What Makes a Great Festival??

By Erin Daruszka

This fall The San Francisco Improv Festival sent a survey to the greater U.S. improv community (via Facebook and outreach to theater communities across the country) to determine what improvisors look for when applying to and attending festivals.

We had 151 responses (98.7% consider themselves performers) and we have shared the details,  summarized below. Thank you to all who participated – your input is much appreciated and is helping build a stronger improv community for all!

Why apply to an improv festival??

People mostly go to festivals to bond with their teams, to be in the community environment, because they heard positive things about the festival and to travel. Workshops are secondary and seeing other groups perform is nice.

Of the survey respondents, 91.3% have performed at an improv festival.

When considering applying to a festival the location and timing of the fest were the biggest and most important factors when deciding whether to apply. Reputation, likelihood of acceptance, recommendation of others and perks for performing were less important to the respondents.

If a group has not applied to any festival before not being able to travel (work or family reasons) and the cost to attend were the main reasons people did not apply. A lack of video, the submission fee, not being ready or not seeing value in attending were less of a stumbling block to the respondents.

Over half of the respondents would reapply to a festival they were rejected from in the past.

If a festival has outside social events the majority of respondents would be fairly interested in attending.

Most improvisors would help promote their show, if asked.

There were several open ended questions, a summary of the key themes are outline below by question.

When attending a festival, performers look for:

  • having a memorable experience
  • performing for a new (and packed) audience
  • meeting new people
  • feeling a sense of community
  • feeling welcomed into the community and at the festival
  • having multiple opportunities to play (including jams)
  • having the festival be well organized and stress-free
  • getting to watch other groups
  • having more than a 20 minute set
  • seeing other shows for free
  • getting discounts to workshops
  • having organized social activities
  • getting to bond with team and others
  • feeling appreciated by the festival when attending a festival

When attending shows at a festival, audience members look for:

  • great/quality/solid performances
  • reputable headliners
  • diverse line up (in styles and format of improv, and also diversity in the makeup of the teams themselves)
  • affordability
  • ease of attending (one venue or close by venues)
  • being entertained/laughs
  • feeling welcomed
  • shows that run on time
  • professionalism of teams
  • exposure to acts you do not normally see

A festival can make an audience member feel more welcomed by:

  • offering a place to go before/after the show
  • having informative show bios (that describe the actual show)
  • having friendly staff
  • being well organized
  • having good communication
  • VIP tickets with access to performer after parties
  • making it easy to attend
  • having raffles
  • chances to mingle with performers
  • multi-show discounts/fest passes, make it affordable to attend
  • having programs
  • having clear signage
  • outreach/attendance by non-improvisors
  • no more than 2 groups per slot
  • welcome us and say thank you
  • start/end on time
  • good hosts
  • apparently people wants snacks and good drinks

A festival can help a performer feel more welcomed by:

  • being well organized
  • over communicating
  • knowing who the performers are
  • having parties and hangouts
  • having opportunities to perform with other groups
  • having an assigned liaison/available point of contact
  • a nice green room to hang out
  • meet/greet with producers
  • feedback on why not selected
  • after parties where you can actually hear the other people
  • promoting all the shows (not just headliners)
  • help with housing and transportation
  • discounts on shows/workshops
  • swag
  • visible clock from stage
  • providing a welcome packet
  • filling the audience

There were many groups and/or people mentioned in our survey as being requested, high quality headliners. The ones below were suggested by multiple respondents:

TJ & Dave
Susan Messing
King Ten
Dr. God
The Resistance
David Razowsky
Orange Tuxedo
Heather and Miles
Cook County Social Club
Jet Eveleth
Shrimp Forks
The Reckoning
North Coast
Improvised Shakespeare
Jill Bernard

Again, thanks to all who participated. We hope this information will be helpful to your communities as we move forward to creating festivals and producing shows in 2018!