Tuesday, May 6, 2014

After Dark, May 6, 2014

'Tis the Time (sigh)
It is the end of April...not just May flowers
by Gaëtan L. Charlebois

It seems like it was yesterday, and it sorta was. Fringe season.

Starting in May, Fringe organizations across the country begin to hold press conferences, and Fringers start sending out their PR kits. Oddly, despite already pestering people for the information so CharPo can get a head start on this long, long season, very little is in the special in box I have created in my email program.

And that's my big problem with the Fringe - among a few others. Despite all the courses the various Fringe associations offer to Fringers, despite the alternative press salivating, year after year, for the event and offering coverage, despite veterans of the Fringe speechifying about how important organization is, Fringers - even old hands - seem to think the primordial hallmark of the season is chaos.

In short: Fringers are their own worst enemy.

No, it's not talent. Nor is it sweat. No, luck is only a part of it. 

It only has a little to do with what finally goes up on stage. (Though, one true joy of Fringe is how wonderfully awful some content is.) No, it has to do with the utter lack of professionalism that exists virtually across the board.

One expects that from the companies that are made up of friends doing the Fringe on a summer lark (and usually in their own cities - the tyranny of the Fringe quota system). But when we read a lifeless, one-paragraph press release where the artists' biographies are an arm-length and which arrive over the transom two days before opening, it is to weep. What makes it more weepifying is that when you read the bios, you discover that the artists are graduates of some well-known theatre school or another and that - while there - they clearly learned nothing about PR.

Now, in the age of entrepreneurial theatre - which is the true hallmark of Fringe - how can people leave a school without this extremely basic knowledge? 

It's bad enough - as Barbara Ford pointed out in a terrific op-ed - that they make not the smallest effort to learn and use the tools which exist out there to promote themselves. This is how they create their own misery. But they also are misery carriers.

Fringe season - for most organizations like ours and even the traditional press (for which I covered it for three years) - is work. Hard work. Even brutal work. It is not only because several Fringes have become huge - well beyond their capacity for hugeness. It is also because it is the one time of the year where - for the most part - we turn a blind hour to the utter, foolish, amateurism of people who want a future in this business. Because to them it is an "Art!" only. Business is a concept they assume agents, managers, publicists in the future will take care of.

Woe are they!

When I went to acting school, I started with a class of 35 or so. By end of first term, they were culled down to half. By graduation three made it. (I had been expelled.) Of those - and some of the others who didn't get to the end - there was a struggle for survival for a bit. It's a Titan's struggle. None from my class made it out alive. This is not an odd thing. 

Here's the difference between my class and the ones who make it. 

No, it's not talent. Nor is it sweat. No, luck is only a part of it. 

It was networking, keeping eyes open for opportunity, exploiting the slightest chance, learning PR and self-promotion on the fly, treating a career in the theatre like it was a career anywhere else: maintenance required. 

If anything will kill Fringe it will be exhaustion in the media. By mid-season I have seen so many awful promo photos (or no promo photos), so many bad press kits, been begged so many times for any kind of late-in-the-game coverage (especially a review) that I am a burn-out. I slog to the end. I am glad it is over. And that is because you can only indulge amateurs so much before you start to despise them.

And we don't want *that* to be the true hallmark of the Fringe.

1 comment:

  1. Having been on many sides of the multifaceted creative wonder that is the Fringe, I know what it's like as a do-it-yourselfer. I've been the one trying to get media attention, I've been the 'media' being bombarded with people trying to get attention, and I've been the one pitching media attention in the name of others.

    I love the theatre community. I want people to shine and audiences to witness the creativity. I've been around the Montreal Fringe since the beginning. In the past few years I've offered publicity services to Fringe artists at a nominal rate as a way of showing my support. I'm always surprised at the low number of people who take me up on my offer. I know money's always tight, but unless it's a one-off project, it seems everyone can benefit from as much exposure as possible.

    Sometimes, depending on the company and people involved, making a lot of money isn't the main goal. There are so many other reasons to get your name out there- from future grant applications to audience building. Companies that fit publicity into their business plan are typically propelled in the right direction. It’s never too early to start.

    For such a reasonable application fee, the Fringe Festival is a place to try out original work, cast yourself in a role you love but might not get the chance to do, direct for the first time, work with people that you haven't had the opportunity to play with, get yourself known, learn producer skills, and so much more. A leg up with publicity, when there is so much else on your plate, just seems part of the fab 'school' that the Fringe can be.

    Class is in session if anyone needs any help...
    Janis Kirshner - Media Relations for Standing Ovations-


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