So You Want To Produce A Fringe Show? Money Saving Tips

I unfortunately did not get selected to be one of the frequent bloggers throughout the Ottawa Fringe (though some other cool people were), but I figured that does not stop me from commenting on my own site (and perhaps showing a certain someone that he totally should have picked me! :p). An article this morning in the Ottawa Citizen (with quotes from yours truly) gave me the perfect amount of motivation to elaborate on a related topic that's been running through my head: How to afford your Fringe Festival Experience.

So you want to produce a Fringe show? Congratulations! You've now joined the ranks of the awesome. For those of you out there who want to self-produce, the Fringe offers one of the most safe and inexpensive opportunities to do so. That said, just because it is inexpensive does not mean that it is cheap. There are a lot of upfront costs that need to be factored before the ticket sales (often your only source of revenue) come pouring in.

First up, the main expense that you simply cannot avoid: the Fringe Festival fee. This can range anywhere from $500 to $800 per festival and are due at various times at the end of the year (between September to January in the year prior to the festival). This gets you your venue, box office staff, technical personnel, and fringe publicity. However, having this money up front does not guarantee you a spot in your festival since the selection process is by lottery. If you don't get in, you can still participate if you Bring Your Own Venue (BYOV), but on top of the festival fee, you'd also have to rent a venue and pay for your own technical staff.

Now, let's say you were lucky and won a spot through the lottery. How else can you save money? Well, my first suggestion would be to write your own show. Through producing with Evolution Theatre, I have found that our largest expenses come in the form of venue rentals and playwrights royalties.

Second, keep it small. I'm not saying you will make a lot (if any money) off of the Fringe, but the least number of hands you have in your pie the less cherries you have to hand out... or something like that. It also helps if everyone wears many hats (because frankly hats are cool). I'm the producer, the writer, an actor in the show and I handle all our media efforts. My director is also the stage manager, the production designer, and has done an awful lot to help me dramaturgically. My fellow actor handles all our design work and our company website. Oh and we also managed to get her photographer husband to do some awesome publicity photos.

Natasha Jetté and Nancy Kenny - Photo by Marcel Léger

Third, and I'm not sure I even need to mention this, but get everything you can for free. All rehearsals for my show have taken place in my living room. It helps that I have no furniture. The majority of our set pieces belong to Natasha, but for the rest we've discovered that many big box stores have customer satisfaction policies... What I'm basically saying is buy, don't break, return, travel to your next touring destination (which, would you look at that, also has the same big box store with the same customer satisfaction policy), and repeat. Just don't lose the receipt, ok? Also, Value Village and the Dollar Store are your best friends.

Fourth, traveling your show will probably take up the biggest chunk of your budget. Fortunately, most Fringe cities will help you find a billet to accommodate you for free throughout the festival. You have no clue where you might end up, but at least you didn't have to pay for it. I can't really assist you with cheap ways to travel since it depends on the destination, but I can tell you it helps if your old roommate (the one who still likes you) works for any of the major aviation organizations in the country.

Fifth, try and budget how much money you are going to spend on other people's shows at the Fringe. A lot of touring companies work on a password system and may be willing to exchange complimentary tickets to their show if you offer them some to yours. I know that I, especially if I happen to be in one of the bigger venues at the festival, prefer having bums in seats rather than play to a half-empty house. Or you can decide to billet a fellow performer and receive a VIP pass which gives you access to all the shows. Now that the set is finally moved out of my living room, I am more than happy to offer someone my pull-out couch. Besides, this way I get to meet like-minded individuals from across the country.

Finally (and this is a tough one for me), when the money actually does start coming in, try not to spend it all at the beer tent on hookers and beer... wait, what? What do you mean the Ottawa Fringe Festival didn't get the hookers this year? Oh fer cryin' out loud! Sigh... alright, well don't spend all your money on beer at the beer tent. Though spending money on this Beer Tent is quite acceptable.

If you have any other money saving tips that I have not elaborated on here, please feel free to leave them in the comment section. See you at the Fringe!

Nancy Kenny's No Exit Upstage, opens with a 2-for-1 admission price Thursday, June 18 at 9:30 pm and plays in Venue #3 - Studio Leonard-Beaulne.