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....

No comments: