Please note that the opinions expressed here are mine alone and do not reflect those of the rest of the Southern Fried Burlesque Fest staff, volunteers or the anonymous members of the selection committee. Also, these opinions are from my personal experiences, yours may vary, but as these are opinions there is no right or wrong.
I have the great joy of putting on a festival and bringing people from all over the world together for an amazing weekend of burlesque in Atlanta. We have received at least 100 applications (sometimes double or triple that) each year since we started. In March we will have our 4th Annual Southern Fried Burlesque Fest. We actually just sent out the acceptance letters which is very exciting for everyone that got in. If you got an acceptance letter, this blog is not for you.
This blog is for everyone else that got a "thanks, but no thanks" email. For those people that feel hurt, rejected or betrayed because of the unfairness of not getting in or for those people that honestly just want to be better received when they send in applications. So I take it back, I guess even if you got in this may help you in the future...who knows. I get asked all the time, "How can I get in a festival?" because I run one and I've performed at a lot of them. So here ya go, I'm finally going to answer the question for you all.
1) Apply - I know a lot of people that complain that they're never going to be good enough to get in. Well, you never know until you try so just do it! Also, many festivals have new comer showcases and it's a great way to break into the festival circuit and get your first taste in a low pressure way, it's a new comer showcase, they're not going to compare you to Dirty Martini, they're going to cheer you on for being new and brave!
2) Tape your acts - Even if its just a rehearsal video, and watch them. See what you look like on the video. See what works, where you can improve, what you can do to get a better video...always look to see if you're giving good face. See if your costume translates well. Check yourself, because videos are always crap compared to live performances, but you still want the best video you can get, even if it's just a rehearsal video in your kitchen.
3) Fill out the form correctly - This one I'm going to break down for you because this is important. My suggestion is to actually look at the application, make a check list and then make sure you have everything. Many festivals are moving to Google docs so you have to sit down and fill it all out at once and then submit but you can still look at it BEFORE you submit so make sure you have everything you need before you do so.
*I'm going to use the SFBF form as an example**
-Stage Name/Group Name: this should be self explanatory, make sure you put in your stage name if you're applying as a solo or your group name if you're applying as a duet or group.
-Website: This can be your personal website, which I highly recommend, you can make a free one on Weebly or Wix and it can contain an organized chaos of you. Pictures, videos, etc... If you don't have one of these use a Facebook Fan Page or something like that. We don't want to see anything we have to "friend" or sign up for so it better be public and accessible to everyone.
-Legal Name: Again should be self explanatory, but it's apparently not. Your legal name is what is on your driver's license, unless you are World Famous Bob or Tempest Storm I seriously doubt your stage name is your legal name. Do not put your stage name or a nick name here. Seriously...
-Email: this is the email that we will be contacting you with for EVERYTHING. Make sure it is one that you actually check on a regular basis. Do not use an email that you never look at or an email (such as work) that will freak out over the word pastie or something like that.
-Age requirements: Generally most festivals have a minimum age because of the venue and the fact that we're taking our clothes off in public. In Atlanta everyone must be 18+, we prefer 21+ because we do have a bar though it is the bar's job to check IDs, we do mark anyone who is 18-20 as such to be safe.
-Where do you wish to be listed from: what city are you claiming as your home town. We like to show off the diversity of where all of our performers are from. Please put an actual place, not some made up place. Nicknames like Hotlanta are okay (But seriously I hate that one so please NEVER use Hotlanta in place of Atlanta, just as a favor to me)
-Bio: if you're a solo put your bio, if you're a group use the groups bio. However, the part that everyone pretty much messes up if the word count. We have a 150 word count, however, people send us sometimes 1000 word bios. I don't care how spectacular it is, you're showing us you can't follow directions. Learn to use the word count on your word processor, show everyone that you can follow directions and be awesome!
-Songs and Artist: No really, we want the name of every song and who is singing it that you use in your act. Don't put "this is a special mix", put every song and who did it. Why, we don't want to have two people doing the same song and we also want to make sure that we don't put two people with the same artist back to back. We only hear a song one time per festival, that's the rules.
-Description of act: Any changes from the video (we'll get to that in a minute) and anything that has been updated such as costume, prop or other act changes. We're going to watch the act, we will see it, you do not need to write a play by play, a synopsis and updates are fine. We have to go through 100s of applications, please go for short and sweet.
-Video: Have one. I don't care who you know, I don't care if you know me, the selection committee is often all over the place and they are sent the responses to the applications via internet so they can view the videos and vote. I don't care if I've known you since the beginning of time and have seen every performance you've ever done, that doesn't help the people making the call because guess what, THERE'S A COMMITTEE, I DO NOT PICK OUT ALL THE PERFORMERS. I pick out and do contracts with the headliners so if you're applying you're really not my problem. No video means you are disqualified.
Please make sure that your link works. We had multiple submissions whose links didn't work. They were: Password protected (most festivals will not look at anything that requires a password), taken down (you should leave it up until you get your response), blocked (I do not recommend using Google, Dropbox or Facebook), or part of a larger video (make sure you're just submitting a link to the one video, not a series of videos of your acts.
Also, no montages. If you are asked for a link to the video of the act then it should be the act from beginning to end. We have actually regretted not admitting people into the competition because they sent us a montage of their act so the committee couldn't see what was going on and it turned out to be amazing and since it was someone no one had heard of before they didn't know it was going to be amazeballs. Both the festival and the performer lost out because of a bad video.
The best thing you can do is a wide stationary angle so we can see you from head to toe. Please do not put the camera in the nose bleed section, but far enough away that we can actually see your entire act and close enough to still be able to see if you have good face or not.
If you have never performed the act in full you probably should not be submitting it to a burlesque festival. Acts submitted to a festival should be polished, the costume should be there (we understand you may not have all the rhinestones glued on yet or missing something specific like I will have aquamarine gloves with fringe attached rather than the black ones being used) and so should your choreography. If it's new you should still have these things, even if it's a rehearsal video. Rehearsal videos are totally fine as long as the act is there, even if you don't have a piece and you say hat and how us how you would hold the hat, etc... and can mime it out so we can see the number, this is still awesome. Please only send the act. There shouldn't be an interview with you explaining the act. If you are missing something we understand, put that in the notes and show us what you have. We do not have time to fast forward through your apologies and explanations of what will be coming, the committee can only go by the video they see. They most likely don't know you and don't know if the promises you're making are full of shit or not, just do the act to the best of your ability.
-What are you submitting for: Please pay attention to what you're submitting for. If you submit for best variety and it says no striptease or pasties then don't submit an act in which you strip to pasties, even if it's on a lyra. NO STRIP TEASE MEANS NO STRIP TEASE. If you have been performing for more than 2 years then do not submit to the New Performer Showcase that states 2 years or less. If you are submitting for King or Queen, best male or female solo, it MUST BE A SOLO. If you require another person on stage then it is not a solo. If the other person is optional and can be removed please say that in your description/notes. You must make sure you submit for the right category or you will be disqualified.
-Payment: If you send Paypal and it says you must include your stage name with payment, please put your stage name in the notes. This is also a reason we ask for your legal name. These are ways we can make sure you paid the money to apply. If you don't pay your application won't be reviewed. Make it easy on us to find out if you've paid or not. No payment means you are disqualified.
4) Go to festivals - Part of the problem with people not understanding why they weren't accepted is that they never go to festivals. They do not see how much people step up their game in order to perform at these big, international shows in either showcases or competition. Festivals aren't just fun to do, they're a way to network and let other performers and producers see how amazing they are so they will get hired for other shows.
Even if you're not performing getting out there to see who go it, networking and being a part of the community is an important part of getting into festivals. If your video and someone else's video have the same score and the other person is better known that's probably who will get in. It's not that you weren't good enough, at that point it's a matter of limited spots and they went with the safer, known quantity.
5) Never give up! - Perhaps I have a thicker skin from years of theater, but you can't give up. Everyone gets rejected sometimes. I've been in a bunch of festivals, but I have also been turned down for a bunch of festivals, you have to keep trying. Some festivals have a theme and you didn't happen to fit into it. Some festivals get a ton of applications and only around 20-30% of the applicants get to perform, at that point it's just a numbers game. More than one person submitted the same song, if the acts are equally good then who ever is better known and submitted first is probably going to get in, being musically obscure is your friend. Similar concept or trick, SFBF will only accept so many classic, so many fans, so many nerdlesque, so many of each type of act. You do not want to watch an entire evening of the same act over and over again, let alone and entire festival. It may have just been too similar to other acts that were accepted.
I hope this helps out some people who are looking to apply for the first time or perhaps have been discouraged. Just keep stepping up your game and doing your best. It will happen for you as long as you keep improving yourself and keep submitting. (a little networking never hurt either)