Thursday, September 9, 2010

How to enjoy an improv festival.

I've run eight improv festivals and attended more than a dozen. Each one featured some combination of at least three of the following:
  • Working my ass off
  • Not sleeping
  • Drinking
  • Performance stress
  • Workshop exhaustion
  • Travel
  • Extreme extraversion
  • Not enjoying something as much as I might have otherwise because I was too tired, stressed or hung over
The last few years, though, I've discovered a few secrets to enjoying the whole thing—all from experience or observation. (But mostly from getting it wrong at least once.) My rules for having a blast at KCiF:

  • Plan your weekend. Know what you want out of the festival: entertainment? education? networking? fun? Know what shows you want to see and workshops you want to take, so you're not scrambling for tickets or registration at the last minute. Know what nights you need to skip the parties and get to bed early. Know what you'll wear, when and what you'll eat, and how you'll get where you're going. It all sounds so obvious...until you're trying to iron a pair of underpants dry 15 minutes before your call time.
  • Take care of your body. Have a water bottle and protein bar or some fruit with you at all times. Consume more than caffeine, beer, cigarettes and Altoids.
  • Get some sleep. Especially before classes and performances. Don't waste your workshop money because you show up on two hours of sleep. And for God's sake, make sure you're at your best for your show.
  • Listen. Listen in workshops (if you miss the instructions or argue theory or justify your performance, everyone will want to kill you). Listen when the stage managers are telling you where you should be at call and curtain time. Listen when those smart, funny people you just met are talking about something besides improv (instead of hoping they'll tell you how awesome you were or trying to draw them into a discussion about theory or your cool idea for a format).
  • Be a fame junkie. Those headliners from out of town? They're really, really nice people. Some like to network. Some don't, and just want to chill out with good friends they haven't seen in a while. Some don't come to after-parties. If they don't leave KC thinking you're the most awesome person on the planet, it is rarely personal. Rarely.
  • Ask the festival managers for favors. If the show is sold out, it's really sold out. (And they probably have all the help they need backstage, so that's not your ticket to a free show.) They've already published any discounts they can afford to offer. (The single coolest moment I ever had running a festival: I was stuck on the phones in our theater office trouble-shooting and taking reservations, and Fuzzy Gerdes came in not with a problem or a question or a request for favor, but with a box of treats from Napoleon Bakery. I almost cried.)
  • Worry about what you're missing. If you have to miss a party so you can get a good night's sleep before workshops, you'll survive. If you miss a show or a class because you have to save money for rent or medical bills, you'll live. If someone else is talking to the cool person you want to talk to and you're stuck talking to the person you don't want to talk to, see "listen," above.
Most of all, though (to quote my pal Heather, who'll be teaching "Camera Technique for Improv Actors" next week): Have fuckin' fun.


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