Burlesque Festival Selection Process – What do producers look for in applications?

With the application season for 2018 Burlesque Festivals around the world starting to open already, many performers are asking “what acts should I submit?”, “what will the producers want?” and the eventual “why didn’t I get in?”. There’s lots of literature that already exists on handling rejecting, so this is a blog to give you an insight on what producers may consider when selecting acts for a festival.

The Application Basics
Is the application filled out correctly? Did it come with corresponding payment? Does it have video  be it rehearsal, amateur or professional, or a really good description if it is development? I guarantee this knocks out a few of the applications straight away.

Does it grab my attention?
We get 100’s of videos to review as part of festival applications and by the time you’ve gone through the first 30, your personality often changes from Paula to Simon very quickly. Does the first 30 seconds grab your attention? Is it the music, the costume, the movement, the theme that caused me to keep watching? And the opposite is true too… is it the same old music, costume, movement theme we’ve seen 1000 times before that makes me want to switch off? This is the first step in which acts start getting knocked back for selection but remember it is still very subjective to the producers/selection panels personal tastes.

Is it fit for the show and does it meet the criteria of the festival?
Once this initial list is created based of the individual’s application, often the number of acts is greater than the number of available of slots in the festival. We check what specific show did the person applied for and ask ourselves will this act suit that show style? Does the act meet the requirements of that show such as time limit etc.? If you only applied to enter a classic styled show night with a full-on gore-lesque piece, or have a 20-minutes act when the time limit is 4 mins then the likelihood is that “unfortunately” is going to show up in the festival response email.

The Audience
In this stage of selection we consider who is our audience and will they enjoy this act?

The Acts
Let’s get into the practicalities of the acts, categorising acts according to certain things:
• What style of act is it? Classic or Neo (for simplicity purposes)
• What colour is the costuming?
• Are there any props e.g. fans?
• What is the music used?
• Is it a funny, upbeat, slow or sensual act?
• How long is the act? (does this mean we can increase the number of acts we can have in a show or do we have to reduce them?)

All these things get considered to ensure that we have an even spread of the types of acts, colours, props (e.g. not putting two acts with fans together in the same set), making sure not everyone is using the same song (or variations of), etc.

This first part of the selection process often starts the beginnings of a run sheet and we can see if we are generating a good ebb and flow to create a cohesive show with individual acts.

So now the initial list is a little shorter. But we still don’t have enough spots for everyone. We must think about what the festival is trying to achieve and how to fairly represent that through our performers. For the NZ Burlesque Festival things that get considered in this stage of the selection process are:

Where are the performers from? We don’t want to over/under-represent a specific area, and want to ensure we have got a good balance of performers from around the country and farther afield. It is an international event after all, and to gain participation from different communities means they offer different things and can take their own learnings back to that community.

As NZBF is about development and accessibility, it’s important to show our audiences a range of burlesque from beginner through to internationally experienced performers. This also ties into making sure we’ve given a good amount of opportunity to both newbies, intermediates and long-timers in the business so that we can all learn from each other and progress with our own professional development.

Previous Participation
Often have the same people performing in different shows on a regular basis. Unless they’ve got something quite special or unique to bring to the stage, we do have to consider how many times the performer has been involved with the festival in a performance capacity. Were they a part of it the previous year or have they been a performer for consecutive years? This may be a time to give them a break and give someone else the opportunity… like I said though sometimes they always have something special or unique, so it’s only a very last consideration.

At last we have a really short-list. But not short enough. So it’s back to looking at the acts. Are there two acts that are really similar? This is when we reapply the principals above to just between the two acts and do a bit of an analysis to see which one might fill a gap in our run sheet and the demographics of our performers. We may also consider the ability to work with a person based off previous experiences. And on the very rare occasion, it comes down to a coin toss.

So here’s the thing… you may have an attention grabbing act. It may be perfect in movement, musicality, costuming, everything. The festival producers may even really really want it. But sometimes there is just not enough spots and you’ll miss out by a hair’s width. It doesn’t mean you’re not good/experienced/creative/*enter self-criticism here* enough. It just might mean that it didn’t fit into the festival vision or programme. Don’t let it get to you. Don’t stop applying. And above all don’t stop performing! Furthermore Festival involvement isn’t limited to just performing…. go anyway, check out the show, volunteer to help, take some workshops (or apply to teach), be involved and immerse yourself in that festival community love. Even if you’re not performing you can still network, learn and have something to gain from being present and bonus tip: showing your support for the event shows the producers you want to be involved in the future 😉

(Please note: The above is based on my personal experience as a festival producer and may not represent the process or views of other events.)

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