Is SketchFest a Prelude to a Fringe Festival?:
Founded in 1999, Seattle SketchFest is the closest thing we have to a fringe festival�and it's growing. In a book-happy, theater-happy town that couldn't sustain a Bookfest or a fringe festival, Seattle's SketchFest is small, but actually growing. According to artistic director Val Bush, in 2003, 400 people attended; in 2005, 800. Earned income has grown from $9,000 in 2001 to $15,000 in 2005 and donations and grants have gone from $1,000 in 2003 to $8,000 thus far in 2006.
Managing director Ian Bell attributes the success to lean staff: "Small-cell arts organizations are just more nimble. Besides the volunteers and board, we have three staffers and everybody knows what's going on; fewer things fall through the cracks." And fundraising: "We put as much effort into it as the festival, if not more." And fiscal conservatism: "Every budget is based on what we have in the bank. We just don't ever, ever spend money we don't already have."
Seattle can't technically miss a well-designed fringe festival�it never had one. But we should want the festival that wasn't: lean, nimble, financially sane, designed to attract successful touring shows, and scheduled for September, the end of the Canadian circuit. SketchFest is already leading the way.
(Side note: I founded this festival in 1999, and I couldn't be more proud of the incredible work Val, Heidi and Ian have put in�they've taken what I started with them and really made it an institution�it was the first sketch comedy festival in North America, and it is wonderful to see them get the respect and attention they deserve in the press�check out this great piece in Seattle Magazine here.
The second weekend of SketchFest is this weekend, so if you're in Seattle, get yourself to the theater! Details.)