What I Learned Being a Festival Application Judge
Of course I was looking at my submission subjectively. I worked hard to make the costume and I busted ass at the eleventh hour to get music edited and put together some choreography. With my resume of instructors and my lifetime as a performer, how could they not see how much potential I had and put me in the festival already?
I'm older, wiser, and more experienced now. I've suffered through seeing bad shows (largely plays) where I was not entertained but I'm sure everyone involved in the show was trying really hard. I've also been part of productions that I thought would've been better off closing early, going on hiatus to spend the time becoming something better, or needing an honest opinion from someone who wasn't so close to the show and trying so hard. I've also been part of an amazing play didn't get bumped up to the next level of festival competition because of the discussions that went down in the selection room.
The entire screening committee for the Hollywood Burlesque Festival watched every video submission. Even if we'd seen the act before, we watched the entire video that was submitted and worked with that performance for scoring. We had a number system to make things as fair as possible. There were no write-ins, no comments sections for us to say, "Yeah, this video doesn't really showcase the performer's best act but we really, really, really like them and think they should compete with a better number." We didn't compare one performer to another but scored each individual video we were watching against itself.
I'm sharing the "inside baseball" from this experience because it was so wonderfully educational. Here are some of the most valuable things I learned as a performer from being a judge:
- Lighting is important. We want to see you looking great, to take in all the colors of your costume, to see what you're actually doing. If your costume is black, the backdrop is black, and you have the red and green lights of a dive bar, it's going to be hard to see your act on video.
- Framing is important. We want to see what you're doing. If you have to set up your own camera to shoot footage of your act, talk with show producers to make it happen. We can't tell what you're doing when you drop out of frame, and we may be missing the most amazing floor work ever. And we don't have to see the entire venue in your video, just what's happening on stage.
- Focus is important. It's so hard to see what someone is doing when the picture is blurry. Your makeup may be amazing and the title of the book you're reading may be key to the act, but we can't see it if it's out of focus.
- Do something worth watching. This probably sounds mean, but this is how I feel about theatre as well. If you're not an incredible dancer, fill the act with personality. Make the best of the assets you do have and let them fill in for the things you're lacking. Boldly be you. Embrace and demonstrate what you bring to the table.
- If you have to shoot your video in your living room, your performance needs to be bigger than your living room. Treat it like it's a stage and like you have a real audience. Even though you watch sitcom reruns on that television, you need to regard it as a paying customer in your submission video. The dog and the cat become VIPs who deserve to be truly entertained when you shoot at home.
- Video your rehearsals and watch the video. It's therapeutic. You can become your own judge to determine what works and what doesn't, where you need to add or subtract from the number. It's so nice to cut things that don't work and replace them with things that do, especially before you show that act to other people.
- Tell a story/make sure your act flows logically. If your act is all about falling in love for the first time, don't grab your crotch in the first five seconds because it gives you nowhere to go with the story. In a burlesque act, you have to have a final reveal. The final reveal tends to be pasties, but could be a skimpier garment or a prop or a special ability. To be blunt, don't orgasm until the act is over or you'll be that person who act-gasms prematurely. ;)
- Sometimes it comes down to numbers. You might be the next person on the list after the tallies, but there are only so many slots that can be filled. Your act may have been incredible, but the performance slots were filled by the people who tallied more points.
As a friend, I wanted all of my friends to get into the festival because I love spending time with them and I love it when they succeed. As a Californian, I wanted all the folks I haven't met in the face to spend some time in Hollywood so they might get a little idea of why I get misty-eyed every time my flight home lowers through the smog and I see my city. As a judge, I watched the videos and submitted my numbers.
I hope this gives my fellow performers insight for their future festival submissions. I know that being a screener has changed my standard for what I will submit for other festivals.