Growth and international aspirations – is bigger better?
The first session of the conference was a panel discussion with all of the delegates about size of Festivals. As this was the first session of the events, I wished we had done an 'around the room' introduction, as there were many delegates that I didn't get a chance to meet during the conference.
The panelists included representatives from Stockholm Fringe, Minnesota Fringe, Adelaide Fringe, and an Indian entrepreneur and filmmaker. The panel was led by a representative from the British Council (a former theatre artistic director).
There was some general discussion about the structure of the panelists Fringe Festivals, and we went into some detail about how size actually affects a Fringe Festival. If you add performances to your shows, do the same number of people attend and therefore each performance has less people attending their shows? There are many factors to the size of the Festival, and Cincinnati's is quite small in comparison to many, but our average house size in 2012 is a great indicator that we have a great size for the audience that attends. We had an average house size of 50 in 2012. Kudos to the audiences!
The topic of awareness & marketing and how that relates to growth was also discussed. Awareness is a constant struggle for many festivals. Minnesota Fringe Festival is one of the largest in North America and they still get people who have no idea that they exist. Sound familiar? I get this in Cincinnati constantly!
A good point was raised that resonated with me – each Fringe Festival has organically been designed and structured in a manner that works with their local community. The local arts environment, the audience, the staff, the artists, the community as a whole have helped shape each individual Fringe Festival. They are all different and unique and (hopefully) are successful in their respective environments. Most of the new festivals – and many of the established ones – have been built up out of a need that hasn't been there. Started by artists who wanted a place to perform where there previously wasn't one.
I'm glad that we discussed the quality of the work that is produced as it relates to growth. As a juried festival, we are structured in such a manner that takes quality into account for accepted shows (which works most of the time, but not always.) Not all shows are for everyone, and not all shows end up being successful.
One great quote that I heard at a later panel that relates to this is Fringing is almost like "flipping through the television stations to find something you like." There are always duds, but that's the fun of Fringe!
Many Festivals are considering growth in the areas of educational/artists services programming and youth programming (both of which Cincinnati offer). More on that later.
Lastly, many larger Festivals are a jumping off point for many artists looking to be noticed, and it can be a platform for that. Several Festivals have 'Arts Industry' offices or programs that provide passes to other Festivals, producers, agents, etc. to attend and view talent. It's not often something that we see in Cincinnati, but might we get there someday? Who should we invite?
Look, it's a giant upside down purple cow!