Trumpets, please! The NYC Fringe Festival is about to begin! Da-da-da-da!!!!
Before I announce this year’s “10 Shows That Stand Out,” I thought I’d fill you in on the history of why I do this every year.
Think back (insert Wayne’s World time travel sounds here) to circa 2002 . . . I was a Company Manager wannabe Producer, so I was scouting out shows everywhere, including the Fringe Festival. I picked up that year’s catalog of shows, and flipped through, circling shows that got my attention, just based on their blurbs. One of those shows was a brilliant little comedy called 6 Story Building by a guy named Kevin Del Aguila.
Yep, that Kevin Del Aguila, who went on to write Altar Boyz, star in Peter and the Starcatcher, and he even won an Emmy Award earlier this year. Without me circling 6 Story Building in that catalog, Altar Boyz wouldn’t be what it became, and I might not be sitting here in my office, writing this blog.
So you see, how shows pitch themselves in 50 words can change a lot of people’s lives. And that’s why every year, I go back to my roots, print out the catalog and circle shows that jump out and say, “Hey – take a look at me!” and list them in this blog. Now remember, speaking super frankly, just because the show appears on this list doesn’t mean it’s any good . . . it just means there was something about it that said, “Huh, this show could have a future.”
And with that . . . here we go . . . these are the 10 Shows that Stand Out at this year’s Fringe (in alpha order) . . . and why:
1. CODA (Children of Deaf Adults)
Ok, look, this one is personal. Obviously I’m producing the Deaf West production of Spring Awakening this fall, so the radar goes off when I see anything that has to do with the deaf and hard-of-hearing community. So this one may have gotten to me more than others, but there’s something to learn from this when targeting your marketing to Producers. Got a show with a specific issue/theme/story . . . find people with an affinity for that same issue/theme/story, and go at ’em . . . hard.
2. Far From Canterbury
You know what Wicked and Lion King and Phantom and Aladdin all have in common? Yes, they are all super-sized hits. Duh. But they also all have an element of fantasy to them (lions don’t really sing, you know). Broadway loves a fantasy (Hollywood, even more so), which is why my eyes lit up at this show which “is set in a land where the magic of fairy tales is real.” And the lands of fairy tales also tend to have pretty decent sized spectacles . . . like Wicked and Lion King and Phantom and Aladdin.
3. Hamlet the Hip-Hopera
Without a doubt hip hop/rap is the next music form to dominate Broadway (Hamilton is just the beginning of the revolution) so anything that incorporates this exciting art form intrigues me. But hey, I’m the guy who wanted to turn 8 Mile into a musical (seriously – watch this – and imagine it on stage!).
4. Hard Day’s Night
Ok, so the title dragged me in . . . because obviously it has me thinking the Beatles. Who doesn’t love the Beatles? So immediately when reading the title, I’m saying, “Yes . . . ” (There’s an ol’ school sales tip of getting someone to say “Yes,” to something before making a bigger ask to get the person in the right frame of mind and this title does that. For example, “Would you like to save money on your car insurance?”) Now, the challenge for this show is that it has to deliver, because my expectations are high. And although the Beatles do figure into the plot of this story about a “f**king crazy family,” this ain’t a jukebox musical. But as one advertising executive said to me once, “It’s my job to get butts in seats. It’s your job to make sure they have a great time.” Titles can get butts in seats. Just don’t disappoint, because your word of mouth will be twice as bad if the audience feels duped.
5. Hick: A Love Story, The Romance of Lorena Hickok and Eleanor Roosevelt
Hamilton is just one of the many examples we’ve had of musicals with political figures in the literal spotlight. 1776, Fiorello, Clinton, etc. And now we have a intimate look into the life of Eleanor Roosevelt and her relationship with Lorena Hickok through the 2,336 passionate letters the First Lady wrote to her. Who doesn’t love looking deep into the private lives of public figures? I was intrigued by this one, but on the fence, until I read two great quotes from the San Francisco Examiner and the San Francisco Guardian that were in the blurb. It wasn’t just the quotes that got me, it was where they were from. Sources do mean a lot . . . and a city is a source in itself. You’ve heard, “If I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere!” Well, you gotta be more than a slouch to make it in San Fran, for sure.
6. Little One
This blurb grabbed my attention because of a quote as well, but this one wasn’t about the play. Apparently the National Post, Globe & Mail and Now Magazine called the author of Little One, Hannah Moscovitch, “Canada’s Hottest Young Playwright.” Often when Producers go shopping in festivals like the Fringe, they don’t find shows . . . but they do find artists. So even though the “thriller” aspect of Little One did appeal to me, I’m intrigued in this one not because of what’s in the festival today, but what might be on Broadway tomorrow.
7. Serial: The Parody!
People love parodies. Period. Forbidden Broadway ran for 174 years. 50 Shades of Grey had two musical parodies. Audiences are going nuts at That Bachelorette Show. And yeah, Serial was so popular, it obviously is going to have a built in audience who wants to see it mocked . . . relentlessly.
8. The Mad Scientist’s Guide to Romance, Robots and Soul-Crushing Loneliness
Can there be a more Fringe-y title than this one? But that’s not what got my attention here. What got me to include Mad Scientist on this list wasn’t seeing it in the catalog. It was seeing it in my inbox. The producers of the show reached out to me about a week ago . . . with a very personal email, saying that they were “big fans,” mentioning the show as a possible tenant for my theater (they smartly targeted my interests, not theirs), and that they hoped I would include the show in my annual list of 10 picks of the Fringe. They knew what they wanted, and they asked for it. And they got it. Obviously this team knows the cardinal rule that it takes more than one impression to make a purchase. You’ve got to hit your audience up in a variety of places. And they got to me days before I started composing this list . . . yeah, like they planned it that way. I don’t know whether the show will be great (although it sounds fun, it’s “70 minutes and you can drink during the show”), but the marketing certainly has been smart.
9. The Submarine Show
The last line of The Sub Show‘s blurb reads, “Created by Emmy Award Winner Slater Penny and former Cirque Du Soleil Performer Jaron Hollander.” See, you’re interested already, aren’t you? Creators can be stars too, especially if they are winners of ANY award, never mind an Emmy, or if they’ve performed with one of the coolest entertainment companies in the world. Talent by association is a thing. Don’t forget to pitch your creative teams . . . heck, even your producing team if they’ve got cred. (“From the Producers of August: Osage County” was used a few years ago for a Broadway play.)
10. This Side of the Impossible
A Producer’s job is to see what else is working in the entertainment world to get a sense of what audiences are buying (that’s what led to my first hit, The Awesome 80s Prom – I had seen the success of Tony ‘n Tina’s Wedding and the thousands of ripoffs and thought, “Man, people love them some interactive theater!”). Penn & Teller is crushing it at the Marquis Theatre right now. The Illusionists crushed it last Christmas (and I hear they are coming back). And rumor has it David Blaine is looking for an NY spot for his show (he may have even taken a peek at my theater). So when I read a blurb about a “Best of Fringe” winner at the San Fran FF that includes mind reading and “remarkable feats of the mystics,” I can’t help but think this is something that might work elsewhere. True, true, I was a magic geek as a kid . . . but deep down, I think a lot of us still are.
So those are this year’s Top 10, along with these honorable mentions: Coping, Plath, Running Interference and SCHOOLED (which was featured in our reading series a couple o’ years ago!).
What do you think of the above? Any you like or don’t? Flip through the catalog yourself and see what stands out to you . . . then tell us about it below.
And if you want to see a Fringe show, or 100 Fringe shows, don’t forget to enter my contest to win free tickets to as many as you want to see! Click here.
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