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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Evolve or Die: The Arts Must Use Social Media

Dan Meagher – Director of Marketing for Diablo Ballet

13 Diablo Ballet

Marketing dance & ballet is tough. We’ve built a wall up that keeps the many out because they feel they don’t fit in. I think it’s time to take the “classical” out of the “classical arts.” The word “classical” conjures up visions of going to a grand, marble columned opera house where people sit in velvet seats and drink champagne. Can we make people any more afraid to go see a ballet?

At Diablo Ballet, I believe that social media helps us break down these walls. We been able engage dance fans and non-dance fans by showing video of legendary dancer performance on YouTube, share inspiring quotes on Facebook, and even creating a new ballet via Twitter. And people love it.

The response has been an outpouring of support. In less than one year, we grew out Twitter followers from 500 to over 5,000, increased our Facebook followers by 90%, and reached over 10,000 views of our YouTube channel. How this was achieved was no great marketing secret. We simply talk to people and showed them why we think dance is one of the most powerful forms of communication. Very simple and basic.

For you administrator types..Yes, we even saw revenue increase related to social media. We sold out our May program and used a special SM code to track sales. Our November holiday performance saw a significant increase, in part due to our “Give Up the Nut(cracker)” SM campaign.

Simply put…non-profit arts organizations must embrace the power of social media. Our lives are mediated. We check our Facebook or Twitter several times day, send pictures on Instagram, tell our stories on blogs, and talk to family & friends on Skype. We have to harness the power to reach new, non-traditional audiences. They;’re out there and waiting for the arts to join the social media party.

We have many folks following us on Twitter who have never seen a dancer performance. I love that.

This is the power of social media. If we don’t reach this audience, the classical arts will slowly go away. Why? Because we are no longer relevant in people’s lives. We must tell and show people why the arts matter…why we can touch them. We face an uphill battle with the growing leisure industry. Not only does dance compete with other arts (theatre, symphony, opera, museums), but also movies, television, sports, and so many other options. Today, one doesn’t need to leave their house to be entertained. We can watch a movie of our choice at home on our computer, order food delivered from our computer, and even video chat with friends own our computer. Why should anyone lhave the need to eave home to be entertained?

One way Diablo Ballet is harnessing the power of social media is through our Web Ballet project. We are creating the first ballet made up of suggestions from the internet, which will be performed live this March. With this idea, we’ve engaged people in creating art, we’re allowing people to share in the creative process, and we’re showing them that they can be a part of dance. We’ve received hundreds of suggestions from all over the world, which shows that there is a desire for participation in the arts. On February 15th, our choreographer will review all the suggestions and choose 7 to incorporate into the new ballet. We’re excited to see what the world creates.

You don’t need to do project like The Web Ballet to engage your audience. Just talking to people in a conversational style about what your organization is doing is a great start. Share the inside stories, the behind-the-scenes tales. Take photos of your new sets or costumes. Share a video of your office manager’s birthday cake. Put a human face on your organization. Even though we are disconnected by social media, we still want to know that there is a heart beating inside the organization.

Social media is a new, exciting world for the arts. We must connect and engage in order to survive.

Dan Meagher is Director of Marketing for Diablo Ballet, a professional dance company in the San Francisco Bay Area.

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Building Bridges with Music from Main Street to Sesame Street: Judith Clurman

12 Judith Clurman art

Judith Clurman, Emmy and Grammy-Nominated Conductor

“Becoming a musician is a life-long process” says Emmy and Grammy-nominated conductor, vocal educator and choral specialist, Judith Clurman. Ms. Clurman has conducted symphonies, ballets and choral ensembles worldwide, She has premiered over fifty works by America’s most revered composers. She is the former Director of Choral Activities at The Julliard School and has been a guest teacher and conductor at Harvard University and Cambridge University in the UK. She created and for nine years served as Artistic Director of the Lincoln Center Tree Lighting, where she collaborated with leading artists of popular, jazz, and classical music. She also served as the Associate Music Director for Season 39 of Sesame Street.

Ms. Clurman is currently the Music Director and Conductor of Essential Voices USA (EVUSA) that promotes the love of music and the art of ensemble singing. The group mixes professional and auditioned volunteer singers. Under her direction, they have performed on National Public Radio, at the Rockefeller Center Tree Lighting ceremony, and as part of the New York Pops series at Carnegie Hall,   Clurman conducted select students in a performance at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.  EVUSA’s most recent recording, Celebrating The American Spirit, features guest Broadway starts Kelli O’Hara and Ron Raines.  This CD is a perfect example of Clurman’s eclectic approach to music. Ms. Clurman is known for building bridges and putting together unique collaborations in music.

Clurman is also tuned in to recent changes in the music industry. She says, “People learn a lot from what they can find online, so we need to be imaginative and listen to our audiences. Musicians – all performers – are faced with a whole new set of challenges in what Clurman refers to as a ‘YouTube world.’  If we the want the public to come hear and experience live music in concert halls we must teach them how to distinguish levels of quality.  Remember that an mp3 is not the same as a finely engineered recording and live music is not perfect and edited!”

Ms. Clurman points out, “Arts education in this country is increasingly at risk. In the past, learning music in schools taught socialization and community building as well as introducing students to how to sing in choruses and/or play in bands and orchestras. Young people were not scared to have fun together and experience all different types of music. Learning music also taught children discipline and fine study habits. They even learned about healthy competition with their fellow students. “

“To pursue a career in music requires discipline, as I found when I was a young child and then as a student at The Julliard School. You cannot become an artist over night. You must realize that you are going to have ups and downs and face many challenges. You need to learn about your own strengths and weaknesses. You need to learn how to use your imagination. You must be willing to take chances, take risks, and not copy someone else’s performance that you hear on a recording. You must learn how to be you.”

“In the ideal world, a young artist would find a mentor who would support them emotionally and teach them. They must learn that success will take time. They must learn that they cannot be afraid of failure.  They must learn that success is about being true to yourself. They must learn that they need to find their own special passions!”

Judith Clurman’s devotion to supporting American music, to uniting and nurturing seasoned and young professionals in her ensembles, to championing young composers, and to creating imaginative programming have made her an inspirational and greatly admired figure in the international music community. Her current and former students can be found in major opera companies, musical theater productions, and conducting positions worldwide.

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Championing Chinese Shadow Puppetry – Annie Rollins

Annie Rollins, Puppeteer and recent Fulbright Fellow in Chinese Shadow Puppetry

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/41524173 w=500&h=281]

How did you get involved with Chinese Shadow Puppetry?

Chinese shadow puppetry is the sum of all my independent interests and, of course, so much more.  As a part-Asian puppet lover with a penchant for the historical, Chinese shadow puppetry has sustained my interest in all of those things and continues to inform my personal and professional life.

How does shadow puppetry differ from other performance arts in its approach?

It is similar to other folk art performance forms in that its main purpose is to transmit oral history to a largely illiterate class and to educate and community build through entertainment and a collective experience. It differs from other traditions insofar as its incredible artistry has really pushed boundaries both with the figures themselves and performance techniques.

What about this art form is important to the heritage of China and to yourself?

Chinese shadow puppetry is an amalgamation of Chinese culture in both content and aesthetics as seen from the masses. While most elite and upper class art forms are well documented and preserved, Chinese shadow puppetry is lesser known and understood but more informative as to the majority’s ideology and beliefs at any given time. In a broader context, this is Chinese shadow puppetry’s most important heritage.

I consider it a high art form in its own right, with regional differences in nearly every province that reflect a rich inheritance of idiosyncratic tradition and craft.  My particular focus is practice-led research in traditional shadow puppet making methods in the three main regional styles and that has remained largely uncovered in research both in China and internationally.  Because the methods and aesthetic significance was largely overlooked until recently, many of the remaining masters have passed already with no apprentices in place and many others threaten the same scenario.

How does this influence your artwork?

My research and creative work have a symbiotic relationship – both inform the other and not necessarily in any particular order. Through research I find questions that can only be explored through creation and vice versa. Currently, my work is almost wholly focused on both Chinese shadow puppetry and how that learning is processed through me as an artist with a very different background than the traditional learner. With permission from my masters, I’m creating my own pathway to modernizing the form that fits within my understanding of how best to honor the tradition.

How is shadow puppetry being preserved in China?

Other than commercial endeavors, little has been done to preserve the form in China. With the official induction into UNESCO’s Intangible Cultural Heritage project in 2011, there is much more attention and support currently being focused on traditional Chinese shadow puppetry, but the long-term results remain to be seen. Little, if any, funding is being given to two designated members of a nominated troupe (equal to a peasants’ monthly wages) and no funding or support for students or apprentices. And, while this greatly eases the stress for shadow puppet artists in the aging stages of their lives, it does little to answer the more imperative questions about lack of students to carry the tradition through to the next generation.

Some people have criticized China for their lack of effort to preserve this and many other dying traditions as their country races towards a progressive modern future, but I find that they are doing what all countries have done at one point or another – prioritizing.  Folk art forms are in this position worldwide.

Are there any schools or programs that specialize in Chinese Shadow Puppetry?

Sadly, there are no formal institutions that teach Chinese shadow puppetry, save a workshop here or there.  The masters who are still working are very open to students – even foreign ones – who show an interest. Because it is a folk art form it is unlikely that Chinese shadow play education would become formalized anytime soon.The hope is that the form will garner more support to continue teaching as they always have – through hands and hearts.

If anyone has interest and will be traveling to China shortly, feel free to contact me for connections. Additional puppetry information is at: http://annierollins.wordpress.com/links.

Annie Rollins is a puppeteer and recent Fulbright Fellow in Chinese Shadow Puppetry. She has a MFA in theater design from the University of Minnesota and has been studying traditional Chinese Shadow Puppetry in different regions of China for the past year. Annie considers herself an artist first, creating experimental puppet shows, design and teaching workshops when she isn’t studying puppetry in China. Recently, she was invited to speak at the Chinese Shadow Puppetry Symposium at the Ballard Institute & Museum of Puppetry at the University of Connecticut.

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