:
1. Can you really make it?
No producer appreciates it when someone says they're coming and they pull out last minute. It does happen (probably more than you think), and chances are those groups won't be invited back the following year, no matter how good their submission video. Make sure you're free for the entire festival before you submit. Some festival applications ask your availability, but if not, don't assume that you'll be slotted for a Friday or Saturday show, especially if it's your first time at that festival.
2. Size really does matter.
The size of your teams can make a big difference when submitting to some festivals because some producers rely on the performers to be the primary audience for the festival and students for workshops. There are festivals out there that only accept 5-8 person teams. There are festivals that only accept 2-3 person teams. Typically, a duo will get passed up over a bigger group simply because it means more people will be coming. That said, some festivals have venues that can't fit more than a 5 person team so they pass on the 8 person groups. Beyond all of the variables on the production side, it can be difficult to move a team of more than 4 people halfway across the country (or even a few hours away), especially on time and in good spirits. The most solid submissions come from teams of 4 people who are listed in the application and are the same people who will actually be in the show. Adding on 1 or 2 players a week or so before the deadline is usually not a big deal, but it's always best to ask as far in advance as possible. Equally so, promising 6 players and showing up with 2 or 3 can cost the festival money, so try not to blindside people if you can help it.
3. Show don't tell.
There's always a bunch of stuff that you're asked to submit if you want to appear at a festival. That's because the producers want to do their best to promote and create hype for your show, which in turn helps the festival. Before you submit your team, it's a good idea to make sure you have a few things ready to go - a logo, a team photo, a short (3 sentence) bio that doesn't try to make your team sound funny or super special, a improviser-friendly description of your show with needed tech specifications (for the people evaluating film), and team member headshots and bios that takes themselves seriously. Having all of these things ready to go means that you can submit to any festival easily and signals to the producers that you're experienced enough to perform at a festival. Sites like The Improv Network are great resources for storing all of your info online and submitting to hundreds of festivals with just one click. If your applying as an instructor, you can keep your bios on there, too. Always best to have a few tried and true 2 hour workshops about your specialties as a teacher on-hand and ready to submit along with your team...that is, if you're really an improv teacher at home.
4. Keep calm and be real people.
Festivals are so much more than the 20-45 minute performance slot and 2 hour workshop you might take or teach. The majority of the time, your team will be around other festival goers, teams, and instructors - including a few improv legends that everyone has heard of because they've read their book. The folks that have the best experience are the ones that mingle, mix it up, go with the flow, and find themselves talking at a table with a grab bag of improvisers from other groups by the end of the night. Attaching to the hip of your teammates can (and often does) lead to a bad attitude about the festival and a less-than-fun time for everyone you're around. Great festival teams are made up of up-beat people who like to engage, are grateful for the work put in to make the festival happen, and are able to talk about life as much improv.
5. Do your part.
Festival production teams often don't get to see any of the shows at their own festival and they're luck if they get to take workshops. There's a lot happening behind the scenes that requires their attention at all times during the weekend. That means part of the responsibility of the festival performers is to literally make the festival a festival. That means going to as many shows as they can, taking workshops (even if they're teaching a workshop), hanging out at the after party, helping muggles understand what's going on and what improv is all about, and even pitching in to stack a few chairs. Also, it's helpful to be mindful (and help others be mindful) that good Saturday morning workshops are hardly possible if everyone is hungover! Keeping yourself, your team, and your fellow festival performers safe, healthy, and at the top of their intelligence only makes the whole experience better for everyone.
Teams that follow these simple guidelines will be welcome at any festival because they show that our art form - our community - takes itself seriously, is all grown up, and wants to bring the joy we share to the larger public. That said, the best way to learn how to do festivals and get the most out of them is to go to as many as possible, even if you're not performing. Take your team, make a weekend out of it, and know that when the time comes, you'll be ready to blow up the stage together!
Think your team fits at Tampa Improv Festival? Submissions are open until August 31st, 2016.
You can submit on The Improv Network by clicking here!