The Art of the Business

A blog dedicated to artists who are serious about their business.

State of the Fringe: Jeremy Banks August 6, 2010

Welcome to the final installment on my series on the State of the Fringe. This week, I’ve talked to Ian Case and David Jordan, who run the Victoria and Vancouver Fringes.

Today, I interview Jeremy Banks, who has acquired the title this summer of “UberFringer.” I met Jeremy in the spring, and he told me he had this crazy idea: he had just bought a Flip cam, and wanted to travel across Canada, visiting all the Fringe festivals, working where he could and blogging and shooting video. You can follow along with his travels at Fringetastic!

I caught up with Jeremy via Skype in a coffee shop in Calgary.

RC: How many Fringes have you been to so far?

JC: I piloted the idea at Uno Fest in Victoria, but my Fringe journey started June 10 Montreal. Since Montreal, I’ve been to Magnetic North, the Toronto Fringe, Winnipeg, and Calgary. I will check into the Edmonton Fringe, will perform at the Victoria Fringe, and will do some videography at the Vancouver Fringe.

RC: Who is Jeremy Banks? How did you come up with this crazy idea?

JB: I went back to school and finished my theatre program recently. I graduated from Malispina University in Nanaimo, a town that is better known for  a dessert bar than theatre. With that in mind, I thought I’d try to get a sense of the bigger world–to contextualize what I had learned in school. I contacted Fringe festivals, and was able to get some work with my theatre skills.

I’ve been interviewing lots of people: Executive Directors, actors, technicians, to get an overview of what the Fringe is about.

RC: What’s the state of the Fringe in Canada right now?

JB: It’s hard to describe. It’s an artistic expression of an entire culture. And it’s not just about theatre. It’s theatre people, but it’s not just for theatre people. It’s an entire cultural celebration. Because you get people from every arts discipline coming out to participate in the Fringe. Some Fringes have that as a bigger component than others–here in Calgary, for example, there are multi-disciplinary performances on stage, in Winnepeg and Edmonton, there’s a huge outdoor aspect, which makes it great for families. It needs to be valued and realized as a cultural capital in Canada. Each Fringe is so organic. Each Fringe is unique and they are all connected, and there is definitely a through-line going through all of them. But because each one is connected to their community, it makes each one different and growing.

RC: What’s been your favorite moment so far?

JB: I don’t know yet. My journey is not yet over. Right now, it’s really hard to have perspective on what I’m doing while I’m still in the process. Sometimes you go and get this material, but you don’t know what it’s going to be until you’re finished. I might not exactly know what it is I’m trying to accomplish, but that’s okay. I have faith in the process.

RC: What are your plans for your home Fringe?

JB: I’ll be performing in Victoria, Big Smoke by Ron Fromstein, which won the 2006 National Playwrighting award for Theatre BC. I’ve never performed in a Fringe before, so this is a new experience for me, but I also have this background knowledge of “Fringeness.” After Victoria, it’ll be time for me to look back and start to try to put the pieces together. This has been a great adventure, but in order for me to finish, I need to find the thruline. I also need to find a niche where I can continue working on the project in a a sustainable way: a concrete goal, financial support. I love the idea of creating a fringe show about the fringe.

Everywhere I go, everyone has a different story, not just about fringe, but about life. The gbiggest thing I’ve learned is that fringe and theatre are about connecting and sharing stories. Fringe creates an avenue for you to express yoruself however you want to, under the excuse of theatre. And that’s what makes it valuable.

RC: Thanks, Jer. I look forward to catching up with you again when you’re home, and seeing what you come up with!

Click here to listen to our conversation in its entirety.

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State of the Fringe: David Jordan August 4, 2010

Today, in the second part of my week-long series on the State of the Fringe, I interview David Jordan, the Executive Director of the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

RC:
Tell us a bit about the Vancouver Fringe.

DJ: This is our 26th year for the Fringe in Vancouver. It’s our tenth year on Granville Island. There are 83 shows and over 600 performances over 11 days.

RC: Who is David Jordan? And how did you end up here?

DJ: I came to Vancouver fresh from graduating with my Master’s degree in Directing. The Fringe was my first job here in

Image Courtesy of HereInVancouver on Flickr

Vancouver. I worked there for about a year and a half in various capacities, and then when the ED job came along, I applied for it, and here I am. This is my fifth year as Executive Director.

RC: How does this year’s Fringe compare to previous years?

DJ: Last year, there were 68 shows, so we’re up by about 20%. The trend that we’re seeing with the Fringe is that there are more BYOVs and found venues. For example, Boca Del Lupo is doing a show out of their office with an audience of 14. Someone else is doing a show on a pedicab. Origins Coffee has kindly let us use their space, and we are converting it into a 60-seat venue. We also have a professional development series: talks, and a Clown Conference. Our goal is to make Granville Island explode with theatre.

RC: How were you affected by the first round of cuts last summer?

DJ: We were lucky. We were in the first year of a three-year funding agreement. That money was originally taken away, but they restored it. So we have some time to plan and restructure. This government has systematically replaced operating funding with short-term project-based funding, so we have to seriously look at ways of running our organization with less funding from the government. As the Provincial Government proved to us over the past year, we can’t rely upon them for support.

RC: How have subsequent cuts affected you?

DJ:
Our BC Arts Council funding was cut by 60%, down to $12,700 from $32,500. Basically, by 2012 we stand to lose $70-90,000 worth of provincial funding. That alone is the cost of running our venues, which is something that can’t be cut. Our greatest challenge will be to maintain critical mass in the face of all these cuts.

RC: Despite the current cuts, it looks as if the Fringe will go ahead as normal this year?

DJ: Yes, we are in fact finding room to grow a bit. That’s what keeps me hopeful in the face of arts cuts. We were born out of needing to find a way, and we will always find a way.

RC: How about future Fringes? What kinds of plans are you working on?

DJ: Next year, there will have to be significant changes. We don’t know exactly what it will look like yet, but we have to cut expenses and increase revenues. That’s hard to do. We are a very efficient organization as it is. Maybe site specific work in MLAs offices…?  One thing we are considering is introducing tiered fee structures. Right now, all artists pay the same fee, whether they are in the Waterfront (300+) or a smaller venue of 50. We may start charging more for the larger theatres, less for the smaller ones.  Operating venues is a huge expense for us, so we are looking at ways we can create more site-specific, outdoor venues and found spaces.

RC: Final words?

DJ: We did a survey with members of the community, and the feedback that we got was clear: the Fringe is necessary. Not just for emerging artists (although they are a very important part of the Fringe), but also for more established companies who have moved beyond the Fringe. Some companies want to do new stuff, edgy stuff that they maybe can’t take to their core audience, so they come to the Fringe. The Fringe’s roots come from a place of flexibility and experimentation. It’s artist-driven. And those are all things that we will remain true to as we move forward into the future.

RC: Thanks, David!

Read David’s interview with The Georgia Straight.

Read the Vancouver Fringe’s Press Release

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State of the Fringe: Ian Case August 2, 2010

Last month, an article in the Georgia Straight caught my eye. It was an interview with Ian Case, who runs The Victoria Fringe Festival. They have been hit hard by cuts to the arts, to the tune of $42,500.

I emailed Ian and asked him if I could interview him, and he kindly agreed. Then I thought I’d also interview David Jordan, the ED of the Vancouver Fringe. Then I thought about Jeremy Banks, whom I met earlier this year, and who has spent his summer traveling to many of Canada’s Fringe’s this summer.

Welcome to Fringe Week at The Art of the Business.

Here is my interview with Ian Case.

RC: Tell me a bit about the history of the Fringe in Victoria.

IC: The Fringe started in Victoria 24 years ago. It was started by a group of folks who wanted to see more local production and to take advantage of the newly established trend in Fringes popping up across the country. The festival has been very successful and grown significantly over the years.

RC: What has been your involvement with the Fringe in Victoria?

IC: I attended the second year of the Fringe when I was at University and was hooked. Since them I’ve produced and directed shows that have appeared at the Fringe in Victoria. I was hired 7 years ago as the General Manager for Intrepid Theatre, the company that produces the festival. The company at the time had a budget of roughly $250,000. While I’ve been working with Janet Munsil the Artistic Director, the company budget has grown to over $800,000 per year and the Fringe has more than tripled in size.

RC: What was your background prior to the Fringe?

IC: I am a UVic grad with a specialization in Acting and an BFA in English. I had run a student newspaper while at College and went on to found a private tourism based publication in the Okanagan Valley. I was hired as the administrator for Theatre Inconnu in 1991 for their first Shakespeare Festival in Market Square. I stayed on as General Manager at Inconnu for 4 years then went on to become one of the co-founders and administrator for the Victoria Shakespeare Festival. In 1998, I founded my own company called Giggling Iguana Productions which produced three shows in the McPherson Playhouse then went on to produce over a decade of site-specific work at Craigdarroch Castle. Iguana continues to exist and I recently produced and directed The Importance of Being Earnest on the lawns of Craigdarroch Castle.

RC: What is the Fringe looking like this year? How many participants, how many shows, etc?

IC: The Fringe this year is looking really exciting. We’ve secured 7 full time venues and a record number of artist driven Bring Your Own Venues. We have over 60 companies involved this year and will present over 350 performances. The festival will be the largest Fringe we’ve ever produced and build on our massive increase in attendance last year of 40%. This year is bigger and better than ever!

RC: What was the impact of the first round of cuts in Aug last year?

IC: We tightened our belt a lot this year. We ended 2009 with a provincial government enforced deficit of $30,000 when we were denied Direct Access Gaming funding. We were able to reduce the size of Uno Fest and our presenting series, two of our other programs in order to make our budget balance in 2010 and to safeguard the Fringe which is our flagship event. We have taken on increased fundraising initiatives and worked on developing our donor base all of which has been quite successful.

RC: What is the impact of current cuts?

IC: Less funding will mean less art. It’s as simple as that. We run a very tight ship here. Our staff is already overworked, under-remunerated and smaller than a company doing as much work as we do during the year should be. The average full time working artists in BC earns in the $24,000 per year range which is ridiculous. The only place we can afford to cut, without impacting the quality of the work we present and the work we do in our community is to simply do less. Uno Fest will be reduced again in 2011 if we are unable to secure additional funding to support it. Our presenting series will likely be further impacted. In the past few years we’ve been able to present some of the best and most exciting touring work available from around the world. We will not be able to continue to do this and will scale back the kind of work we present and the number of presentations we put on. This will deny our region the opportunity to see some of the best work available from around the world and leave our community less culturally rich than it has been.

RC: How are you coping, and how will you cope in the future?

IC: We’re cutting and being very careful with our spending. In the future we’ll continue to seek new sources of funding and work on further developing our donors, sponsor and fundraising activities.

RC: Final words?

IC: There seems to be a clear disconnect between what we do as an active sector in our province and how the government sees us. Every other industry sector receives massive support through tax incentives, fees, subsidies and other support. We are having this support torn away. This support was already minuscule in size and yet we have been able to leverage into a vibrant and active arts and cultural scene in our province that outperformed every other sector in the economic downturn. Now that we’ve had the much needed support of our province taken away, it seems highly likely that we will start to lose companies, artists and a great deal of cultural vibrancy from our communities. Just like recreation centres and public swimming pools which are subsidized to make them accessible and affordable to the general public, arts and culture requires support and subsidy to make it’s activities available to the widest possible audience. These cuts will take away that possibility and leave our communities the poorer for it.

RC: Thanks, Ian!

In Wednesday’s Part 2 of the series, an interview with David Jordan, ED of the Vancouver Fringe Festival.

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Fringe Marketing for Dummies Pt 2 July 26, 2010

Today, we continue our series on how to market your Fringe show! As ever, feel free to share your best Fringe marketing tips in the comments below!

Publicity and PR: Deb Pickman recently offered a workshop on this topic here in Vancouver, and it was well attended. If you couldn’t make it, you can download her notes. The Fringe supplies participants with a media list. Again, the number one thing to keep in mind while crafting your pitch or your media release is to think about what your USP is.

Event Listings: Create a short PSA and send it to the local papers for their event listings, and find event listing websites to upload your listing to. The Fringe does this for “The Fringe,” so it’s possible that event listings editors will see that you are part of the fringe and not print your listing, but it’s worth a shot.

Here’s an example of a listing:

SENSATION OF MAGIC: Vitaly Beckman performs seventy minutes of jaw-dropping, mind-bending magic and illusions. August 17-21, 8 pm. Havana Theatre on 1212 Commercial Drive. $15 (advance) $20 (door), Tix at Highlife Records, 1317 Commercial Dr, Vancouver. Info/Tix: 778.228.5291, http://www.SensationOfMagic.com

Websites and Social Media:

You need to have a website. If you can afford it, get one professionally done, but if you can’t, I offer some tips on how to build a website in Word Press here. Deb put it so well in her notes that I’m going to quote her on this one, because I couldn’t possibly say it better: Your front-page right hand side should contain buttons for all online social media streams: FaceBook, Twitter, Blog, YouTube, Flicker. A journalist should get everything they need to tell your story without picking up the phone, by reading your website because it includes everything that’s in your press kit.

Social Media: This method of marketing is exploding–fully 500 Million people are on Facebook, and YouTube gets one million hits a day. Here are the top 5 Social Media sites, and how to use them:

Email: If you don’t already have this, get started now building an email list of people that are interested in your work. You can either use an e-newsletter program, or your own, html-formatted email. Send three emails: one about a month before the show, one a week before the show, and one after the show is opened, but before it closes (which incorporates your positive reviews). Include photos and links to make it interesting.

Facebook: if you haven’t already, create a fan page for your company. Then work your butt off to get as many fans as possible. Create an event page off of your fan page for your Fringe Show. Now, populate the page with updates every couple of days: how things are going in rehearsals, media coverage, photos, etc. Connect your page to the Fringe’s page.

Blog: Blogs are all about what goes on behind the scenes, so write about your rehearsal process, your tour, that crazy conversation you had with an audience member after the show. don’t feel like you have to depend upon writing–photos, video or audio are also fun and acceptable. A great example is Jeremy Bank’s Fringetastic blog. I’ll be doing an interview with him in a future post.

YouTube: create videos of yourself in rehearsal, of you talking about your show, etc. Post them on YouTube, then cross-post them on FB, Twitter, your blog, and email. Post them on the Fringe’s YouTube Channel.

Flickr: Get a Flickr account to post photos: not just production photos (ie: your professional ones) but also casual photos from rehearsals. Also connect your account to the Fringe Flickr account.

Twitter: If you are not yet on Twitter, quite honestly now may not be the best time to jump in. Learning how to Twitter is easy, but mastering it takes time. It is, however, a very powerful tool. The Fringe, by the way, is @VancouverFringe, and the hashtag, if you are Twittering, is #VanFringe. Anything that you twitter with that hashtag will likely be ReTweeted by the Fringe Social Media dude, Earl.

The Fringe, by the way, will also have an IPhone app this year.

Guerrilla Marketing/PR Stunts: There are great opportunities for guerrilla marketing at the Fringe. Granville Island is pretty densely populated all the time, so walking around in costume, handing out flyers, or flyering lines is pretty successful. After all, if people are there to see the Fringe, they are your target market, you’re doing them a service by telling them about your show. You can also draw/make signs on the sidewalk and road with chalk, or talk to the Fringe about doing a mini-performance in the bar.

Using other Fringes for marketing collateral: If you have been to other fringes, and have gotten star-ratings or good reviews, it’s important to use that info as much as possible on all of your marketing materials. Here in Vancouver, the way to get a much-coveted preview is to have someone from The Straight see your show in Victoria (which is right before ours) and highlight it in a Fringe preview.

Good luck! Have fun! Share any additional comments or tips below.

 

Fringe Marketing for Dummies July 23, 2010

Here in Vancouver, there are 86 productions in The Fringe this year. Now, you aren’t going to be competing with every single one of those at any given time, but certainly you will be competing with some. On top of that, you will be competing with whatever else is going on in Vancouver at the time: other theatre, live music, movies, the weather.

If you want your show to be a sell-out, I’m offering up some tasty tips on how to market your production and stand out from the crowd.

Get started early. You’ll need to start getting your stuff together and planning 4-6 weeks before the Fringe.

What makes you unique? The first thing you have to figure out is what it is that makes you unique–what makes you stand out above the crowd. This is called your unique selling point. Your USP should form the basis of all of your marketing: from your poster/postcard image to your press release.

Get a great image. If you have a bit of marketing money to spend, hiring a professional photographer is a good investment. Deb Pickman and I endorse Pink Monkey Studios. But whoever you are using, here are some tips to keep in mind when shooting. Your shot does not have to be a scene from the play. In fact, I think it’s better if it’s NOT a scene from the play. Go back to your unique selling point. Can you create an image that communicates that? Your image should be arresting. The ultimate goal would be to stop people in their tracks as they are walking down the street, if they see your poster on a pole. Here is a blog post that I wrote on the topic: https://artofthebiz.wordpress.com/2009/01/19/the-importance-of-a-good-publicity-photo/

This is your competition, folks. (photo of Toronto Fringe poster board courtesy of Sue Edworthy)

Marketing Materials:

Posters: 11×14, hire a graphic designer if at all possible, have them printed in colour (they should only cost you about $1/ea), make sure you include star ratings from other fringes or positive reviews. Print around 100-200. Concentrate putting them up on and around Granville Island. There are specific places for Fringe posters, like the Fringe Bar and the Info centre. If you want to put them up beyond, through the rest of the city, call Perry the Poster guy: 604. 874.6828. He charges nearly $1/per poster, but they are put up in places where they will not be taken down.

Postcards/leaflets: Most people go with a scaled-down version of their poster. There are a few places you can leave postcards, but the real value of a postcard is as a “leave-behind.” “Hey–I’m doing a Fringe show–wanna come? Here’s a postcard with all the info.”

Industry Images is currently offering discounts on printing for The Fringe.

Part 2

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