Current Issue #488

How to Put on a Fringe Show in Four Easy (Excruciating) Steps

How to Put on a Fringe Show in Four Easy (Excruciating) Steps

What’s actually involved in putting on a Fringe show? James McCann, a local writer and comedian presents his four-step guide to everything that happens before you buy your ticket.

Fringe shows are a risky business for all involved. For the ticket holder a quality evening is never assured; the performance will likely be amateurish, the venue without air-conditioning, and one might have to suffer the awkwardness of being the sole member of an audience. The performer faces even greater hazards: possible financial ruin, unsympathetic critics, and the dream-shattering feeling of both relief and heartbreak when the sole member of one’s audience walks out mid-show.

In the lead up to a festival, artists work to avert these disasters. The process begins months prior, with festival registration, which often takes place before a show has even been written.

Step 1: Don’t Think, Just Register!

Before the playwright’s script is finished, before the comedian’s jokes are penned, before the burlesque dancer has picked out which brassiere she’ll be taking off, the performer must come up with a name and a blurb for the fringe guide. There is an art to writing copy for a show which doesn’t yet exist. The description must be detailed enough to arouse the public’s interest, yet sufficiently vague that it won’t utterly misrepresent what one ends up writing. It is no use describing oneself as ‘fun for all the family’, only to force a family of five to watch an experimental dance piece about euthanasia.

Step 2: Write Your Show

Organised persons will write their show months in advance, but few fringe creatives are organised persons. Throughout January – in the days and weeks leading up to opening night – a genuinely fringe, totally unofficial festival flourishes around Adelaide, as half-finished shows are trialled in theatres, bars, and living rooms before friends and family. Songs, costumes and sets are entirely reimagined. The impossible must somehow be made to work. Perhaps unsurprisingly, break-ups for creative folk in Adelaide spike dramatically in early February.

Step 3: Sell Those Tickets/Get Bums on Seats

Writing and perfecting the show itself occupies a mere fraction of the independent artist’s time. The real ordeal is selling tickets, a difficult and expensive task. Every artist longs for a large and loving audience, no matter how much indie-credibility they’ve accrued through years of commercial failure.

Photographers, graphic designers and printers must be paid for the creation of posters and flyers. Then, the so called ‘poster mafia’ must be paid off. If one doesn’t pay these professionals protection money to ‘take care’ of one’s posters, they’ll tear one’s gorgeous A3 artwork down wherever they find it. It is almost as troublesome to take charge of one’s own flyers. Evangelising for oneself reeks of desperation and unprofessionalism. Better to higher young, personable University students who are happy to work on the cheap. Advertising must then be purchased in print and online. It is gruelling, especially for free spirited artistes, to commodity themselves. One must sell out to sell out.

Step 4: Hunt for Publicity

The earlier media coverage is organised the better. One must have a ‘story’ to tell about one’s show, so that journalists, who have neither seen the show nor care to, have something they can write about. A press release must, therefore, emphasise any adversity the performer has endured. This is why so many shows are about things like poverty, ethnicity, being a homosexual, belonging to a non-Christian faith, drug addiction, struggles with mental health, morbid obesity, being a single parent, or any combination of the above.

If, alas, one is a white, heterosexual man (with only a slight weight problem) there is little that can be done to secure an interview – even if one has won several awards, including 2016’s Adelaide Comedian of the Year and Best Emerging Comedy at the Fringe in years past. Nevertheless, self-promotion and media coverage is necessary. Why not offer to write a humorous essay for a local magazine about the mechanics of putting on a Fringe show?

James McCann has won several awards, including 2016’s Adelaide Comedian of the Year and Best Emerging Comedy at the Fringe in years past. Tickets to his 2017 show Deplorable are on sale now.

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