Persevering With Festival Submissions and Handling Personal Feelings of Jealousy

Tickets to the San Francisco Improv Festival just went on sale, including to So You Want a Job‘s first appearance at the festival. This is the 3rd festival So You Want a Job has been invited to perform at, but it hasn’t been an easy road. It’s not a show that’s been accepted to every festival it’s been submitted to, and in fact it was submitted to SFIF last year as well, and rejected then. It was also rejected from SF Sketchfest, Westside Comedy Festival, the Seattle Festival for Improv Theater, and San Jose Improv Festival. I bring this up because of the topic of this blog post. Oftentimes we only hear the success stories, and don’t see the side of the story that it takes to get there. My hope is to share my experience with submitting to festivals over the past few years, how I’ve dealt with some of the negative emotions, and how I’ve managed to persevere, so that maybe I can help others dealing with the same feelings and experiences.

I’ve had other groups I’ve submitted to festivals be accepted and rejected over the last ~2.5 years as well, and sometimes I’ve had thoughts cross my mind like, “Why did that group get accepted to the festival, and mine didn’t?” and “Pfft, they don’t know what they’re thinking, my group is better than them!” I’m not proud of these thoughts, and usually I won’t vocalize them, but I think these are pretty common thoughts upon being rejected and seeing the line-up of a festival. Below you will find a list of counter-thoughts that I’ve used over the years that have helped me deal with the jealousy and continue to persevere, to get better, and keep submitting to festivals.

OUT OF YOUR CONTROL: You don’t know who watched your submission and/or their taste of improv and/or what that specific festival was looking for to include in the line-up.

IN YOUR CONTROL: Look at the line-up every year to get an idea of what kinds of improv shows they accept, and see if you have a show that might work for them. It may not be the same show you submitted in the past. If you don’t have a show you think will suit a specific festival, you can either choose not to submit to that festival, or develop a new show that might have a better chance of getting accepted.

NOTE: Being rejected doesn’t mean your show/submission sucked.

OUT OF YOUR CONTROL: It may be that a festival had a lot of submissions either of a similar style to your show, or from the same city as you. Sometimes producers have to pare down their selections so their line-up has more diversity in both of those areas, and you have no idea what else was submitted beyond those who ended up in the festival line-up.

IN YOUR CONTROL: Take a look at your submission description and video. Can you make improvements to make it more enticing to producers who aren’t already familiar with your work? What can you do to make your show look more polished and professional?

OUT OF YOUR CONTROL: You don’t know how many groups you’re competing with, or how many slots are available. The most popular festivals can receive over 100 submissions and there are simply not enough show slots for every good show to get in. The majority of the shows they select will be the BEST of the BEST, often with performers who’ve been improvising probably a lot longer than you have.

IN YOUR CONTROL: KEEP PERFORMING! KEEP TAKING CLASSES! Develop skills in the areas you find yourself struggling. The more you do it, the better your show will be, and maybe next year you’ll have a better chance of getting in.

OUT OF YOUR CONTROL: If you’re submitting to a festival you live closer to, you’re likely going to be competing with a lot more groups who also live within the same travel distance, which makes those festivals more competitive to you.

IN YOUR CONTROL: You can submit to festivals further away, if your group is able to afford to travel to them. You’ll more than likely be competing with fewer groups from the same city as you by doing that. Also, figure out what can help your show stand out from the sea of other submissions.

OUT OF YOUR CONTROL: Other groups appear to have amazing chemistry that you feel like you can’t find and/or feel jealous of.

IN YOUR CONTROL: Spend social time with the people you perform with. Getting to know them better and enjoying their company outside of rehearsals and performances can enhance the experience both for you and the audience because everyone is more likely to have fun when you build that level of rapport and comfort with your fellow performers.

NOTE: Take your focus off of what other people are doing, and look at what you can do to make the experience better and more enjoyable for yourself, regardless of what effect that has on getting into festivals. Watch other improv shows, but instead of focusing on why you’re not “as good as” them, let those shows inspire you to do better, and think about what you want to do to improve your performance and/or show.

Every improv festival is going to have its own vibe and flavor. And sometimes those groups you’ve been jealous of being accepted will end up being on the rejection list of a festival you’re accepted to. You’re probably just not going to know that when people tend not to share their rejections, and it’s easier to assume they didn’t even submit.

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