One of the best ways to attend festivals is to get involved by being a volunteer, instructor or performer. Festivals differ and vary from region to region but many offer free attendance or other perks for helping out; some festivals do not and take ticket sales from all attendants and helping out is just another part of the experience. Every festival is different with different organizers and spaces, and cultures, but almost all festivals seek volunteers, instructors, and performers with an application process.
If you would like to instruct or perform at a festival, you should be looking into applying well before the festival date. Organizers will often pepper an event page, a public group for their festival or other public online spaces with a call for applications for performers, instructors and volunteers throughout the lead up to the fest date. Depending on the organizational level of the festival; instructor applications stop anywhere from one to six months before the festival is due to begin, this is because festivals (in part) draw attendance from excitement about the workshops and performances they have to offer. Applications for general volunteers are often open longer than instructor and performer applications.
Even if volunteering is a choice made along with paying for a ticket without expectations for reimbursement, it is a rewarding activity. You become part of the festival experience for festival attendees and everyone appreciates volunteers because festivals rely on them from end to end. From the organizers, to the workshop instructors, to the people setting up each day, to the people sitting behind the registration desk greeting everyone as they come in, everyone is donating their time.
Instructing and sharing your rad skills is rewarding beyond a free festival pass if that is offered. The old saying that teaching is the best way to learn a subject is true, the act of working through the issues new people have on the same subject helps you learn with a depth of understanding that will undoubtedly improve your own prop manipulation… and your instruction will help the prop manipulation of others, the perfect symbiotic relationship. As an instructor, you get to help create the experience of festival goers by providing a 45-110 minute introduction to the way you see a prop. When I first started attending prop festivals I was deeply moved by the many different ways each instructor relates to the prop they were teaching; so different than my own.
Performing often carries extra ‘perks’; for Victoria Juggle and Flow Festival we pay performers an honorarium of $100 and give them dinner before the show. Not all festivals do this; some do considerably more. There are almost always two shows at a juggling festival; sometimes three if the festival includes a fire show, and the unmentioned show is a renegade show (not always called that). A renegade show is an informal showcase of skills that isn’t exactly for the public, it’s all for your fellow festival attendees. Usually one doesn’t have to sign up for the renegade show before the festival begins.
Many festivals utilize google docs for their various application processes. Google Forms easily facilitates a header where the volunteer/workshop/performer organizer can lay out the expectations of applicants and what applicants will receive from the festival.
Useful Tips For Applications
Use your full real name. Festival organizers will use this if you get injured and have to go to the hospital, to attempt to contact you and it simply makes everything clearer and easier for people who are often stressed out completing festival work on their off time. If there is no option to give your stage name, put it beside your real name but please use your full real name. In some cases, more than just the organizer you know personally might be referring to the sheets of information compiled from the form submissions.
Write your bio as if it is for the public: Most festivals will ask for an instructor bio, these can be intensely hard to write! If you are having trouble, state your name, how long you have been spinning overall, how long you have been spinning the props you will be teaching, where/when you have taught and where you are coming from.
Be specific in your workshop descriptions: Organizers get a number of duplicate workshop applications. The one with the stronger workshop description is almost always the one picked; unless nepotism dictates we personally know you’re a much better teacher than workshop description writer. The more information in this section the better, do you have a video clip of you giving this workshop? You can’t sell yourself enough here. Sometimes competition to get in can be fierce, especially with smaller festivals that aren’t able to run as many simultaneous workshops.
Provide a valid contact method: If they can’t contact you to accept you, they won’t. Mistyped emails or missing emails/phones/facebook profile links give organizers headaches, especially when they are super excited about your workshops. Put the method of communication you prefer down clearly even if there isn’t a question on your application form for it. It shows you’re a classy professional.
Stipends: Some festivals offer travel stipends for workshop instructors or performers. Some only offer free attendance. If you don’t see a question referring to travel stipends and think you might need one; ask, but remember that if you need to ask it may not exist. Not all festivals can offer any or even much money. So if you are asking for a stipend: be descriptive with how you will use the money and be flexible, because how much it will cost to have you affects the decision to have you. This is rarely the case with general volunteers, you can ask but it may simply confuse the organizer you contact.
Videos: If you have a video description, recap or clip of your workshop, link that into your application whether there is a space to ask it or not. Put it in the workshop description. If you are applying to perform, you will probably need a clip of your performance as it has appeared elsewhere or for the show organizers to judge. Having video clips will help you no matter what, even as a general volunteer! A video clip of you lifting heavy items and jovially prancing will prove how fun and fresh you are.
After you’re accepted… be patient, but please be responsive.
If you are accepted for a gala show or as a workshop leader, the organizer in charge of you might have additional questions or instructions for you. They usually understand that they need to let people know they are accepted as instructors before the instructors can make plans to attend, but please bear in mind the organizers are working to the best of their ability. Because general volunteer applications are usually open later than the other applications; volunteers tend to be contacted last.
Emailing to ask when confirmations of acceptance or rejection will be sent out is a nice way of asking if the deliberation process has finished. Emailing to explain why the organizer’s lackluster organizational skills are cramping your style is a less good way to do that. Don’t laugh. This is a thing.
People performing in the show might need to confirm their entrance, lighting, exit, and sound cues. The show organizer will need the cut music for your act so that they can get the set list for the show organized and ready to tech-run. The sooner you get your music to the show organizer, the happier they will be.
As a person teaching or performing, you are first and foremost in the creation of that year’s festival experience, well before the organizers. Sometimes new instructors/performers get intimidated by what they’re doing. You were chosen for a reason, because you are shiny and amazing. As a volunteer; depending on your tasks, you might be behind the scenes doing set up or you might be greeting people at the front desk. You are also a big part of the festival experience for others and your shine is valued dearly.
Now get ready to share that with the festival.