Here is the first post in which I openly shill the project I’ve been working on for the last four months, the Heart of Florida Asian Festival.  This is my second year on the project, and while I could outline the process of coordination and bore you to tears, I think I will reserve this post for stating the less than obvious:

Your event should look as if it were easy to put together.

What this means is that your attendees shouldn’t notice the rips in the seams, the things you wanted to get but could not (Japanese fish-printing), and the obstacles so awkwardly placed that they would trip up even a world-class hurdler.  It doesn’t matter if the whole thing falls apart two days before the event, it must give the appearance that it has come together with zero effort.

A festival is like a play.  It has auditions and it gets cast.  There are only so many roles, many of them in the chorus.  It’s a mix of amateur and professional, and a lot of the work involves taking the amateur cast through to Broadway performance level.

It is also a race to the finish line and the heats can be intense the closer you come to show time.

In addition, it is a political arena in which diplomacy is often at odds with business.  To illustrate this, I give you the example of A Restaurant.  A Restaurant participated in last year’s event and did so well that they sold out of food.  A Restaurant called me that night to say how much they sold and how much they wanted to do the 2010 event.  Great! That makes my life easier; knowing that A Restaurant is on board means that I have one less electrical circuit to fill in the food court.

A couple of months go by.  I’m gearing up to work on the food court so I stop by A Restaurant with a contract.  My booth fee is low, much lower than average. Whereas another festival charges $250.00 a day, my fee is $70.00.  I’ve kept it low to encourage small local businesses to join.

A Restaurant’s owner doesn’t like my booth fee, though, and he says so.  He winks at me and asks me for “special consideration.”  I tell him that if I waive the fee for him, then I must waive it for everyone, and where does that get us?  A festival that has no chance of becoming self-supporting.  I leave A Restaurant without a signed contract.

Over the next three months, I have three more meetings with A Restaurant, each of which ends in a deadlock.  I won’t waive my fee and A Restaurant won’t write a check.  Eventually, I replace A Restaurant with Another Restaurant that delivers its check, contract, and insurance certificate to me within 24 hours of expressing interest.

I happen to like A Restaurant’s owner quite well, and I know he was hoping I’d back down and let him in for free. I couldn’t, and he lost his slot.

You’ll also get people who ignore your deadline, or who can’t seem to find their insurance policy and apply without it.  Or people who want to post-date checks.  Sometimes, someone will seem so gung-ho that you don’t think there’s any chance they will do something like disappear, ignore your calls and mails, and then give some lame excuse (“I was picking strawberries in Starke for the past two weeks and there was no cell phone reception in the field”) that doesn’t inspire confidence…but they do.  They do it all the time.  The real dealbreaker is the missed deadline, especially when the person has had weeks to finalize the deal.

But that’s what your waiting list is for. If you are in your first year, you probably don’t have one.  That’s when you find yourself babbling and promising the world, which in the case of this type of event means a pop-up tent and four 6 x 6 tables that you don’t have on hand.  If you do have to go this route, the person to whom you offered the four tables will claim that you really offered him six.

We have rebuilt the festival this year, which works out better because the people who attended last year get to see a whole new show this year.  We’ve heard complaints in the past about events that are the same from year to year, which, while enjoyable, don’t offer anything that hasn’t been seen before.  In some instance this is fine; our acrobats are showstoppers and offer an a la carte menu of skills from which we can pick and choose.  In other instances a lack of changeover reduces anticipation, and this is where we’ve come up with some fresh acts and exhibits.  This year, the festival has taken a slight Japanese focus.  This wasn’t something that we planned.  You find that as people come forward and “audition,” the festival begins to take an unexpected shape.  To the Japanese martial arts we added a koi exhibit, a puppet troupe, and bonsai.

We have now booked the show and are working on logistics and scheduling and handshaking with the University of Florida Asian student groups.  We are past that point in time where the show is different every week (this happens right when you think you have it cemented), so here’s the lineup:

HEADLINE PERFORMERS:

SinoElite Acrobats
Liang (as seen on America’s Got Talent)
Gator Bhangra
Celebrate Asia featuring Thai long-nailed dancers
Bunraku Bay Puppet Troupe

We have two dance programs taking place indoors:  Indian folk dance and a multicultural dance medley with dancers from Turkey, Korea, Mongolia, and the Philippines.  Also indoors is an Indian classical music concert.

Three forms of Japanese martial arts will be exhibited on the lawn:  aikido, iaido (sword), and kyudo (archery).

Retail vendors will sell: incense, fragrance oils,clothing, Malaysian teas, wooden bowls, origami clocks, Turkish Delight, antique kimono, scarves, baubles, bangles, beads and batik.

The food court, which went through three iterations before finally settling in, went to the deadline as usual.  The big reveal will take place on festival day, but I’ll give you a tasty teaser:  We’ve got durian ice cream.

We’re still looking for volunteers! If you are interested, please drop me a line at gainesvilleartsdevelopment@gmail.com.  You get a t-shirt and four comp tickets in exchange.

Today’s pics are of the Thomas Center, where the festival is held, plus our poster.  Look for me out around Gainesville as I hang up 150 of these in 100-degree heat!






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