Friday, January 16, 2009

Guest Review: London, Ontario Fringe Festival

Guest Review: London, Ontario Fringe
By Guest Reviewer: Abby Lynch

Guest Festival Ranking: 3.75 bowties out of 5
Mr. Fringey’s Description: Did you really post that ad on Craigslist telling everyone you learned to parachute in London England when it was all just a bad dream?

The Sunny-side: (Give 3 reasons this fringe is the bomb)
1. The staff is wonderful – ready to answer any questions and help you navigate their fringe and the city. The office was open and accessible, and someone always had a minute to help. They were generally prompt and informative with e-mailed questions. In a particular feat of generosity, they even found last-minute billeting (about a week before we arrived in London) for all 7 of us, after a mis-sent email meant that we didn’t get into their initial billet pool.

2. Media coverage of the fringe as a whole is pretty good. There was a lot of preview and feature attention from the sponsoring radio station, A-Channel Morning (the morning TV new show), theatre in London website, and newspaper.

3. London is pretty cute and the audience is small, but dedicated. A lot of line flyering throughout the week meant we made friends with a number of repeat patrons and were on friendly terms with many of the volunteers.

The Flip Side: (Give 3 reasons this fringe sucks or what makes it difficult)
1. Reviews were patchy to non-existent. The London Free Press sometimes feature articles, often about local shows. There were a few reviews of shows, but there didn’t seem to be anyone in the local newspaper, TV, radio or other media really focused on reviewing theatre or the fringe – more arts and culture general interest stuff. The 2008 festival was in August (and it was the last festival on our circuit), so the lack of reviews wasn’t a problem, since we had a number of other reviews for the press packet, promotional material and such. The 2009 festival is scheduled for June, though, with the intent of making the fringe friendlier to tours. I’d be kind of wary of starting a tour there if I wasn’t sure I was going to get some press that I might be able to carry on to the next fringe. Not that a feature article in the London Free Press, (which we didn’t get, but others did) appearance on the morning news, video or interviews for websites, or radio slots are bad, but some sort of critical reviews.

2. The set stock of theatergoers is fairly small – something the fringe fans of London will admit – so the pre-existing fringe audience can only see so many shows. Many of the companies that produced in 2008 were London-based or otherwise local, and were therefore able to pull on existing fan bases – either from producing year-round (or every Fringe) in London, or simply getting family and friends to come out and see their show. I talked to a lot of people while flyering who were in town to see just one show, and it wasn’t ours. Again – the 2009 festival is in June, making it more convenient to CAFF touring artists, so perhaps the playing field will be leveled with more touring artists able to draw audience members into a show they didn’t expect to see.

3. The venue size is variable – we were in a 300+ seat performance hall, which was not well-suited to the nature of our show, as well as our modest ambitions as a first-time tour.

Your Money Sock:
How big of a money sock do you need here, based on food prices, and other expenses? (Choose one: A tiny sock, a men’s tube sock, a full blown stocking)
Men’s tube sock, or perhaps slightly smaller. London’s pretty cheap.

How to Fill Your Seats: What’s the best way to fill your seats here marketing-wise?
Flyering – lines for shows are certainly a good place to find a concentrated audience of fringe-goers. There’s a few main roads down town with many pedestrians, and a big indoor market with a lot of foot traffic. You can’t flier or put up posters in Covent Garden Market, but that area is a good place to find people.

Is there a fringe central?
There is an office full of helpful staff right across the street from a bar that serves as the social Fringe central. It’s not necessarily dedicated to the Fringe every night, so some nights you might be looking to hang out with fringers and find the locals watching sports.

Ticket Prices: Do you get 100% of door? If not, how much?
Yes - 100%

Do performers see other shows for free?
Sadly no. There’s a comp list you can fill out each night and give to the volunteers on the spot, so you can easily comp anyone with a little advance notice. We also tried to use a password and comp volunteers as well, and we had to make sure to explain it to the FOH volunteers every night.

Payment: Do you get paid each night? If not how? Were you paid on time if the money was sent to you?
Cash sales go directly to the artist after the show. Pre-sale and pass revenue comes in a check or cash right at the end of the festival.

Is there a showcase for out of town performers?
There is a showcase for all performers – not necessarily dedicated to out-of-towners.

Venue Location:
Can you walk to all the venues? If not how did you get around?
Venues are all walkable.
Travel-in: What city do you fly into and how did you get to you destination?
We drove – we were coming up from Washington DC and did the drive in a moderately long (10 hours or so) day. Can’t provide any advice as to how to get there via public transit, but London is a fairly large city (400,000 people) and it’s not far from Toronto, Buffalo, Niagara Falls, and Detroit.
Billeting: Did you use fringe fest lodging? If so, how was the lodging? If not, who did you stay with?
Yes. They do billeting for out of town acts as needed, and they even found us housing at the last minute – some email problems had meant that we weren’t on the billet list until right before we left for London.

Fringe Specs:
Where: London, Ontario
Age in Fringe Years: You know that poor 10 year old with the dysfunctional parents who mean well, but…..
And: Spaces reserved for 15 local spots, 13 Ontario spots; 6 National spots; and 6 International spots.
And: In 2009 18,000 patrons attended the Fringe and artist revenues topped $80,000.00.
Festival Dates: June 18 – 28
Application Deadline: January 5, 2009 until all spots are filled
Applying: – snail mail
Festival Cost: $600
Tickets: $10 or lower

About Mr. Fringy's Guest Reviewer: Abby Lynch, co-producer and manager of Formerly Witty Productions
Mr. Fringey’s tag: Shakespeare’s daughter headlines the Sahara Buffet on the Vegas Strip.
Check her out at:

What categories does your show fall under? (IE, comedy, women, religious, etc).
Plain old comedy.
How long have you been fringing?
This was FWP’s first summer on the fringe circuit – I’d worked (as a technician) the year before in Edinburgh, but nobody in the company had done a fringe tour, or show, for that matter. Call us fringe virgins. Or don’t, because it’s awkward.

How many fringes do you do each year?
We did 5 festivals last summer (see note about being Fringe virgins), plus a few shows in our collective home towns of Portland OR and Walla Walla WA.

What has been your favorite fringe?
Piggyback Fringe (a new offshoot of Ottawa in nearby Wakefield, QC) tiny, brand new, and very low-tech, but pretty fun. Ottawa had a good social aspect, with people actually hanging out and getting things done in the beer tent, despite (as Amy Salloway said) the oppressive humidity.

What has been your biggest money making fringe?
Capital (Washington DC) Fringe. We had the advantage of having a lot of friends and family in the area, however. Most lucrative fringe without an extended family nearby: Ottawa.

What fringe did you make your most important contact?
Capital Fringe (but that’s because I moved to DC right after the tour). As others have said, there are valuable contacts to be had pretty much anywhere.

In one word, why do you fringe?
Because we can. I know that’s not one word. We decided to create a show and put it out there, and we did. Liked it enough to keep on doing it, too.
What's the name of the show (s) you are fringing this year?
”On the Sly” in 2008. I think a bunch of us are looking at varying fringe projects for 2009, but not necessarily as a group.

Do you use your own tech person at your shows? If so, how much do you pay them?
We did – I functioned as production manager, tour manager, and stage manager (I just like job titles). Pay was same as the performers – you get what you make.

Any fringes to avoid?
Fraser Valley (no longer called a fringe, and no longer a CAFF member). Very nice people running the festival, but not a lot of people attending it, or even aware of it in the town (as a whole – this was not a case of getting low numbers when everyone else was fine).

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