Fun with festivals.

Theater festivals have exploded in size and number over the last five years, just like film festivals.

The Edinburgh Fringe, NY Fringe, Minneapolis Fringe, Toronto Fringe, Midtown International (which announced their award nominations today, coincidentally), NYMF (which gave birth to ABz), and countless others were created to give new plays and musicals an easier entry point to production by covering a portion of the expenses and responsibilities, namely press/marketing and theater rent.

So getting into a festival makes your life easier, right?

Not so fast, fringe-meister.

Getting into a festival is like an actor getting an agent.  You’ve still got to do most of the work, especially if you want to stand out.

Festivals are like buffets.  All the shows are lined up next to each other.  The quiche is next to the corn which is next to the strawberry Jello with the marshmallows.

While having all those choices sound too good to be true at first, they can be overwhelming to the consumer, especially if they are “new” dishes the diner has never tasted before.  And remember, you can only eat so many in one sitting.

I mean, think about it . . . how many times have you been to a buffet and found yourself wandering around the bar trying to decide just what you should try.

That’s what a festival audience does.

And if you’re lucky enough to get on their plate, you’re probably just one of many portions.

With so many choices, it’s hard for the Jello to stand out.

Your job as a Producer in a festival is to make your show seem like a waiter-served entrée that costs a lot more than the flat rate, all you can eat, warming tray heated, slightly stale, other options.

You can’t just be one of the choices.  You have to make yourself the choice; the one that makes them come back for seconds.

How do you do it?

Don’t do what the other shows do.

Do more.  And do different.

  • Geoff Short says:

    Another great post Ken and I agree that we need to do things differently than our competition in order to stand out. This theory also applies to theatre (and other businesses) at every level. I’ve been working hard at the community theatre level here in Cleveland and have tried to follow that same principle. There are so many different theatre groups here that I think we cannablize each other. How to stand out is a big challenge. And yet more groups emerge all the time. To expand on your food analogy, if there were 10 Chinese restaurants on a street, why would you want to open an 11th? Instead, try an Italian restaurant and see what happens.
    One of the ways I’ve tried to get the groups I work with to stand out is through the use of new media. For instance, I produce a local cable access show called “Call-Back” that focuses on documenting the process of producing local community theatre (and professional) productions. Sort of theatre reality TV. In addition to airing on cable, the episodes live on YouTube (at There is also a blog for the show at There users can find video samples, links to a Call-Back podcast and more.
    Call-Back is not only designed to document the process of producing plays and musicals, but also to help create new revenue streams for theatre groups. For instance, the Call-Back video documentaries are often part of a larger, comprehensive marketing plan to build audiences and familiarize a larger population with productions. Call-Back is also meant to be a resource for performers in Cleveland and includes features like audition tips, work opportunities, etc.
    In terms of generating revenue, I create a barter system among different theatre groups participating in the videos. The groups provide an amount of advertising exposure in their theatres that is collected in a “bank” of live theatre exposure opportunities. Corporate Sponsorships are then created using these resources to benefit sponsors. Proceeds of sponsorship revenues go to participating theatres. I recently sold a season sponsorship package to a large communications company that included two area community theatres. The company is now included in both theatres’ marketing as well as in Call-Back videos. This sponsorship raised money for these theatres and gives the sponsor valuable exposure among a powerful entertainment audience in communities where their service is provided. My hope is to take small performing arts groups away from relying solely on dwindling public funding and grants sources and make them proactive sales and marketing organizations that can understand, quantify and sell the value of their products and audiences.
    Always trying for that waiter-served entrée here in Cleveland!
    Thanks – Geoff

  • Maz says:

    Nuts. You were in Akron? that’s where I live! Big fan of your blog.

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