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IJA Buffalo Festival Report

Sandy Brown, Festival Director
September 2, 2004

The 57th IJA Festival was held July 12-18 in Buffalo, NY and this is the post-festival report. The following summary is a compilation of information drawn from the festival team, other volunteers, the budget, and statistics and comments taken from the Buffalo Evaluation which was offered online to registrants who attended the festival. A more thorough summary of the Buffalo Evaluation will be presented in the beginning of October when all responses have been compiled. Also included in this report are my own observations and suggestions based upon the past year of putting it all together.

Some Basic Numbers

The Buffalo Evaluation: The festival was given an overall rating of 8.7 on a scale of 1-10, with 1 being terrible and 10 being wonderful.

Please see the Income and Summary Expense and Registration and Income Details for a more in-depth breakdown.

The Buffalo Festival netted about $52,000, in spite of reducing the Adult Event Package cost by 46%. This amount may change just slightly in the next few weeks as final adjustments are made. There were 808 registrants. Another 319 Spectator Passes were sold, so there was an estimated number of just under 1000 people present in Buffalo. Several factors contributed to the success of this year's festival: the low festival package cost, an all-volunteer staff, keeping a tight reign on costs, and the east coast location where the majority of IJA members reside. Other factors that contributed to the good turnout were the Flying Karamazov Brothers as Guests Artists and the overall excitement about attending the festival run by the New IJA.

The Festival Process

I volunteered to be the pro-tem Festival Director in August 2003, and visited Buffalo the next month for an intensive survey of the facilities and to make decisions about show venues. In October I volunteered to be the Festival Director. The budget was presented to the IJA Board of Directors by about November 1. Periodic revisions were made available to the BOD as costs were adjusted.

During November, I began to assemble a Festival Team, which consisted of two BOD members, 5 volunteers, and myself. The team communicated via email. Typically, I would pose a question, such as, What would you like to see workshop instructors and volunteers receive as a gift? Team members responded and this helped me greatly in decision-making. I felt that some decisions such as pricing the Festival Event Packages should be approved by the BOD. This type of business was usually handled on the Board Forum, and when necessary, voted upon during BOD meetings. This system worked very well. There were other issues that I completely turned over to the BOD, such as the restructuring and pricing of the vendor registrations.

During October and November, Martin Frost began to help me quite a lot and inadvertently became my Assistant Festival Director. I also began to speak often with Dave Davis, who lent an ear just about any time I needed it.

In December, I had selected volunteers for the main positions, such as Registrar, Championships Director, and Director of Cascade of Stars. Negotiations with the Flying Karamazov Brothers were in full swing. Katje Sabin, Martin, and I made a major push to complete the text of the festival mailer, do the layout for the printing company, have the mailers printed, and create a web page for online registration.

Online registration went live on January 10, 2004. We printed 8,500 copies of the festival mailer (which includes a registration form), and IJA members and former members received it in February. We also sent copies of the mailer to Affiliates, to clubs and to upcoming juggling festivals around the world, and we made it available online in PDF format.

I revisited Buffalo the end of February. By springtime, medals and gifts were ordered, more volunteer positions were filled, and I began to focus on making sure the stage was set and that everyone was doing their job.

Festival week finally arrived. I felt that things pulled together quite nicely. The few glitches that did occur were really insignificant in the big festival picture.

What follows are comments on specific areas and events of the Buffalo festival.

Registration

Buffalo Evaluation: Registration was rated 8.8 on a 1-10 scale.

For the first time, jugglers could register and pay online and this was enormously successful. 63% of the registrants who answered the Buffalo Evaluation used online registration, with ease and convenience listed as the main reasons why they chose to register that way. Jugglers who registered on site requested that more people should be stationed at the IJA Table to speed things up.

Also, for the first time, jugglers received detailed festival and registration information (on the web and in the mail) in January and February instead of in the May-June timeframe. With these early registration options, the IJA began to see festival income much earlier than in past years.

The Buffalo Convention Center

Buffalo Evaluation: The Buffalo Convention Center was rated 7.6 on a 1-10 scale.

For the most part, jugglers were pleased with the high ceilings, the lighting, and the proximity of the gym to the shows, main hotel and the workshops. There was a mixed review about the size of the gym. Some people felt the gym was large enough, others thought there was not enough floor space. Computer users were very happy to have the free wifi in the lobby. There was mixed response on the concrete floor in the gym. Some people really liked it, and others did not.

Many jugglers would have liked the concessions to remain open longer. The difficulty in finding food nearby the Convention Center was a comment which was repeated often.

Several jugglers asked why the BOD and Festival Director who organized the festival would choose such a place as the Convention Center in Buffalo NY. My response to this is, that we didn't. The previous IJA Festival Director made that choice (I presume the board at that time voted in approval of it) and the contract was signed in January 2003. When I volunteered as Festival Director, I inherited Buffalo as the festival site. To change that plan would have cost the IJA $60,000, as stated in our contract.

So, the Buffalo Convention Center was previously selected as a juggling site, but the show venues were not yet selected. Some jugglers stated that the Flying Karamazov Brothers Show and the Championships should have been in a theater instead of a made-stage. During my first Buffalo trip, I visited a number of possible theaters in the Buffalo area. Shea's was the obvious choice but at a price of over $11,000 per night, Shea's could only be afforded for the Cascade of Stars. Other theaters in the area seated 800 people or less, which would not have accommodated our audience. One excellent theater at Buffalo State University would have required a half hour bus ride, and from comments on the forum, jugglers expressed their desire to have local show venues. It therefore made sound, financial sense to create a theater in the Convention Center for the FKB and the Championships.

The Monday Welcome Dinner and Show

This event was not rated in the Buffalo Evaluation, but received extremely positive remarks. It was a good way for everyone to come together to kick-off the festival. There were some late arrivals for dinner who were just getting into Buffalo, but the Convention Center provided dinners well beyond the time they were expected to serve food. The show ran very smoothly. The dinner was partly subsidized by the IJA and the show was free.

The Workshops

Buffalo Evaluation: The workshops were rated an 8.0 on a 1-10 scale.

I have listed below the favorite workshop leaders specifically listed by name on the evaluation. The order in which they are listed does not represent a rating:

The Flying Karamazov Brothers, Matt Hall, Cindy Marvell, Luke Burrage, Jay Gilligan, Dan Holzman, Scotty Meltzer, Tribute to Sean McKinney, Martin Frost, Dave Davis, Andrew Conway, Dave Finnigan, Greg Phillips, Jackie Erickson, Tim Furst.

People would have preferred higher ceilings in the workshop rooms. People also did not like having one of the workshops spaces (Grand Ballroom A) in the Hyatt, but in May, I negotiated using that space because of its 16 ft ceiling height. It was better to have that space than NOT to have it. It was also free.

Some comments from David Walbridge, the Workshop Director:

I suggest that next year the organizers plan on printing handouts which give a synopsis of each workshop. There also needs to be a daily list of workshops posted at the entrance of each workshop room.

Youth Showcase

Buffalo Evaluation: The Youth Showcase was rated 7.1 on a 1-10 scale.

People who attended the Youth Showcase this year love seeing the kids involved with juggling at such a young age. Numerous people suggested that the show could be improved by making it shorter and by limiting the number of routines and stage time per performer.

Juniors Championships

Buffalo Evaluation: The Juniors Championships were rated 8.2 on a 1-10 scale.

Jugglers commented that overall, the caliber of the Juniors Championships competitors was very high, and entertaining to watch. They also enjoyed the impromptu jugglers jam which happened on stage amongst the competitors as the judges were deliberating.

Many viewers object to the Juniors Championships being held on the same evening as the Youth Showcase, although not many reasons were given. The lengthy evening was the primary reason given.

People loved the chocolate chip cookies.

Individuals and Teams Championships

Buffalo Evaluation: The Individuals and Teams were rated 8.4 on a 1-10 scale.

As with the Juniors Championships, people in general remarked about the high caliber of competitors.

Again, some jugglers did not like the venue for the competitions and would have preferred a theater with a more expansive lighting system. There were some problems with the cueing of CDs, but this had more to do with the quality of the performer's burned CDs rather than the sound technicians from Buffalo Audio/Visual.

There continues to be controversy about the judging system.

Craig Barnes, the Championships Director, said that having the Championships onsite made his job much easier. He has a big circle of experienced helpers who he can count upon year after year, so things run smoothly in this current format.

People loved the ice cream following the competitions and the Jugglers Band early in the evening.

Cascade of Stars

Buffalo Evaluation: The Cascade of Stars was rated 8.1 on a 1-10 scale.

Shea's Performing Arts Center was a beautiful theater and worked perfectly for the big show. There were mixed reviews about the Cascade of Stars this year. Many audience members expressed that there wasn't enough variety and they were seeing routines already seen in the competitions. In fact, Scott Meltzer, the Cascade of Stars Director, stated that he would not have booked any acts in advance that were also in any of the big competitions. He also would have pre-booked fewer acts so that he would have had more flexibility adding acts that he did not know were attending the festival.

Many people would have preferred to see some special professional acts brought in for the show. Other people wondered why we had not done a better job at filling the theater.

It is beyond my scope to figure out what it takes to fill a theater in Buffalo, such as Shea's. The Shea's house manager said that, for Buffalo, we had an excellent turn-out for a mid-summer show of this type. I covered all the publicity bases suggested to me, but this did not translate into ticket sales. Again, as a volunteer of the IJA, I wish I had had a staff of 20 to handle publicity, but this wasn't so.

Security

Wristbands (which could be worn on the wrist or ankle) were used this year as the mode of security with a volunteer security team checking wristbands throughout the day. This system clearly has its flaws. My own thoughts on this are the following: with the low festival prices and people volunteering many hours to create a great event for everyone, someone who slips through security, or buys a Spectator Pass when they juggle like everyone else, is a cheap, unethical, rip-off. I urge anyone who witnesses or knows of someone trying to buck the system to report this to the appropriate people.

Media

Press kits were created in May and were distributed by Nels Cremean in Buffalo and the Buffalo-Niagara Convention and Visitors Bureau. It was difficult to stay on top of media requests once the festival began but nothing significant fell through the cracks. The festival or Flying Karamazov Brothers were covered by The Today Show (weekend edition with Matt Lauer), CNN Headline News, and a number of local television and print sources. A Korean news channel in NYC covered several events and a joggling documentary was taped. Local radio stations also covered the festival and were given tickets to Cascade of Stars for listeners who called in.

Gifts to Volunteers

The sets of Todd Smith juggling balls donated by Arthur Lewbel to the volunteers were a hot item. Todd is sending another 30 sets to my house designated for people on a list who did not receive theirs (we ran out).

Workshop instructors and other volunteers who spent an appreciable amount of time working for the IJA received a black portfolio with the IJA logo and Buffalo NY 2004 embossed on them.

Community Outreach

I contacted three groups in Buffalo who were invited to attend the event of their choosing during the festival week. The groups were CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocatesfor abused and neglected children), Big Brothers/Big Sisters, and the Make-a-Wish Foundation. They all chose to attend the Youth Showcase. CASA and BB/BS brought groups of kids and the Make-a-Wish Foundation arranged for two families to attend the show. Both families had a child with terminal cancer. All were very appreciative to have been invited.

There was a LOT of ice cream left over after the ice cream feed on Thursday night. I donated the remaining tubs to a food bank and a shelter for women and kids who picked them up at the Convention Center the next day.

Pleasing Everyone

It just can't be done. Some people have their own agendas. This past year has strengthened my ability to resist taking things personally and has made me a bit more thick-skinned. For that, and for the opportunity of serving jugglers in the IJA, I am very grateful.

Final Thoughts

In closing, I challenge all members to do a little more for the IJA. If there is something you do not like within the organization, offer to climb aboard and fix it. If you don't offer to do the grunt work like the rest of us, then your complaints may not bear the fruit that you desire.

I challenge you to consider hosting a festival or to buy a friend an IJA membership. Giving to the IJA, whether by performing a task at a festival or by giving monetarily feels really, really good.

A heaping thanks to everyone who did choose to climb aboard this year. And thanks to everyone who made it to Buffalo.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                               
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