Why you can’t DIY FringeNYC

2013-08-23 19.22.25FringeNYC is serious. FringeNYC is a beast. She is big, and fierce, and I’m personifying as female because she is a disciplined and organized mama, with 187 kids and a burning need to do right by all of them. FringeNYC has two full time employees, but an army of seasonal part-timers, interns, and volunteers surge to the front lines for the lead-up to and implementation of the festival.

At Blue Box World, the theater project Dave and I formed in our Midland Avenue apartment while listening to Thelonious Monk and watching old Doctor Who in 1996, joined by Ali in 2004, we DIY everything. We always have. From our first projects to our most recent endeavors, we do it ourselves.

We write, direct, perform, cast, sm, run lights, design lights, run sound, design sound, schedule rehearsals, build props, lug props, dig into our own pockets, max out our own credit cards, find space, promote shows, do graphics, take photos when some photo genius like KL Thomas isn’t available, print postcards, cut each one individually on some office paper cutter, print programs, build websites, run box office, take out the trash, and whatever other thing needs to be done.

We’ve considered fund raising, asking friends and family and people who may or may not believe in our work, to fund that work with their own personal money, but Dave’s against it for political reasons and Ali and I suck at it, so we don’t do it. Our production model is spend less money, make a budget based on ticket sales, and use the limitations to our advantage.

When Ali and I teamed up to make Radio Mara Mara happen we figured it would be no different. I won’t say we were wrong exactly (because we all know in a male-dominated world that being wrong and admitting that is a weakness), and if you’ve been following along you know I feel really good about the art work we made, but…

From a DIY producer’s perspective, here are some things to know and/or consider about FringeNYC:

There are alot of shows going on at the same time, at various stages of development, with budgets ranging from the low end, like ours of $2,500, up to $20,000 (I’m guessing) the highest budget allowable for an Actors Equity showcase code production.

FringeNYC offers a bunch of opportunities to spend money: advertising online or in the catalogue, buying pretty programs, board programmers, board ops, fire proofing, and this mandatory deal of hiring what’s called an ACR. We hired an sm, and were super glad we did, but didn’t hire an ACR. Even though Dave was against this FringeNYC production, he signed up to ACR, and he hated every second of it.

What do these FringeNYC shows have in common? These shows have nothing in common, except that they’re all being mounted downtown at the same time, under the banner of The New York International Fringe Festival, which is a heady and heart-warming banner, for sure. What does it mean to be fringe? Does it mean unproduced? Does it mean not-ready-for-Off-Broadway? Does it mean quirky but otherwise mainstream? Does it perhaps mean experimental? What is experimental? Are we thinking experimental content? Does that mean shocking? Shying away, for the moment, from the question of whether or not anything can be shocking in a post-pomo first-world economically-downturned culture where anything twerks, do you think you’re shocking? Really?

What do you want from FringeNYC? A development opportunity? Awards? An extension? A transfer? A backer? A new cool line item on your résumé? Fame? Fortune? Relevance? For your mom to finally think you’re successful? (Hint: either she never will no matter how many letters come after your name or zeros on your paycheck, or she’s so blinded by love for you that she thinks you’re successful no matter what.)

Know what you want before you plunk down the initial $650 FringeNYC fee, and aim for that. Don’t get sidetracked from your goal.

Maybe your goal is as simple as to have people come to your show. Do people want to buy tickets for what you’re selling? How are you gonna get people to come out? What’s your niche? What’s your hook? What are the things people want to see and are you delivering any of those? Do you have money in your pocket for a publicist? If so, what are they going to get you? Articles? Articles that generate audience? Reviews? Buzz? Know what you want from them, find out if they can get it.

FringeNYC is all the wonderful things it is. However, FringeNYC supports the very same production models found in the rest of the theater industry; i.e. get backing (fundraise, have an exec producer), get a publicist (hire one, or maybe someone on your team is an expert), hire actors ($350/actor of they’re AEA), hire an sm, rehearse the show for three weeks, tech, mount the show in a traditional theater space with the audience over here and the performers over there.

It’s hard to do experimental work in the same old venues. The lights only come up on stage, the audience is sitting face forward. There’s rules about having specific staff. It’s pricey and not easily DIY. It has alot of the trappings of a finished presentation, while not quite being a finished presentation (i.e. weird show times, like mid-day weekdays, and incomplete tech). Fringe is a great presentation opportunity for someone who needs either a first good chance, or a big break where you need a spot for backers and producers to whom you are already connected to come out and see the show before signing the big check. But if you’re in the middle, or are unsure of your goals for the production, weigh out the pros and cons before asking that pretty theater space if she’ll go all the way.

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