January is quite possibly the busiest of months for the performing arts in New York City – a place already busier than just about anywhere with options for audiences of music, dance, theater and related disciplines – and so it is fitting that the annual conclave where arts presenters from around the US gather to meet, to see live acts, and discuss the issues surrounding their industry is at the Association of Performing Arts Professionals [APAP] Conference, which took place from January 12-16. Timed to take place in a partnership that includes 11 performing arts industry events throughout the month, under the mantle JanArtsNYC, APAP has as part of its history of programming incubated such events as the Public Theater’s Under the Radar Festival and globalFEST, and thus has occupied a leadership role in the field. As usual, the NY Hilton Hotel was the hub of activity for 2018, with various showcases and other events timed to coincide with the conference going on all over the city.
After glancing through the showcase guide, which details performances put on by agencies and individuals to enable arts presenter professionals to see whom they might like to add to their schedules at venues they manage for the following year, I noted to some folks that there seemed to be fewer showcases this year. This certainly seemed to be the case at the Hilton itself, as I can remember in previous years that most suites on the fourth floor were all booked up through the late hours on Sunday – and this year only one of the suites on that floor hosted any showcases, and these were concluded by 9:00 PM or so. One first-time attendee I met, who’d come in from San Jose, California, and whose focus is on world music and Latino acts that she knows will be more apropos to the audience she serves, noted she had difficulty navigating from one to another of the showcases off-site from the Hilton. This illustrated the often hard choices one must make in surveying which simultaneous showcase performances to see – while the collection of Hilton suites (and nearby venues, such as City Center, where many dance troupes demonstrate their work) offers the opportunity to see a good number of different acts in a concentrated geographical area within the limited amount of time people have to do so (and thus enable a broad perspective as to what artists you might want to fill your schedule with) – sites that entail subway or car travel from the Hilton often provide a better environment to see or hear performers at their best, as these generally have better acoustics, sound design, general atmosphere and verisimilitude to the actual stages or concert halls that APAP members oversee or manage. The problem with the remote venues is that if you venture out to one enticed by a description of act(s) you think may be appropriate for you and then they disappoint, it’s often not easy to simply pivot to other nearby venues to check out some other acts you have in consideration. And while most acts have some sort of video or audio recordings one can rely upon to evaluate the nature of their work, sometimes this is not definitive in terms of how well the work functions in real time and space. These are Performers, after all, and not merely recording artists – which is the entire purpose of APAP as an organization, and the reason to convene in one spot annually to see and hear the performers.
Standout acts that I had the pleasure to see included a number of acts at Greenwich House Music School (where I used to take piano lessons), especially the dynamic pianist Donal Fox. Other noteworthy acts included the wonderful Mongolian musicians and throat-singing ensemble Hun Huur Tu; the abundantly talented Baltic group Estonian Voices, who are not merely singers, but also great musicians; and the Red Hot Chili Pipers, who matched the power of bagpipes to rock pop. It’s worth noting that many agencies with a presence in the Resource Rooms do not stage any showcases, as it apparently isn’t necessary for them to do so – the acts they have been repping for a number of years are known to presenters, so they are there at APAP simply to re-connect in person with them, to make sure their presence and relationships are maintained.
The theme for the conference this year was “trans.ACT”, conceived to focus on the links of the transformative power of the arts (as inspired by the multiplicity and fluidity of the word “trans” and all its iterations—transformation, transcendence, transdisciplinary, transition, and the importance of transgender artists in our field and our communities) and the word “ACT”— as in action, activism, activate, actualize. These principles were reflected in the annual Awards Ceremony, which took place on Monday, January 15. Awardees are nominated by their peers for having had a significant impact on the industry and on communities worldwide. The winners of APAP’s Fan Taylor Distinguished Service Award for Exemplary Service to the Field of Professional Presentingwere Ann Rosenthal and Cathy Zimmerman of MAPP International Productions.Established in 2006 by Ann Rosenthal and Cathy Zimmerman as the successor to MultiArts Projects & Productions (which was founded by Rosenthal in 1994), MAPP International Productionswas a nonprofit producer of challenging new work by contemporary performing artists focusing on raising critical consciousness and motivating social change from 1994-2017.
The APAP Award of Merit for Achievement in Performing Artswent to Arthur Mitchell, artistic director, choreographer, education and co-founder of Dance Theatre of Harlem. In his speech at the Hilton Ballroom, Mitchell said “the arts ignite the mind, and they give you the possibility to dream and hope. That is the thing everyone needs today – hope”, adding that APAP “is the entity that keeps us alive and the arts alive.” The William Dawson Award for Programmatic Excellence and Sustained Achievement in Programmingwas presented to globalFEST (Bill Bragin, Isabel Soffer and Shanta Thake, Co-Directors), and the Sidney R. Yates Award for Outstanding Advocacy on Behalf of Performing Artswas awarded to Carlton Turner, an artist, advocate and executive director of Alternate ROOTS. North American Performing Arts Managers and Agents (NAPAMA) also presented two awards to its agents and presenters at the luncheon: the Liz Silverstein Award for Agent-Manager of the Year was presented to Pamela M. Green, President & CEO, PMG Arts Management; and the Presenter of the Year was awarded to Brett Batterson, President & CEO, Orpheum Theatre Group. Another bit of business concluded was the election of new APAP board members; voted in were Alicia Adams, Vice President of International Programming, The Kennedy Center (Washington, DC); Lulani Arquette, President and CEO, Native Arts and Culture Foundation (Portland, OR); Eddie Cota, Founder, Champion City (Los Angeles, CA); Beth MacMillan, Executive Director, ARTOWN (Reno, NV); Toby Tumarkin, Senior Vice President and Global Head of Artists & Attractions, IMG Artists (New York, NY).
At the breakfast networking reception prior to the January 12 Closing Plenary, the nothing-if-not-energetic Stephen Love (who presented over 60 showcases) came by our table and noted that while there is a deadline for agencies to submit showcase performances to ensure they are included in the printed guide to the conference, any scheduled or arranged thereafter can be included in the APAP app; for hard-bitten Luddites for myself, who persist in managing their lives sans smart phone(s), that is cold comfort – should they ever eliminate the bound guide for reasons of paper conservation and go completely to an app for showcase listings, 20thCentury folks like myself will really struggle. The plenary itself featured a presentation by the wry and entertaining Bassem Youssef, a former heart surgeon turned political satirist and comedian dubbed “the Jon Stewart of Egypt”; he got laughs sending up the political situation in the US, and drew upon wisdom that can also be found in his book “Revolution for Dummies: Laughing Through the Arab Spring”, which was recently released, and is also in a documentary featuring him entitled “Tickling Giants.” Stressing the responsibility of artists to speak truth to power, Bassem proclaimed that the critical freedom is “to make art that is annoying, destructive and unconventional, and to celebrate art, humor and the love of performance, know that if you are making certain people angry, furious, and uncomfortable, then know you are probably doing something right.”
More information about the conference can be found at APAPNYC.org; @APAP365; #APAPNYC and facebook.com/APAPNYC. Further information about upcoming APAP programs, initiatives, and events can be found at the APAP website https://www.apap365.org.