When Bravo San Diego trots out the area's performance arts contingent this fall, crowd control may be as prevalent a theme as any. Some 1,500 music, dance and theater participants-one and a half times the number of expected patrons-will collide with nearly 200 volunteers and production staff as they mount 14 stages, with only a 20-minute window to strut their stuff.
And at least one city official will likely count himself among the most interested observers.
"The fire marshal was raising hell with me last year," event producer Rob Appel explains. "We had 1,100 [audience members]; we were 100 over our limit."
It wouldn't take much to appease the marshal's enforcement detail in any case. Bravo could easily accommodate four or five times the attendance, Appel claims, if it were spread over three or four nearby venues.
But Bravo has a history of playing things close to the vest, with the desired result. The Westgate Hotel downtown is the sole venue for the fifth annual showcase, set for Saturday, Nov. 22. Whereas some may balk at the prospect of close quarters, Appel sees a twofold advantage in curbing growth. The density appeals to the guys that sign the checks in support of the city's arts endeavors. And while the suits are busy coughing up the bucks, the performers experience a tangible phenomenon-a rare convergence of the city's artistic fraternity under one roof.
For the third straight year, digital/wireless technology giant Qualcomm Inc. is the event's title sponsor among 15 additional donors-but, Appel cautions, "for every Qualcomm, there's 25 or 30... other major companies in San Diego who do not contribute to the arts as they should. Bravo introduces these organizations to the arts, and it's done through peer pressure. Bravo is the "in' place to be concerning the arts. As a result, the peer pressure sort of forces them all to come down."
Conversely, Appel adds, "My fear is that if we get too big, then you lose that kind of business/society crowd who do not want to go to a mob scene. They want it to be considered an elitist event. And frankly, if you're going for their support, you have to create the kind of event that they want to come to."
San Diego business has responded accordingly. In 2002, Bravo brought in nearly $200,000-up 800 percent from the inaugural 1999 figure-to support art and business programs sponsored by the San Diego Performing Arts League (PAL). In turn, the programs donated $220,000 in consulting services, helping nonprofit performing arts groups learn to operate as bona fide business enterprises.
The 50 groups represented this year were chosen from the nearly 200 member organizations of the PAL and the city's Commission for Arts and Culture. They include entries from symphonic music to dance to mime to puppetry-but Appel is quick to tout the event's flagship discipline and the foundation it casts for the rest of the event."Artistry has been born in many respects within theater in San Diego," he says. "We have incredible teachers and directors that have been recognized all over the world. We have geared Bravo to show that from theater comes many disciplines. Many of these groups may never have a chance to work together in the same venue. You have all these different forms, and often, they have no rhyme or reason to be together. But Bravo brings them together under one stage, like a play."