On the Fringe: An Artist’s Guide to Preparing for Fringe Festivals

When I graduated from university, my first theatrical adventure outside of school was at a Fringe Festival. I left my campus full of confidence, excitement and an idea of how I thought Fringes worked. Together with a team of my fellow graduates, we enjoyed a successful run but met some challenges during the process. In fact, all that confidence and enthusiasm that I had early on evaporated by the time the festival ended. While we sold out some shows and received lots of positive feedback, it was very apparent that we were “Fringe virgins” and possessed very little knowledge of how the festival actually worked. In the end, I believe the experience made me a stronger artist. Since that time, my theatrical tool-belt has become fuller with a clearer knowledge and understanding of how to successfully produce a show at a Fringe. In this guide, I’m here to share those tools with you.

1. Budget for Marketing.

In the digital age, it can be easy to relay on social media for marketing. It’s cheap, easy to create and one of the fastest ways to spread the word about your show. However, when it comes to the festival circuit, paper is still an extremely influential tool. Make sure to set aside cash in your budget so you have funds for printed materials. Let’s break down the materials into what we’ll call The Three Ps: Posters, Postcards, and Programs.

Posters and postcards are fantastic for people on the go. If you have an engaging logo or image, your poster can catch the eyes of passersby, whether they are walking by or waiting for a drink at a local coffee shop. Make sure to visit local businesses that receive lots of foot traffic and inquire about leaving promotional materials for their patrons. Unlike posters, people can take postcards with them. They aren’t attached to a wall or a pole like posters are; instead, they are just waiting to be scooped up by potential audience members.

Programs are a great way for audiences to get to know your cast and creative team. You never know who may be in the audience, and programs can work as simple way for a potential collaborator to see your previous experience. That being said, as wonderful as programs are, they are not always cost-efficient. If your show is selling out night after night, you could find yourself shelling out more cash to keep up with the demand. On the other hand, if your show is bringing in a smaller crowd, you could find yourself with a pile full of untouched programs. A great alternative to this issue is to create a poster with cast and crew’s names and headshots and set it outside in the lobby of the venue. If someone is truly interested in learning more about your team, then they will take the time to check the poster out.

If you want to draw an audience, you have to spread the word early to create buzz and interest. Start placing the image and name of your show in audience’s minds so by the time the festival comes around, your show is the first production they think of.

2. Production Value: Keep it Simple.

My team and I had the honour of being interviewed in a local publication about our Fringe journey. The writer referred to us as “theatre in a bag” because you could literally pack our entire set into a bag. If your story takes place in an office, you don’t need a cubicle, a photocopier or even a computer. What you need is a set that complements the story, not a story that complements the set. Could you capture the feeling of an office using only boxes? What about a set made completely out of paper?

Keep in mind, you’ll be sharing the venue with several other productions and the time to strike your set is extremely limited. In addition, if you have plans for you show beyond Fringe, the more limited and minimal your set is, the easier is it to bring the show to other festivals and venues.

3. Make Time to See Other Fringe Shows.

Fringe participants often suffer from something I like to call “Fringe Tunnel Vision.” Whether you’re the director, the stage manager or an actor (or maybe you’re all 3), you hold a firm concentration and focus on your show. It can be easy to tune out all the other productions out and solely tend to what you are directly involved with. It is important, though, that when you do earn yourself some downtime, you make an effort to go see other Fringe shows. As mentioned previously, Fringe is about community. By going to see another Fringe performance, you are supporting fellow artists and in turn, you will be supported too.

When I partook in my first festival, after many performances, the creator or a cast member would step out to thank everyone for attending and call upon fellow artists in the audience to give a shout out to their shows. It was a quick, easy and free way to get the word out. The more shows you attend, the more opportunities you will have to promote your own work.

4. Remember That Fringe is Not The End.

Fringe is your opportunity to experiment, take chances and learn from your mistakes and successes. With the increasing popularity of Fringe festivals, there have been an increasing number of polished and well-developed pieces hitting the stage. However, this surge drives creators to perfect their pieces rather than focus on the growth and potential of the work. Fringe festivals are an artist’s opportunity to get messy. That being said, I am not encouraging people to attempt to put together a Fringe show on a whim without any preparation. What am I saying is that you should pay close attention to what you want to improve and develop within your production. If you are unsure of a lyric or an action, here is your chance to stage it and see how the audience reactions. Once you’ve collected feedback and reactions, you can move forward to the next stage in the life of your play. Remember: Fringe is not the end of your production; it’s the beginning.

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