In second year, IndyFringe Festival starts to draw corporate dollars

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In a Mass Ave storefront, Pauline Moffat smiles as she listens in on a $950 credit card transaction, happy with the thought of how far things have come for the Indianapolis Theatre Fringe Festival in 12 months.

Last year, as festival box office volunteer, she spent one festive sell-out night keeping just ahead of the frenzied demand for $10 tickets. Today, as IndyFringe's executive director, she reflects on this sale of 80 tickets to a local executive who will use them to entertain business colleagues.

"Over the past year, there have been many indications that IndyFringe was truly hitting its stride," said Moffat, 50, who took over as the festival's head when Kathleen Robbins left the post last year to pursue other professional interests.

"Symbolically, selling a block of 80 tickets is significant," Moffat said. "It's as if we've entered the league, say, of the 500 or the Brickyard–like we've made alternative theater, of all things, the stuff of business entertainment. I consider that a remarkable accomplishment."

It's just the latest one IndyFringe has pegged since its debut last year. Attendance for the first year of the 10-day alternative-theater festival on Mass Ave was 4,755, surpassing organizers' estimates.

Many of those snapping up tickets were younger than typical Indianapolis theater-goers, drawn to the quirky, off-beat shows. Their titles showed IndyFringe was far from their grandmother's Indiana Repertory Theatre: "Testaclese & Ye Sack of Rome," "A Midsummer Night of Fairies and Asses" and "Two Mufakas Some Sex and a Crab," among others.

Last year's success enabled IndyFringe to finish about $12,000 in the black.

This year, Moffat hopes the festival builds on its momentum by presenting an expanded slate of 36 performing groups (eight more than last year), 216 shows (compared with last year's 180), and five stages (up from three last year).

She also hopes that IndyFringe's expanded offerings, including Fringe-Next, a designated youth stage, will broaden its appeal.

Moffat points to a study that Wisconsin-based Next Generation Consulting completed for the Arts Council of Indianapolis earlier this year as evidence that IndyFringe's time has come.

The study, which explores strategies for wooing under-40 patrons to performing arts events, indicated that if events are to appeal to the young they must foster learning, promote social interaction, and offer participatory and multi-sensory experiences.

"That's IndyFringe to a 'T'," said Moffat. "IndyFringe is a scene: fun, outrageous, over the top, a grab bag of crazy and widely varying performance art–theater, music, dance, even magic."

Brian Payne, president of the Central Indiana Community Foundation and the Indianapolis Foundation, has been involved from the early efforts to bring the festival to the city. This year, the Indianapolis Foundation's $50,000 contribution is the festival's single largest gift.

"The Fringe got an incredible amount of publicity last year, and created a real excitement, which exceeded my expectations," Payne said. "[IndyFringe] just came out on fire, and captured people's imaginations."

The fringe festival tradition began in Edinburgh, Scotland, in 1947, when rogue theater groups set up on the edges of the Edinburgh International Festival. Since then, it has spread across Europe and North America.

Moffat says IndyFringe has proven itself as a major cultural force in the city and a driver of economic development.

She points to a study by Americans for the Arts–an arts advocacy organization–that shows patrons of Indianapolis not-for-profit arts events spend an average $31.59 per performance beyond the cost of admission.

The attendance goal for this year's festival, which has a $127,000 budget, is 8,000. Based on the Americans for the Arts study, hitting that target would translate into $253,000 in extra spending.

"The Fringe brings in business, definitely," said David Andrichik, owner and operator of the Chatterbox Jazz Club. "The Fringe enhances and embellishes the Avenue. … It really draws from a wider audience than we normally do."

Moffat, an Australian with an extensive marketing and public relations background, recognizes that if IndyFringe is to remain vital and self-sustaining, it must add corporate support to the strong foundation backing and popular support it's enjoyed from the start.

As a first step, in February Moffat and her nine-member board launched what she terms a "modest" $15,000 annual fund to cover operating expenses. To date, the fund stands at $9,000.

Securing corporate sponsorships and alliances has been a key focus over the past year, bringing several area businesses into the IndyFringe fold. Among these is Young and Laramore, whose $11,000 sponsorship Moffat deems "a jewel in our crown."

Y&L's support extends beyond cash and in-kind services. The agency hosted one of Moffat's "FringeFriday" events at its Fulton Street headquarters in February; it drew 325.

The monthly meet-and-greets around town showcase select IndyFringe performers and are intended to help sustain IndyFringe buzz throughout the year.

"Young & Laramore's sponsoring [the Fringe] was a natural," said Paul Knapp, Y&L's CEO. "To me, the Fringe is very good for the community. … Having something like [it] is positive as we try to attract people from right coast and left coast, and get people to take Indianapolis seriously."

Other corporate sponsors include Nothing But Noodles and City Market, which will host the festival's opening night party Aug. 24.

Moffat also has forged a unique alliance with Beilouny Luxury Properties. The company granted IndyFringe use of a 5,000-square-foot space in its new building at 757 Massachusetts Ave. for part of the festival's VisualFringe exhibition.

Amy Peddycord, marketing director of Beilouny Luxury Properties, said her company provided the space to support the festival and because it wanted to draw potential condo buyers into the building.

The strategy appears to be working. Frank and Katrina Basile toured the Beilouny residences after attending the opening of the VisualFringe there Aug. 4.

"We would not have looked at those condos had we not attended the event," said Basile, a senior vice president with the Gene B. Glick Co. "I think the principle is that you bring people [to an event] and they're going to buy from the merchants, shop and maybe even move to that area."

Gary Reiter, 49, the affiliate sales manager for Fifth Third Bank's retail brokerage group, made the recent 80-ticket purchase that made Moffat's day.

Reiter, a self-described "casual" theatergoer, read about IndyFringe last year after he and his wife, Ann, moved here from Lancaster, Pa., and began building a home near Mass Ave.

"I want to get people I know and work with excited about what's going on in Indy … I think [the Fringe] is one of the greater opportunities for people to get around and see the different theaters and get involved in the cultural experience," he said.

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