Running the best local festival is a labor of love for James Krouse

Ingenius 

Running the best local festival is a labor of love for James Krouse

James Krouse, the artistic director of Ingenuity Festival, is a man with abiding love for Cleveland. And what would you expect from the man tasked with spearheading the curation and programming of what has become one of the region's hallmark festivals? Krouse is a playwright and director who spent time in New York and London before returning home to Northeast Ohio. Now, he's part of the evolution and dynamic nature of Ingenuity, and he took time out of his crazy schedule — the festival's not until September, but he's planning events year-round—and spoke with us for this week's Best of Cleveland issue.

Are you aware, Mr. Krouse, that you share the name of celebrity MMA fighter James "The James Krause" Krause?

No, I didn't know that.

Gosh, I'm delighted you heard it from me first. If you were an MMA fighter, what would your name be?

Oh, probably Sauer-Krouse or something like that. That was a school 'nickname' I guess you could say. Something the kids latched onto right away.

Sauer-Krouse! Amazing!

I was not aware—is it spelled the same way?

This MMA guy is K-R-A-U-S-E. So it looks like you're off the hook in terms of Google searches at least.

Right right right.

But you're not an MMA fighter. You're the artistic director of the Ingenuity Festival. Tell me a little bit about that.

Yeah, so the organization has kind of gone through some changes. Ingenuity Fest was primarily the festival in September. And that's still a big part of what we do, but we're much more focused on year round activities now.  Our mission is really to explore that space where people and technology come together, and right now there are two missions going on. One is to look at the festival and see how we can expand it. And then also there are other events and other ways that we can be involved in the community throughout the year, which helps us produce a better festival honestly, because we're able to cultivate relationships.

So, like, what's an Ingenuity "event"?

We're having a Maker Faire at the Cleveland Public Library on April 13.

I'm afraid I...what's that?

So there are three flagship Faires—one in San Francisco, one in Detroit and one in New York—and I think they date back five or six years, and what we noticed is that there were a lot of things from Ingenuity that would then appear at a Maker Faire. So last year at the Festival, I launched this thing called the "MakeSpace" which was a space for people to demo their inventions and set up interactive booths. Kids learned how to solder, there was some simple computer programming, and it was really really popular. So we decided to set one up here as its own independent event. That's the Mini Maker Faire. And it has its own unique flavor and identity but it's similar to Ingenuity.

Any other planned programming you're eager to tout?

There's an event on May 3 called the Bal Ingenieux, and that is really exciting because there's this other element to the Ingenuity audience. And how can I describe it? They are the people who are involved in technology, interested in the cutting-edge, but also have this nostalgic look back to the beginnings of the last century.

So, you mean like Steampunk?

Exactly. Some people call it Steampunk. Some people call it Edwardian.

Read much Steampunk literature?

You know, I'm much more familiar with the trappings of it than the actual reading.  

It's a totally kick-ass genre, Mr. Krouse. Or subgenre, I guess. All those dirigibles and clocks and intricate weapons.

Yeah, well, it really fit with what we're doing in Cleveland and its history. There was a group here, the Kokoon Arts Club, and that started in 1912 and was this creative community and would have a costume ball every year.

Didn't the Western Reserve Historical Society do something like that recently?

They did. They had a fundraiser with a Kokoon theme. We did this last year at the same time and brought our own flavor to it. I think the Historical Society is great in terms of what they do with preserving history. But our audience is a whole lot younger and we're able to...it's not a museum piece.

It's a party!    

Exactly. And last year people showed up in incredible costumes and really seemed to embrace it. The venue is great. It's the old Halcyon Lodge in Ohio City. And this year we're really diving in with both feet in terms of the programming. We're gonna have this amazing variety show. There'll be burlesque and circus and jazz and some dance troupes that involve technology. It'll just be a fun night for the creative community in Cleveland to come out and celebrate.

I'm gonna stop you right there. I'm trying to visualize a technologically involved dance troupe.

Picture a projector about the size of an iPhone and an iPhone packaged together as a glove that a dancer can wear. Each dancer has two gloves and the iPhone actually picks up images through its camera and projects out those images. As the dancers move, they project on each other and on the walls. And the sound is affected by all those visuals as well. So it's like the perfect project for us. We're working with them as part of something we call Ingenuity Labs.

Whooee, man. What's that?

That is a way for us to create a relationship with these projects that expand beyond just the festival. In other words, instead of me saying "Hey, you have this incredible, fantastic finished product. Let's present it at the festival." It's more like, "What you guys are doing is really cool. Let's explore how we can present that in different venues and figure out funding." And that's just one example of how we're bringing together art and technology.

This year's festival is in the same location as last year, correct? On the docks near Browns stadium?

Mhmm.

And is there any chance that that'll become your permanent location? Or do you prefer bopping around?

We like moving every couple of years. And  the long- term plan is that the city wants that space developed, so we can't fall in love with it too much. But I do think that changing spaces is part of our mission and part of what we do. It helps us illuminate some spaces that are not utilized or that maybe people just don't know about. I think one of the most fantastic things about last year was just the impact of the lakefront. By bringing people and programming down there, we're giving a glimpse of what an urban lakefront is like. I think it really had an emotional impact on the community. You know for decades, people have been talking about the lakefront in Cleveland and to be on the water in that distinctly urban environment, and to see all the energy and excitement around it. It was really an extra element that you don't really realize until you do it.

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