Tips on how to put on a Fringe production – from the perspective of an audience member

by Megan Mooney

 

Okay, so this isn’t going to be about how to cast, or rehearse for a space you don’t know, or anything like that.

This is from the perspective of an audience member who went to many many shows. 

Read on to hear me ramble about show length, show descriptions, and promotion.

Show length

So, most Fringe shows run around the 60 minute mark with no intermission, but there is no hard and fast rule.  But here’s the thing to remember, it doesn’t HAVE to be an hour.

I saw too many shows that should have been shorter.  It’s always important to have every moment in a play be there for a reason, but in Fringe this is doubly important.  Many people are going to several shows in a row, so, not only will your show be being compared to others, but it also means that their time is precious. 

So, if you don’t have enough material to fill an hour, that’s just fine, run the show for half an hour.  A perfect example of this was A Girl Named Ralph, it ran around 35 minutes and was great.  It left me wanting more, which is way better than leaving me wishing I could get out of the theatre earlier.

 

Show description

Make sure your show description tells the audience what they’re in for.  That was you get the people that want to see that type of work attending, and the people who don’t will stay away, so the word of mouth that gets sent around is way more likely to be good. 

Also, it’s not just about getting the right audience, it’s also about how they will enjoy the show.  So, for instance, The Mom and Pop Shop was good, but very much on the stand-up comedy side of things.  I was expecting, well, I’m not sure what, but not stand-up, so I didn’t enjoy it as much as I would have if I knew I was going to stand-up.  A quick line in the description that said something like "this cross between stand-up comedy and a one-man show explores…"  Or, Wild About Harry, which was really just a concert of music, but I went in expecting a musical, a story, a plot line.  Again, I would have enjoyed it more if I wasn’t expecting something different.

 

Promoting yourself

Okay, if we’re taking the Toronto Fringe as an example, people attending the festival had almost 150 shows to choose from.  Something has to set you apart, and that’s going to be your promotion.  During the Fringe creating "buzz" around your show is very important.  At the 2008 Toronto Fringe Festival Gemma Wilcox promoted her show The Honeymoon Period is Officially Over by attaching a big sign to her backpack, so wherever she went around town, people knew she had a show.  It’s a good conversation starter, and here’s the truth, people you talk to are more likely to come to your show, so, if you manage to talk to 30 people and they all go to the show, and they all like it.  Because they feel an emotional connection with it, because they know you now, they’ll tell, oh, I don’t know 10 people, so there’s 300, and lets say 200 of those go to it and like it and tell 10 people each.  Suddenly you’re at 2000 people who know about your show. 

Also, be sure to check out what else is going on with the Fringe festival you’re attending.  There will no doubt be a publicist, pick up the phone and ask them for a lay of the land.  There’s all the normal media stuff, sending out press releases etc., but ask them about other things.  In Toronto Eye Weekly did coverage of all the shows, with areas for reader comments, and so did NOW.  In fact, the Toronto Star had coverage you can comment on.  So, find out where these things exist, and then, at the end of the show when you thank your audience, don’t just say thanks and ask them to tell folks if they liked it, ask them to go online at one of these sites and comment about the show in the show write-up section.  For bonus points (I know this is unlikely, but it’s worth mentioning) you could even print up little flyers with the URLs of the pertinent sites on it (and, of course, the URL to your own website) and let people know they’re available at the stage or on a table on the way out.

And one other quick note, this one from the theatre writer side of things…  Don’t give me a CD with your images, put them on a bleedin’ website!  Make it an option, have a CD available at the box office, but don’t include it in your kit.  I’m betting that a vast number of writers will choose to use the website to download photos instead of the CD.  Plus, less CDs means lower costs, and a URL is far friendlier to the environment than a plastic disk in a plastic case.  /rant

 

I think that brings this to a close for now.  If you have any comments or questions, or, if you’re an audience member who has some additional tips, I’d love to hear from you in the comments.

0 thoughts on “Tips on how to put on a Fringe production – from the perspective of an audience member”

  1. Good tips! And I’m glad you said that about CDs. I’ve marketed a few Fringe shows in the past and always had my doubts about the value of the CD is the press kit.

    As for inaccurate show descriptions . . . I believe most producers are writing their descriptions shortly after Fringe Lottery time, many months before they begin production on their show. Given the short production cycles of many Fringe shows, it’s no surprise that they have only a vague idea of what the final show will be.

    We’ve been burned a number of times by poorly planned show write-ups that are quickly dashed off in the dead of winter to hit a Fringe deadline – only to discover that this half-baked description becomes the centrepiece marketing copy for our show on all subsequent Fringe materials for months to come. Yikes!

  2. Yeah, I take your point about the hastily put together descriptions, but then it could be possible to re-work the description and ask the fringe website to print something different, or the newspapers who are running the blurbs, or even just make sure the flyers everyone gives out in line have the new description on it.

    But yes, I had kind of forgotten about the ‘describe the show before you’ve built it’ conundrum.

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