Arts Funding Cuts May Push Growth to the Fringe (Festival)

Leila Ghaznavi, Founder, Pantea Productions

13 Silken Veils-Leila

Silken Veils, Pantea Productions
performed at Edinburgh & Philadelphia Fringe Festivals

As organizations and artists gird for another round of cuts to arts funding, communities may want to take a page from cities like Cincinnati, Rochester and Wilmington where the arts get a boost from city fringe festivals. Financed by the participants, fringe festivals provide the added benefit of supporting Main Street and the larger community, and bringing visibility to area artists.

Many rightly associate the fringe with the granddaddy of them all, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, which began in the late 1940s. But today, there are an increasing number of festivals throughout the country and internationally. The United States Association of Fringe Festivals lists more than twenty. Some of the best known are the New York International Fringe Festival, the Orlando International Fringe Theater Festival,  and the more recent Hollywood Fringe Festival. There are also the London Festival Fringe, the Toronto Fringe Festival , and the Adelaide Fringe Festival

“The value of the fringe is that it can provide ready-made audiences for artists and companies that might not be able to attract high-volume crowds on their own, “says Leila Ghaznavi, Founder of Pantea Productions, a multi-disciplinary theater company. Ghaznavi’s taken her own productions, including Silken Veils and Beyond the Light, to fringe festivals and has advised individuals and organizations on how to successfully market their performances at the festivals. She also helps groups evaluate whether the fringe can be a good fit for their needs.

“Many kinds of performances can work in a fringe environment, and it’s excellent for collaborating across disciplines. So you can mix dance with theater and spoken word, or music and performance art with videography. It’s about having quality over quantity, doing experimentation and looking for new ways to engage.

“The more innovative the show is the better because that’s what the audience at a fringe expects. There are performances done in short bursts, at non-traditional venues, and also as site-specific work, where the audience moves from place to place following a narrative as part of experiencing the event. Events can range from a fully cast play at a large performance venue , or I’ve seen a performance where the it was done in an elevator with the elevator going up and down.

“I advise people to think carefully about what they want to gain from being part of a fringe. Some want to test new work and get audience feedback. Others are further along and are prepared to make a big splash. When someone wants to make a splash, I tell them to bring their “A” game and plan to do a lot of advance marketing.

“You need to do more than just the basics – giving out postcards, posters, fliers, and local advertising –to get noticed. You also need to find ways to get directly to consumers; everything from walking the streets in costume to offering creative prize promotions and giveaways – anything to help you stand out from the crowd.

“I remind them of the old marketing adage about the ‘Rule of 7,’ which says that a prospect must hear your message seven times before they’ll buy or take action.”

Leila Ghaznavi who recently spoke at the Puppet Festival R(e)volution conference, is an Iranian-American playwright, actor, puppeteer and the founder of Pantea Productions. Her father immigrated to the U.S. from the village of Rahaghi with fifty dollars and a prayer rug. Her mother grew up in West Virginia and is a daughter of the American Revolution. She has an MFA from California Institute of the Arts, a B.A. from Bryn Mawr College in music composition and is a graduate of the Dell’Arte International School of Physical Theater. Much of her work explores the rights and roles of women across the globe. Her other talents include acting, directing, writing, aerial acrobatics, puppetry and clowning.

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