In the Words of Mama Bear

January 1st, 2016

What Goes on in Putting Together a Pagan Festival

Mama Bear hopes you all had a wonderful Yule. Now that everything has settled down, with the holiday season, I hope you’re enjoying a calm, restful time of the year.

Most people I know enjoy the winter months as a time for drawing inward, introspection, and self-work. Not this Mama Bear! Between classes and festival preparation, it seems as if every day is a new and magical adventure! Someone asked me what it takes to put on a pagan festival, so…

What goes on in producing a Pagan festival: time, money, blood, sweat, tears and a lot of coffee. (Hail Caffinea!) That is what goes into the production of a Pagan festival. Whether it’s a weekend intensive, a 2 week festival, a 4 day festival or your local Pagan Pride Day or Pagan Picnic, it’s an epic ton of work.

I’d try to dive into a breakdown, but like the elements of a spell, everything is interconnected. So, bear with me as I explain things to you from the heart and mind of an organizer. I also present this like I’m trying to teach you the basics, because that is just the way I explain things.

Organizing and actually putting on a festival.

A year or so before, you sit down and hammer out a budget. You need to account for everything from toilet paper, to airline tickets for speakers. Believe it or not, speakers and bands actually want to be paid for coming out to entertain people. This is how some of them make their living. Would you work at a job that didn’t pay you? No? Good. These people have bills to pay, food to put on the table and things like house payments. So they have to be paid. Travel expenses, lodging and meals for your speakers and bands must be paid for as well. In my experience, none of these expenses are arbitrary.

Then there’s insurance. You’d best have event insurance. From everything from natural disaster to stupid human tricks, if it can happen, it will happen. Insurance will give you peace of mind, but it does come at a price, and generally runs into several hundred if not thousands of dollars, dependent upon your event.

Venue Rental. Unless you are very lucky and own a property free and clear, you will incur a venue rental fee. That can be anywhere from a few thousand dollars to upwards of $25,000. Having written a couple of checks for one venue for around that amount, I can tell you, it’s not a far-fetched number. For instance, for a festival of 200 people, that comes out to $125 PER PERSON. Not per adult. But per infant, child, teenager, and adult. That does not include speakers and bands whose admission festivals are absorbed into the costs by the festival.

Then there’s everything else. Toilet paper, lightbulbs, supplies for ritual, supplies for children’s activities, shelters for this that and the other, portapotties if your venue needs them, ice supplies if you need them, shower trailers or portable showers, first aid kits, postage (pre festival need), website (pre festival need) program printing, sign printing, the list can go on and on. But, you need to set a budget to cover all of it. You estimate your cost at $10,000. (Trust me this number is low. I’ve worked on a festival a few years back with a budget of over $80,000) Then you estimate how many people will want to come to your festival. (After all you are putting on the best festival EVER! Why wouldn’t they want to come?) You estimate that 500 people will want to come to your festival. Well divide that in half. (I’ll explain more on that in a minute, hang in there with me.) So 250. Then divide $10,000 by 250. That equals $40 per human being on site regardless of age.

I told you I’d get back to you on something yes? That divide it in half? 250. You NEED 250 PAID IN FULL REGISTRATIONS to make your budget. That does not include speakers, bands, your festival staff or children. So you tier festival pricing to cover your speakers and bands, and because you like children, you tier the pricing for children. So, $40 per person, $20 for children….WAIT! And here’s where it can go downhill quickly. Some people don’t want to pay anything to bring their children. Even their 17 year old, consumes like a grown up, children.

Now you get to go play with math. Or, you can adjust your figures by drawing on the experiences of others. Whatever you do, make sure that what you’re charging is going to cover your budget and also give you a little wiggle room, because again, Murphy’s law. But wait, there’s more.

You’re going to get people who feel entitled to come to your festival without paying. For a myriad of reasons, whether it be their status in the community, the ownership of a large pagan store, or the fact that they believe all pagan festivals should be free, they are seriously not going to want to pay. When you politely but firmly tell them that there are no free tickets to your event they will get huffy, defensive, and not come to your festival, and will also run it down to others every chance that they can. Stick to your guns. You don’t want to pay out of your own personal pocket for them to come do you? Then stick to the admission fee. For everyone.

To add to the time factor, you must make rules for your event, and STICK TO THEM. This brings in both time and tears, lots of coffee and sometimes, even a little blood. Making rules is never easy, nor is it pretty. People get offended for rules designed to keep all event attendees safe, and to ensure the safety of the venue.

That’s where your first and basic set of rules comes from. The Venue. Those rules are out of your control. List them out first. Sometimes, they are all that you need. Other times, you need to create and enforce rules based on past experiences, voiced concerns from your staff and co-coordinators, or based on things you’ve seen done wrong elsewhere.

Two of the biggest rule issues I’ve seen are over nudity and alcohol. Huge controversies that have people up in arms because they want to be drunk and naked. They use the phrase “All acts of love and pleasure are my rituals” to excuse behavior better suited, frankly, to a frat party. There are huge issues that come up when allowing alcohol at events. They shouldn’t but they do. Everything from people with alcohol poisoning, to minors with alcohol. It’s more hassle than it’s worth. Do you want to be responsible personally for those sorts of situations? Think about it carefully.

Same goes for nudity. Most pagans are fine with keeping their clothes on. We live and work in a society that deems it necessary. However, you will get people who argue with you that they should be given special permission since their path demands it. Here’s the deal, not everyone is comfortable with nudity. Some venues do not allow it. Then, there’s always that one person who tends to creep on others who are nude. They take nudity as consent. From anyone. Regardless of age. What’s right? What’s wrong? Your best bet as an organizer, IMHO, is to not allow nudity. Again, is that something you want to be personally responsible for?

By this time you’re well past the “thinking about planning stage and are well into the planning stage, there’s so much more that goes on in this stage. The biggest one being sweat.

Let’s talk about sweat. You’re going to sweat. Whether you’re hauling wood for the fires, helping in the kitchen, or merely trying to negotiate things with people, you are going to perspire. Your brain is going to hurt. You’re going to bleed. Wait, I said I’d get back to that bleeding part didn’t I? Let’s talk about the blood, because we all know about sweat equity. Blood is infinitely more interesting.

You are going to bleed. Keep a first aid kit handy. I’m not saying this to scare you, but I know from experience, that unless you’re wrapped in bubble wrap, you will bleed. Paper cuts, cats doing burn outs on your leg while you’re updating the website, walking into a door frame because you’re reading where the most awesome people on the planet are coming to your festival, or banging your shin on a chainsaw blade, catching your chin on a car door….there will be blood. Take it in stride. However, you’re going to want to also make sure that you have the same supplies on hand to help out your attendees. Make it a dedicated medical team. Seriously. Those people are going to save you a lot of headache. Take care of them.

Speaking of taking care of people, let’s talk about more of the time aspect.

Take care of your meals provider. That team is going to keep you fed, and go above and beyond for you and all of your attendees. They’re also saving you time, money and headache by taking on a sometimes thankless task. They are invaluable. Invest in them as much as you can. Give your time to promote their meal plan, and them as people too.

Take care of your merchants as well. They put in a lot of hard work doing what they do, and they bring something unique to your event. In fact they bring things to people who might not have access to magical items otherwise. Treat them well and they’ll sing your praises far and wide. Give them the time to promote them and encourage people to “shop locally”.

Take care of everyone who waltzes through the gates of your festival. If they are there, it’s up to you to make sure they feel valued, welcomed and safe.

Invest some time into researching what needs to be done to put on a festival. Go buy Tish Owens’ book “Chasing the Rainbow” and READ IT CAREFULLY. There are myriads of reasons that Tish is my hero, and this book covers them all.



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