Fringe Tour Nostaligia — Some Surprise Suspects in the Case of the Disappearing Acts

Over on Charlebois Post, Fringe God TJ Dawe has written an essay about the apparent death of the Fringe Tour that’s gotten a fair bit of circulation among Fringers. In it, he waxes nostalgic about the good ol’ days of Fringe touring while apparently casting blame – if you want to call it that, and I do – on the glut of new generation theatre creators who’ve made it very difficult to build a national Fringe tour, by clogging up the lotteries. While he winds up challenging the mainstream theatres to accept more of these self-creating artists – a laudable goal – I respectfully disagree with almost everything else he writes. Here’s why:

Misplaced Nostalgia?

While TJ’s experience and success on the Fringe circuit is virtually unparalleled, I find a lot of his claims hard to swallow. He talks about how in his early days of touring – 1994-2008, approximately – it was common for artists to book eight- or nine-city tours, over which the artists could refine and perfect their shows until they were well-oiled machines.

My Fringe life only barely overlaps that period – 2007-2012 – but in that time I’ve managed three fairly large-scale tours (and some smaller ones) and shows that have toured to multiple cities over the years (unlike TJ, I’ve been lucky enough to win the touring lottery twice). Over that time, even in the early years, it seemed obvious that artists on big, continent-spanning tours were by far the minority. The largest cohort in every festival are the local and regional artists. A lot of touring artists could only ever afford to do one or two cities. The big eight-city tours always seemed relegated to the handful of artists who win the touring lottery and the smaller cohort of ‘lifers’ on the circuit (TJ, Keir Cutler, Jem Rolls, Jayson McDonald, and a few others).

And to be honest, while I can attest to the fact that shows evolve for the better over long runs – Balls, Fucking Stephen Harper, and Big In Germany all became stronger after long tours as I got more comfortable with the material and cut what didn’t work – it’s kind of a strange value proposition: “Hey Montrealers! Enjoy this train wreck of a show I haven’t quite finished working on! It’ll be great by Victoria. I swear!”

Plus, the track record of the Fringe for making huge successes this way isn’t really that great. Nancy Kenney, CharPo and I recently tried to count up the list of runaway successes from the Fringe that have broken into the mainstream and we stopped at: Drowsy Chaperone, Da Kink In My Hair, Kim’s Convenience, and TJ’s play Toothpaste and Cigars, which became the major motion picture The F Word. TJ’s toured, but the other three began and ended their Fringe life in Toronto. To be certain, we’ve missed smaller shows and the Fringe plays that achieved a degree of success but stayed on the circuit, but if the point is to have a polished show only after performing it 60 times on the circuit, certainly you’d want it to have a life afterward, no?

[EDIT: As TJ, Derrick Chua and others have noted in the comments below, this is clearly an inexhaustive list and lots of other shows have gone on to varying degrees of success after the Fringe. While I was being deliberately provocative above, I think my main point stands, that the number of Fringe-launched successes is quite small, and that the majority of those that do succeed did so without touring.]

Bigger Factors

TJ points out that the big cohort of new theatre creators being churned out of theatre schools at a clip that would rival a WWII munitions factory is a big reason why the Fringe lotteries have become more competitive over the years – all those kids are being foisted upon a jobs market that doesn’t have room for them, and they’re at the peak age for being able to take on the financial risk of a Fringe show and a multi-city tour. (And also the peak age for being willing to sleep on a makeshift bed in several strangers’ houses for a couple of months).

It’s an easy scapegoat, but in my experience, it’s not the biggest reason for the death of the tour. I’m hearing more and more artists simply point out that the value of performing in certain festivals is no longer worth it. The entire east-side of the tour (Montreal, London, Ottawa, and Toronto) can be deadly for producers. The first three are a huge gamble for performers as the audience really just isn’t there  (somewhat paradoxically, since the Windsor-Montreal corridor is the most densely populated in Canada). Though a few lucky performers can attract a crowd, many don’t even make their application fees back.

In my first year of touring, one of the veterans told me that if you make about $1000 in Montreal and Ottawa, you should celebrate. That barely covers the cost of going there for a solo show (if you don’t eat). That number hasn’t moved in six years, and indeed, my last time there, I grossed $1100 and the artist liaison told me I should celebrate as I did better than average.

Toronto is a lovely festival with a huge audience, but it is incredibly difficult for touring artists because the city is so local-heavy. I used to commiserate with my touring friends over this, until I spent a few years in the city and realized that quickly I could count thirty shows in the Toronto Fringe with friends in them before I even looked at the touring artists. Touring artists struggle for both media coverage and audiences here.

Still, you might be able to justify the added month or two of touring in Ontario and Quebec as an investment in workshopping and developing your show. Except that in recent years, reporters from Winnipeg started turning up in Montreal and Toronto to advance review your shows. If your show wasn’t ready yet in Montreal, you could get a poisonous (or worse, neutral) review in Winnipeg before you even open there. (It happened to me with Balls in 2008). Many artists just decided the first four cities on the tour weren’t worth it – why not spend those two months at home, saving money, while you continue to develop your show?

Ditto for many other cities on the circuit. Why spend up to $1000 or more to perform in Calgary or Saskatoon, when you could probably fly home and back from Winnipeg and to Edmonton for that? Victoria and Vancouver have also expanded the number of shows well beyond their audience capacity to fill seats too, and it’s easy to justify chopping these off the end of a tour.

Conversely, for artists in central Canada (by which I possibly only mean Toronto), there’s long been an ambivalence – or worse – toward touring the circuit. The evidence seems to support the notion that the only important Fringe for career development is Toronto, so why spend a summer – the months when you should be out auditioning for film and TV, or playing summer stock, or putting on a show at SummerWorks – in Alberta and Manitoba? In my experience, other artists here look down their nose even at successful shows out of the city, and everyone forgets who you are while you’re away performing. And as TJ points out, “Fringes aren’t crawling with agents and producers and talent scouts and artistic directors,” so you’re unlikely to get spotted while performing at Acacia Hall in Edmonton.

Add on the fact that while Festivals across the circuit were responding to artist demand by expanding the number of shows accepted (with Toronto and Calgary being notable and noble exceptions), thus increasing competition for audiences, they were sharply raising admission fees and holding ticket prices (ie, artist return) relatively flat. Oh, and at the same time, the price of everything else was going up (especially gas, rent, heat, etc…). Well, everything except credit, which stupid young theatre creators are often all too happy to take on in order to finance these increasingly risky tours.

Finally, it’s pretty clear the lotteries aren’t holding back artists who want to tour.  The lifers especially have found ways to circumvent the lotteries by arranging Bring Your Own Venues at festivals where they think it’s worth it. TJ knows this, because I’ve seen him sell out a run at the Prairie Theatre Exchange in Winnipeg at least twice in my touring life (Which, really? PTE didn’t want him back this year? Crazy. [EDIT: TJ explains this below.]). What’s changed is that artists are recognizing that the financial reward for booking BYOV’s all across the country is evaporating.

Why the Young Ones?

I have to point out as well that I object to what I perceive as the subtext of Dawe’s article, which is that this new cohort of young artists is crowding out the older generation of Fringe stars who used to own the circuit.

I think a more pressing point is: why are Fringe stars still touring the circuit ten, fifteen years on, instead of moving up the artworld hierarchy and making room for the new generation of artists?

It’s a problem I’ve been wrestling with for the last few years, and was a big part of my decision to leave the Fringe circuit after the 2012 tour (although, admittedly, financial concerns were a big part too, and I continue to enter the Toronto lottery because the Toronto Fringe has always been a different animal). I think one of the biggest problems in our theatre ecology is the refusal of artists to leave the “emerging” category and give up the perks and supports that come with it. Doors are being closed on new, young voices while artists that by any measure ought to be considered “established” take up room that should be reserved for them. It does long-term damage to the scene, and infantilizes artists that should be standing on their own.

For all the success it’s had in recent years, SummerWorks has largely become the thing it was created not to be: a prestige showcase of Toronto’s established companies and artists (with a smattering of work by anointed youngsters). NextStage programs playwrights, actors and directors whose work wins Governor-General and Dora Awards and is regularly seen in the seasons of mainstream companies.

After touring the Fringe, I mounted Balls independently in a financially disastrous run that taught me more about entrepreneurship than I could hope to learn on the Fringe circuit.

After touring the Fringe, I mounted Balls independently in a financially disastrous run that taught me more about entrepreneurship than I could hope to learn on the Fringe circuit.

TJ praises the entrepreneurial spirit of all of the self-creating/self-producing theatre creators that are clogging up the Fringe lotteries. But the Fringe is only borderline entrepreneurship. While performers must create their own budgets and handle tour logistics and design posters, the festivals themselves do the work of venue logistics, staff, marketing, etc. Fringe is a great school or lab for theatre entrepreneurs, but eventually, you have to graduate from it and do it on your own.

Put another way, TJ can sell 3000 tickets in a visit to Winnipeg (and understandably — he’s a great performer, and Fringe audiences have come to think of his shows as major events). Surely it’s worth it to some producer to book him for a few nights at PTE in the off season, no?

So let’s not gobble up the Fringe’s resources. Let’s let as many new, ‘fringey’ voices rise up into the circuit as possible. No more Fringe stars. The concept of a Fringe star is contrary to the whole spirit of the Fringe. If you get success on the Fringe, work to parlay that into success outside the festival. Don’t hog the Fringe – demand your well-deserved spot in the centre.


39 thoughts on “Fringe Tour Nostaligia — Some Surprise Suspects in the Case of the Disappearing Acts

  1. I’m quite surprised by some of your statements, especially: “Plus, the track record of the Fringe for making huge successes this way isn’t really that great. Nancy Kenney, CharPo and I recently tried to count up the list of runaway successes from the Fringe that have broken into the mainstream and we stopped at: Drowsy Chaperone, Da Kink In My Hair, Kim’s Convenience, and TJ’s play Toothpaste and Cigars, which became the major motion picture The F Word.”

    So let’s get this clear – your measure of “huge success” for a Fringe show is that it goes on to Broadway, a television series or a movie?? Wow. By that measure, I challenge you to name me 4 non-Fringe Canadian plays that have gone on to “huge success”? Go ahead, I’ll wait.

    In the meantime, just thinking of shows that I have been directly involved with in some capacity that started at a Canadian Fringe… let’s see, Top Gun! The Musical went on to a commercial run and US premiere at the first New York Musical Festival and has played in a number of productions around North America; Bash’d had an off-Broadway commercial run among other successful runs; Boygroove opened the Diesel Playhouse for a commercial run in Toronto and went on to tour; My Mother’s Lesbian Jewish Wiccan Wedding went on to a Mirvish run then off-Broadway run and has been licensed and won awards in a number of places; Oh My Irma has won numerous awards and has toured to Edinburgh, Berlin, London, Kosovo, Ulaanbaatar, Brighton, Amsterdam, Kiel, New York, Victoria, with more to come later this year. Again, these are just shows that I have been directly involved with, and which I frankly consider to be quite successful.

  2. You’re absolutely right, Derrick. After posting, I felt kind of silly about that paragraph (although I was also being deliberately provocative). There’s also Rick Miller’s MacHomer, which went on to a run at Stratford. I know Julia Mackey’s solo show Jake’s Gift has also had a life outside the festival circuit. Charles Ross’ One-Man Star Wars/Lord of the Rings plays have had successful runs out of the festival circuit too, although I don’t think he ever did the eight-city tour. Chris Craddock, Monster Theatre, and a few others have also done regional tours or seen their shows get picked up by other companies (usually other fringes).
    But these and your examples tend to demonstrate my larger point. Most of the shows you cite played in one or two Fringes, and then moved on up, rather than touring continuing to tour the Fringe circuit to work out the kinks.
    As for your challenge… well, this is where it gets tricky, because the gap between Fringe and Mainstream is actually remarkably small and fuzzy (and probably a subject worthy of a longer post). Scorched may be the most successful Canadian play of the last decade. But the number of people who’ve seen it is miniscule. Heck, the number of Canadians who’ve heard of the Oscar-nominated film made of it is likely remarkably small. Fucking Stephen Harper has sold more than 4500 tickets across the country and earned dozens of reviews and media mentions but it’s still Fringe, while a Factory production that runs for two weeks, sells a few hundred tickets and maybe gets a NOW magazine review is mainstream.

  3. hey Rob – you bring up a number of points, so I’ll respond to them one comment at a time.

    but to respond to something from your previous comment – Charlie Ross did tour One Man Star Wars and One Man LOTR across the circuit – Orlando to Vancouver, summers of 2003 and 2004. He’s still touring both shows, around the world, including an Off-Broadway run, a London West End run, the Sydney Opera House, Singapore, San Francisco, Macon, Schenectady. Jake’s Gift toured the circuit in 2008. Julia’s still touring that in beyond the fringe venues. Shannan Calcutt toured three Izzy the Clown shows across the circuit from 1999 to 2003, and is now doing a bit from her third Izzy show as part of Zumanity – Cirque’s adult show – in Vegas, and has been there for years. Mump & Smoot toured the fringe many times, and they’re still playing big theatres across the country. Sensible Footwear did as well. Three Dead Trolls in a Baggie got a (short-lived) CBC show out of their fringe touring in the 90s, and much else. The Pajama Men toured across the circuit many times, and they’re doing their thing in big theatres in the US, the UK, Australia, Norway. I think they’ve got a TV show coming out.

    • Sandra Shamas debuted her show My Boyfriend’s Back and There’s Gonna Be Laundry at the Edmonton Fringe, and went on to have massive success with that show, and other shows she’s created in that style. She regularly plays the Winter Garden in Toronto, she’s had her work published. She’s a star that came out of the Fringe. I don’t think she toured though.

  4. Anyway – about the dubious strategy of presenting a train wreck in Montreal that’ll be ready by Victoria – while a show definitely improves over the course of a tour, I never factored that in to my creation process. The show was always ready to open in Montreal. Or Orlando. The inevitable improvement that happened later was gravy.

  5. The fringe’s track record for making huge successes not being great – I’d be interested to know how the fringe’s track record compares to that of graduate theatre programs, playwrights development groups, the Tarragon’s playwrights Unit, etc. I don’t think anyone has that data. but I’d love to see it if they did. I’ll bet the overall picture would be dismal indeed. It’s a crowded pack of sperm swimming toward a precious few eggs.

    And there are two ways to measure the success of a show: the number of productions it gets, the praise it receives, the money it earns, and then there’s the artistic side. Impossible to quantify. But it provides its own type of value nonetheless. A touring fringe show with a sixty performance run will not only provide all kinds of moments on stage, it’ll feed that artist’s next show, and every project she works on after that. Ideally, it’ll also feed her life, and whatever she does after that, in any field.

    • Zing! Yes, you’re right. I sometimes find myself jealous of colleagues who get invited into playwright units at major theatres and then I remember that most members don’t even get their plays produced, let alone get successful runs.
      I think a major difference though, for a lot of artist/producers is that a Playwrights Unit often costs nothing or pays you (if it’s awesome), while the Fringe is a financial gamble. You feel like you’re on top of the world when you have a successful run, and when you’re not getting audiences, you realise you’ve sunk all your savings into a dead venture.
      I agree that there’s an unquantifiable artistic value, but it seems to me that artist/producers are at least beginning to assign vague values to it. As in, I might not know the dollar value of the experience, but I know it’s not worth losing $10,000 and my current job on, especially as there are ways to approximate the experience on a smaller scale.

      • The fringe is a financial gamble, for sure. But grad school costs a fair bit too. And a fringe tour (or five)(or fifteen) results in feedback from audiences of strangers, which I consider the best educational experience there is.

        Anyone with the impulse to create theatre has to face the various options of how to go about doing that. There are plusses and minuses to each of them.

  6. Montreal, London, Ottawa and Toronto being deadly for producers – this has been the case since I’ve been touring the fringe. My show in 2000 was the top box office draw at the Montreal Fringe, and it barely grossed $2000.

    • Good god. Now, I *know* some shows do better than that (local acts like Uncalled For and Dance Animal seem to do well, and I’ve certainly seen some shows become runaway hits there, but yeah, average artist return typically doesn’t even cover the registration fee and the costs of travelling one person a short distance to get there.
      I know it’s crass to get into money when we’re talking about art, but I feel that the marketing and sale of your product are integral parts of being “an artist.” If you’re, essentially, paying or subsidizing other people for the right to produce your work, well, that’s where I feel like you enter the realm of amateur or hobby art.

      • There isn’t much money to be made in Montreal, but it’s a fuckin’ awesome place to spend two weeks. And the advance review I’d get in Winnipeg would usually end up helping my run there. Not to mention how much the show would grow from playing for audiences there, and in other eastern fringes. But even with all of that factored in, I stopped doing the Eastern fringes after my 2008 tour. Money doesn’t mean everything, but it does mean something. And I could be working on non-fringe projects instead of breaking even at a really fun festival.

  7. Toronto being local focussed – yep. I experienced it to be like that back in 94 and 98. Outsiders do sometimes get attention. But they’re in the minority for sure.

  8. Winnipeg critics seeing a show in Montreal, Ottawa or London – this has been the case as long as I’ve been touring. I had a Free Press critic at my show in Montreal in 98.

  9. Why do Saskatoon or Calgary when you could fly home instead? If measuring simply by financial considerations – absolutely. Saskatoon and Calgary are harder to justify spending two weeks in. Although you can get an advance review for Edmonton, that can start you off really well there – or kill your run there. But again, the artistic reason to do them – six more kicks at the can, six more opportunities for transcendance – those reasons are harder to quantify, but they’re there.

    • Well sure, but it’s sometimes hard to feel transcendent when you’re playing for six people in a gymnasium with two tree lights. I can get that experience by inviting some friends over to watch my show in my building’s common room, or rent the Fringe creation lab for $6/hr.
      Too which I’ll add: there are also *artistic* reasons not to tour the Fringe circuit. Venue quality is questionable, and when you have to make a show that’s versatile enough to be performed in the backroom of a Portuguese reception hall, a masonic meeting room, a converted 400-seat cinema, a dance studio, an actual purpose-built theatre and a black box (That was Balls’ tour in 2008), then you’re going to have to make compromises, and those compromises escalate with the number of venues. Some Toronto artists I talk about the circuit with are horrified at the conditions and limitations a big tour puts on one’s work.

      • Anybody who’s toured the circuit accrues some great stories about crazy venues, for sure. I’ve performed in a converted swimming pool, a converted bank, a converted church (a few of those, actually). But one of the performances that sticks out in my all of memories of fringe touring is of doing my show in a hollowed out church, with cardboard thumb tacked over the windows (which my stage manager and I had tacked up), for six people. I was completely discouraged to find out there were only six people there, before the show. But halfway through the performance, I suddenly realized I was enjoying myself immensely. And so were those six people. And they knew that I knew they were. And it was all worth it. Everything I’d sacrificed to get there, and everything I’d have to sacrifice to get back… it was worth it.

      • Totally agree. My first transcendent Fringe experience was in a montreal Converted space venue back when they were centred around Mcgill – I think it was a lecture hall. There were two of us in the audience. At the end of the show I had tears in my eyes – the other audience member was seemingly indifferent. I definitely could not have had that experience in a more formal setting.

  10. Why perform any fringe other than Toronto: Again, if finance and career advancement are the metric, no reason to. although in Montreal you have the chance to be program into the Centaur’s season, and/or Just for Laughs. And Charlie Ross was cherry picked by an agent from a performance at the Vancouver Fringe. and Julia Mackey was booked at MTC to remount Jake’s Gift from a performance at the Winnipeg Fringe, and etc etc. But apart from all that, there’s the artistic reason to do them.

    • It would be great if more producers and ADs were checking out Fringe Festivals so we might see more stories like this. Unfortunately, there are so many institutional (and snobbish) reasons for them not to. PACT theatres may have difficulty hiring non-union performers to put on low-budget shows (that being the point of a union, unfortunately). Granting bodies have built-in biases against the Fringe (it is *impossible* to get tour support for the Fringe in Ontario, for example, and project grants for Fringe shows are rare, although I *think* Johnnie Walker and Morgan Norwich got one for The Other Three Sisters in Toronto Fringe 2012).
      But yeah, if you’ve got a great comedy show, that’s a great (only) reason to go to Montreal. Jake’s Gift ought to be playing every theatre, school, Remembrance Day ceremony and legion hall across the country. But that’s also a show that was pretty ready-to-go when Julia toured it, no?

      • Jake’s Gift was ready to go when Julia toured it, but she didn’t know what she had when she started. The response – from individuals, from artistic personnel – blew her away.

        I agree, there should be more ADs and festival producers scouring the fringe. Although if there were, the field of applicants would be far more crowded than it is now. It could become like Edinburgh. Or the New York Fringe.

      • Hey! Just wanted to clarify that we did not received project funding for The Other Three Sisters–I’m pretty sure Fringe productions are ineligible for project funding at every level. I received a OAC Theatre Creators Reserve grant to write that play, which is probably what you’re thinking of. We also got a touring grant that summer from TAPA’s incredible TRIP initiative, which helped us tour Redheaded Stepchild across Canada. We had a CAFF lottery spot that year, and we did The Other Three Sisters in Toronto and Redheaded in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, and Victoria.

  11. me not getting a spot in any of the BYOVs I have a history with in Winnipeg is a good illustration of how relentlessly fair these festivals and venues are. I didn’t get a spot because other people asked before me, and the people who were there last year get first dibs on a return spot. and unlike Edinburgh, where it’s all about money and connections, the Canadian fringes are still very fair, and for that I’m grateful. if not for that, I’d never have broken in in the first place.

  12. The subtext of my article – that younger artists are squeezing out the older ones: interesting interpretation. and that subtext could very well be there. wasn’t conscious though.

    I’ve never felt the fringe circuit owed me anything, or that there should ever be a guaranteed place for me. It’s not desirable to not get into as many festivals as I’d like, but no part of me curses the skies and says “how could they do this to me!!”

    I do find it interesting to notice the sea change, and that it’s a change in a direction I particularly like. I’ve never had a tremendous appetite for Shakespeare, Ibsen, Chekhov, Shaw, etc. Not that that kind of theatre can’t be good. It can be incredible. It’s just not what I crave, and it’s not what I’m interested in working on. I’m thrilled to see things shift in the direction of theatre I like. I’m glad it’s being taught in some schools. I’m glad it’s more often thought of as a possible route when people are figuring out what they’re going to do in the wide world of creating art. Let more people entering the theatre world create new, boundary pushing stuff that’s never been done. But fewer of them will get the chance to refine their craft on the fringe circuit. There are other ways to learn and accrue experience. It’s a shame this one is less available to anyone who wants to develop this way.

    • There’s lots of other ways to accrue experience, and even build up some professional skills. Go to open mic nights. Form a sketch/improv group. Get your classmates together and start a performance series in the back of a bar or a community centre.
      I should add however, that my point is that the “carrot” of getting to perform on the Fringe circuit seems to have withered a bit and it a bigger cause of the death of the tour, rather than the greater number of mules clamouring for it (I may have mixed my metaphor). Flipping things around could mean shining up that carrot (ok I’ve definitely mixed it up here) by taking on strategies to reduce the financial risk to artists: increase ticket prices/artist return, grow the audiences, shrink the number of shows until a sell-through target is reached, secure better funding/venues, rebuild the dead Fringes that absorbed those that didn’t get into Edmonton/Winnipeg, solve the Edmonton/Victoria//Ottawa/Montreal/London overlap, get granting bodies to recognize the value of Fringe productions and allow tour support, etc.

      • I’d certainly like to see all of the things you mention happen. And I believe that no matter what improvements are made, it’ll always be tough to make a go of it.

  13. Why are fringe stars still touring, fifteen years on? Indeed. I actually am working on a bunch of outside the fringe projects. But I had an idea come to me that would work as a minimalist solo show – which is harder to sell to ADs and presenters outside the circuit. It’d make a perfect fringe show, though. And there’s nothing like the streamlined process of writing the show in November, and having it on stage for audiences six months later. The outside the fringe timeline is so much longer. It’s hard to get used to. One of the projects I’ve got cooking has been in the works for four years. It goes up in April, thank god. Four years! One show!! and that’s just for a single two week run! I hope it has a life beyond that, and it probably will, but Christ, the fringe feels like wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am by comparison to this four year courtship.

  14. The festivals do much of the heavy lifting as far as producing a show goes – I agree. The fringe is a much better school for the art itself, rather than the production side of things.

  15. Why doesn’t some producer put on my show at the PTE at another time of the year? hell yes! hey, ADs in Winnipeg – are you listening to this? The problem is if people are used to paying nine bucks to see you, are they suddenly going to be willing to pay thirty? or forty? Will they even know about the show? How diligently do people keep up with the theatre going in their city the rest of the year? I have a friend who’s a drummer, and says people come to see the Jazz Festival who never come to see jazz the rest of the year.

    • Yeah, it’s true. We all ought to be better about nurturing our own contacts in our host cities every year, collecting email addresses, twitter handles. The Fringe has a lot of this information (and sometimes Toronto and Vancouver promote Fringe-related shows in the off season on their mailing lists.)
      But I think at a certain point, you have to — you, TJ, definitely ought to, *demand* more than $6-9 for your show. You’re in demand, man. They love you in Winnipeg. You should be able to swing $20-25 tickets there.
      I do not understand jazz.

      • Creating value for Fringe shows outside of the festival context is a big leap – one that I think we are too afraid of. The best work in the festivals is easily worth $25/ticket. We sell it as such for Pick of the Fringe and in the off-season. Two years ago the Cultch prize winner in Vancouver was Grim and Fischer and the Cultch sold the run out at $30/ticket. We need to have confidence in the work and also spend the money and do the hard work necessary to sell tickets outside of festival contexts. It isn’t the same type of marketing! But it can and needs to be done. I also think we need to introduce “in demand” pricing for Fringe Festivals whereby your tickets may start at $8 but as you get close to selling out they cost $15. The technology exists and so does the demand.

      • You can’t comment down past three levels, but OMG YES David Jordan. That’s a big part of the puzzle. And honestly, I think the Fringes can be and ought to be a big part of the solution here. I don’t think it goes beyond the scope of the Fringe to program hits in the off-season, and we’re increasingly seeing Fests do that (Wildside, whatever Nextstage was once dreamed up to be…). Fringes have the resources, the connections, the patron lists, have the flexibility of not being PACT companies, and could stand to make some decent income by being the producer. Plus, doesn’t it look great for your funding/sponsorship applications if you can demonstrate real professional development for artists coming out of your festivals, and an outreach/impact beyond the ten-day festival?
        I’m intrigued by your demand pricing model. It makes a lot of sense to me, and might be the compromise position to the higher ticket prices I’d told Toronto Fringe we needed. The not insignificant downside is the difficulty of explaining ticket prices to patrons, and the management of door sales by volunteers (who, in experience, can get confused by different pricing schemes). I think an important point in this whole discussion is that ticket prices have not kept up with inflation at all, and need to rise up across the circuit. $12-15 tickets should not be unreasonable in most markets. Winnipeg’s $6-9 tickets are borderline insulting and only made up for in volume.

  16. No more fringe stars gobbling up the resources. agreed. to borrow an analogy of Chris Rock’s, the fringe circuit is grad school. whatever you did before that is your undergrad. whatever you do after that is your doctorate. I’m totally one of those grad students who takes… Jesus… fifteen years to hand in his thesis. Time to hand that fucker in.

    and while some performers have been plucked from the fringe and taken to bigger things, it’s left to the rest of us to knock on doors, send off scripts and cover letters, make connections, maintain connections, go to opening nights and theatre awards and other events, apply for funding, etc – and I’ve always had a tremendous block with that (it’s actually a lifelong issue – and a major subject in my next one man show). so the transition isn’t easy. or fast. But it does seem to be happening. With the speed of a peg-legged old man walking toward the mailbox through knee deep mud.

    but it’s a shame that people starting now probably won’t be able to put in a solid five years of consistent touring, if they want to. It may not be the best way to learn how to produce, but it’s a great deadline to have to create new material every year, and the best teacher is an audience of strangers. Or rather, sixty audiences of strangers.

    whether a person goes on to great career success with theatre after that experience or not, there’s at least the chance that within those five years, you can have – maybe even repeatedly – those moments where, if you’ll pardon the religious analogy, you get a glimpse of God’s face. And that guy is one handsome motherfucker.

  17. I loved my time on the circuit and I miss it. If not for touring I would never have gotten to know you two. I think my years on the road made me a more resilient, resourceful person and a better writer and performer. Thanks for this guys.

    • Hear hear. I agree that hitting the circuit is a wonderful opportunity. But the tour as a whole organism needs to be stronger than it is now if it’s to be viable for artists in the longer term.

  18. Hey guys,

    Thoroughly enjoying following this conversation. Lots of big picture concepts and tiny details that I need to hear about from many perspectives if I’m going to nurture our young fringe in Nanaimo.

    Thanks to you both. I’ll be around watching the discussion unfold.

  19. great discussion… would like to hear some more dissection/analysis of the big fringe(s) (Edmonton, Winnipeg) and the ‘super’ fringe, Edinburgh – from what you all know about it …

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