FesTivaLs, Far and Wide

By Mulcahy, Lisa | Stage Directions, November 2006 | Go to article overview

FesTivaLs, Far and Wide


Mulcahy, Lisa, Stage Directions


Interested in touring your show internationally? Here's all the info you need to navigate the vibrant world festival scene. By Lisa Mulcahy

How many times have you listened to a producer, director, playwright or performer bemoan the lack of presentation opportunities in theater today? If you're starting to think there really are no good forums for fresh, exciting work left, don't buy that hype! The international festival scene has never been more active-it offers theater pros worldwide scores of venues to rack up huge creative accomplishments, build a fan base for their work and, if they're smart, make money to boot.

Let's look at what the international fest scene is really all about: the genres of festivals that exist, how artists and companies work within the system and how you can launch your own production on the worldwide stage.

WHICH FEST IS BEST?

In order to determine which festivals might be best for your particular work, it's crucial to first break down the international fests by category. Most festivals fit into one of these format categories:

* Fringe Festivals. A fringe is, as a rule, the most creatively free-form type in terms of the work artists can present. If you've got something to say, there's a fringe out there to help you say it. Unjuried fringes place no content restrictions on any production they present. Usually, these are open to everyone who applies (up to a preset number of shows). Often, unjuried fringes are gigantic affairs that present hundreds or even thousands of shows per year, in venues both conventional (like black boxes) and unconventional (like car washes). The worldfamous Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the best example of how a highly effective unjuried fringe operates.

Conversely, a "curated" fringe requires work to pass a creative litmus test set by its administrators, while still supporting and encouraging freedom of expression. Your script may be read by a team of judges, or your performance DVD may be scrutinized by the producing director. Usually, pieces are selected based on artistic merit and compatibility with the fringe's particular aesthetic or theme. The widely respected Dublin Fringe Festival is a great example of a fringe consistently curated for the highest quality.

* Performers' festivals. This type specializes in presenting great work hinging on the craft of the performing artist. Some performance-oriented festivals stress eclecticism in their programming, as Amsterdam's Holland Festival does in embracing diverse acting companies making intellectual statements. Solo performance festivals are plentiful as well, following the lead of such groundbreaking showcase organizations as Canada's Uno Festival of Solo Performance.

* Playwrights' festivals. New writers seeking to make a splash or lauded veterans looking to try out a new piece flock to the many playwrights' festivals across the globe. Usually, these focus on new works, though some focus on revivals or specific authors.

DEALING WITH THE DETAILS

Next, you must figure out which festivals in your chosen category you might be interested in working. Start on the web. "Do your research," urges Janet Munsil, producer of Canada's Victoria Fringe, Uno Festival of Solo Performance and Intrepid Theatre. "Every festival has its own mandate or niche, and it's better to find a good fit for your work than to try to force your work to fit a festival's mandate, or ignore the mandate completely. Find the right festival for both the work you do, and for the stage your work is at."

It's also wise to investigate a festival's artistic track record. to see how your production specs match up from a historic perspective. "I would advise any company to check out the websites of the festivals, particularly their archive programs if they have any. before shooting off a round of e-mails or applications," suggests Steve Gove, founder and festival director of the Prague Fringe Festival. …

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