Artist Tips – Advice From Artists

From the horses’ mouth…

There’s nothing like your first time. The Edmonton Fringe was able to compile advice from several artists. The question was asked: “In retrospect, after you had produced your first Edmonton Fringe show, what do you wish you had known before the Festival began?” Thanks to Marisa Jordan, Vince, Forcier, Russell Bennett, Dan Watson, Norton Mah, and Emily Pearlman for sharing their words of widsom. Some answers have been edited for clarity and to prevent repetition.

And the advice – in no particular order – is as follows:

1. The artist package that I received weeks before the Fringe started had everything I needed. It was really informative and useful to me.

2. Always plan more time for your show than you need and then cut it down if needed. I under-quoted times which lead to headaches.

3. Make use of the street. Use anywhere you can to show your stuff.

4. Make friends with the volunteers. Give them tickets: if they like your show they will tell people. They will love you for the fact that you gave them tickets and will tell everyone how nice you are.

5. Make friends with the Festival staff. They are fantastically knowledgeable people and can help you incredibly.

6. Enjoy the festival. Go see some shows or just walk around the neighbourhood.

7. Make sure you are punctual and over-organized.

8. Consider group sale tickets for the first run of your production because it will start the buzz early and it will increase your casts’ confidence. I find larger audiences will provide more variety of responses and if your show is a comedy/some jokes in the show, then when one person laughs, the other people around that person might laugh also. The audience response might affect the reviewers. Reviewers review within the first two runs of your performance.

9. Recruit cast and crew ASAP! If you got accepted back in January, start recruiting back in January. I started recruiting my director in January and didn’t get one until June.

10. Publicity (press kit, media release) must be done 2 weeks before opening day. Be strict with yourself when it comes to this duty. Don’t let other priorities take over.

11. Consider charging $10 a ticket. You will get more money in the long run. Although all monies go to the artists, remember the Fringe Festival will take some off due to GST, and potentially WHT for international artists.

12. Consider your first fringe production as a learning experience. You may reap much financial success or lose money. Financial success or loss should not be an indicator of your production’s worth. With this in mind, though I lost money, I began to create an audience base, gained exposure and/or encouragement from theatre artists and audiences.

13. Try handbilling people who are lining up to see other plays. There will always be people who will say no or give you a negative response. But more than likely people who line up to see a play are willing to hear your spiel. I discovered when I handbilled people that some of them saw my show and gave me positive feedback. That encouraged me despite low reviews. Also, handbilling people gives you a chance to correct some of their assumptions. For example, I used a tagline on my poster “the first ever thoy-san show.” Some of my potential audience thought the play was spoken all in Thoy-san. If I didn’t handbill people, I wouldn’t have the chance to say, “The play is in English with some Thoy-san words.”

14. Expect to handbill a lot.

15. Follow proper program format when listing credits. If you don’t list any credits, a newspaper reviewer might deem you a theatre novice. Be careful what information you include in your bio. Your bio always includes your credits.

16. Get your graphic designer, program designer or promotional designer to print or email a test copy of the final program for proofreading before it goes to the printer. (i.e. I found out the program had errors after the first run was printed. I had to pay for the first run).

17. Try to get the most experienced people in your cast and crew. It will provide some name recognition and increase your odds of success.

18. If you’re a first time playwright or you’ve written a fringe play that will get produced, get your play dramaturged. Albertan artists can get support from the Alberta Playwrights’ Network.

19. Get an experienced stage manager. Any tech mistakes might affect the reviews. Reviews affect your box office, though there have been exceptions.

20. When you strike your set for the final time, keep the props that you own. Don’t store it at your crew member’s house. Better to trust yourself with the props, the ones you own.

21. Ensure that when you are selling your show, you also tell people how they can get tickets – a lot of people at the Fringe have never been to a show before and might not know the drill.

22. If you are writing the play, then you better get the thing written with more than a month to go before you go up so you can memorize and rehearse.

23. Spend some time trying to get sponsors, companies who will give you a hundred dollars or so for their logo on your materials, and work out some giveaways to the audience. It promotes positive word-of-mouth. Of course, if the show is great, then that will be all the word-of-mouth you need. A simple website helps – you can post reviews, awards, and audience comments in addition to the show’s details and photos.

24 Contrary to popular thought, don’t spend too much time on press kits. The press comes out to most everyone’s show, and unless you’ve been in the Fringe before, it’s a crap shoot as to whether you will be reviewed at the beginning of the festival. The press needs one hook, and one hook only. Be simple.

25. Give yourself at least three weeks of rehearsal. Get in front of an audience – even if it’s only 5 friends – before your first show. Get their feedback by asking what worked and what didn’t.

26. Keep your set really simple. Chairs, a table, and hanging cloth works well for almost everything. Keep your light and sound cues to a maximum of thirty or forty in total. It’s not about the lights and sound – it’s about making your writing come alive with your acting.

27. Finally, realize that this is the FRINGE, a place of experimentation and a chance to fail for next to no money at all, so have a great time and don’t worry about reviews and making money. You’re doing it because you love it – telling great stories in honest and creative ways.