At least most of us that have had the chance to go an improv festival pre-2020 have had a great experience. We like some festivals more than others, but overall, it’s awesome!
Festivals are a place where you can meet like-minded people from all over the world! It’s also a place that boils with improv all around: on stage, in workshops, in the corridors in any discussion, in the hostel rooms, etc.
I have a friend who described going to his first festival like that:
It’s like if my whole life I thought I had explored the world, but I was actually living inside of my house, only exploring the different rooms, and suddenly I found the front door and am now stepping into the world. I want more of it!
The good news is that festivals are back on the menu! The re-opening of the world in the last few months has confirmed that it was possible to gather again, and organisation-heroes are back on their organisation-horses to joust organisation-nemesis!
Pre-Scriptum: Warning, this Pigeon Post is slightly longer than usual, I got excited writing it apparently! It takes 12mn to read it, at average speed.
Organising anything in this world has always been scary. It is a lot of work and it needs a good dose of passion and selflessness. Especially in improv, a field where money is not flowing everywhere, and a theatre style that is still young and fairly unknown by the institutions.
Mini-edition of IMPRO Amsterdam, like a phoenix rising from the ashes
A single show, a single workshop is already a certain commitment to plan, to advertise, to organise and to make happen. It’s also a lot of joy, it brings people together, it makes the art grow. And that’s why so many of us are doing it: because we love improvised theatre, improvised comedy, improv, impro or whatever name we give to it.
So for those of you that took on the task of doing that: a big cheer from the crowd.
Then there is the idea that emerges, to organise something bigger. Maybe two or three nights of show, maybe a weekend intensive of workshops, or something similar. This is even more work usually, and it starts getting riskier too, especially if you rent a special theatre for it, or if you invite people from abroad.
For you that have ever done that, big cheers, roses are thrown on your way and the crowd chants your name when you pass in front of their seats.
And for some of us comes the idea to organise something even bigger. A full-sized festival: multiple guests often from all over the world, multiple workshop days and often multiple workshops in parallel, months or sometimes more than a year of preparation, organisation, meetings, planning, headaches and more.
For you fewer people that have tried that, you get a standing ovation, and while the crowd chants your name, your armour shines in the sun and birds are chirping all around in your honour.
At least that is what I wish to any entrepreneur, any team that works toward that goal, any person trying to do something with their time, often volunteering and working way too much to make it real!
Often people actually don’t see what is happening in the shadows, and have no clue how much work it is. But as tiring—and sometimes ungrateful—as it is to organise a festival, it’s also the most beautiful thing when it is starting. To suddenly realize that all that work has been put for this very moment when you see the smile on the face of a visitor entering the room, the bubbly energy of a workshop participant after a class, or the happy sweat of a performer coming backstage after a successful show. Because all that is thanks to you!
Yep. Yep yep yep yep.
Well, first, some festivals around the world have disappeared—including some major ones—or are still unheard of. On the other hand, some new festival appeared, and that’s really awesome!
But most of us festival organisers, festival teams, festival producers, festival aficionados are back in the game. Or at least we try to be!
Flock Theatre show | Scandalous Women of History directed by Laura
Because of multiple reports, festival organisers had to do different choices depending on their situation.
Some of us simply postponed the entire festival. It is the case for the Italian festival Welcome! for instance, cancelled in 2020 the day before the festival, and eventually happened with the original cast in May 2022.
Some completely reset the festival to zero: either to give a breather, or because too many things had changed. It is the case of IMPRO Amsterdam which after three times delaying the festival, having the main venue definitely close, the artistic direction change, the entire production team being renewed and more, decided to simply cancel the festival as it was. It allows us to re-draw the festival from scratch in a way that seems a better fit with the world we live in today.
And some festivals found an in-between solution, keeping part of the planning and re-designing the rest. That is what Manuel Speck and I decided to do as co-directors of the Improfestival Karlsruhe.
Across all post-pandemic festivals, we seem to face the same problem: people do not want to anticipate anymore. Everyone seems to be enthusiastic about festivals, we are all very vocal about how happy we are for them to be back, but we do not seem to have yet come back to the habit of committing.
Of course, part of this is money: Covid has been hard for the economy of most of our countries, and because most of us aren’t in the category of people that had shares in Zoom or Amazon, we also are tighter on finances. But mostly what seems to get in the way is that we all lost the habit and the energy to commit to something that is more than 3 weeks away. Which is a problem for festivals.
The main problem is that with no commitment, there is no visibility on the projected income, and therefore no guarantee that the festival will be financially viable. And for most of us, the money put in festivals upfront is personal money. Sometimes it is from an improv association or club. Sometimes from an improv company. But most of the time, the risk is run by individuals or a group of individuals.
How much money can that be anyway? will you tell me? Well, a festival budget is easily between 10k€ and 20k€ for a small festival, and up to 50k€ to 80k€ for a bigger scale one. So yeah, it’s still a big bag of cash.
And often no visibility means cancelling the festival: that is what almost happened to the Improfestival Karlsruhe, as sales long ahead have been way lower than in pre-Covid times. We had to cut on artists pays, completely took away the volunteer fee for us as producers, cut on costs, cancelled our photographer, one workshop, and are continuing to push the workshops and shows to be able to give us some more time. But for now we are still there, surviving, like so many others!
If you can, try to commit and to anticipate. Go visit them. If you plan to travel and you like a festival, go book workshops and shows. If a festival happens locally in your town, book your shows way in advance, even if it feels useless to you.
Also: talk to the organisers you know! Ask them if you can help, how you can help, and most of all how they feel. Social medias are made to show to shiny successful side of a business, but we see very little of the troubled meetings, the sleepless nights and the sweaty budget re-evaluations.
And most importantly, talk about them. If you know a festival you like, talk about them to your friends, your family, your colleagues, your improv group, your fencing group, your knitting group, and any other human around you. Share their posts on socials. Praise their work, and cheer their successes.
Do you recognise this? Hit the reply button and share with me how you are doing these days! And either you doing it or not, I just want you to know that you are not alone in this. Never. You are loved!
Talk to you soon, and thanks for being here!
I recently brought wine for a dinner beautifully cooked by my friend Tanine. And besides the fact that the food was amazing, I also got the opportunity to share with them some of my favorite wines from Achillée, a wine maker from France—near where I grew up—who works in biodynamic agriculture. If you ever are in Alsace, in the East of France, go pop at the location, they are super-friendly, it’s absurdly beautiful there, the wine is fabulous and they are highschool friend of mine!
Yep, that's also where I got married, a glass of wine in my hand!
For the nerds, the wines I’m talking about were a Naturel Pétillant, an original blend made of all the types of grape they grow called Alsace and one of my favorites ever, their beautiful Pinot Noir Libre.