Friday, September 16, 2011

Vision? What's that?

Figured it was time to sit down and type out some more VIIF lessons learned... one of them was the need for a consolidated vision of what the festival was going to be!

In 2003 when we first started, we had a vision - it was "Let's pull together some groups, put on a festival and hope that we don't explode by the end!"

At that time, I had already looked at some other festivals (including having participated in a few) and decided that in addition to show casing local/regional/international groups, we wanted to offer a workshop to most participants and have some type of improv jam involving members from all groups. We had Randy Dixon run the workshop and our jams were great!

The thing is, when you are pulling together a bunch of volunteers to produce a festival, having to explain the vision (including budget, media strategy, etc.) over and over again is tedious... in addition to potentially forgetting to communicate some key piece of information.

For VIIF 2003, we kept that risk under control by having weekly team meetings from pretty much the start of having decided to run the festival! In hindsight, we didn't have to meet that often... but at the time we were all excited about the festival's potential, so meeting regularly wasn't a big deal.

At the end of VIIF 2003, I gathered feedback from our guests and volunteers, put on my thinking cap and decided that the next one needed a formal vision document - think of it as one-stop shopping for everything you want to know about that year's festival - team contacts/roles, vision statement, budget, media strategy, guests, etc.

Now, the examples I am providing probably seem pretty complex/large... but that comes from my Day Job background. Bottom line is that you need to pull together something that works for you and your team!

Here are the vision documents from VIIF 2004 - VIIF 2010...
Next up... how the heck do you find $$ to run the festival???

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

How to run an International Improv Festival...

Way back in 2003 the Impromaniacs were getting restless... asking questions like "is there more to life that this?"

Then Alistair Cook put the idea of putting on Blank Slate - he told us to reach out to Randy Dixon, Artistic Director of Unexpected Productions (Seattle, WA).

We took his suggestion to heart and the idea morphed (for whatever reason) into "Let's put on a festival!"... then it turned into a game of "Yes! and.."...

"And let's invite improv groups from Victoria..!"

"And let's invite improv groups from Vancouver!"

"And let's invite international improv groups... like Unexpected Productions!"

By that time the wheels were put in motion to what would become a run of a total of five festivals... 2003... 2004... 2006... 2008 and finally 2010!

The thing is.. improvisors are great at "Yes, And!"... but sometimes we fall down when the "new" idea turns into the "routine" which eventually feels less like "play" and more like "work".

My first moral of the Improv Festival world is this... don't get Improvisors to run a festival! Get a great improvisor to set the artistic direction and find a team of non-improvisors to run the show... and make sure you get amazing guests.... notice how I refer to the improvisors as "guests" as opposed to "artists". My reasoning is this... if you put on a festival and treat the people you are inviting as your guests (so, show them an amazing time!), then they will naturally want to come back... will tell their friends... and before you know it, you've got a fest that people want to attend!

My own background is that of project manager/organizer/team leader... not something you necessarily find in the improv world... so the skills I drew on to run this festival were based on my work-life and how I adapted it to fit to an arts festival. I also looked back at previous (small scale) festivals we put in... Alternative Arts Fest in 1992, Singe 1997 and Singe 2000. It's important to take the time to learn from your mistakes... and try and do better the next time (so having some continuity between festivals is a good thing... history is important!).

After the 2003 festival, being the type of person that I am - as in "why work harder... work smarter!" and wanting to build a repeatable event which others could partake in... myself, along with Briana Rayner and Neil Gurton put in the work to document what we did to put in the festival... in the hopes that it would make things smoother year after year.... and to some extent it did. This was a work in progress... and still would be if we were still around and putting on festivals...

Here's the VIIF Production Manual for your enjoyment. We've shared it with a variety of groups over the years.. we used to ask people to submit suggestions for improvement... but never did receive any... I am in no way saying it's perfect!

I tried to break a festival down into "streams" which each stream having a designated "leader" (many times one actually person filled multiple leadership roles... not always intentional... sometimes it's just hard to find people to fill the roles who can make it happen).

My streams were...
  • Event
  • Funding
  • Sponsorship
  • Guest
  • Volunteer
  • Venue
  • Media
  • Project Management
I split Funding and Sponsorship because the timing on each is different... Funding Stream is mean't to cover applications for government grants (which often have to be applied for months in advance). Sponsorship is mean't for local business sponsors... whether it's a large in-kind TV/Radio sponsorship, or smaller cash sponsorships... in-kind etc.

Because I have to describe to people the different roles, a broke out this information into separate documents...
I also made the effort to talk to other people in the field, whether it be professional improvisor types from other cities, directors of other types of festivals (e.g. Victoria Film Festival, Victoria Fringe Fesitval)... plus just surfing around and learing from other improv festivals. This is important... don't operate in a vacuum and never assume you know everything... if you do you're just arrogant!

Finally, the words I remember from one of our many mentors, David C. Jones, were "Look at what someone else is doing and do an even better job!"

Next post... VIIF Vision... Final Reports....

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Impromaniacs Last Huzzah!

Intrepid Theatre Club
#2 – 1609 Blanshard Street
Victoria, BC

28 April · 7:00pm - 10:00pm

Join the Impromaniacs on Thursday, April 28 starting at 7pm as we celebrate 21 years in existence and our last show as we're closing our doors forever!

We've got special guests....

- Poetry stylings of Missie Peters
- Stand-up comedy of Wes Lord
- Sensational singing from Aleisha Kalina
- Improv stylings of Alistair Cook & the !nstant Shop Crew
- Alumni coming from Vancouver, Victoria & Toronto!
- Graham Myers of Table 23 Comedy
...and much much more!

Expect an evening of sharing experiences/memories and live theatre!

Admission is a sliding scale of $5 to $10

See you there!

Impromaniacs Update

Dear Friends,

I am writing to give you an update on the Impromaniacs.

After 21 years in existence, we’ll be dissolving as a Society in March 2011.  There is probably more than one reason for this... the biggest one being is that there just isn’t an interest in putting in the time to keep it going.  Myself, I’m moving away from the group to pursue my own interests after having spent the past 20 years running the Impromaniacs in some shape or another.  I had hoped that it would continue with some other individual(s) immerging as a leader/driving force... but that doesn’t seem meant to be.

I think there are many things to be proud of – we’ve produced the Alternative Arts Fest in ’92, two “Singes” (’97 & ’99), five instalments of the Victoria International Improv Festival (VIIF 2003, 2004, 2006, 2008 and 2010) which has allowed us to make connections with Improvisers all over the globe... we’ve been the lucky recipients of large television and radio sponsorships, we’ve been successful in bringing in both government and private sponsorships (in-kind and cash) to put on amazing events, we’ve learned from some of the best... gone on road trips to observe others improvisers, participated in the Vancouver Improv Festival (three times), Vancouver TheatreSports St. Valentine’s Day Massacre (twice), produced two Cage Match Series, hosted numerous individual groups (stretching from Vancouver to Slovenia), been invited to perform on the Upfront Theatre stage in Bellingham, gone on many memorable camping trips... seen many many people join and grow with the group and have put on numerous memorable performances (mixed with a few that are best chalked up to a learning experience).

The mantra of the group has always been one of support and coaching – helping people grow as improvisers by learning from our own experiences and from others.  For me, it’s been rewarding to have a positive effect on people’s lives – either directly or indirectly.  I have met and made connections with many people – all of which I would never have met had I not joined the Impromaniacs back in September 1990.

So, I am hopeful that we can have one last gathering – not sure what form that will take – the second weekend of April 2011 (in Victoria) with any friends/alumni/fans/colleagues who would like to come and share some memories... jam a bit or just plain hang out.  If you are up for a trip to Victoria or might be in the neighbourhood, let me know as this will help me figure out what we can do.


Jonathan Argue
Treasurer, Impromaniacs Theatre Company Society