Q&A Spotlight: Rejuvenate Your Festival

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Mentor Ohio Beach AerialistInterview with Jill Korsok, Recreation Program Manager, City of Mentor, Ohio. Korsok is a presenter at this week’s National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) Congress; her session is titled: Rejuvenate Your Festival: How to Avoid McFestivalization.

YPP: Why is “McFestivalization” a bad thing?
Korsok: Any recurring event – large or small – can become boring if the elements never change. In the fast food industry, standardization is great because people expect to be able to order the same exact thing at each location, but that’s not the case in the management of special events. My presentation encourages event managers to create new experiences, even for annual events with a long history. Then your core audience has something new to look forward to each year…one or two really unique things to grab their attention.

YPP: What role can the performing arts play?
Korsok: Variety makes the performing arts – music, dance and theatre – a great way to add something new and different to your event. Many of these groups are often re-inventing themselves, which allows an event to take a different tone and shape. We’re looking for artists to bring something new and fresh, whether they are strolling entertainers or really wild performance artists.

YPP: How do you embrace “new” without alienating core audience?
Korsok: It’s a challenge and you learn from experience. Focus on the core components of your event, trying to add new flavor without disrupting the balance. Brainstorm with the event team and solicit buy-in from your stakeholders.
We wanted something edgy for our waterfront festival, so we researched a certain performing group, even calling other places they had performed. Based on recommendations, we hired the group. They turned out to be too strange and outside our event’s theme. Even with research this can happen.

For our city’s community festival, which started 37 years ago, we always give people what they expect, including a parade and entertainment. Last year we added a digital graffiti board and LED light board that pulsed to music. People noticed the additions; we got a lot of Ooohs and Aaahs. In hindsight we could have added even more technology, as a greater theme. Next year we’ll have to come up with something different.

YPP: Any other advice for creating memorable events?
Korsok: It’s extremely important to create an atmosphere for any kind of event. Consider the perspective of your customer or guest: What ‘wow’ are you going to give them when they walk in? Atmosphere is so important, created through a combination of music, dance, decorations, colors, etc.

YPP: What role does performance staging play?
Korsok: Staging is very important, because whatever your entertainment, people are also looking at your stage, including the backdrop, lights and sponsor banners. Your stage is the perfect opportunity to design a memorable space.

I think a mobile stage is the coolest thing, although we’ve not used one yet. What a fantastic way to do something completely different with your event! A mobile stage would really give a city wonderful flexibility for different locations and stage sizes. If you roll in a mobile stage to where people aren’t accustomed to seeing it, you’ve taken your event from ‘boring’ to ‘wow’ very simply. People are getting something they didn’t expect, which is the key.

Jill Dray KorsokJill Dray Korsok is the Recreation Program Manager for Mentor Parks, Recreation & Public Facilities. She’s a Certified Parks & Recreation Professional with more than 20 years of experience. Korsok enjoys the challenge of meeting the needs of customers in a changing world – from summer camps, to aquatics, to general recreation and fitness – as well as organizing the City of Mentor’s largest event, Mentor CityFest.

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