Recently I had the honor and pleasure of serving on the Western Arts Alliance (WAA) Showcase Committee. There were seven of us from a number of disciplines and with various areas of expertise, which made for a fair process full of lively discussions and decisions. We had 185 submissions to go through over two days with the goal of narrowing it down to seven finalists and four alternates. We saw a great variety of work throughout a variety of genres and overall it was a wonderful experience. I do have to give credit and thanks to a great staff at WAA and a great group of people on the committee. We went through several rounds of cuts, going from 185 to 52, then to 14 and then to the final 11 (7 finalists and 4 alternates). As you can imagine, it was quite an experience.
During the process I took notes about things that came to mind related to what I was seeing and hearing. While waiting in the Portland airport for my flight home after a busy two days, I sat down to type up my notes into something meaningful for me. I quickly realized that these notes would probably be meaningful for others as well, particularly for those considering submitting applications for future showcases either with WAA or with other organizations. So, with that in mind, here are some thoughts to help you improve the chances of getting selected for a showcase in the future.
"...these notes would probably be meaningful for others as well, particularly for those considering submitting applications for future showcases either with WAA or with other organizations."
To start off, please know that what we are looking for are great artists making great work, and that we want to like everything we see. We understand that if we liked everything that was submitted it would make our job more difficult, but that’s ok. At the end of the day, it’s all about the work that is being made, and the more great work that is made, the better for all of us. We also understand that we need you doing what you do, for us to do what we do. Finally, some of us have been in your shoes in the past, so we know firsthand how it feels to be in this situation.
While we are looking for great work, the committee also has to consider other factors, such as a balanced showcase program (including genres, diversity of styles and artists, and fee ranges), the technical requirements from the performers, and how likely the work is to get booked at WAA member venues. With presenters in mind, we also take into consideration where the artist is based, as that may have an impact on budget, as well as the technical and backline requirements.
I understand that committees have done this in a variety of ways in the past, but I will let you know how the judging process worked for our group. We spent the first day going through all 185 samples. At this stage the process was blind, meaning that unless applicants did not follow the instructions, we did not know who the performers were or the agents who represent them. Of course some of us were aware of a small percentage of the applicants but it was not a big factor overall. With this many videos to go through, there was not much time to get to secondary samples and other materials. If the first sample didn’t impress the majority of us enough, the applicant was cut. We started the second day with 52 artists to review. It was during this time that we were able to dig deeper into the materials, including additional video and/or audio samples, press kits, websites, etc. If a second sample was not provided, we would go to Google to see what we could find. There were a number of cases where the additional samples were not to the level of the first video (the one that got the artist to the second round) and as a result the applicant did not make it farther down the line. It is important that all materials (including website and epk) are high quality and represent you well.
When submitting materials for consideration, follow the instructions and guidelines from the presenting organization. You want to make this as easy as possible for the staff that has to organize all of the materials, as well as for the committee reviewing them. This cannot be stressed enough. With that in mind, here are some do’s and don’ts to consider:
- Make work that is amazing, great, powerful, beautiful, meaningful, engaging, entertaining, etc.
- Spend the time and money to make quality videos. If you don’t know how to make good videos, find someone who does.
- Make sure all video and audio samples represent you well. Edit them to highlight your best/most compelling/most engaging work. Make sure you get to the point in the first minute or so. Make a video that is no more than 3 minutes in length. If the panel is interested, they will look at additional materials.
- Make sure your video represents the work you are looking to showcase and get booked.
- Make sure the context of the work is evident from your sample.
- Show live performances only.
- Make sure the group we are seeing is the group looking to showcase, and with current members, if at all possible.
- Do not use promotional videos. These may actually work against you.
- Do not use studio-produced videos that are “performed” to a pre-recorded track.
- Do not show the name of your group or management company anywhere in the video.
- Do not include guests in your video if they are not part of the group looking to showcase.
With the main “Do’s and Don’ts” out of the way, it’s time to get to some technical direction. The videos we saw were all over the place, and it’s important to have some basic issues covered to make sure that you stand a chance of moving through the rounds.
Technical Direction for Video Samples
First of all, make sure that you are using the latest video technology. While it doesn’t have to be in 3D (and shouldn’t be), it shouldn’t look like it came from a VHS tape either. HD is standard these days and will make your video look professional (even if it isn’t). Along with shooting good video, make sure that you pay attention to important details, such as the camera angle (is it crooked?), the framing of the shot (is the subject off to one side?), the camera movement (is it a wobbly handheld video or was the camera on a tripod?), fancy shots or edits (is the videographer documenting you or trying to make the next Bourne film?), focus (is the subject in focus or did someone leave the camera on autofocus and is moving it around?), video effects (do not use them), and finally, audience shots (do not include them unless they really help you convey your story . . . and probably not even then.). I am mentioning these because videos were submitted that did not take these issues into consideration.
How your video looks is important. How it sounds is also important. Fortunately the advice here is fairly simple. Unless you are a music group in a room with great acoustics, you are probably running your sound through a mixing board and then amplifying it through speakers. If this applies to you, always take your audio feed from the board. It is not difficult to do and will give you the best sound quality. Do not assume that good sound from PA speakers equals good sound on the video. If you are recording an acoustic performance, use good microphones to get good quality sound. It can make all the difference in getting selected or not. Also, make sure that you watch your sound levels so that they are neither too soft nor distorted. Finally, if you are a music group, make sure your performance is in tune. Nothing will get your application eliminated more quickly than an out-of-tune performance.
To boil this all down to a concise recommendation for the best possible submission, my recommendation is to show the artist/group live in a single static shot with high quality video and sound. Keep it simple, and let the art speak for itself.
Sitting on the committee was a great experience, one that I highly recommend. The insight that was gleaned is valuable, which is why I am passing it along to you. Following all of these suggestions will not guarantee that you will make it to the final round, but it will greatly increase your chances of moving through the process. With all of this in mind, it’s important to know that this is not your last opportunity to move your career to the next level. It may not even be the best place to showcase your work. The competition is tough and great artists will not always make the cut. At the end of the day, all you can do is keep working to make the best art you can make. So keep making it and giving it life to share with others.
Theatre Manager, Production Coordinator
The Ruth B. Shannon Center for the Performing Arts at Whittier College