Technology, Arts, and Fringe

Modern business has gone very far leveraging technology to market, promote, and produce their firms and products. It stands to reason that the arts could easily do the same, even with comparatively fractional technology budgets .

Several organizers of your first Hollywood Fringe Festival happen to hail from technical backgrounds. It’s been fun applying these skills to our first love (the arts). Key to our strategy is this thing called “cloud computing”. Without getting too technical, all applications supporting the festival – accounting, project management, email, etc – are provided through a number of small, web-based services.

Making our strategy a reality took a lot of time, thought, and trials – so to save those of you seeking technical solutions some time, we have provided this little post with the hope it will help you streamline and modernize your arts organizations.

Enjoy!

Ben

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THE WEBSITE
the website at www.HollywoodFringe.org that we use to book shows, match venues and projects, collect volunteers, and promote the festival is a custom-built system using Ruby on Rails, a popular website development framework. We have big plans to export this technology to other festivals as well as provide a year-round service for venues seeking interesting projects to book. The website took two full years to develop and a lot of love, thought, and time. We have a many plans for it so keep your eyes on coming developments. In the next few months alone, you can expect

  • A Fringe bulletin board
  • A significantly enhanced volunteer section
  • The ability to sell tickets directly form your project
  • Enhanced features to market your project on other social networking platforms

…ideas are always welcome, so feel free to email us with your thoughts.

TICKETING
We made the decision early that we would not reinvent the wheel in the area of ticketing – instead we partnered with the good people at OvationTix. Plans are afoot to develop a few customized integration features between the OvationTix and Fringe systems. Ideally, you will be able to run pre-sale reports without any hassle whatsoever.

PROJECT MANAGEMENT
We would be nowhere today without collaboration tools. As this is the first year, ideas come at a lightning speed. Plans require buy-in and assistance from our staff, advisers, board, and core company members. There are millions of to-do’s, deadlines, musings, and digital assets. Where to keep track of them?

This is the job of a project management tool, and ours is one of the best available. Meet Basecamp. This little program has been the key to the organizational success of many a project. Working collaboratively with others online, you can post messages, mark and organize tasks, collaborate on documents/lists, track milestones/dates, and keep track of files.

And most importantly: It reduces your meeting/conference call overhead. I personally hate big, regular meetings and basecamp renders them mostly unneeded; if you keep on top of basecamp and the emails it generates, everyone is in-the-know. Easy.

CUSTOMER RELATIONSHIP MANAGEMENT (CRM)
CRM is a big, ugly term. In a nutshell, it is a way of keeping track of everyone you know and meet that could help you. To do anything of worth, generally you need more than just you and your ideas, you need to leverage the many stake holders in your community interested in your cause. You want to keep track of conversations, email addresses, phone numbers, job titles – and ideally you want to share that information with your whole organization. So if the director of the NEA needs to talk to someone in your organization and you are on a beach in Nice, France – someone local can come up-to-speed quickly by researching the history of that relationship in your CRM system.

There are tons of solutions to fulfill this problem – many of them are expensive and clunky.

We went with Batchbook.com – about which I can’t say enough nice things. This is a very flexible and open system, and they have been known to give discounts to nonprofits. Using batchbook, you can keep track of contact information for humans and organizations, log communications, and create lists of contacts that have something in common. For example, we maintain our press list in batchbook. Thanks to its handy integration with other popular applications, when we want to send a press release, it is as simple as exporting our list of press to our email newsletter application. It take 3 minutes and the moving target of press contacts becomes much easier to manage.

EMAIL
If you are starting company ABC Theatre, and you are still sending emails from [email protected] – you may want to consider using your own domain name instead. Not using a custom domain name in your email address is an instant signifier of a non-professional organization. Good news is that it is free and relatively simple to create custom domain emails…so you can send emails from [email protected], for example.

The solution is Gmail – in our humble opinion, still the greatest online email client on the market. Our friends at Google have provided a service (no charge) to use their popular Gmail interface for any non-gmail domain to which you have the rights. Check out this link for more information, I think you will like it.

CALENDAR
Along with email, users of Google’s service also have access to branded, dedicated, organizational calendars using the popular Gcal application. When you sign up for your email account (above) you will also be able to pass around a calendar you all can share. For those of you who work in the business world, you might be used to creating an event and sending invitations to members of your organization. Google’s calendar solution provides this service (free!).

DOCUMENTS
And yes, we also use Google’s document service. For those users signing up for the above service – good news is that you, too, can have a custom space for your organization’s documents. For example, if I needed that press release we sent a few weeks back, it is sitting in docs.ABCTheatre.org waiting for me. Our budget worksheet is handles thought Google’s online spreadsheet application. As a personal hater of MS Office and its significant limitations when it comes to collaboration, this is a godsend.

WIKI
We don’t host a “public wiki” – like wikipedia, but you’d be surprised how useful a private, organizational wiki can be. For example, say you are working on a big proposal to close down Wilshire Blvd. for your huge arts event. You want a lot of people involved in that proposal – your Exec Director, your Dev Director, your outreach guy, your Producing and Artistic Directors. How awful is passing around a word document for everyone to edit? I shudder at the thought. Changes are lost so very easily.

Your private wiki can help. Have your principal owner for the project create a new wiki page and take a stab at a first draft. They can then post on your project site (basecamp, for example) that they need all-hands to help bring the proposal home. Everyone can make their changes and additions on your wiki page. If your wiki tool is any good, all changes will be tracked…so you can see who changed what, and easily revert any unwanted amendments.

There are millions of wiki solutions out there, here’s our favorite: WikiSpaces.

NEWSLETTER
Still sending your organizational emails to a bunch of contacts in your email program? You may want to check out some of the many email newsletter solutions out there waiting for you. Our favorite is Mailchimp. Using this program, you can manage lists, expose sign-up forms for your website, create beautiful, graphical emails, handle unsubscribes, and keep ahead of spam laws. You can even get a list of who has opened your newsletter and how many times they read it. There are about 10,000 features in this program, 9,986 you will never need. Still, it is very affordable, easy to use, and designed to give you a professional edge.

SUPPORT DESK
We take support very, very seriously at the Fringe. Key to grassroots community building is making sure people know where to go when they have a problem and ensuring they receive prompt guidance when they need it. There are scads of solutions out there, here’s our hands-down favorite: ZenDesk.

Using ZenDesk, you have a beautiful solution to email support. Support seekers can go to a url and fill our a form with their query, or simply send an email to an email address you specify (Zendesk will suck up that email and create a support ticket for them). You can run a myriad of reports and develop zillions of business rules if you want to get complex. At its simplest, it shows you what tickets are open, and gives you a chance to respond and close them.

As a fun aside, both Mailchimp and Zendesk talk to Batchbook. That’s something we call “convergence” in the tech world, and it’s a very good thing.

ACCOUNTING
Quickbooks (a non-cloud application running on your computer) is the default tool for small business accounting. It’s good, don’t get me wrong – but sharing data with others in your organization and your accountant can be a pain.

Enter Xero. It’s all online (“in the cloud”) and very simple…even fun to use. Who thought accounting could be fun? It is simple enough for a layperson to use, but provides the business-class accounting framework your CPA needs to do your taxes. The folks behind Xero are just getting their act together for US service – we have been using it for a bit and loving it!

So there it is. There’s much more, for sure; this is a great start. Almost all of the services listed here are free or have free trials so give them a spin!


The State of Theatre in LA

There is this somewhat ridiculous notion that theatre (and by extension all non-filmed arts) is scarce in the city of angels. This is a misconception we have fought since planning began for the Hollywood Fringe. Fair enough, I suppose: No one can deny that the multi-billion dollar film industry is the giant poka-dotted elephant in the room.

What many don’t know is that theatre and other performed and exhibited arts are thriving in LA; one might even claim we are on the verge of a golden age.

Check out this wonderful article by LA Times critic Charles McNulty. He makes an amazing case for the vitality of the arts in our city.

Little does the rest of the world know that LA is a hidden gem of the arts. This is just one of the many reasons a Fringe Festival in LA is such a great fit. By barring no one from participation, we have the opportunity to showcase the reality of our culture here.

Read more about the arts in Los Angeles in the Culture Monster blog in the LA Times.

Still haven’t registered? Create a Project now!

Ben


Latest Fringe Venue: ComedySportz

We are thrilled to have the good folks at ComedySportz with us for Hollywood Fringe’s first year.

We met up with James Thomas Bailey months ago in a BID meeting and immediately hit it off. For those of you unfamiliar with the venue, it boasts two lovely spaces in addition to a spacious courtyard. It also provides something that’s just golden in Hollywood: Lots and lots of available street parking.

With over 20 years under its belt, CSZ is the oldest running stage show in Los Angeles. Participants interested in performing at CSZ need only create a project then apply to ComedySportz through their venue page.

You can learn more about ComedySportz on their website.

Keep those projects rolling in!

Ben


New Website Feature: Offers

By now, I hope many of you have had the chance to check out our website.

While mulling over our festival model, we obviously needed to make some decisions. One decision was to embrace the original spirit of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, enabling venues to act independently to provide participants with maximum flexibility when choosing a home for their project. Obviously, this model has pluses and minuses, one of the biggest minuses being the extra effort required to find a venue for your project. We have taken special efforts to make this process as easy and fun as possible.

The initial release of the website last week included a feature to “apply to venues” that have already signed on with the Fringe. Today, we released a new website feature to enable communication the other way: From venues to projects.

Venues can now make offers on your Fringe projects and include details on rental prices, box office splits, and more. Projects can then weigh their options and choose a venue that best fits their goals – artistically and financially.

If you are a project owner, kick-off the process by applying to venues that look interesting to you. Pay attention to venue capacity, pictures, videos, location, and anything else relevant to the production of your project. Over time offers will start coming in. When you are ready, contact the venues that have sent you offers, and if interested, sign a contract with them. Note that many venues won’t start making decisions on programming for a couple months; stay patient, stay vigilant.

Once you have a signed contract (highly recommended), come back to the Fringe website and accept the offer. This will kick-off the final stage of registration: Registering with the festival itself. This will provide you with all the benefits of participation.

Still haven’t created a project? Do so here and join the fun – it’s free and without obligation.

Remember: The Fringe charges $200 for registration – this does NOT include the money you might need to spend on your venue deal. This can range from $0 to $150+ per performance depending on the venue and the offer you accept. Expect an article soon detailing your costs as a participant so you can plan accordingly.

Questions? Contact us at [email protected].

Thanks to all you wonderful people that have registered thus far…this is going to be an exciting experience for all.

Regards,

Ben


Press Release: Registration Open

THE HOLLYWOOD FRINGE ANNOUNCES
THE OPENING OF FESTIVAL REGISTRATION
to coincide with the launch of the Festival’s website

Hollywood, CA- Registration for the Hollywood Fringe Festival opens November 16, 2009 to coincide with the launch of the festival’s new website at www.hollywoodfringe.org. Registration can be completed on the website by anyone who contracts a venue. There are no restrictions regarding art form, content, length, or ticket pricing for the festival; specifics will be left to participants and venues to determine. Registration is $200 for a project with multiple performances and $125 for participants producing free or single-performance shows. Registration fees pay for a listing in the Fringe Guide, artist services and discounts, online ticket sales, and festival assistance. Registration closes April 1, 2010. The Festival takes place June 17-27, 2010.

THE MODEL
The Hollywood Fringe team has adopted a model similar to Edinburgh Festival Fringe, the first event of this type. In this model, any artist can join if they find a venue and pay the registration fee. This model allows artists and venues to seek out compatible relationships and make decisions about a myriad of production questions (such as ticket price, show length, and artist compensation) independent of a centralized Fringe organization. Says Ben Hill, the Festival Director: “In a city already flourishing with artists, we’d like everyone to participate on their own terms.” The company feels that a system wherein any artist can join promotes entrepreneurship in the arts and helps the festival grow organically.

THE WEBSITE
The Festival’s online presence assists participants with some of the unique challenge facing this model, particularly finding and maintaining relationships with venues. Starting November 16, artists can create pages for potential Fringe projects. These pages can include information about length, content, and venue requirements as well as relevant photos and videos. Venues also have pages that include information on the spaces, open slots, and current state of programming. The Fringe organization is compiling video tours and ground plans for each venue.

Participants can apply to any venue with an open slot; once they are accepted to a venue, they are prompted to pay their festival registration fee. Decisions like ticket pricing and box office splits will be made between the participant and venue. Like a social networking website, both artists and venues can be proactive about communicating with each other and finding a good match. If an artist struggles to find a venue, they still have a forum in which to create and test-drive their projects.

Venues are encouraged to accept local, national, and international artistic projects as well as showcase the work of their resident artistic companies. Aside from artist and venue services, the website will contain information about anything and everything Fringe. Ben Hill, the Festival Director, is also in charge of technology for the festival and the website is his conception. Gavin Worth developed all original artwork for the site.

The first official Fringe venues include: Second City, The Paul G. Gleason Theatre, iO West, Theatre Asylum, Art|Works, The Lounge Theatre, Comedy Sportz, Theatre of NOTE, and the Stella Adler Acting Studio. These venues (with many more in the coming weeks) will begin accepting applications immediately.

ABOUT HOLLYWOOD FRINGE
The Hollywood Fringe Festival is an annual celebration of the emerging arts.

Environments for the Fringe include both traditional and unorthodox venues; fully equipped theatres, street corners, clubs, bars, and places unexpected. Performances are self-produced by local, national, and international arts companies and independent performers. In the spirit of most Fringes, participation is open and uncensored.

The Hollywood Fringe seeks to build an immersive festival worthy of the neighborhood’s reputation. The company is currently establishing partnerships with arts companies, community organizations, and other local businesses in the Hollywood area to host and participate in the festival.

Key Festival Facts
Dates: June 17 – June 27, 2010 (annual)
Artistic Companies: 100 (projected)
Number of Performances: 500 paid (projected)
Location: Hollywood, CA

Participants seeking more information can contact the festival at [email protected] or by visiting the website at www.HollywoodFringe.org.


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