Festival Planning 101 — Part One: 55 Questions

Image courtesy of Krists Luhaers at Unsplash

Festival season is upon us! … Ugh. Maybe not. 

I hoped we would get all of our grand Pagan festivals, campouts, and conventions back this year, but it looks like most of the organizers (myself included) are taking a pass until we can figure out how logistics for such things can safely and reasonably work in our evolving pandemic landscape. That sucks for the communities that rely on these gatherings for the spiritual regeneration, knowledge sharing, and group bonding that these events provide. It might prove to be a blessing in disguise, though, for new event organizers who are looking to launch later in 2021 or for the 2022 season. That’s a lot of time to get a good number of the cats properly herded. 

I’ve been an event organizer since my college days — waaaay back in the mid-90s.  I’ve been involved with specifically Pagan event planning since 1999. My CV includes coordinating retreats for 30-50 people, weekend intensives for less than 10, recurring weekly events for about a dozen, themed regional campouts for 50-150, and multi-track national festivals for 300+. I’ve also been a volunteer and presenter at the BIG Pagan cons of about 5,000 folks (and volunteer staff at the even BIGGER comic & toy cons with more than 15,000). I’m also on the Board of Directors for an event venue that primarily holds Pagan-related campouts and festivals. If you’re looking to plan an event (of any size), I have some thoughts.

This month’s exploration is the start of a series on event planning for the Pagan community. We’re going to dive into this topic over the next few months. To kick us off, let’s think about some of the questions an event organizer (or committee) needs to consider at the beginning of the planning process. These questions represent the starting place. You will find others that are particular to your event, your venue, your community, your helpers, your state and its laws, etc.

If you have an idea for a specific type of event, there are probably a few things you already know you need to cover. If you’ve ever presented, performed, or volunteered at an event, a few other logistical concerns will be evident. I’m going to assume that you’re starting from scratch, though. You have a vision. What now? 

Venue-Based Questions

Start with the venue. Do some fact-finding from your potential locations before you commit so you can get an idea of what your expenses and staffing needs are going to look like. 

1.       What does their fee  structure look like?

2.       Do you get any free admissions that you can use for organizing staff or special guests?

3.       Do they handle registrations, or do you need to provide: staff, cash to start the till, forms, waivers, etc?

4.       How is parking handled?

5.       Is sanitation included?

6.       Who is doing maintenance of the bathrooms/portajohns?

7.       Who is doing the maintenance for the showers?

8.       Do you need to purchase supplies for bathroom and shower maintenance?

9.       How is trash collection handled?

10.   Is there a fee for a dumpster pick-up?

11.   Is there food available onsite?

12.   If not, can food vendors easily set up?

13.   Are there grills, campfire rings, or a community kitchen for attendees to prepare their own food?

14.   Does the facility charge extra money for vendors?

15.   How many vendors can the site hold?

16.   What are the accommodations for people with disabilities? (This includes ramps, handrails, grab-bars in showers, and electricity for assistive devices, just to name a few.)

17.   How are the bonfires handled?

18.   Do they provide staff, or are you expected to bring your own fire-tenders?

19.   What about security staff and first aid staff?

20.   What are their requirements for people you provide who staff those areas? (special training, certifications, etc)

21.   Do you pay a fee for safety personnel, or is their fee waived?

22.   What is included in the venue’s overnight facilities? (primitive camping, electric and water, cabins, hotel rooms?)

23.   What might your attendees need to bring with them?

24.   What do the presentation and performance areas provide in terms of space and equipment?

25.   Do you need to bring additional tents or structures to accommodate your vision?

26.   Are there any features of the venue that might be hazardous?

27.   Are pets allowed by the facility?

28.   Do you want to allow pets?

29.   If so, what are your rules regarding their supervision? (Tags, shots, leashes, poop, behavior)

30.   Are children attending?

31.   Are they allowed to attend with someone who isn’t their parent/guardian?

32.   Do you need wristbands, tickets with stubs, or badges for attendees and staff (some way to identify people)?

33.   Does the facility provide those identifiers, or do you need to arrange printing?

The answers to these questions aren’t as obvious as they might appear at first glance. You can’t assume that anything is included. My husband and I have been responsible for every aspect of the above questions for the Babalon Rising Pan-Thelemic Festival at both of the venues where it has been held. Midian (the festival and event venue where we are on the Board)  has a certain level of staff that CAN be available, but they can also “bugger off” if a festival doesn’t need them. Chrysalis Moon, for example, came to Midian with all their own staff — from gate to maintenance to security to first aid and beyond. We had our own people in the kitchen (because that’s how we run it), some of our fire-tenders stepped in to cover Midian’s basic requirements for fire safety, and we had a couple of Midian directors onsite to be a resource for the festival organizers. Other facilities may handle things differently, and (frustratingly) very little is “standard” in this industry.

Content-Focused Questions

Okay, these questions also dig into some logistical considerations, but they are all related to the “meat and potatoes” of your event (and who’s doing the cooking — and where — and how).

34.    How many and what sort of performances and workshops do you want?

35.   Are you working around a theme or concept?

36.   Is there a flow or feel you want?

37.   Who is communicating that line-up, flow, and culture/atmosphere to the presenters and performers?

38.   Who is communicating those things to the attendees?

39.   Are you providing a printed copy of the schedule?

40.   Are you providing a mobile version of the schedule?

41.   What about maps of the facility highlighting various event locations?

42.   Do any of the presenters or performers require payment?

43.   Do they need you to provide lodging, food, and travel?

44.   Do they have special needs based on their health?

45.   What set-up time, assistance, and equipment do they all need?

46.   Will they have a point of contact once they’re at the event?

47.   Do you have someone who can fill in if someone doesn’t show? (Someone ALWAYS bails at the last minute. Life happens.)

48.   If children are attending, do you have activities for them?

49.   Are you providing supervision for the kids, or are their parents solely responsible for their entertainment and safety?

50.   How do you intend to handle children and adults who break the rules of the facility or event?

Getting Feedback

Most start-up events don’t have great methods of receiving feedback from all the stake-holders, but feedback is critical if you intend to hold your event on a recurring basis. It’s better to consider it from the beginning, working it into the fabric of the event, rather than tacking it on as an afterthought days or weeks after everyone has gone home. 

51.   What can the performers and presenters help you improve?

52.   What did the attendees love and hate in terms of facilities, content, etc?

53.   What did your staff notice working well or working poorly?

54.   What blind-sided you?

55.   What criteria are you using to determine that you were successful?

Most small, first time events consider themselves a rousing success if they just stay in the black in the ledger (and nobody got hurt) — and that is valid. Some folks care more about a particular aspect of the experience. Figure out a way to measure what matters to you.

And more …

Honestly, this list could include dozens of more questions (related to event insurance, security and safety considerations, emotional and psychological well-being of attendees and staff, mitigating drama and gossip within your event community, and on and on.) We’re going to dive deep into ALL the different aspects of event planning as the series progresses. 

Want to propose a particular topic for consideration? Have an experience to share? Pop a comment below!

[Written by Laurelei Black.]

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