TIPS AND TRICKS FOR NEWBIES
AT THE IPAY SHOWCASE
Kim Peter Kovac
Originally written for grad students coming to their first IPAY showcase in 2008, and tweaked yearly since. The observations are personal, subjective, and sometimes quirky, but come from someone who's been part of the field for many years, commissioning, producing, presenting, and touring shows for young audiences.
Some of these may well be obvious and self-evident, (depending on where you are in life and career) however all are intended to provide some entry-points to the world(s) of presenting, IPAY, and Showcase.
Plan out in advance what you want to do but don't try and do everything - at some conferences it's not possible, and at others it can exhaust you.
Equally importantly, be prepared to change your plans at the drop of a hat - there are often serendipitous encounters which can be really exciting and helpful.
Wear comfortable shoes. Believe me, no one will really care if your footwear is not fashion-forward and your feet will thank you at the end of the day.
Carry healthy snacks such as granola bars or fruit. At a vibrant conference you can count on missing a meal or two. Bring a refillable water bottle, carry it with you, and drink lots of water. This is especially important if you're indoors, where it's typically dry with heating or AC on and you may experience 'conference dehydration', notable for lessening your ability to both focus and be charming.
An old touring stage manager's trick: in your hotel room, soak a bath towel in water, wring it out, and drape it over a chair. The humidity will help you sleep better. Trust me, this works.
Carry business cards and a card case to put others' cards in. This is not as obvious as it seems.
Remember that good manners and graciousness make for good business. Always.
A sense of humor is terrific, but remember that not everyone shares the same sensibility. Related, snarkiness can be as dangerous as it is fun. (I know, having been the unfortunate perpetrator as well as the victim of misguided snark).
Allow yourself to be surprised and astonished. Even the most jaded of us, if we come from an open place, can experience something new and wonderful.
A FEW DEFNITIONS
ASSITEJ: French acronym for the international association of theaters for children and young people, with national centers in over 80 countries.
TYA: Theatre for young audiences. Called 'theater for children and young people' in many parts of the world, with children being through junior high and young people being teens.
In the US, TYA, Children's Theatre, Theater for Youth all tend to mean more or less the same thing. In other countries, 'youth theater' is performed by young people
In the US, there tend to be fairly hard separations between disciplines - theater, dance, puppetry, etc. In many other countries, not so much. In Australia, TYP, or Theater for Young People, includes plays, music, puppets, circus, dance.
Terms/phrases I try not to use at international conferences: 'American' to refer to folk from the USA; remember Central and South America? Though, interestingly, some of Mexican friends refer to our county as 'North America',
'Native language'. in South Africa, and perhaps other countries, it's pejorative. First language, mother tongue, mother language.
'Genius'. Way overused. Bach, Einstein, Beckett, Peter Brook's Midsummer Night's Dream. As misused as standing ovations.
Beaver fur coat, pastel sweaters, porkpie hats: archetypal articles of clothing worn in past eras by a few legendary IPAY folk, some no longer with us..
A BIT ABOUT THE LANDSCAPE OF THE FIELD AND IPAY
The world of professional theater for young audiences and theater education in the US has three major organizations:
AATE (the American Alliance for Theatre and Education) - mostly educator-types, mostly in theater
TYA/USA (Theatre for Young Audiences/USA - formerly ASSITEJ/USA) mostly the professional resident theater types - the producers. It's the US national center for ASSITEJ (see above)
IPAY - mostly the presenters and touring types (artists, agents). The IPAY family includes any number of practitioners from other countries and has more of international flavor than the other organizations, which are a bit more US-centric . Also includes all performing arts disciplines, not just theater.
There's overlap, to be sure, and these divisions are not hard and fast. Any of a number of folk are affiliated with two of these organizations but not many with all three.
IPAY, and its predecessor, The International Showcase of Performing Arts For Young People, are now over 30 years old.
The major booking conference for the performing arts is APAP, the Association of Performing Arts Presenters, which happens in NYC in January. Though many of the presenters and agents you see at IPAY go to APAP as well, there's not a focus on work for young people. So Showcase was, and is, very important to the field.
HOW ARE THOSE SHOWCASES CHOSEN, ANYWAY?
There's a rigorous selection process that has been refined over the years. A committee meets over a two day period in the summer, in in the city of the next showcase host.
ALL programming involves a certain amount of subjectivity, and this is no less true when choosing showcasing artists. The committee has to consider multiple factors in serving the community and connecting artists and presenters, and looks to provide performances in a variety of genres, price points, ease of marketability, technical complexity, and styles. Quality is always at the forefront, though other factors are part of the mix.
Considering all, the selection committee does a terrific job, while knowing that it can't please everyone. And at the end of the day, at any festival, isn't it better to see a strong artistic underpinning?
WHAT YOU MAY ENCOUNTER
Very different kinds of work
Very strong opinions about the work.
A huge difference (often) in methodology and attitudes about work. Sometimes this is especially pronounced when considering work from our international colleagues
One challenge is that a lot of US work (in general) has to sell tickets (read: popular appeal) and pass muster with school administrators (read: be safe) and a lot of the international work (in general) does not (read: can focus on the art)
At the risk of generalizing, some of the other countries more heavily subsidize work for young audiences (read: have more time to develop work)and have societies that are more open in many ways than in the US, as well as not having to be so tied to school curriculums (read: not so much 'tyranny of the title')
Vastly different styles of selling - even just walking by the booths is fascinating. Agents and artists have unique styles of graphics, booth displays, materials, and approach.
Inconsistencies and, very possibly, challenging of assumptions.
You see the same folk at a lot of the festivals, as well as a lot of the same performers. It's a dance of: are you buying what I'm selling? If I'm seeing a show/company again, how has it/they changed?
You will also see a very exciting, eclectic,and vibrant group of people, each dedicated, in their own way, to live performances for children and young people.
ON NAVIGATION OF IPAY
Know that thinking of shows as 'product' and buying and selling them is not a bad thing.
Bifurcate your brain. Think of the 'art part' as separate from the 'commerce part'. Shopping for shows includes thinking about quality, appropriateness, affordability, size, availability all at once, but focusing only on the calendar and the price can lead to dull programming.
You'll encounter folk who've been working together for decadesand folk who barely know each other.
A major part of Showcase is that it's is a booking conference and artists and agents both know that a good chunk of their next year's income will come out of this event.. Thus there is a LOT of pressure on folk, and some handle it better than others.
At the same time, more partnerships are springing up, as well as producer-types working with presenter-types to create new work.
What's called the 'exhibit hall' or 'resource room' (where the agents have their booths) is not open during the showcases. This is of course to make sure the work (the performances) is at the center of everyone's experience, not just the buying and selling. This leads to an incredible pressure to transact business in a short span of time. Even the warmest and most flannel of agents will most likely stop a casual conversation with someone because a presenter who's interested in their product has come by.
It can make great sense to just walk through the entire exhibit area, see who's where, before you speak with anyone, since there are limited times.
Talk to people. IPAY is filled with folk who are passionate about performances for children and young people and arts education - this world is different than that of resident theater people, but no less important to the national landscape.
You will see theater, dance, music, puppetry, clowning, etc. All part of the territory. In the US, we tend to silo theater, dance, puppetry, music into different categories. Not so true in many other countries. In Australia, for example, what they call 'theater for young people' or TYP, includes pretty much any live performance for young people - theater, dance, puppetry, music, circus.
Commercial shows are not death of TYA, nor are those artists the anti-Christ. Given ticket prices for school performances, or for education events, it's VERY hard to do high quality work that presenters can afford.
You know the old expression 'enough about me, let's talk about me?' Lots of folk will love talking about what they do, whether they're a programmer, an education director, an artist, or an agent. Ask questions. You'll sometimes be delightfully surprised by the conversation.
Don't be afraid to introduce yourself. At the same time, if there's someone you want to meet and you don't feel comfortable doing it on your own (for whatever reason), any of the IPAY board would be happy to help.
Check out the IPAY website - www.ipayweb.org for more info
As above, allow yourself to be surprised and astonished.