Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Festival Writing

If you have ever wanted to share your story with a live audience, read this interview with the extremely talented, Tracey Erin Smith, as she shares her insight!

Hello, Tracey! Great to have you here again. Let’s chat about all things festival…

From writing a one-woman show to having two shows in this year’s Toronto Fringe Festival, you have undoubtedly, mastered writing for public consumption. If someone is interested in writing a festival show, where should they begin?

Begin with what you are passionate about.  What is driving you right now? What question can you not get out of your head?  What’s the story burning inside you, needing to be told?  What are you fascinated with?  What’s driving you crazy?  Or causing you pain?  Or makes you explode with joy?  Start from what’s alive in you and write.  That’s where you begin.

In one of your festival shows, snug harbor, you write about losing your father to suicide. How can writers take something so personal and express that story to connect with the public?

When you are dealing with material that’s personal, you can do two things: number one, write it all down.  Capture all of your feelings about situation, about the people involved.  Write down scenes that happened or that you wish had happened or fear might happen.   Let it rip.  You have nothing to lose at this stage.  When you let yourself rant, you get at the real stuff, how you’re really feeling, the things you really want to say.   You may surprise yourself, and that’s good.   And this can be very cathartic for your audience. 

The second thing is to make sure you’re working with a therapist so you have a place to process your feelings.  It’s important to only do personal material on stage that you have worked through in your emotional life.  You need to keep yourself and the audience safe.   And finally, find creative ways to share things that are painful.  I tell the story of losing my father by using the structure of the hero’s journey. 

Other ideas: Use humour, say things that are hard to say through a character, other than yourself.  Look at incorporating different art forms and mediums into your storytelling, such as dance, poetry, singing, performance, and visual art. Sometimes, the hardest things are said best without words. It is my experience that when a writer speaks their truth, the audience is changed by this.  And you will see a lot of heads nodding in agreement, because we all know when we hear the truth.

When writing a show that will be part of a festival, what should writers be conscious of?

The key at the beginning is to write the show you want to write.  It may start in a festival but it could go on to be a main stage show or an indie hit or something you’ve never even thought of…like a TV series or comic book! 
So, write the show you want to write and then once it’s written, that’s when you think about the fact that you are in a festival.  That you are one of a hundred and fifty shows! 

Then…look at the show you wrote and find a sexy media hook.  Something that grabs their attention and gets your show noticed. 

For example, my first show, The Burning Bush, was about a woman studying to be a Rabbi who gets kicked out of Rabbinical school and falls in with some exotic dancers, who teach her how to strip.  For the Fringe production, we emphasized the stripping and Rabbi angle and our catch phrase to promote the show was: 

“The Burning Bush!  The World’s first Stripping Rabbi.
Saving Souls, One Lap Dance at a time.”

Look at your show and pull out the sexiest, funniest, most risqué or controversial elements and create a catch phrase or sound bite.  You want something short, snappy, and memorable.  In festivals like The Fringe, anything goes.

What are some differences in writing a festival show as opposed to any other writing you have done?

One difference is there are usually length specifications for your show.  I’ve done a festival where my piece could not be more than 12 minutes long.  With most Fringes, you can apply for a 60-minute or 90-minute time slot, but some will cap you at 45 minutes or less.  Then you have to be able to say what you want to say in a pre-determined amount of time. 

Festivals are a great chance to try out anything new or crazy or on the edge.  People are more willing to take a risk when choosing a show to see.  The tickets are only ten dollars and people are open to seeing something a little more experimental.  It’s a feeling that’s in the air.  So this is the place to go for it!

How can writers use tools and resources to promote their festival show(s)?

Use the tools that you are most comfortable with: Facebook, Twitter, your blog, website, email lists, trailers, and video blogs or interviews.  And most important, reach out personally to the group(s) you feel will be most interested and invested in your show.  Start there, with people who have been touched by what you are talking about. 

SOULO is a show where three gay men tell their amazing personal stories, so I went to the gay community first and then got us into the Pride Parade as a float!  Then we widened the reach because their life stories, struggles, and triumphs are universal, so it’s really a show for everyone.  But start with who your show will appeal to the most.  And go meet them in person! 

Happy Festival-ing Everyone!

Written by Tracey Erin Smith and directed by Anita La Selva, snug harbor, is a site-specific show that is presented as if the audience are members of a “Survivors of Suicide Support Group” and in this meeting of the group, we hear Tracey’s story of losing her father and how she re-found hope to carry on.

SOULO is a magical soul-circus featuring three Queer identified men sharing their personal stories of love, loss, and how cross-dressing save lives.

For a full listing of Tracey’s festival show times and dates, click here!