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Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Theatre For Thought, May 17, 2011 (Pre-Fringe Edition)

How to Produce a Fringe Show – A Guide for Virgins
joel fishbane

With the Fringe Festival less then a month away, a familiar feeling is settling over the theatre community: panic. If history is any indication, then for every Fringe veteran there are at least ten virgins teetering on the edge of a nervous breakdown. Like most virgins, they will spend their time fumbling about - and if they happen to create a memorable experience, it may be due to luck as much as innate skill. I’m turning my attention to these hapless souls this week (the world is full of How-To guides for virgins, so hopefully you’ll forgive me if I include one more). And if you’re not a virgin, read on anyway. Whether its sex or the Fringe, it’s always good to remember the basics.

1. Your Opening Night is Not Your Dress Rehearsal

Fringe shows are usually some amalgamation of volunteers, students and unpaid actors, so a lot of shows tend to go into the festival under-rehearsed. To be fair, this isn’t always the fault of the performers. Since shows are often collective creations or new scripts, it’s not unusual for the script to change up until (and sometimes after) the last minute. But this isn’t an excuse to pray to the theatre gods and hope for the best. Know your lines / songs / dance steps. Practice every day. Rehearse in a parking lot if you have to. And if the script keeps changing, bring it on stage. I may be alone here, but the only thing worse then a well-rehearsed show that nobody sees is an under rehearsed show that everyone sees. 

2. Don’t Poster the Beer Tent

Every year, the walls of the beer tent become a collage of posters which most people don’t ever look at. A well-placed poster is a beautiful thing, but when there are eighty well-placed posters, they become wallpaper. And when was the last time you paid attention to the wallpaper? Or put another way: when you walk through the forest, how often do you notice the individual leaves? 

Posters are expensive and un-environmental, so it’s both frugal and eco-friendly to print only a few posters and place them in key spots. Your venue is a good idea – just make sure your poster is sharp and can catch the eye. Lamposts and nearby cafes are always an option too, but it’s important to remember that few people pick a show by its poster. Posters are reminders that you exist; don’t expect them to do the job for you.

3. Practice Your Elevator Pitch

Bad Fringe exchange:

A: I’m in a Fringe show.
B: Oh yeah? What’s it about?
A: Well it’s about the plight of the existentialist as he or she contemplates the intricate nature of human life and becomes overwhelmed with anxiety about the futility of his or her own existence and about how we seek out ordered meaning and cause-and-effect in our everyday lives in order so we don’t see the futility of human actions and decisions, all which end in death, with no real explanation. 
B: Good luck with that. It sounds, uh, great. 

Good Fringe Exchange:

A: I’m in a Fringe show.
B: Oh yeah? What’s it about?
A: This guy wakes up and finds he’s been turned into a cockroach. 
B: Cool. You got a flyer?

In other words, people are in a hurry. Learn to pitch your show in as short a time as possible. 

4. Only Give Flyers to People You Know

Every year, a host of Fringe artists hand me their flyers. And every year I politely put them in my pocket where they end up being impolitely destroyed in the wash. Flyers are incredibly useful, but not when you thrust them in a stranger’s face. You’d be wiser to strike up conversations with people. Once they know you a little, then you can throw a flyer in their face. People are more likely to support your show if they like you

This principle applies to emails too. Don’t just spam your contact list. Take the time to send a personal note to each person. This may take the better part of an afternoon, but people are more likely to respond to a personal request then to a form letter. 

5. Utilize the Awesome Power of the Internet

This may not apply to all Fringe Festivals, but here in Montreal you can’t really expect a lot of love from the print media. The Mirror and the Gazette do their best, but you’d be wise to concentrate on a broad Internet presence consisting of websites, social media and  promotional articles in online magazines. If you haven’t sent your digital press kit to the Charlebois Post, do it. And while you’re at it, contact The RoverDee Arr Has a Point and any other online forum you can find. And if you don’t have a digital press kit, make one. Fast.

For the next few weeks I’ll be using this column to discuss Fringe shows that I think are worth checking out. If you have a show that you think should be included on the list, feel free to send me a digital press kit through the Charlebois Post.  Make sure to mention that you’d like me to take a look at it and they’ll send it my way. 

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