10 Shows that stand out at the Fringe Festival – 2012

The very first summer session of NYMF is just about wrapping up, but fear not, festival lovers, there is still the ginormo New York International Fringe Festival to go . . . with over 1 million shows in two short weeks.

Ok, maybe they aren’t doing a million shows, but man, it seems that way, doesn’t it?

Truth is there are hundreds of shows about to debut in theaters all over the downtown scene . . . from one woman shows about stripper poles to gothic puppet musicals . . . and if you’re a theatergoer, you’re sure to want to catch a few (as long as the venues have AC), but how do you decide which Fringe shows you’re going to see?

Every year, I dive into the Fringe catalog and pick ten shows that stand out to me, based solely on the 50 word description each show is afforded.  50 Words ain’t a lot of verbiage to sell a ticket or snag a producer . . . but that’s about all they get . . . and in a way it’s one of the greatest marketing challenges a show can have these days.  How do you stand out amongst hundreds of other offerings with only 50 words and a logo?

Let’s see what shows were up to this year’s challenge and why.

1.  An Interrogation Primer

Half of the fifty words in the description for An Interrogation Primer were quotes, from sources like the Chicago Tribune and Time Out Chicago.  That kind of snobby social proof works, and while I’m not one that is attracted to solo shows (hard to do anything with them in the Broadway world), this one perked up my ears like a puppy dog who heard food getting poured into his bowl.  Add the fact that this show is adapted “verbatim from the writings of a former U.S. military interrogator” and I’m definitely intrigued (another example of a show letting an audience into a world they’ve never seen before).

2.  Behind the Badge

The most interesting entertainment allows us to peer into worlds that we don’t have access to on an everyday basis, but fascinate us.  That’s why there have been so many great mob stories, and it’s one of the reasons why The West Wing captured our attention.  One of those life/death worlds that intrigue us immensely is the world of the police officer.  Behind the Badge is autobiographical, and the title alone hints that I’m going to get to see something that others don’t.  (Note to Producers of BTB:  Read this blog.)

3.  COBU – Knockin’ on the Cool Earth

Cobu is an all Japanese girl “drum” group from . . . Japan.  Ok, that’s cool enough.  But what snagged me was that they billed that their founder was from Stomp, they had a movie coming out called Cobu 3D, and in 2011 they won the Theatermania Audience Favorite Award (awards, no matter what they are, always get a show attention).  Every Producer in town has heard, “My show is the next Stomp,” so often that we know not to believe it.  But still, reading a description like this does make us wonder.

4.  Do Me A Little

This play is about Mormons.  On their wedding night.  Enough said?  Ok, I’ll add this as well . . . Mormons are “in”, and while it may not be the most original form of marketing to try and tag along on another’s success, it does work.  Oh, and who isn’t just a little curious about how that underwear comes off anyway?

5.  Girl’s Liberation Front

What are young women feeling these days about being a young woman?  If you want the real answers, you can’t ask some old white dude.  You gotta ask the girls themselves.  GLF is a collection of “dance, song and spoken word pieces written by girls ages 8-21.”  Will it be good?  You have to go to find out.  But one thing is for sure, it will be true.  And is there anything more dramatic than the truth?

6.  Grimm:  A New Musical

Let’s face it.  Musicals are fantasies.  People don’t walk down the street and start singing about not being able to pay the rent, or about the way to make meat pies out of people.  So why not start with a fantasy as your source material?  Grimm material is ripe for musicalization.  It just “feels” right, you know?  Let’s see if the Big Theatre Company got it right.

7.  Night of the Auk

A science fiction musical “set aboard an ill-fated spacecraft returning from Earth’s first lunar landing.”  Ok, normally, I’d skip on to the next, but then I realized this wasn’t a new musical.  It was a revival . . . of a short (I’m talking short) lived Broadway musical that opened in 1956 and closed 8 performances later.  And get this, it starred Christopher Plummer!  Ok, you got me curious.  And while I’m not sure if we’re ready for a sci-fi musical on Broadway yet (or ever will be)  but reviving work that has been buried for a while always gets those Producer puppy dog ears up.  Three words:  Chi-ca-go.

8.  Non-Equity The Musical!

When I was acting in shows, and before I was union, we used to elect a Schemquity Deputy and joke how we were going to call the Schemquity home office (it was in Weehawken, New Jersey) whenever anything went wrong.  I’d guess that we weren’t the first to joke at our status . . . and now here comes Non-Equity The Musical! taking something that a lot of people laugh about, and packaging it for us (which, by the way, is what great consumer goods producers do – see what people are talking about and then delivering a product that satisfies that need).  Is my mom going to want to see this?  Will it go to Broadway?  No, but it just sounds fun.  And sometimes that’s enough.

9.  The Slave Who Became A Man

The slavery era in this country is such a huge embarrassment to what we stand for that it will never stop being intriguing subject matter for dramatic interpretation. Audiences will always be drawn to it (as I was to this marketing blurb) as we try and figure out just what the $@?% we were thinking.  Add that it’s a true (!) escape tale (always exciting) based on a journal, and I definitely want to hear more.  And now I’m wondering if it could be a musical.

10.  Tail!  Spin!

Topicality and tabloids . . . is there a better combination?  Oh wait, toss in a little sex and bam!  You’ve got an Emeril-approved production.  Tail! Spin! is another “verbatim” recreation of a bunch of politico sex-scandals including Anthony Weiner and more.  Since we’re a bit obsessed with politics right now (and since we’re always obsessed with sex), this show seems certain to get just as much attention as a naked wee-wee shot of a Senator.

What stands out in this year’s festival to you?  Check out the catalog here, and then go see one, ten, hundreds, or even a million shows.  🙂

_ _

Looking to learn how to get your show to stand out?  Here are two quick tips:

1 – Read Seth Godin’s book The Purple Cow, my bible to product development and marketing.

2 – Take my Get Your Show Off The Ground seminar, which I guarantee will give you a bunch of great takeaways on how to get your show to stand out at the Fringe, NYMF, and on Broadway!  Take the seminar today.

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Comments
  • Adam says:

    Hey Ken- I’m the director of NIGHT OF THE AUK. Thanks so much for the shout-out. Unfortunately, it is not a musical – but was originally a 3-Act Free-Verse drama, which the Oboler estate gave us permission to adapt into a more manageable 75-minute One Act. Oboler was a champion of radio plays and we’re approaching our production as such, evoking a spacecraft through sound and movement. Should be interesting! P.S. Can you believe Kermit Bloomgarden originally directed and Sidney Lumet directed on Broadway?

  • Adam says:

    Sorry, Kermit Bloomgarden produced, of course.

  • Shelby says:

    I saw Non-Equity doing their pitch at our theatre two weeks ago…is fun, but it won’t be a Broadway show for sure…for that, you’d need Equity! Joking aside, it still felt really “patchy” to me and if I were to describe it, it’s the baby of (title of show) and a Chorus Line via surrogate mother Smash. Make of that what you will!

    • It’s good to get a fresh way of looking at it.

    • >> According to the basic scientific definition of human life, it seems to be the case then that the fertilized embryo is human. And if it is human life, it deserves to be protected as such.Bullshit. A human embryo is not more important than a live animal. Annually, 14 million fetuses are aborted, while 50 BILLION animals are born, raised under mostly horrific conditions, and then slaughtered – often brutally – so that humans can gorge on meat.

  • Thanks for including Behind The Badge! Our director is about to get a huge reward for writing that blurb 🙂

    And our production company can be found online here: ironshirtproductions.com

    Hope to see you at the show!

    -becca stoll
    Sound designer, Behind the Badge

  • Rich says:

    Just curious…from a data mining perspective, of the hundreds of shows that have debuted at Fringe over the years how many (& %) have gone on to become true hits,
    either on- or off-Broadway? Nothing against Fringe as a new works’ venue, just wondering about its capability as a launch vehicle.

  • Andy says:

    Great blog! Thanks for posting. Trying to boil a new project down into a 40 word blurb and one inch black and white icon is SO hard! It’s nice to get some industry feedback on what works and which ones really stand out.

  • Great blog — glad to have finally found it! Sorry our 40 word blurb didn’t catch your eye, but we’d love to have you as our guest at one of our performances to try and convince you that you should have! “We Crazy, Right?” is a solo show about how 2 gay, white guys navigate the foster care system, gay adoption, and gay marriage, to finally adopt 3 Dominican kids (and how one of the guys becomes a stay-at-home-dadn in order to survive it all!) Glad you feature the Fringe on your blog — thansk for that! Hope to see you at FringeNYC!

  • Ken – What would make a variety show such as a magic show, juggling show, etc. stand out to you? Anything? Do you think such shows are necessarily limited by their genres or do you think it could be possible for one to rise to your list?

  • Linda says:

    Great information. Girls Liberation front will be my first choice. Getting a girls perspective from youth through teen to adult will be very interesting to say the least!

  • bobby freeman says:

    OK, i love this festival, and do what you do; pour over the listings and make my picks. First i highlight “finalists”, of which they were 30, then actually go to the websites listed for any other tidbit of info i can get.(interesting process; some tell you alot, some dont even work) I also weigh a little heavier national or int’l listings, and plays with multiple actors figuring they are a little more developed. I got down to 18 “finalists”: heres the list…BEST NIGHT EVER, Names of the Dead, Behind the badge, A Short Trip, Fantasy Artists, Hope is the Saddest, Canon in D minor, STANDBY-the musical, Dark Hollow, Paper Plane, Blanche, An End to dreaming, Vacumm, Dogs, SleepOver Nocturnal, The Pundit & Inexperienced Love……….so we’ll see………….

  • Ken and commenters–
    nytheatre.com posted Q&A articles with artists from more than 150 shows in FringeNYC, throughout the month of July, precisely so that deciding what shows might be of interest in the festival is not a guessing game based on blurbs. Please check it out! http://www.nytheatre.com/NytheatreNow/FringeNYC

  • Your’s is the intelligent approach to this issue.

  • Hi Mary, love the website, love Made in Britain, love that your opening new stores across Britain…. what about Belfast Mary?! we desperately need Mary Portas in Belfast! come on over and give us your expertise, flair and no nonsense approach,please yvonne

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