Clowning is a serious business for this entrepreneur

Adam Gertsacov likes to call himself the most educated clown in America, excluding certain elected officials. As a performer, he understands the important role the arts and artists play – so when First Night Providence went bankrupt five years ago, he and a few others stepped in to create a replacement. More

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Clowning is a serious business for this entrepreneur

PBN PHOTO/BRIAN MCDONALD
ADAM GERTSACOV says Bright Night Providence is growing slowly, as planned. He says more corporate sponsors would ensure its survival.
Posted 1/14/08

Adam Gertsacov likes to call himself the most educated clown in America, excluding certain elected officials. As a performer, he understands the important role the arts and artists play in the world. He saw the need to preserve that five years ago when First Night Providence, a franchise of First Night International, which provides guidelines and discounts for the branded New Year’s Eve celebrations across the country, went bankrupt.

He and a few other artists in the city banded together to save the New Year’s Eve festival from extinction and they created Bright Night Providence. This year was the festival’s sixth year. In a recent interview with Providence Business News, Gertsacov discussed how the festival fared this year compared with previous years and what the plans are for its future.

PBN: How well did the festival do this year with ticket sales?

GERTSACOV: We sold 6,800 to 7,000 tickets, which is a little bit less than last year [when 7,500 tickets were sold] and I attribute it to a couple of things. Number one: last year [the festival] was on a Sunday. This year it was on a Monday. The weekend is traditionally a little bit better for a festival. And last year our big act of the year was a circus … This year our main act was a high-energy, drum-band spectacular [called SLAMM!] … which is much harder to explain than a circus. … We took a bit of a risk and went a little bit older on our main show. We may have lost a few customers because of it. … [And] last year was 48 degrees and this year was 32.

PBN: What is the festival’s financial status as of right now?

GERTSACOV: We definitely have broken even. Last year was a completely banner year. The best year we’ve had so far. And if last year didn’t exist this year would be a banner year by far. It could be that I need to produce a circus every year. It’s hard to say.

PBN: Why don’t you produce a circus every year if it increases profit margins?

GERTSACOV: I wouldn’t want to do that. … My goal is not to sell the most amount of tickets. My goal is to create the best community celebration possible. And that means not repeating the things that work every year. … For me that doesn’t bode for success.

PBN: So this year you decided to do a slightly more mature main show and have a Bright Night Kids Fair to appeal to younger children?

GERTSACOV: This is the first time that we’ve done that. It was very successful … we had nearly 1,000 people come to [the kids fair]. And this year we also had the PC Friars game. It went pretty well. We had almost 200 people show up for it. It would have been amazing if we had 1,000 people. … If I could have something for everyone I would. It’s a question of resources.

PBN: If you had the financial and technical resources, how big would you grow the festival?

GERTSACOV: My goal for the festival is to do exactly what we’re doing, to [grow] very slow and organically … I think the 9,000-ticket cap is about the right number. Above that we don’t really have the capacity to allow everybody to have a great time.

PBN: How does the festival contribute to the creative economy?

GERTSACOV: About 80 percent of the artists we contract are repeats. They’re not the same [artists] every year, but most of them have worked with us before. … The reason why is, No. 1, they’re local. … From an economic perspective … if the festival does better than expected every artist will receive a bonus ... Last year it was a $200 bonus [per performer or act] … in the last four years, not including this year, our pay out was $25,000 in artist bonuses.

PBN: Why is it important to you to take care of these artists in this way?

GERTSACOV: Number one, I’m an artist … I think that’s one of our most important cultural assets. But I’ve performed at a lot of festivals. I’m a clown. I’ve toured around the country, around the world. I’ve been treated great, and I’ve been treated poorly. And running my own festival I want to treat people great.

PBN: Bright Night gets 60 percent of its budget from ticket sales and 40 percent from donations and corporate sponsors. How do you build the sponsorships to keep the festival going?

GERTSACOV: I would love to know. From my perspective, I don’t see why every business in Rhode Island doesn’t give us $100 at the minimum. … Bright Night Providence is something that really enhances the value of the city, of living in the city, and that in turn enhances that value of every business in the city and the state.

PBN: If you did get $100 per business, what would you use it for?

GERTSACOV: I think we’d do more advertising, we’d give out more free tickets … to low-income communities. … We do that now, but on a limited basis. … There’s at least one more venue I’m not using, the Veteran’s Memorial Auditorium, which I can’t afford.

PBN: If you don’t want the festival to get too big, why is increased sponsorship important?

GERTSACOV: It’s important so that we’re less reliant on weather. … We need to grow … to ensure the continuity of the festival. One of the things we’ll be doing in the next couple years is to figure out how to ensure the continuity of the festival, whether it’s a fund at the Rhode Island Foundation or our own fund, to do a fundraising effort … If I raise $2 million … that would be enough to ensure the festival lived forever. ·

INTERVIEW: Adam Gertsacov

POSITION: Executive director of the What Cheer Art Company, festival director of Bright Night Providence.

BACKGROUND: Gertsacov started his career as a young actor at Trinity Repertory Company in the late 1980s. He left after a year because he didn’t want to work the 10 to 15 years it takes professional actors to gain recognition in the industry. Instead he went to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Clown College in Sarasota, Fla. Afterward he studied physical comedy at Dell’Arte International in Blue Lake, Calif., and then he went to the Czech Republic to study under the famous mime artist, Ctibor Turba, He became festival director of Bright Night Providence in 2003 hoping to save the New Year’s Eve celebration from extinction.

EDUCATION: B.A. in theoretical communications, 1986, University of Pennsylvania; studied acting, 1988, Trinity Repertory Conservatory; M.A. in theater and group psychology, 1990, Rhode Island College

RESIDENCE: Providence

Age: 43

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