Reflections From The Fringe

Well the Ottawa Fringe Festival finished on Sunday and, finally, I’m starting to recover the energy I expended watching theatre, writing about theatre, meeting interesting people, and drinking in the beer tent. Getting home at 3:00 a.m. has been pretty much routine over the last couple of weeks. After awhile that kind of excess begins to take a toll.  Of course, in the end, it was all totally worth it. In fact, the quality of theatre was actually a lot higher than I expected. I will definitely be attending in 2010.

Next year I’ll be a little more ambitious and write a lot more.  I saw 16 shows this year but only reviewed three of them. I decided to start small since reviewing theatre for an established publication was a new thing for me.  The feedback, however, has been overwhelmingly positive so expect more articles from me at (Cult)ure magazine and possibly a few other online publications.

I would like to mention,just briefly, that throughout the festival, I heard complaints from a few artists about how little coverage the Fringe was getting in the mainstream media.  While I understand the frustration of these performers, waiting and expecting the newspapers, radio stations, etc. to cover your show is simply not a very good marketing strategy. If the conventional/mainstream media are uninterested in your Fringe show, it makes more sense to take your pitch elsewhere.

In future, I would encourage these artists to contact and pitch their show to online publications such as The Wellington Oracle, (Cult)ure magazine and others. These publications get a lot of traffic, which can be used to get bums into seats.

This new form of media is a powerful tool waiting to be harnessed. It takes effort but it is effort that will be rewarded. Also, in the 21st century, if you have a Fringe show (or anything else that you are promoting) you should also have a blog, a Twitter account and, I hate to admit it, a Facebook page where you talk about and promote your show.  A funny thing about all media is that activity generates activity. If the online world is buzzing soon the papers, radio stations, and local television will be as well.

Given this fact, it makes a lot of sense to spend less time on handbills and postering and more time on social media promotion. Then go work the beer tent to generate  as much word of mouth you can for your show along with your blog facebook page etc. If you put this kind of effort in, good things will happen I promise.


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7 responses to “Reflections From The Fringe

  1. What is “mainstream media” these days anyway? Newspapers??? Give me a break. Everyone knows newspapers are dying a quick death.

    I suppose television still defines the mainstream, but getting the evening news (even local) to cover a significant portion of the Fringe is going to be hard.

    For me, the internet IS the mainstream media at this point, especially for community focused events like theatrical performances.

    I’d add Apartment 613 and Guerilla Magazine (along with http://www.culturemagazine.ca) to the list of Ottawa based media sites that local artists should contact.

  2. Thanks Kevin:
    Apartment 613 and Guerilla are great additions.
    Newspapers aren’t dead yet, but I agree their death is coming. Regardless, getting newspaper and radio coverage is fairly easy. Create a story, get it out to the online media and then watch the papers and radio stations pick it up.
    I completely agree that the online media is in no way lesser media. In fact, for theatre it is a much more concentrated target market. People who search out and read articles about theatre online are much more likely to attend a performance rather than people who buy a generic newspaper. The newspaper readers might never even read the arts section for example.

  3. sterlinglynch

    Useful post.

    They key message I take from your post, and which I fully endorse, is the claim that theatre practitioners need to make an effort, take the initiative, and be proactive when it comes to generating attention for our projects. If we are not going to take the time to tell and sell our stories, there is no reason to assume anyone else will do it for us out of the graciousness of his or her hearts. And, I agree with you, positive effort will be rewarded. It’s a lesson every community should internalize and act upon.

    Ultimately, it does not matter which media is employed. What matters is using the most effective tools available to get a motivating message to folks who will act on the call to action and organize others.

    Social media is a great tool but there are lots of folks who don’t use all of them yet (ahem, Wayne!). Some folks also use social media like old fashion top-down / one-way media as well. A boring Facebook page is as useless as a boring poster. In contrast, a kick-ass and note-worthy poster can be very effective — Satanic Panic’s framed poster for example.

  4. I never saw Satanic Panic’s framed poster. I take your point though, that any well thought out and applied marketing device can be effective.

    I still believe postering (plastering them everywhere) and handbills (pushed at waiting audiences), in general, are less effective marketing strategies. Though maybe that says more about the way these devices are typically used, rather than the devices themselves.

    At Fringe the potential audience is saturated with the things. A poster/handbill, therefore, will have to be brilliant to cut through that and influence someone to go see the show.

    To date, I have never seen a play/band etc. from seeing a poster. Alternatively, Word of mouth, reviews, established venues have all had a direct impact on shows I have seen. Word of mouth travels even faster online and there are plenty of online mags/blogs with established audiences waiting to be tapped into.

    Thanks for the well thought out and well articulated response. It’s good to have you back.

  5. In regards to postering and handbills.

    As a volunteer at a Fringe Festival I may not be the typical audience, but I always appreciate when performers take the time and make the effort to work the crowd in line-ups. I have attended many shows because of this; engagement is paramount in any media – old or new.

    Also, take the time to visit the Fringe volunteer centre and chat up the volunteers – they can be your front line sales people. Get them to your shows and they will help create buzz.

    • Welcome to the Many Faces of Wayne. Thank you for both taking the time to respond to this post and for volunteering and supporting the Fringe.

      I think your point about volunteers being possible front line sales people is well made. Chatting up the volunteers is a great tip!

  6. sterlinglynch

    It’s a good point to make. Volunteers really are an ideal market to target. If they care enough about theatre to volunteer, you can be sure they will make the effort to talk up a show they respect.

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