UPgrade — Map your networks and contacts

Map your networks and contacts

By Susanne Danig

This section is about how to map relevant networks and contacts, and how to investigate festivals and organisations/theatres to find the most relevant ones for you.

Many performing arts people who want to work internationally are very much in doubt about where to start. There are so many possibilities and it can be difficult to understand where to begin. Often that leads to a bit of random touring: a venue or organisation invites you to come and perform and off you go. That kind of touring is very costly. It develops more or less arbitrarily and is hard to sustain in the long run. In this paper we challenge you to work more strategically and really investigate your field before you set off. What networks are out there to make use of, which contacts do you already have, and which festivals do you know of and admire in your specific field?

 

WHY DO YOU NEED NETWORKS?

Networks in performing arts constitute the backbone of the business. They knit everything together. This is where people meet, exchange knowledge, look at new work, negotiate and buy work, find workspaces and residencies, build projects and agree on co-productions.

You can use networks to search for knowledge, to find partners for your projects, locate promoters that might be interested in your work, and find artists interested in the same things as you. This is gatherings of people interested in the same as you are.

Some networks are more commercial and you can use them to sell your work, while others are more focused on exchange and meetings. Some have a broad scope and others a very narrow one.

But what they all have in common is that you need to learn the language people in the networks speak: the terminology. So always start by listening and asking questions. Understand whom you are working and meeting with, and be very curious. Then be generous: share your knowledge and connections and introduce people. This is how to create value as a networker. People will start asking you and be curious about who you are. Slowly you will become a valued member of a network.

 

WHAT INTERNATIONAL NETWORKS EXIST AND HOW CAN YOU USE THEM?

There are both informal and more formal networks, and open networks and very closed ones. You need to locate them and find out which ones you can use. The relevance of particular networks to you depends on your strategy for working internationally, how far you are in your career and on the genre of performing arts you work in. It is a mistake to think that you have to be part of the same networks as everybody else.

You might be a member of informal networks derived from your education or a group of artists interested in the same field. It might as informal as a group organised as a Facebook group. These are perfect networks for the exchange of information and knowledge, as well as places to ask for advice.

If you are in a union you are also part of a network, and it has international partners. For example, The Danish Actors’ Association has contacts and sister organisations around the world. The same goes for the playwrights’, the set-designers’ and the directors’ unions. These networks are great for finding colleagues interested in the same things as you. There is also an organisation as IAMA/The International Artist Managers’ Association, worldwide association for classical music artist managements.

Historically there was a network of ITI (International Theatre Institutes) centres around the world, where you could look for information about performing arts in a specific country. It has decreased, but the German ITI Centre is an example of a centre, which is very useful and has a lot of resources and information about the German performing arts market. The ITI network is especially interesting if you want to collaborate with partners in non-western countries. On the general ITI site you can find lots of links and information related to the different centres around the world.

A parallel organisation is Assitej, an organisation that unites theatres, organisations and individuals throughout the world that make theatre for children and young people. Within the Assitej organisations, smaller content-based networks exist– info here. In 2018 Denmark holds the post as Secretary General of Assitej, so there are lots of good contacts to reach out for, and everybody working in the field of theatre for young audiences can become a member of Assitej.

The big European network for performing arts is IETM, a broad informal network for the independent field. IETM, with changing member organisations, hosts two annual meetings in Europe plus satellite meetings around the world. IETM is a good network for beginners (membership is not expensive and it is easy to become a member). You can meet like-minded people (mostly artists) from mainly European/Western countries. You can get a sense of the field you are working in, follow the discussions that take place, learn the vocabulary and start building your own network. A lot of the bigger European projects in the performing arts field are built on IETM contacts and meetings. It is not a sales network, but you might end up with the right contacts to sell your work.

The International Society for the Performing Arts /ISPA is a broader international network originating in the USA, working all over the world and hosting meetings twice a year. It is very structured and focused on selling performances. It has educational programmes, and the Danish Arts Foundation has supported  a series of fellowships to introduce the network.

Res Artis is a cross-sectorial network organisation focusing on artists’ residencies. It is interesting for those who do residencies and for artists who are looking for a residency opportunity. The website has a database, in which you can search for residency centres, and a listing of upcoming deadlines.

There are quite a lot of different genre specific networks to follow and interact with. An example is FACE/Fresh Arts Coalition Europe, focusing on contemporary cross-disciplinary art forms. Another for dance is EDN/European Dancehouse Network, and one for Music theatre Music Theatre Now.

You need to investigate these different networks and decide which ones it would make sense for you to be a part of. What are their terms and membership prices? Do they host regular meetings, how often and where? Who are the members? Does it seem like you could benefit from certain networks and will you commit yourself to being active in them? Also ask yourself what your goals are for teaming up with people in networks.

 

MAP WHO YOU KNOW

It is a good idea to start listing who you know, who can help you by introducing you to the international market or who can get you further into it. Networks are based on the fact that we all know someone who knows someone. The people you know from your education, people you worked with or met at arbitrary gatherings: they might be your key to someone else. Keep the business cards of people you know. They may suddenly come in handy.

At some point figure out the connections between the people you know and those that you want to get in contact with. Then, the doors that seemed impossible to open may open up for you. The festival directors and programmers in power are hard to get hold of, hard to get to listen to you, and even harder to get to sell to. You need to build up a relationship before that will happen.

 

FIND THE FESTIVALS AND ORGANISATIONS THAT ARE RELEVANT TO YOU

The next step is to list the most important festivals and organisers/theatres in your field, and find the ones that resonate with your artistic work and level. First of all, not every festival is for you. There is no need to contact everybody. Find the right ones and investigate them thoroughly, fight your way in by knowing who they are and how they work. Programmers are very specific about what they want to present. Your job is to find out what they want, and then to create curiosity about your work. Keep them updated and invite them to your shows, and be persistent about it.

There are associations for the international festivals. You can check them to look for relevant festivals. In Europe EFA (the European Festival Association) has information about, and lists of a broad spectrum of festivals, and a search engine to help you. They also have an educational programme for young festival directors “the Atelier for young festival managers”. EFA is a branch of the International Festival organisation IFEA.

Europe for Festivals and Festivals for Europe (EFFE) awards a label to festivals in Europe. They also have a searchable database, where you can find festivals of specific genres or in specific countries.

Opera Europa is the leading service organisation for professional opera companies and opera festivals throughout Europe.  It currently serves 182 member companies from 42 different countries.

There are different festivals that have a focus on the Nordic countries – especially keep an eye out for these: Les Borealis in Caen, France and Nordwind Festival in Germany. The Arts Council will occasionally initiate Danish platforms.

 

HOW TO STRENGTHEN YOUR INTERNATIONAL RELATIONSHIPS

When you start targeting your international contacts you probably have to start with smaller, more humble festivals/theatres (only few artists can go directly to the A-listing). So your first aim is to find a ‘perfect match’ with a smaller festival or theatre, – a place that would be proud to be a first mover by showing your work, and would be happy to give you testimonials and recommend you to their colleagues. So look for festivals/theatres that have credibility with other promoters, offer them a good deal to perform there and let them help you open the next doors. Find people who can introduce you to these organisers. A good tip is to locate artists you have an affinity with. Look at the ones you admire and the ones you compete with: investigate where they perform (and how they present themselves).

We have created a workbook about listing your contacts. It can help you to really think about the contacts and knowledge you have and how you need to expand your knowledge.

 

Resources

Tips on networking by Asa Richardsdottir (PDF)