Touring It

Season’s Greetings! Thinking about touring your show in the new year and wondering how to go about it? Here are some suggestions based on my experience.

1.  Apply to festivals that interest you. Even if you don’t get in, the application could lead to something good.

  • I didn’t get into the festival I wanted in NYC, but the curator asked me to be in another fest that she was curating, which became my Off Off Broadway debut.

2.  How to decide if a festival is worth the time/energy/cost:

  • Can you get there cheap or for free? (Have mileage for a free plane ticket?)
  • Do you have friends/family who can provide a free place to stay?
  • If both answers are Yes, and this is one of the first festivals to accept your show, then I’d say Go. They’re inviting you to share your art, which is always an honor. And you’ll get an out-of-town booking under your belt.

3.  Know anyone who works at a college or university? Ask them if they’d be interested in bringing your show to campus.

  • Four of my college bookings came through professors or librarians on those campuses who are my friends, relations, or acquaintances.

4.  Enlist friends/family to help you: do they know anyone who works at a college or university?

  • One of my bookings came through someone my parents hadn’t seen in 40 years. They reconnected somehow, and she was an Anthropology professor at MIT who liked my trailer online, so she brought my show to campus. I had never met her before then.

5.  After you have at least one out-of-town booking, and especially after you have your first college/university gig, you’ve got a decent chance of getting a booking agent. Find them by going to the NACA site online, looking at their brochures, seeing who is performing at their conferences, and if anyone has an act vaguely like yours, hit up his/her agent.

6.  Anytime anyone you trust sends you a link to a festival or conference that they think you could perform at, take it seriously. You could become a keynote at the conference.

  • How my show became the closing keynote at the Families in Global Transition (FIGT) conference:
    • In 2012 my brother sent me a link to a call for proposals for the 2013 conference.
    • I submitted myself as a solo show / memoir workshop leader who would perform 10 minutes of my show and then lead the workshop for the rest of the hour. My proposal was accepted.
    • I had never led a workshop before (!), so I designed one, asked friends to come over and take the workshop in my living room, and fed them as thanks. They gave great feedback and advice, which I followed at the conference in 2013. I wasn’t paid for the conference—in fact, I had to pay for registration, travel, etc. I used money that was left over from my show’s crowdfunding campaign (see my last post).
    • After that conference, I submitted my entire show as a possible keynote for the 2014 conference.
    • It was accepted because someone on the programming team had loved my workshop and the 10 minutes he saw of the show at the 2013 conference.
    • The 2014 conference offered me a modest stipend which ended up covering the flight and hotel.
    • The keynote was a huge hit. Within weeks I received invitations to bring the show (or excerpts) to corporate shindigs—the people who invited me had seen the show at the conference. I booked two gigs that way and was paid my artist’s fee while expenses were covered/reimbursed.

7.  When you’re proposing your show, use key phrases that target certain bookers (college student clubs, academic departments, conferences).

  • I use words like “one-woman show” (Gender & Equality Studies), “mixed heritage” and “dual citizen”  (Multiracial clubs, Office of Diversity & Inclusion, Anthropology, Sociology), “Third Culture Kid” (international schools, intercultural conferences), etc.

8.  The ratio of submissions-to-paid-bookings feels like 50:1. I haven’t actually counted so this is a guess.

  • I recommend drinking your favorite tea/juice and listening to your favorite music whenever you submit the show—make it pleasant for yourself. I do 99% of it via email.

9.  If a friend abroad is very supportive, ask her/him if s/he knows anyone in the theatre scene there. That’s how my show got to Iceland.

  • An Icelandic friend-of-a-friend mentioned that she wanted to see my show, so I asked her if she had theatre contacts, and she sent me names and links to companies in Reykjavík.
  • I emailed all of them and one said Yes, we’ll mount it, when can you come?
  • So I did another crowdfunding campaign that got me to Iceland.

10.  After a rejection (or being ignored, which is what usually happens), sometimes it’s worth trying again.

  • I must have emailed at least seven professors/administrators at Wesleyan (my alma mater) in fall 2013 and was completely ignored. A few months later I emailed a student club there and they booked the show, co-sponsoring it with several other clubs. I knew none of the people I emailed.

11.  Always email a specific person, not info@____.

  • Find their email online. Look up the campus/venue online, see who might be the right person/people to hit up, then hit them up.
  • Get together with a friend who does the above for you while you do some dreaded task for her/him. This can be weirdly fun.

12.  Make the show portable. One carry-on holds your costume and all the props, including your laptop if it holds cues. If there’s still room for everyday clothes and toiletries, you are awesome.

13.  If your show is cue heavy and you have a techie / stage manager you love, try to bring her/him along whenever you can. It will do wonders for your stress level.

14.  If you can design the touring show so that you run the cues with a remote control on PowerPoint or Keynote, you will make the show very enticing to bookers who don’t want to find a techie and don’t want to book time for a Q2Q, etc.

  • If you can show up, set up, and perform with no one’s help, you are golden. (It’s nice to have someone turn lights down and up for your entrance and curtain call—but that’s easy.)

15.  If your show is longer than an hour, and you can cut it to an hour without compromising it horribly, do so for the touring version. It will be more “bookable” that way.

  • In fact, a 50-minute version would leave 10 minutes for a Q&A, which campuses love.

16.  I’ve almost always booked my full 80-min show, so #14 & #15 are just recommendations but not “law.”

Between Bookings

1.  If it’s been a few months since you last performed, give yourself three weeks to get ready for the next performance. Split the show into chunks so you only rehearse it in sections for the first week. Don’t start doing full run-throughs until the second week. If you’re feeling good about it, you don’t have to rehearse every day.

2.  Even a five-minute vocal and physical warmup before each rehearsal is better than nothing.

3.  During those three weeks: run the lines every day if possible.

4.  Performance day: run your lines! And REALLY warm up!

5.  Between gigs: keep exercising regularly. Eat nutritious food and drink lots of water. You’ll be grateful to yourself after the next performance.

6.  Call your friends. Solo shows can be a roller-coaster of adrenaline and loneliness, so set yourself up to avoid the latter.

7.  Best advice I’ve gotten (from brilliant solo performer Heather Woodbury): the performance will spike your adrenaline in new and wacky ways, so please detox for a few days afterward. Drink tons of water, eat loads of fruits and veggies, take your vitamins, get a massage (save up for it!) or go to a spa just for the thermal baths and steam rooms, and be very gentle with yourself. Don’t do anything super social or energy consuming for a few days after the show. You’ve earned time to rest and gently rejuvenate.

  • If you’re traveling the day after the show, still treat it and the next day as detox days: water, healthy food, stretching, etc.

My next post will go into the nitty-gritty of the solo performer’s life—the What They Don’t Tell You category. Stay tuned. And Happy Holidays if this is a holiday season for you!

BONUS: Two helpful articles on breaking into the college circuit (sometimes written with music acts in mind, but much of the advice is applicable to theatrical pieces). Keep in mind that NACA fees may have gone up since these were written.


Announcement: I’m leading a workshop on memoirs and personal essays (via Skype!)  in the new year. For more info: Memoir / Personal Essay Workshop.

Thank you for reading my eighth post! I would love to know what attracted you to this blog. If you would like to leave a comment, but don’t see a “Leave a Reply” box below, scroll to the top and click on “Leave a Comment” or “# Comments” under the post title.

[Updated 12/22/15. -EL]

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