You may have heard of Edmonton. It’s the capital of the Canadian province of Alberta and is North America's northernmost metropolitan area with a population of over one million. It's also home to one of the largest fringe festivals in the world, second only to Edinburgh.
This past August I traveled to Edmonton with a team of talented collaborators to put on a new play I’ve co-written, JUNG & CRAZY.
Some quick facts about the 2019 Edmonton Fringe Festival:
248 shows were featured in Fringe this year
Over the 11 days of the festival, a total of 147,358 tickets were sold (avg. 594 tix per show) – for a total of $1.72 M (CAD)
Aside from a service fee and sales tax, 100% of ticket sales go to respective artists.
The festival provides artists a place to stay for the duration of the festival, if they request it.
Shows are selected through a lottery system, with more spots given to local performers.
Selected shows get 7 performances at a fringe run venue, with a full tech staff and front of house.
Those who don't win the lottery can elect to bring their own venue (BYOV).
Benefits of BYOV are extra performances (you can have more than 7 performances) and extra tech time. Downsides are higher upfront costs as well as needing to organize a tech staff + front of house.
Some quick facts about our journey to the Edmonton Fringe Festival:
Our team arrived in Edmonton a week before the festival opened to prepare our marketing + rehearse, but also as a buffer in case of travel issues.
Our venue was a lovely 99 seat blackbox theater located right near the action of the festival.
Our show sold out 3 of its 7 performances!
Audiences connected with our content which translated to excellent word of mouth.
In fact, our show was strongly recommended by “the beer tent reviewers” – a group of independent reviewers who share their thoughts through physical paper handouts in the fringe’s beer tents.
The majority of our team stayed for a few days after the fringe to unwind and enjoy the city of Edmonton! We visited the beautiful Saskatchewan river valley which runs through the center of the city as well as the indoor waterpark and theme park at the massive Edmonton mall.
Our team shares their thoughts of their experience.
Click on a person's name to read what they have to say.
I. How did it go? Three years ago, I fell in love with theater at the Edmonton Fringe. Revisiting that environment was a powerful experience and refueled my already burning passion for theater. From a production standpoint, our show did exceedingly well and was met by enthusiastic audiences. As a co-writer, it was amazing to see our words turned into a living breathing world.
II. What was your artistic goal? My goals were to: 1) to experience the Fringe and reinvigorate myself with the art of theater 2) put on this show for the first time to see how it lives in front of an audience. Robert and I had a lot of questions about the work, and we needed to put it on its feet to them answered.
III. What was your greatest challenge? Keeping kosher while immersed in the frenzy of the Fringe was difficult. Edmonton is not like NYC where there are numerous kosher restaurants. All the food I ate had to be planned and prepared which takes some foresight and creates opportunities for error.
IV. What was it like working with this team? Awesome! Our team was extremely effective since everyone knew the vision and how to accomplish it. Everyone was experts in their own right. Powerhouse level achieved!
V. What impact do you think you had on people? People had an opportunity to laugh – which leads to conversations – about something that is difficult to talk about. I imagine our audience carried forward our show’s message of self acceptance and what it means to be the driver of your own destiny, rather than allowing life to happen to you.
I. How did it go? The production was, overall, a great success and surpassed my expectations. Our ticket sales were phenomenal – we had a few sold out performances and houses never less than 50% full. Based on anecdotal evidence, I estimate we were in the top 20% of shows at this year's Edmonton Fringe--no small feat for a tiny crew from out of town. It was also a very rewarding experience for me, as both an actor and writer.
II. What was your artistic goal? My goal was to see how my script would hold up in front of a real, paying audience. Would the jokes get laughs? Would the dramatic moments capture people's attention? And for the most part, the answer was a resounding "Yes!" And that was very gratifying.
III. What was your greatest challenge? My greatest challenge was keeping a cool head under pressure. As I gain experience as a producer, I am learning that ALL productions feel like they are falling apart at some point, especially the closer one gets to opening night; that's just part of the process. The difficulty is learning to accept that and rolling with the punches – unexpected costs, setbacks, disagreements, etc. – of which there were a few on this production, as is normal. Learning to deal with those issues – and still remain open-minded, creative, and focused on getting things done--was sometimes challenging.
IV. What was it like working with this team? Working with this team was pure joy. It really felt like I was living my dream throughout most of the rehearsal process, as well as during performances. And it almost always felt like we were all rowing the boat in the same direction, which was a gift. Communication styles did differ between us, and that was sometimes challenging, but in most cases, I think we complemented each other really well and found a very productive and satisfying team rhythm.
V. What impact do you think you had on people? I believe audiences left our show uplifted and thoroughly entertained. We may also have encouraged people to question some of the big life decisions they have made, and perhaps inspired them to be more courageous and to take a step towards being their most authentic selves, whatever that means to them. And for those who had no previous familiarity with Carl Jung, we introduced a few intriguing ideas, like synchronicity and the collective unconscious.
I. How did it go? My fringe experience has been an incredible adventure. I’ve been with the show in LA and NYC and putting it up on its feet internationally has been challenging but deeply rewarding
II. What was your artistic goal? To make a show that facilitates audiences to introspect about mental wellness through a story that makes you laugh, think, and cry.
III. What was your greatest challenge? Directing new work with a small budget and tight schedule. As a director, I like to balance exploration with effective execution of the script. This approach was difficult, given our limited time and resources, but despite this, we were able to accomplish a lot. I’m still shocked with how much we did with so little.
IV. What was it like working with this team? Professional. Even though we were a scrappy new team coming out of New York to do a Fringe show, everyone was organized, creative, and involved – both within and without the rehearsal room.
V. What impact do you think you had on people? Audiences were clearly engaged – our show had them laughing out loud or silent on the edge of their seats. After the show, I overheard people conversing about their own anxieties and sexuality, which is an example of living the story we were telling.
I. How did it go? I greatly enjoyed being part of this artistically driven pursuit and focused adventure. In all stages of development, we hit our marks and created space to discover, take risks, and be vulnerable.
II. What was your artistic goal? To create a character who the audience can see as a reflection of themselves so that they can see themselves and hear themselves without fear and judgement.
III. What was your greatest challenge? In the process of creating a character, there’s a delicate line where you as a person stops and where the character as a person begins. Discovering (and exploring) that boundary requires extreme vulnerability and a safe space – applying self care and finding empathy for myself for this process to occur is always a challenge.
IV. What was it like working with this team? Our team had a single sense of purpose which is really special and allowed us to focus, discover, and flourish. Each person held their own and supported each other. Our producers were especially resourceful and used all tools possible to the fringe festival and Edmonton itself which earned us a lot of respect and made me feel like they were the Kings of the Fringe.
V. What impact do you think you had on people? By seeing our show, people had the opportunity to witness themselves in new ways such that they’ll be present in their own lives and make new choices and discover new possibilities.
I. How did it go? The Festival was great! Audiences loved what we had to show them which corresponded to full houses and and great sales. Edmonton is a great place to spend time. I found the community there to be super welcoming.
II. What was your artistic goal? To have the experience of putting on a play I was proud of.
III. What was your greatest challenge? Commuting. Our billet was 5 miles south of the Fringe grounds and commuting should have been a breeze, especially since there are 2 bus routes that travel directly between these locations. This was not the case! Busses would drive past me all the time as I stood waiting at the actual bus stop. Busses sometimes changed routes without telling me (or anyone). Eventually, I got a bike to avoid the whole mess. Then my bike seat got stolen! FML!
IV. What was it like working with this team? Pleasant. We genuinely cared about the story we were telling and the artists we had in the room genuinely care about collaboration. That’s a perfect combination.
V. What impact do you think you had on people? People were excited to see a story that was important without feeling beat over the head and have an agenda thrown at them. This play has a specific agenda and doesn’t get preachy – audiences noticed this and was appreciative.
I. What was it like marketing a Fringe show? An awesome juxtaposition:I was simultaneously taking a marketing exam as part of my MBA while experiencing the customer journey in person at the Fringe when handbilling and talking to potential audiences.
Agile: We could adapt to what we see on the ground. We would look at box office sales and figure out how to fill seats for specific times, in real time. We would talk to people and see how they responded to marketing angles and adapt instantly, which was wild and fun!
Enlightening:The IRL awareness strategies allowed us to literally watch conversion. Additionally, the digital strategies were also a huge part of name recognition, especially when talking to other artists. Both were definitely necessary for building our audience.
II. What was your goal? To be helpful to a theater project I believe in, while developing relevant producing and marketing skills.
III. What was your greatest challenge? Understanding a customer I did not meet (until I was on the ground in Edmonton). Sure, we had demographic data and a basic breakdown, but that wasn’t sufficient enough for me to fully shape my strategy.
IV. What was it like working with this team? Fun! The creative team really gave me free reign to try different strategies. Everyone was really eager to participate in the marketing efforts by learning, sharing, and executing, which I really appreciated.
V. What impact do you think you had on people? People would walk out from our theater feeling okay not to be okay. The experiences that our characters go through, though extremely taxing, are survivable and escapable. Audiences will be able to relate to similar struggles and leave hopeful.
A special thank you to: Jenna Schlags (Dramaturg), Chelsea Davis (NYC Assistant Director), Kathryn Bailey (Costume Consultant), Sarah Brown (Assistant Stage Manager), Dustin Neiderman (Graphic Designer)