This fall’s KC Improv Festival is the eighth festival I’ve coordinated. The first four—then called Spontaneous Combustion—were produced by Lighten Up, the theater I co-owned. The next two were produced by Funny Outfit, and the name changed to 5/6: The U.S. Improv Festival. Last spring, City 3 brought it back as 7: The KC Improv Festival, with a new focus on local needs.
And this fall, Improv-Abilities takes over production duties for 8. It’s such a perfect fit I can barely stand it—and I was inCREDibly relieved when Tim and Aron came on board.
Running a festival when you have a theater is a cinch. At Lighten Up, we had a stage—and within our building, empty offices for workshops and a downstairs space complete with a bar for parties. When the names—and the crowds—got bigger, we rented more and bigger spaces (including the Folly, Quality Hill Playhouse and the Heartland). And it got even easier when I quit Hallmark for three years and did nothing but manage the place. The festival could be a full-time job for 3-6 months out of the year.
Obviously, you can’t make a festival alone. I always had help at Lighten Up. When Funny Outfit took over, it stopped being just my baby—the leaders of the troupe took it on. Last year, a core group of folks did the majority of the work. And this year, it’s shaping up the same way.
The single most important thing I know about running a festival is something I learned from my Dad, a retired Army Colonel with a reputation for being a great leader (I’m paraphrasing here):
If you don’t expect anything, you’ll appreciate everything.
To run a festival, you spend evenings and weekends for MONTHS and months and months preparing an event that puts other people (and other troupes) in the spotlight. While it’s going on, it’s easy to spot the planners. They’re the ones…
- Pissing improvisers off by not giving them a backstage job or comping them.
- Pissing everyone else off because you can’t get them into the show they didn’t bother to make reservations for.
- Missing the show because they’re running to get more water for the players.
- Missing half of the workshops because they’re processing latecomers or picking up food.
- Showing up late for the party because they’re cleaning up the theater.
- Spending the whole party running around to make sure the host bar is living up to their promise of free snacks and cheap drinks.
- Leaving the party before everyone else because they have to take someone to the airport or get to the workshop space early to set up or because they’re JUST FREAKING EXHAUSTED.
But. You. Can’t. Because you’re one of the ones who wanted do throw the damn thing in the first place. Getting irritated at the people who come to play and take a class and drink beer makes about as much sense as throwing a party and fuming when the guests don’t help you get ready or clean up.
And you won’t stay sane for very long if you get angry at people say they want to help in the beginning and don’t. If you hate everyone who doesn’t keep a promise, you’ll lose a lot of drinking buddies and scene partners.
So back to this: If you don’t expect anything, you’ll appreciate everything.
You’ll appreciate the people who show up and put on kick-ass shows. Or hand out programs at the shows. The ones who help you carry stuff between your car and the theater. Or offer to get you a bottle of water—or beer. The friends who forward your promotional e-mails. Or bring their friends to shows. And you’ll find yourself willing to throw yourself in front of a bus for those few who take on the biggest burdens.
If you don’t expect anything, it will mean the world when someone you barely know says something as simple—and as wonderful—as “I'm having the best time ever.”
Note to self: Remember this stuff in six months.