I’m quite often asked how I got involved in science festivals and how to go about taking part in them so I thought I’d write a little bit on my experiences.
I’ve had three years experience with science festivals now. They all have differences but on some level the process is the same.
The first thing to do is have an idea. Pick a topic, theme or idea (not a bloody demonstration) that excites you and one that others would find exciting too. Take some time to mull over this, how would it play out over an hour? Can you sustain interest, is there enough material, who do you see as your audience? This can take a while. Take inspiration from current news stories, previous science events or conversations with fellow communicators.
Sketch it out
Make a rough plan of your activity. Perhaps sections that you will talk about, demonstrations that you will do and who will be involved. If you are hoping to have a co-presenter or more people involved the earlier the better for this. Don’t try and script it yet, this is a very fluid stage, just play with it to know it is a viable idea. Quite important is a title and a tag line. Get people curious abour it.
Perhaps the trickiest of sections is funding your show but it probably essential. How much will things cost? Remember you are likely to have travel, accommodation and food expenses to pay. Other things to consider are cost of props, time, invited speakers and some festivals will charge for inclusion in their programme. Don’t be a hero or a martyr, there is funding available. Look into the professional bodies or large organisations. When I did a show on engineering the Royal Academy of Engineering supported me. When I did a talk on microscopes a microscope company gave me the props. Ask and ye shall receive.
On the road
Where do you want to take your show? All the science festivals and science centres have their own unique flavour. Perhaps if it is your first go it would be best to start close to home. Science festivals will normally put a call for proposals out almost one year in advance. I would recommend getting things in about nine months before the festival is due to start. It can be a slow process to start but builds up speed terrifyingly quickly. The applications are fairly straight forward. They know the show is likely to be in development. I believe they are looking for a few set things:
-An interesting, new and exciting idea that audiences will want to see
-Belief in the person. Demonstrate that the festival should be confident in you and your abilities
-A commitment to making your idea work
-Something achievable both in scope and financially practical and RISK ACCESSIBLE.
The science festival will be looking for your unique selling points. They don’t want to see a script of the show at this stage, just a flavour. I find the easiest way to do this is write a blurb that might appear in the brochure along with a brief run through of what the show contains. They may ask if the show has been performed or will be performed before the festival. I mentioned some science festivals will charge you to take part- if you cannot afford this all is not lost, tell them this. It does not necessarily mean the end of the road.
Make it happen
The festival team may get back to you with more questions but assuming all goes well they will accept your proposal. Now with funding and a date under your belt you have to perfect the show. You will need photos or images for promotion. You will ideally want rehearsal spaces. I have had fantastic support from Glasgow Science Centre for this; if there isn’t a science centre maybe a school or a skeptics society- all are keen to have free shows! The months will fly in. Keep rehearsing, keep improving.
Make sure that each development is risk assessed festivals will insist on having all documentation weeks in advance. If you can sort your own public liability insurance all the better (private or from university) but some festivals will add you to your own.
Hopefully over the course of the year you are now ready to dazzle and entertain and have a fantastic time. Once you have gone through this process present you show, relax for one week then go back to the start and repeat.
This is roughly my experience it will not be the same for everyone. If you have questions then get in touch.
Jamie Gallagher, Jan 13