Prior to leaving the Edmonton Fringe Festival, a lot of fellow Fringers told me they were looking forward to hearing all about the elusive Atlantic Fringe Festival in Halifax. Probably due to the fact that the Canadian Fringe Festival circuit tends to push west instead of east and travel costs being astronomical at times in this country, it isn't quite on most producers' radars. Quite the feat for a festival that's been around for 23 years now. Here's hoping I can shed some light on this one for you. So should you do the Atlantic Fringe Festival? Short answer: Yes. Yes, you damn-well should.
A few years ago, from the rumblings I heard among many Fringe performers, the Atlantic Fringe seemed to be a bit of a mess. But over the past few years, a new team moved in and, in my opinion, has really made this a festival to be proud of.
Let's start with the numbers. Since it's my hometown Fringe, I found it easy to compare the festivals in Ottawa and Halifax. Both festivals had over 50 productions and a similar number of venues (9 for Halifax, 13 for Ottawa). According to the Ottawa Fringe Festival, this was a landmark year for the festival. Overall attendance was 13,500 (growing from 12,100 in 2012) and over $90,000 paid to artists. For the Atlantic Fringe, attendance was a record-breaking 11,600 (an increase of 24% since last year) and $68,727 was paid out to the artists. Though that may seem like a fairly big discrepancy in payout numbers, it should be noted that almost all shows in Ottawa go for $10, whereas some shorter shows in Halifax went for $4 to $8 (I charged the typical $10 for mine). Oh and when it comes to festival fees, the Atlantic Fringe has some of the cheapest on the circuit and they are based on how you customize your production. You get to choose everything from ticket price ($1 to $10), number of performances & number of seats in your venue. Name me one other Fringe that would let me do 9 performances in a 70 seat venue at $10 per person for under $600.
Oh and at this festival, not only to artists get to see all the shows for free, but the Fringe will actually give the producing company half the ticket value for that seat. So for every artist that saw my show, I got $5. This is an incredible perk!
I'll be honest, when the festival first began, I was worried. The Fringe preview/media call was at 7 pm and I was one of 4 shows opening that night at 8pm. For my very first show, I had about a dozen people in attendance: my mom & 3 family members, 3 media/jurors, two people I didn't know who bought tickets, a couple of artists and my volunteer. And that first weekend, the numbers didn't increase all that much. But I lucked out with that first show with media in attendance. I had two solid reviews come out early during the festival. And here's the thing you are guaranteed 2 and could have up to 4 reviews during the run. I got 3. I also want to give a huge shout-out to Amanda Campbell & Kate Watson from The Way I See It Theatre Blog & the Halifax Coast, respectively. They saw and wrote about every. single. show at the Atlantic Fringe. Most festivals require an entire team of reviewers, but these ladies did it all on their own for their respective publications. And somehow, even with their busy (some might say "insane") schedule, they managed to be some of the most positive and gracious people I ever met on the circuit.
I was worried going in. In every other city, I had two people running my show. One did lights, the other sound. In Montreal, the venue had one technician, but a friend set me up with a stage manager. In Edmonton, you get two techs per venue. Going in to Halifax, I made a mad search for a stage manager, but couldn't find anyone. I contacted the Fringe's technical director and asked him if he thought my venue tech would be able to handle two jobs. He said yes and I headed in, still hanging on to some minor trepidations. I was worried for nothing because my technician at the Museum of Natural History was absolutely brilliant! Calm, professional and tons of fun, Ben would often have my floor taped before I'd even arrive for my call, giving me plenty of time to set up props and check my gear. Honestly, I'd have no problem seeing him right at home as a roadie for a major rock band, because he has that rock n roll spirit at heart. A special shoutout also goes out to Sean in the adjoining venue for saving my show with his MacBook when I forgot mine that one night... (Yes, again.)
Posters and Flyers
For Edmonton, I had 100 posters and 1000 flyers. There I went through all of my flyers and probably could have managed another 500, but posters were another story. Since my posters arrived late, most spaces around the fringe were already occupied and fading into a background of over-saturation. I was lucky to get through 50. Instead of printing up what was left, I brought the leftovers with me to Halifax. The thing is, I could have used more. Turns out you can poster all over the utility poles in town. And trust me, there are a lot of utility poles. Bring a staple gun.
Though surprised at first, most Atlantic Fringe patrons were more than happy to be flyered. I printed 500, which was enough. And yes, flyering totally works in Halifax! For example, I had two people who sat in the front row of my show and absolutely loved it. They came to see me after and told me how happy they were to have run into me earlier in the day. I also made a point of flyering the often sold out line-up of Once More With Feeling (aka the Buffy Musical) since my show revolves around a Buffy fan. I can honestly say I've had nothing but positive experiences flyering at the Atlantic Fringe. Many locals were actually very impressed with my constant hustle.
I met some really great people at the Atlantic Fringe. I do want to say thank you to my front of house manager, April, who is a board member and was on the job for the entire run of the festival. I also have to say that the Fringe is very lucky to have Board Chair, Kevin Kindred. This guy was absolutely everywhere! From hosting the opening/closing festivities, as well as the late-night talk show, to attending about 75% of all the productions, volunteering at front of house, participating in the Panel Show, and just making all of us touring performers feel welcome, this guy was beyond amazing. The perfect artist liaison! Oh and I think he also had a full-time job as a lawyer somewhere in there... Seriously, Atlantic Fringe, whatever you do in the coming years DO NOT LOSE THIS GUY!
My quibbles were minor. Both venues at the Museum of Natural History had shows scheduled at the same time, which was unfortunate since you could hear what was going on in the other room through the door. If this space is used again in the future, I would recommend alternating the schedule. I would also suggest having some sort of festival bar space. I loved the lobby at the Bus Stop Theatre. It was cozy and offered the perfect environment to drink and chat. If they could get a liquor license that allows them to sell alcohol all the time, instead of simply a half hour before and after shows, you could really have something there.
You can tell the board and staff really care about making this festival the best it can be. When they seemed to have run out of volunteers on a certain day, everyone pitched in. Even Festival Director Thom Fizgerald, who was probably beyond busy, found himself selling tickets at the door. It was pretty awesome to see.
Atlantic Fringe Festival - ****