Festival had room for improvement

  • Follow Steven Uhles

After 10 days of performances and three days of recuperation, I can finally look at the inaugural Westobou Festival objectively.

While I enjoyed the variations on the creative impulse and the opportunity to explore what Augusta and the world beyond has to offer artistically, this Westobou should be viewed as a first draft, a good idea that needs editing and focus.

First the good. Crowds came out. Venues sold well. Local arts organizations offered enhanced versions of their usual products and productions -- all excellent and all as it should be.

But Westobou, Version 1.0 was not a perfect event. Truthfully, there was little chance it would be. A large-scale event like this, with hundreds of moving parts and thousands of things that might go wrong -- such as a high-profile artist canceling a Wednesday performance -- cannot and will not run without mishap.

Here are some observations and ideas (completely unsolicited) of changes I might make:

1. Have Westobou the organization act as a clearinghouse for event tickets. Organizations should still sell tickets to their events, but set aside tickets for patrons who might want to attend several events. A one-stop shop would streamline that process. Might that complicate things for both Westobou and the presenting organization? Sure. But the customer is always right.

2. Keep something in reserve. This year the funk concert by Wycliffe Gordon, a big event, was canceled just as the festival got under way. There was some scramble to find an event to fill the slot -- both a movie night and local music showcase were suggested -- but cost and the complication of planning an event on short notice made that impossible. If there was a nominal fund and perhaps an event held in reserve, venues could be kept active throughout the week. Speaking of venues ...

3. Venues are an issue. There is already a premium on performance space during Westobou, particularly among the arts groups that use the Imperial Theatre. While it certainly isn't going to be possible to erect a new venue in 12 months, it might be possible to arrange for an expansion of the event into South Carolina or to devise more innovative ways to stage productions. Perhaps Shakespeare in the (Ball)Park? At least, let's make sure that the Imperial isn't vacant for a single night during the festival.

4. Promote, promote, promote. Promotion was difficult this year because Westobou was essentially unknown. Now there are absolutes that can be cited, examples of stellar performance to be rolled out not only for Augusta audiences but also the region. Could the John Hiatt/Lyle Lovett show have done better? Certainly. But that doesn't mean we can't use the show as an example of what Westobou wants to be.

Reach Steven Uhles at (706) 823-3626 or steven.uhles@augustachronicle.com.


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