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How to build a festival

Ozlem Bas, who worked wonders in Istanbul, is charged with getting bums in seats in Bangkok.

Publication Date : 15-08-2012

 

Advertisements for next month's International Festival of Dance and Music in Thailand look quite different from previous years. They're more fun and less formal and make it easier to decide which shows you want to see.

Much of the credit for this is due to Ozlem Bas, the new vice president of the festival's organising firm, International Cultural Promotions (ICP).

"One of the reasons [ICP chairman] Mr Uberoi asked me to join is my international experience," she says. "I've worked with festivals in Istanbul, Athens and Edinburgh since 1996."

And her event management and production company, Oz Productions, has offices in the US, Britain, Italy and Turkey, representing a multitude of music and dance artists.

Since the programme for this year's festival was already finalised when "Oz" joined in April, her main task has been to seek more support and get the word out.

"I'm working on the idea of a membership card, though maybe it's too late for this year. The card will mean discounts on tickets and other privileges, so that people feel they're more a part of the festival."

Turks get more excited about the annual arts festival in Istanbul than do Thais, Oz says. The event has become "one of the world's most established festivals", embracing film as well and presented both indoors and out. "It has much support from all layers of society."

Would Bangkok's festival be more popular if it offered more local shows or better-known foreign ones?

"In Istanbul there are Turkish works, but they're not the main focus," Oz says. "Actually, they didn't even have Turkish shows to begin with - that only started a few years ago. Maybe that time will soon come for the Bangkok festival. First everything has to get easier. More people should be attending."

Many people still feel intimidated by the festival, with its posh single venue, I note, and they have limited experience watching so-called "highbrow" foreign shows.

Oz recalls a friend inviting a man to a jazz concert she organised in Istanbul. He'd never been to a concert and didn't like jazz. As soon as the concert finished, everyone was rushing out to beat the traffic. "But then the musicians returned for an encore, and that gentleman sat back down and this time didn't want to leave until he was sure the artists wouldn't be back onstage.

"Everything has to have a first time. Make this festival your first and bring along someone else who hasn't been before. For a few hours you'll be part of something magical.

"Life is about making choices," Oz says. "Instead of buying something that will quickly wear out, you can choose something that will stay with you forever. Why deprive yourself just because you feel intimidated?"

She says people have to overcome whatever "prejudice" might be keeping them away. "I contacted many people and some of them didn't even reply."

Some observers feel the festival has been cruising in a "safe zone" throughout its 14 years, the programme varying little. Few artistic risks are taken. If there's a fresh production of "Swan Lake", we're likely to see it - yet again.

"Why don't people voice their opinions to us?" Oz replies. "They should feel that this is their festival and they can be part of the programming choices!

"Few festivals around the world can bring in productions of this grand scale and such an immense number of artists, so there's really something big here. People should realise this and appreciate the festival more."

Does size matter, though? Other festivals around the world present smaller productions in smaller theatres.

"For me, size doesn't matter," Oz says, "but if you want to present ballet, opera and symphony concerts, they have to be big anyway.

"We always want to try different things, but people should take the first step by buying a ticket, watching a show and voicing their opinion, and then things might change. I personally check all the e-mail that comes to the festival's website."

The bottom line, Oz says, is "if the festival shuts down, what will happen to the arts and cultural life of Thailand?"

Bangkok's 14th International Festival of Dance and Music runs from September 10 to October 14 at the Thailand Cultural Centre.

 

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