What is a Festival?
A festival is a period of time and a gathering of a specific community of people who share similar interests to engage with some sort of activity. There exists many types of festivals throughout Toronto, throughout Canada and throughout the world. The festivals spoken about here include festivals for performing artists. A festival can be a culmination of performances (including theatre, dance, music, performing arts, etc.) that are brought together to be performed throughout a specific period of time within a specific space or spaces. This period of time can be one day, or a few days, or can even expand over weeks. Oftentimes, you have to be selected to be a part of a festival through various different methods (sometimes through application and curation, sometimes random selection, etc.). Festival environments are often fun, fast-paced, and supportive.
Things to think about
There are a lot of elements to think about when producing a show in a festival. You may ask yourself, well isn’t it just like producing a show? Well, in some ways it is, but there are definitely other things that differ and that should be considered strictly for a festival setting.
When budgeting for a festival, there are a few more things you may have to take into consideration when planning. Those things include, but are not limited to:
- Paying your artists - many times, festivals may work on a profit share split, as the revenue generated from box office may not be as large as if you were producing the show on your own and oftentimes, you are mainly making what you receive in box office revenue
- Box office - there is typically a fixed ticket price (if there is a ticket price at all) as well as a fixed number of performances your show will run for and therefore, you do not have control over what you can be making in that aspect. This though, does make it easy when calculating your box office potential, as you do not have to worry about what your ticket pricing should be.
- Entrance Fee - there may be an entrance fee to take part in a festival, especially if the festival is giving back all box office earnings to its artists. Make sure to check in with the festival itself for specifications on what your entry fee may be. To have a reference, the Toronto Fringe charges an $800.00 entry fee to be part of the festival.
- Accessibility requirements - what sort of needs are required for your show? Will you be having an ASL interpreted performance, a relaxed performance, etc. that the festival needs to know about?
- Grants - there are specific grants that can be applied to when you have a show in a festival. The Ontario Arts Council, for instance, offers grants for festival support in dance, theatre and multi- and inter- arts projects.
- Easily Transportable - it is always wise to ensure that your entire show (including set, costumes, props) can easily come onto the stage and off. This makes things easy when changing between two shows and also makes it easier for you, should you be travelling with your show. Some festivals even provide you with specific dimensions that your set must fit into for storage purposes within their venue. So size and weight are definitely something to keep in mind when planning, creating and budgeting for your set and props.
- Personnel - the number of people you bring onto your project can differ than if doing a one-off show. You have to think about how many people you need, especially in terms of what your budget can afford and what your travel requirements are. Consider if you need 20 artists on your festival show that will be touring across the country and if that is viable. It might totally be for you, but take the number of people into consideration.
- Simple Tech - it is good to consider having simple technical elements as part of your production because you are generally given a very specific amount of tech time that you will have to coordinate between loading in, programming all of your cues and then running your cue to cue. So keep that in mind and remind your designers to consider a simple design for all technical and design elements.
- Travel - it is good to note whether your show will be touring and travelling. A lot of times, companies will tour their shows during a festival. Perhaps the festival is a touring festival, or maybe you are part of multiple festivals in different cities (ie. doing multiple Fringe festivals during the summer time), and now have to plan for travel, lodging and other touring items that you wouldn’t otherwise have to if you were producing a one-off show. Travel costs and logistics include, but are not limited to: housing for your artists, per diems, food, transportation - local and from city to city (buses, cars, planes, trains, etc.), transporting your set and costumes, etc. Make sure to budget for these items when planning for your festival.
Marketing and Publicity your show for a festival can most definitely be different than producing a one-off show! While the festival will market your show as part of their wider marketing plan, you have to take into consideration that there are other shows who will likely be performing during the same days and the same times as yours. So, having a strategy to stand out and promote your show is very important! Some things to consider when preparing your marketing plan include:
- Word of mouth - word of mouth is huge when it comes to promoting at a festival. Whether that be you telling people you are creating a show, or having people who see it tell their friends, it is important that your show gain traction through a word of mouth discussion.
- Posters - a lot of times, festivals will support posters from all of the productions involved (as long as you make mention that it is involved with that specific festival). Posters are a great visual way for potential patrons to become curious in seeing your show. Oftentimes, small businesses and cafes within the community of the festival will also be supportive of having posters displayed in their shops and windows (make sure you ask their permission first before posting!). But just like there are many people producing a show in the festival, there will be many posters, so think of images and colours that will stick out to your audiences in order for your poster to grasp attention.
- Postcards - postcards are almost like smaller versions of your poster, but will likely have more information about your show. These are great to hand out to people to pass along information about your show.
- Branding - if your budget allows, having a fun branding item to pass around or wear is another great way to create buzz about your show. This can include any small items/toys/trinkets that you can brand. Branding t-shirts, buttons, or anything that potential patrons can take away is great to give them something to remember you and your show and is basically walking advertising, as people can wear it for the duration of the festival.
- Cross-Marketing - it can be wise to align yourself with other shows in the festival and help promote one another. You can swap a page in each others’ programs, tweet each other and promote on social media and help through word of mouth as well. These partnerships can be great to get different networks of people out to your show.
You should always write a media release/press release when producing in a festival to send out to various media outlets. Having some press in attendance will only help to amplify and attract audiences to come to your show. In a festival setting, there may already be some invited press who will be asked or required by the festival to come to the shows, but it never hurts to still send your release out as they will only gain some more valuable information about your show.
Box office splits
With every festival, the money you take home from the box office will differ. Sometimes, you will take home all of the box office earnings, other times there may be a split (70-30, where the artists keep 70% of sales is common). Make sure you understand what you will be getting from box office sales to include in your revenues estimate as part of your budget.
Fundraising is a great way to help your show have the funds that it needs to be the best it can be! Pick a time in the year, before the festival, that is strategic to hold your fundraiser. You can do this by scoping out when other shows are holding fundraisers so you don’t conflict. Fundraising will also help your networks get to know more about your show, so it is also a great marketing tool!
Different types of festivals
There are so many different types of festivals that you can enter your show in. From theatre festivals, to dance festivals, to arts festivals, there is something for everyone to be involved with. Below is a short list of some of the festivals that exist in Toronto and throughout Canada.
Canadian and American Fringe Festivals are lottery based and not curated. Some of the larger ones have an industry component that brings folks in from out of town, but usually it is local presenters looking for new work.
International Fringe Festivals have a combination of curated and lottery based work. Some of the curated work will have a full fee, some of it will be a box office split. Often there is an international presenter component.
Emerging Work Festivals across Canada are a great brdige between Fringe Festivals and a fully presented run. These Festivals also offer either fees or a combination of fee and box office split. They will sometimes have an industry series and will often have presenters attend.
Performing Arts Festivals exist around the world and usually last two - four weeks. They bring in remarkable work from all over the world and pay professional fees. Sometimes you can negotiate for travel, accommodation and per diem. They often have an industry series or have presenters attend.
It is not unusual for shows to have runs at each one of these types of festivals during its development and touring life. In fact, some shows return to international Fringe Festival multiple years in a row.
Applying to festivals
When applying to a festival, you do not always have to have all of the specific details about your show. For Fringe Festivals, for instance, you can just submit your name or company name and if chosen can finalize your show. But other festivals, mainly ones that are curated (such as Summerworks) require a developed idea and pitch.
When pitching your idea to a festival, it is good to consider some tips from Grant Writing, as it is almost as if you are writing a grant, except you are not vying for money, but for a spot in the festival to produce your work.
- The Producer's Perspective has a great article on international festivals listing Festivals around the world
- Theatre Ontario’s list of new play and independent estivals
- Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals