Festivus! An Airing of Grievances Regarding Improv Festivals

Impronol at Trill Comedy Festival

I adore going to improv festivals.  It’s a chance to show your wares and depending on the caliber of the improv festival, a good way to raise your stock in the community, make connections, and hopefully get invited to perform or teach elsewhere.  Improv festivals require a certain mindset from the people who apply:

  • Festivals Are Full of Fawkery
    Festivals are large, living organisms comprised of a lot of individual, independent cells, i.e., volunteers ,staff, and talent; they evolve in a blink of an eye and you have to be ready to accept that change. Anticipate that your time slot, venue, line-up, and/or living accommodations will change multiple times and will little to no warning.  Many processes, promises, and practices are put into place to give festival talent a showcase with a viewing audience.  You as an attendee just have to roll with it or otherwise lose your mind with disappointment, bitterness, and outright contempt.
  • Everything Is An Audition
    The application process is an audition to get into the festival.  Upon arrival, you begin interacting with the staff and volunteers of the festival who are working hard to execute what’s needed; they are judging you to see if you’re easy to work with or a pain in the ass to ignore.  Your show itself is being judged by not only the people who brought you in as they only saw a 5-15 minute part of a full show to determine if you were worth bringing in; they want to make sure they didn’t make a mistake; but by as the other teams on your slot and the festival.  Those teams are asking themselves, “Why does this team deserve to be here in this slot over my team?”  Assuming you did a good show, you are being watched to see how gracious and humble you are about your performance and whether or not you showed respect by staying and watching other teams.All of these things sum up to whether or not you get invited/accepted back to the festival, whether or not you get a teaching/coaching gig somewhere down the road, and whether or not the word gets around that you should be considered to work with in the future elsewhere.
  • You Must REALLY Want Go
    In order to be successful at anything, you must have a passion for it.  You should be willing to deal with anything that stand in the way of pursuing your passions.  Festivals test that passion for the reasons mentioned above.   If you want to showcase your art outside of your city/town and get better at your craft by seeing different style, disciplines, and approaches, you must put in the time to do so.

With those things said, I recommend the following the following rules of thumb when considering going to an improv festival:

    • Ask Yourself Why You’re Going
      Are you going to see something new?  Enhance your skills by taking a workshop or watching a hot team you’ve heard about?  Should you better go as a patron or as talent to achieve what you want?  Is your team so awesome that you have no choice but to showcase it?  Answering these questions should tell you whether or not to apply.
    • Commit To The Dates
      Back in the day there were only handful of festivals going on and they were peppered through the calendar year.  Now there are so many festivals, that it’s inevitable you will double-book yourself or you’ll forget about the dates adn forget to ask off of work, or some other preventable issue will arise blocking you from going.  If you plan to go a festival, put the dates in your calendar as to when you applied, when you expect to hear back, and when the actual festival dates are planned.  Don’t book anything else for those weekends.I must admit this is the hardest thing for me to do personally.  I’ve double booked myself during festivals by either hedging the bets that things will work out in my favor or by performing marathon runs heading between 3 festivals in just a weekend.  I need to follow my own advice and honor what I’m committing to by applying somewhere and avoiding the temptation to “do it all”.

<listyle=”text-transform: none;”>The Road Is Ruthless
Traveling, living out of a suitcase or backpack, getting little no sleep and or exercise, eating like crap, and spending way too much money are the side effects of going to and performing at a festival.  The vast majority of festivals do not pay their performers so expect to pay your way to be there.  If you’re not built to deal with these challenges, you probably shouldn’t go.

What do you think about improv festivals?  Have you gone to any?  What was your experience?  Comment down below!

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