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How I Accomplished the Impossible

I lived in San Diego, California, for seven years (1985-1992), and I didn't know how good I had it until I moved to Bowling Green, Ohio, to work on my Ph.D. While I was in San Diego, I got to see Jim Carroll read his work five times between 1987 and 1991. I saw him twice at San Diego State University's Backdoor club, twice at the Spirit club, and once I drove to Hollywood to see him at Cafe Largo. I had one other chance to see him in 1992--he read in LA just as the LA riots were simmering down--but I was too chicken to make the trek. Little did I know that was going to be my last chance to see him.

I moved to Bowling Green in July of 1992 and continued the practice that had been standard for me since 1987: each weekend, I scanned the entertainment listings "just in case" I might find a Jim Carroll listing. Not only did I never find such a listing, I quickly observed that nothing ever happens in Bowling Green, Ohio. After a year in Bowling Green, which had now become Bowling Hell in my mind, I had pretty much given up hope. I failed to consider that my Murphy-like control over the weather might extend to Jim Carroll's tour schedule. In August 1993 I bought non-refundable airline tickets to visit my sister in Washington, and lo and behold--guess who came to Columbus the very weekend I was at the other end of the continent? You guessed it. To make a long story short, in May of 1995, I decided that I was going to have to take it upon myself to bring Jim Carroll to Bowling Green if I was ever going to see him read again.

On February 20, 1996, Jim Carroll came to Bowling Green. Since I have been hearing from quite a few people who want to bring Jim Carroll to their campus but can't get The Powers That Be to cooperate, I thought I'd share how I did it.

Genesis

I contacted Carroll's agent at the William Morris Agency (Arnold Kim), and he gave me the phone number of Carroll's booking agent at Vagabond Productions' Atlanta office, Cynthia Jennings. Cynthia is no longer with Vagabond Productions, but she got the ball rolling for me. She contacted BGSU's University Activities office and was rebuffed. UAO was not interested in bringing Jim Carroll to BGSU. So Cynthia called me back and suggested that I try to talk UAO into doing it. I contacted then-UAO-president Cameron Underdown by phone and by e-mail asking if we could get together to discuss the idea. He sent me an e-mail saying he was interested and would like to talk. I said, Great--just name the time and place. This was probably in early June, and several weeks passed with no reply from Mr. Underdown. I called the UAO office repeatedly and sent I don't know how many e-mails to him, but I still received no reply. Finally, I think it was near the end of July, Mr. Underdown called me early one morning (I was sound asleep) and informed me that he had decided that UAO was not interested in bringing Jim Carroll to BGSU. I confess that I was furious. For one thing, he had not bothered to return my calls or messages for over a month. For another, he had unanimously decided that Jim Carroll was not important enough to even find out anything about him. No, Mr. Underdown informed me, UAO was much more interested in bringing Greg Louganis to BGSU this year.

After this memorable experience, I thought my next tactic would be to circulate a petition. I compiled a list of about 50 BGSU students who wanted to see Carroll and who were willing to sign a petition that I could give to UAO. But then I thought, why mess with UAO? I'll just do this myself.

The Crusade

First I asked Cynthia about Carroll's fee so I would know how much money I needed to raise. Next I put together a packet that included Rhino's promotional biography of Carroll, a copy of the New York Times Best-Seller List with The Basketball Diaries at #7, and several articles about Carroll, plus a list of phone numbers of universities that had recently invited Carroll to campus. Then I wrote a two-page letter describing Carroll's work, his importance as a literary and cultural figure, and why BGSU would benefit from a spoken-word performance by Carroll. The purpose of this letter was to persuade people to co-sponsor the event. Then I set about making a list of potential sponsors.

Identifying Sponsors

Actually, identifying potential sponsors was an almost random procedure for me because there was no "master list" of likely-to-sponsor organizations on campus or arts-supporting businesses in the community. I looked at descriptions of university organizations published on-line by UAO, went through the BGSU phonebook from A to Z, went through the yellow pages of the Bowling Green phone book, and asked friends and professors for suggestions (they often gave me surprising tips--for example, one person suggested Pisanello's Pizza, which ended up being one of the most generous contributors; I would never have thought to approach them!). I also looked at the lists of sponsors on flyers and theatre programs of events I attended during the Fall semester. I kept adding to my list throughout my campaign, but eventually I ended up with a list of 23 campus organizations, committees, and departments and 17 community businesses. So I made 40 copies of my "promo pack," tailored my letter for each organization or business, and sent them out starting in early September and on through December.

Raising Money

I waited about three weeks before following up on the first round of proposals, so it was early October before anything happened. Sponsorship money started to come in in mid October. At this point, I asked the Creative Writing department to create a place in its budget to receive the funds; this is something I should have done earlier. I should emphasize that several of the contributions came at the last minute, and some funds are still trickling in.

All of the larger campus organizations had special procedures to follow for sponsorship requests. Most had specific fund-request forms to fill out that required me to specify the date, venue, and budget for the event. (Thus, around mid-October, I reserved the Ballroom, set the date, and looked into what the incidental costs on top of Carroll's fee would be--more on that in a minute.) Some of the large organizations, like the Undergraduate Student Government, Graduate Student Senate, and Resident Student Association also asked me to come give brief presentations at their meetings. For these presentations, I briefly outlined Carroll's career, showed video clips (his 1992 Dennis Miller show appearance was my favorite, followed by the "People Who Died" video), or played audio recordings if video equipment wasn't available. All of these large organizations contributed generously.

Overall, 14 campus organizations and seven community businesses contributed to the Jim Carroll event with cash donations or services. The cash donations ranged from $15 to $500; most were $100 or less. As for services, two campus organizations offered advertising and promotional services, and one business donated PA equipment. Four campus organizations and eight businesses declined to offer sponsorships; three campus organizations and three businesses never responded at all.

Setting the Date and Venue

In any case, I mentioned above that I set the date and venue sometime in October. To do this, I called Cynthia to get a range of dates when Carroll was available and to find out what I should expect for attendance. Cynthia gave me four dates and told me to plan on a crowd of about 500. I then called around to find out the seating capacities of the ballroom, music hall, various theatres, and lecture halls on campus. It turned out that there were four venues large enough to hold 500 people. The music hall, lecture hall, and theatre all had to be rented, but the ballroom was free . . . so the ballroom it was. I then called the secretary in charge of reserving the ballroom and attempted to coordinate the dates Carroll was available with the dates the ballroom was available. It turned out that none of the dates would work, so I had to call Cynthia again. This time I was able to reserve the ballroom for the night of February 20, 1996.

The Little Details: Contracts, Equipment, Etc.

When I reserved the ballroom, I had to sign a contract that specified the date and time, how many chairs I needed, what size stage, what was on the stage, etc. etc. etc. I ran into a little glitch at this point because the contract required a sponsoring organization, whereas I was just a lone individual. Fortunately, the director of the Creative Writing program agreed to co-sign the contract for me. That contract ended up being the bane of my existence for three reasons. First, at least once a week I would find out about one little item that needed to be changed, so I would have to call or go into the office to make the change. Second, the secretary in charge of the contract was annoyed by my mere existence on this planet, so my demands on her time were insufferable to her. Third, this secretary would not have volunteered information if her life had depended on it. Every detail I learned about the ballroom I learned from sources other than this woman, who, if she had volunteered the information, could have had the contract finalized on my first visit. . . . theoretically speaking.

That brings me to the next little problem I faced in the contract department. One week before the reading I received the contract for Carroll's performance from his agent (by this time I had been dealing with Bob Fitzgerald for a few months). The contract was perfectly fine. It made no unreasonable demands. In fact, having attended five of Carroll's readings in the past, I already knew pretty much what he required: a backstage area, a music stand and microphone, a table, and some water to drink. What I didn't know was that these items were in his contract. Let me clarify. I had repeatedly asked my friendly Guardian of the Ballroom if I could get a music stand and free-standing microphone. She said this was not possible. If I wanted a music stand and microphone, I would have to rent them (this tended to be her answer to everything--like how I would have to pay someone $150 to dim the lights). I also made the mistake of assuming there was a backstage area in the ballroom, when in fact there isn't one, and the Guardian was unable to offer any suggestions. I went to University Activities for advice and was told that a little room just outside the ballroom is usually used for this purpose; I returned to the Guardian and was informed that this room was already engaged by another organization. Fortunately, another (somewhat more reasonable) person in the office stepped in and I was able to get a small conference room on the floor above the ballroom. Another man in the office felt sorry for me and showed me how to operate the lights in the ballroom. The College of Musical Arts donated a music stand. And Bowling Green Music and Sound donated the microphone and PA system (I just had to pay for labor). All of this happened within just a few days of the performance. It was hectic beyond words, but at least everything worked out okay.

The Budget

The other thing I had to do was devise a budget for my event, but since my method was figure-it-out-as-you-go, I'll just point out the things you need to take into account if you are planning to try this yourself. The expenses you should plan to include: Carroll's fee, airfare, lodging, and meals; catering (at minimum you need to plan on backstage snacks and coffee for him); advertising (minimum: newspaper ads, flyers and posters, tabletents in campus dining halls--don't forget the cost of staples, tape, and tacks!); rented equipment and paid labor (you may need to rent a venue and sound system, pay for setting up chairs, stage, sound system, running the lights, cleanup); and your own initial expenses in sending out requests for sponsorships, long-distance phone calls, etc. I personally did not have to pay for all of these items, but I did fail to take my own out-of-pocket expenses into account. Ouch!

Publicity

In addition, you need to make arrangements for publicity. I was able to get advertising space in the campus newspaper through UAO, which gets a discount rate. Also, the two campus radio stations and TV station promoted the event for free. In addition, the Public Relations office on campus put together a press release for me which was sent out to all the newspapers, radio stations, and TV stations in Northwest Ohio. (It took some time to get a publicity photo of Carroll, by the way, so plan on that far in advance!) All I had to do was print up flyers and tabletents, which cost me $50 total. The tricky part was that I had to get permission to display these items: University Activities approved the flyers for posting on bulletin boards across campus; the Student Housing office approved the flyers for distribution in residence halls; Food Operations approved the table tents; the Off-Campus Student Center required its own approval stamp. The approval process is important because if you don't get the right stamps, your flyers could be removed as soon as you put them up. In addition, at BGSU anyway, the bulletin boards are cleared off once a week, so you need to ask what day this happens at your school. Two more things: be sure to include staples, tacks, and tape in your budget, and be sure to get some people to help put up flyers--it's a lot of work! I was very lucky to have the help of four friends, Chris, Angela, Betsy, and Kristen, who put up 400 of the 1000 flyers I had printed up.

Conclusion: So, Was It Really Worth All the Effort?

YES! I accomplished the impossible. All by myself I raised the money to pay for the event, arranged all the little details, and made it happen. It was a lot of work, and I really do not encourage anyone else to try it unless all else fails. Still, I can't think of anything that could have been more worth my time and effort. Carroll's performance was terrific (as always), 800 people attended, the story made front-page news, and on top of all that, I got to hang out with my favorite author for two days! What could possibly be better?

   

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