Matt Folliott is an actor/improviser/comedian, and member of Standards & Practices. He’s performed in festivals across North America, including DCM, CIF, VIIF, Out Of Bounds, Improvaganza, and Mprov. He even has a couple of souvenir tattoos – but that’s another post.
Inspired by Amy Shostak’s 12 Tips for Festival Organizers, I decided to write a post from the other perspective: that of the festival performer.
I’ve had the pleasure and honour of attending some of the best comedy festivals in North America. There’s nothing like a well-run festival. The energy is electric, the performers feel welcomed and supported, and everyone leaves saying the same thing: “I’ll come back!”
These are just a few tips to help make your festival experience even more enjoyable and worthwhile.
1. Have a game plan. Plan your trip. Plan your trip! PLAN YOUR TRIP! Most festivals will have activities planned for their guests, and that’s awesome, but it never hurts to have your own agenda. Take advantage of your time like a member of the illuminati takes advantage of our ignorance. Also, if you’re heading to the States, have a game plan of what you’re telling Customs. They don’t like performers crossing the border, so make sure you have another reason for entering. You don’t want your trip ruined before it even begins; ruin it with drugs, alcohol and sex with strange people, not poor planning. Key Word: Research
2. Smile, be friendly and engaging. Let’s be honest. Only ten percent of improvisers get paid for festivals, so get that out of your head right away. You ain’t doing this for the money! You’re there to meet fellow performers, create friendships and make professional connections. Always be thinking, “I’m so LA,” and force yourself out of that shell, Franklin! Meet people, you won’t regret it. Key Word: Shmooze
3. If you have the option, stay with your fellow performers in hotels or on their couches. Bonding is key at any festival, so if you get the chance to live or crash with other performers, do it. That’s also were all the fun happens; you know, when you’re hanging out with ten or so other funny people with nothing else to do but crack jokes and be silly all while you’re being fuelled by beer and bad food. Also, being billeted can really lower the cost of your trip, so look into it already! Key Word: Bonding
4. Be on time. For your call times, for festival workshops, for planned activities, for everything. No one likes a Late Larry or a Tardy Tamara. People get that you might be running behind, you were probably up late partying, but try your hardest to be on time. Festival organizers have put in work to get you there and set things up for you, so show some love back and show up. Key Word: Punctual
5. Don’t be a comedy snob. If you’re asked to do mixer shows or short form improv or to judge theatre sports, say yes! Maybe you don’t like mixer sets because they can be clusterfucks, or maybe you don’t like shows sprung on you without notice. Well, get over it pal. Being asked to do other shows at a festival is a compliment, as well as an opportunity to make new friends and admirers. Take the chance to try new things, and challenge yourself to find the fun in things you haven’t enjoyed in the past. Key Word: Try
6. Kill your shows! It’s easier said than done, but you’ve got to impress. Think of the song Lose Yourself by Eminem; that’s the type of attitude you have to have before every show. Now stop thinking about the song Lose Yourself by Eminem, and never revisit that thought again. Just remember you’re there to do what you already do at home, so don’t stress. Remember, you’re awesome! So stop shitting bricks and have fun. Believe me, audiences in other cities want to see you succeed. So take a deep breath and go out there and show them what you’re made of: star light and cosmic dust. Key Word: Play Hard
7. Meet your audience. After your show is the perfect time to say hello to the local crowd that came out to support you. Let them know you appreciate them coming, and get to know your potential fans. Plus, you never know what hilarity will ensue when you meet the people. Next thing you know you’re in the back of a van with a guy named Rainwater, hitting a four-foot bong and getting a back rub from a limber cat. What? It could happen at a festival, man. Put on your politician hat and get out there, shake hands and kiss babies, and then kiss the mothers of those babies to see if they have fathers. If not move in for the kill. Key Word: Approachable
8. Sleep. Just do it. If you go too hard you’ll burn out partying or exploring your new surroundings or getting super high with Rainwater the Albino Shaman from the strip mall. Sleep is needed at these festivals to keep your head in the game and your stick on the ice. Key Word: Nap
9. Take Workshops. Most festivals offer workshops, usually with instructors you may never have the opportunity to work with again. Did you hear me? You might never see these people again, so what you are waiting for? Take a workshop already! Anyhooter, workshops and classes are always less expensive for festival performers, and are sometimes free if you’re lucky. Plus you’ll get to meet other improvisers and have the chance to refresh your skills. If you’re really lucky, you might put a brand new tool in that old leather belt of yours, grandpa. So what are you waiting for? Sign up for that workshop! Key Word: Register
10. See shows! Festival shows are inspiring and motivating. So many of the most memorable shows I’ve seen have been at festivals or on the road. So get that performer’s pass and watch a show. Watch a bunch of shows. Watch some shows, then watch some more. You catch the drift. Key Word: Watch
11. Meet festival volunteers and administrative staff. This one gets overlooked sometimes, and it’s a damn shame because those people volunteering to rip tickets at the door or those lovely humans sitting in the office are the life blood of festivals. Without people like them, nothing would get done. After all, we’re artists. We think with our hearts not our heads. We need these kind, caring, lovers of comedy to make sure dopes like us know where we are supposed to be and where to point the jokes. Their service is invaluable. God speed tiny dancers, you are the wind beneath our wings. Key Word: Volunteers
12. Communication. This is a two-way street and is super important if you are to enjoy yourself in your comedic travels. Ask questions, ask for help, and keep the lines open with festival organizers and fellow performers. I mean how are you going to know if you don’t ask? Key Word: Ask
Well that about covers it I think. Maybe you have a few of your own that you would have added in. You know what? Keep it to yourself, no one likes a know-it-all. Happy travels fellow comedy nerds!