Some people might call us mad for trying to put on a festival when we have never done so before, throwing ourselves into programming and producing for the first time. Those people would probably be right. But if there’s one thing we’ve done since starting to build A Younger Theatre, it is to be bold and give stuff a go. We might not be experts (yet), but we’ve learnt a hell of a lot from setting up the Incoming Festival, so we thought we would share a few of our experiences so far…
Here are Jake and Eleanor’s top tips for running a festival:
1. Plan, plan and plan some more
You can never do enough planning. One of the key elements of running a festival is knowing that if you plan enough in advance, anything is possible. With Incoming Festival we’ve given ourselves plenty of lead time, which means that we’d completely programmed the festival six months ahead of the festival dates. This emphasis on planning allows you to be flexible later, because you’ve done a fair chunk of the work already.
2. Have a good team around you
You are nothing without the team around you, no matter what sort of project or festival you’re putting on. It’s not just about having people with whom you work well on your team, it’s about bringing together a team whose judgment you trust unreservedly, and who will support you. You’re going to be with your team a lot, you have to know they they’ll be delivering as much as you are, and trust is key to this. We’ve been working together for over four years, and we know each other’s strength and weaknesses very well, and can support each other. We also have a “good cop, bad cop” routine down pat (no prizes for guessing who is who!), and one of us is usually calm when the other is stressed, allowing us to get stuff done without having (too many) meltdowns. Simon, the winner of our IdeasTap Festival Assistant brief, has been invaluable, too, as a sounding board, an extra pair of hands and a third opinion. We’ve been incredibly lucky to have the support of David and his team at New Diorama Theare, as well, and part of having a good team is knowing when to ask for help. NDT has been a cheerleader, a safety net and a kick up the arse, as required.
3. Be adaptable
We’re in the final few days ahead of Incoming Festival now, and being adaptable is crucial. Things will come out of nowhere – requests, problems, issues, you name them, they’re coming for us. Being adaptable allows us to deal with anything that comes at us (so far!). There’s no formula for this, it’s just about trusting each other and responding as quickly as possible to changes. Communication is key, too.
4. Be bold
What sets you apart from everyone else? Let’s face it, there are so many festivals happening that another one is just going to add to the weight of festival season, right? That was one of the biggest concerns we have when we started talking about running a featival – what would make it different? You’ve got to offer something that others don’t. You have to be bold. Boldness might be in the programming, or it might be in the theme of the festival – a great example is the Sick! Festival, looking at the role of mental illness in art. Bold? Yup. The risk we’re taking – where we’re being bold – is in programming companies that most people probably won’t have heard of. We think they’re great, we think their work is exciting, we think a fiver is a reasonable amount to risk on a new company. We hope audiences agree…
5. Ensure everyone gets paid fairly
When we first started thinking about Incoming Festival, it was really important to us to do things properly, and that means paying everyone fairly. From the performers, to the technicians, to the A Younger Theatre team behind the scenes, everyone is being paid a fee. If the #illshowyoumine debate has proved anything, it is to that talking about money is important. The support we’ve received from Arts Council England, the New Diorama, the Kevin Spacey Foundation, WhiteLight and OneKX means that we can pay every company a fee and offer a box office split. We want Incoming to be a genuine opportunity for the companies taking part, and not one that costs them money.
We’re proud of what we’ve achieved so far, incredibly grateful to David and the team at NDT for their belief and support, and really excited about the week ahead. We’ll be at the theatre all day, every day next week, so do come and say hi. We’ll be the ones who look like we haven’t slept for a week, with massive grins on our faces.
Incoming Festival takes place at New Diorama Theatre 19-25 May and features 17 emerging theatre companies. All tickets are just £5, and AYT readers can enter our competition here to win tickets to the last show of the festival, including exclusive access to the last night party.