In Recovery from the Pandemic – APAP 2024 Faces: Familiar, New & Absent

APAP LogoEvery year in mid-January the Association of Performing Arts Professionals (APAP) hosts a multi-day conference at the Hilton Hotel on West 53rd Street and Avenue of the Americas. It is one of those most important gatherings that brings together performers and their representatives and presenter decision-makers from all parts of the United States and other parts of the planet. It is an annual event where people meet and greet, network and do business. There are hundreds of exhibitors on three floors. Performers showcase their wares in performance spaces inside and outside the conference space. As the saying goes, you can feel the electricity of people rubbing shoulders over an intense, compacted period of days.

APAP is an organization that has evolved. Membership in the association was 29 in 1957 (its founding year); today, APAP has 1,600 organizational and individual members and serves more than 5,000 performing arts professionals every year. The association represents the APAP Sign-In Areanonprofit and for-profit sectors of the presenting and touring industry of the performing arts in the U.S. and internationally, with member organizations from all 50 U.S. states and several dozen countries.

But just like the stock market, or any market for that matter, nothing goes in the same direction forever. This is just as true with APAP 2024.

This journalist first attended APAP in 2011. At that time my focus was on the jazz genre and its representation at APAP. Since then, my focus has shifted to “international” exhibitors. I missed the 2023 conference because of contracting COVID 19. In several ways the COVID 19 pandemic of 2020-2023 represents a period in modern times that can be referred to as “before” and “after,” as in before the pandemic and after the pandemic. For some time to come the global COVID 19 pandemic will be a time marker of events.

This is true of “before APAP 2020” and “after APAP 2020.”

I spent an afternoon touring the three floors of exhibits speaking with as many “international” exhibitors as possible. My central question was usually “Why do you exhibit at APAP? What motivates you to be here given the travel and per diem expense and the exhibiting expense itself?” The last time I took this approach the most telling response was “You have to show up to be credible.”

Of note, and this is one of the key observations of APAP 2024, none of the international exhibitors interviewed for this writer’s APAP 2020 story were present at APAP 2024. None. These were a few of the faces absent from this year’s event.

China Shanghai International Arts Festival LogoBefore 2020 you could take it for granted there would be several mainland Chinese exhibitors. And they were not shy about making their presence known. Their booths were among the largest on the exhibit floor. This year? There was one—The China Shanghai International Arts Festival hosted by the Ministry of Culture and Tourism of the People’s Republic of China and organized by the Shanghai Municipal People’s Government. There was no one manning the booth. Only “silent” brochures strewn across the booth tables. Not even any business “contact” cards.

On the other hand, the Taipei (Taiwan) Cultural Center in New York was present. This center was established as the first overseas office of Taipei Cultural Center LogoTaiwan’s Ministry of Culture in 1991. Its mission is to “build connections through arts and culture in New York and throughout North America.” According to Yu Chien Liu, “Our cultural officers are in constant contact with presenting organizations here. We feel that APAP is such a good opportunity for us to meet all the artists in one place.” This organization that looks to bring Taiwanese performing artists to the United States has been present at APAP since 2001.

I interviewed almost a dozen international exhibitors. Many of them were newbies. A few had been around for several years.

Madame Arthur Among the newbies was “Madame Arthur” which opened in 1946 as the first transvestite cabaret of Paris. It presents weekly reviews of French music repertoire. The name comes from the famous song written in 1860 by Paul de Kock and performed by Yvette Guilbert. According to Rosie Doubremelle, the exhibit representative, the show producers were able to mount an APAP exhibit with the help of the French government.

Siudy Garrido FlamencoSiudy Garrido is a Venezuelan-born, award-winning flamenco artist, choreographer as well as Artistic Director of her own company with a high reputation in the contemporary Flamenco dance scene. Pablo Croce, SIUDY Flamenco CEO re-quoted a piece of advice he had heard from another: “People do business with those they know and who they like. Being here, rubbing elbows, seeing people in the eye, and having that personal relationship is what motivates us to be here.”

Another APAP 2024 exhibitor newbie is Gregory Harrington, a self-described classical crossover violinist born in Dublin, Ireland, but based in New York City. He presented two shows: the first Gregory Harringtonis “Emerald Strings,” a fusion of Irish traditional, contemporary music through the lens of classical music, and the second is “Reaching Milestones,” basically Miles Davis to Dave Brubeck punctuated by some of the great classical pieces that inspired legends like jazz pianist Bill Evans. There’s a little bit of Bach in there, a little bit of Chopin, Django Rinehart.”

He was the sole representative in his booth. When asked about his exhibiting at APAP, he replied: “In my eyes there’s no such thing as the usual route. I’ve been representing myself all my life. Just trying to see, can I explore, can I have a look at a different market, see the industry through a different lens. It’s not just about the ‘ask,’ it’s about can you create the longevity of a network. People like to do business with their friends. They don’t like to be pitched and asked all the time. If I get something out of it this weekend, great, it pays for itself, and if not, onwards.”

IncantiAnother first-timer to APAP is “Incanti” based in Milan, Italy. “Incanti” means “enchantments” in Italian. This is a highly theatrical magic show featuring six of Italy’s youngest and most decorated illusionists. Their performances draw upon the writings of such theatrical authors as Shakespeare, Goethe, Pirandello, and Tennessee Williams. Piero Venesia is one of the six magicians. His awards include the Golden Wand Award at the Abano Terme International Magic Convention. Regarding exhibiting at APAP 2024 he commented: “We did a show in Latvia and we learned from someone there that he had brought a show to the United States on tour and was able to do this because he exhibited at APAP. It didn’t happen the first year, but it did the second year. We’ve toured Italy. Next year we’ll be touring Europe, so we figured that we should try to bring our show overseas, such as to America, and that’s why we’re here at APAP.”

Interestingly, two exhibitors, of which one was a first timer, incorporate jazz into the performance mix. The first is Admission Nation based in Montclair, New Jersey. It provides traditional flamenco and flamenco jazz performances with performers within and outside the United States. According to founder Ami Otero Minars: “We dedicate year-round to fostering an understanding of the art of flamenco and flamenco jazz and its diverse cultural roots. We are gearing up for a USA tour in April 2025.” APAP 2024 was its fourth time as an exhibitor.

Lee Torchia jazzragaThe other jazz oriented—and first time—exhibitor was “Lee Torchia: Jazz Raga.” Kyra Helmuth, representing Ms. Torchia, observed: “There’s so much diversity of music here, but you don’t see any North Indian raga. Lee Torchia does a fusion of jazz and raga. Jazz is well known in America. She’s brings these two cultures together. She needs to be here to get exposure.”

Then there are the exhibitors who have participated in APAP previously but bring Sisco Entertainmentsomething new to the event. David Wyatt, Operations Manager for the London-based Sisco Entertainment Group, commented that APAP 2024 was the fourth time the company has exhibited. The company specializes in musical entertainment, such as “The Knights of Music,” a tribute to British entertainment’s “Knights and Dames,” that is, anyone who has been knighted by Queen Elizabeth II. Sisco also represents “The Barricade Boys,” a theatrical vocal group, and “Gravity,” a threesome female vocal group, among other acts. Wyatt added: “APAP is like a gateway to America. This is the place where you can meet the agents, the people, rather than sitting in an office with a phonebook. This is the place where you can meet the decision-makers you need to meet over one weekend. Everybody’s here.”

As for the rest, the vast majority of exhibitors were the “usual” faces, so to speak, like CINARS APAP 2024 Exhbitors(Canada), Love Productions, Golden Land Concerts and Connections, and New African Production which has been exhibiting at APAP since 2009. But in speaking to others on the floor not connected to this article’s intended international focus their collective observation was that attendance was “thin,” not only on day 2, but also on the first day of the exhibits.

Again, I refer to the “before the pandemic” and the “after the pandemic” time hack. There is no doubt the pandemic put a dent into many aspects of life, not just in the United States, but globally. Zoom has become a daily occurrence not only for business, but also for personal interactions. Commercial real estate has taken a hit in many major cities. It is a cascading, domino effect. Mortgage rates have doubled since before the pandemic (and might be in the process of coming down as of this writing), but this, in part, has led to inflation. Prices for almost everything has risen, not just incrementally, but significantly.

Is this another reason for the observation that international exhibitors were less present at APAP 2024 than in previous years? Or that attendance was “thin”? Are the mainland Chinese so disgruntled with the United States they would only send brochures to represent them at APAP 2024? And where are the other international exhibitors who always usually show up? Or is it a combination of factors?

Is the apparent shrinkage of international exhibitors at APAP 2024 compared to previous years like the canary in the coal mine? Or is it just a change in who shows up and 2024 is another transition year?

The answer to the last rhetorical question is in the affirmative.

According to Jenny Thomas, APAP’s Director of Marketing and Communications, the 2024 event attracted 3,061 attendees from 29 countries APAP Attendees2024on six continents. Of these attendees 375 were first timers! There were 317 exhibitors overall. But the most telling statistic from the 2024 event was the number of showcases. According to Ms. Thomas there were 800 or so showcases in 2023. In 2024, however, that number was 1,026!

Ms. Thomas observed that prior to the pandemic everyone was on “autopilot.” It was business as usual. Post-pandemic the vibe is one of “a reset shift,” a focus on being “more creative and flexible” with attention to “audience and community engagement.” The pandemic forced many to rethink not only performance content, but also marketing strategy apparently.

APAP 2025 will tell if this reset yields the desired results.

Eugene Marlow, MBA, Ph.D., © 2024.

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