Monday, April 26, 2010

"In bureaucracy, as in art, it's all about people and persistence."

Learning the roots of Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago, prompted me to write about the Capital Fringe Festival for my blog entry again this week. The driving force behind the festival and one of its founders is Julianne Brienza. She is a theater person at heart, but reading interviews with her about the latest festival you can see that to produce art she must consider the business and bureaucratic side of putting on such an event every summer. Here is an excerpt from one interview:

What's the biggest challenge you've run into with Fringe?

What hasn’t been? There have been so many challenges over the past five years, from personal to professional, some comical and some rather painful. At the end of the 2007 Festival, I took on the role of Executive Director, which means I shoulder fundraising and running the business. I juggle a lot in managing the business of Fringe. I am sometimes too obsessed with our cash flow report. It is very important to me that Fringe remains a sustainable business.

A big part of that is to keep us from becoming an institution too quickly. At the festival last year, I had many tell me that Fringe was now an institution. DC can be a tricky place when it comes to institutions. When you think of DC arts institutions, it usually conjures up images of bricks and mortar. I am trying to keep us as nomadic as possible. We need to be able to react to our ever-evolving city and not be tied down by anything.

I had someone say to me last year that they were confused that we kept changing. They were referring to our image and brand for the festival each year. Now, they did not mean this as a compliment – but it was awesome to me! We very much view ourselves like we’re a band and each year we release a new album. So, of course the image will change but the core is always the same.

Cash flow reports, imagine that! Anyway, the second part reminds me of David Hawkinson describing the founders of Steppenwolf becoming uncomfortable whenever they started to feel comfortable with the state of their theater company. If you're interested in some of the craziness Brienza went through to get permits and other funding for the festival, this Washington Post article is a great read and puts our project hurdles in perspective.

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