As I mentioned in my last blog, I have returned home from the NY Frigid with some great new friends and, thankfully, a wonderful review. But there are always things we could have done better, so now it’s time to take a serious look at the lessons that I brought home.
1) Research the festival’s audience. What size is it? What is the primary demographic – age, income and geographic area? Is there a family audience? I think these are questions you can ask directly to the festival. Any festival 5 years or older should have a fairly good grasp on the identity of their audience. With the Frigid, I was expecting a small festival, but I totally underestimated just how small. And no family audience at all. (I started changing my mimed cigarette to a mimed joint because that was more suited to their audience.) Performing for other performers is cool, but it’s nice to sell a few tickets as well. One of the reasons for doing a festival is to have access to a built in audience where your contacts are limited. So it makes sense to look into this before applying. Which leads me to…
2) Marketing outside the festival. Reach out to groups and organizations that might have a particular interest in your show before you get there. The Frigid allows you to set your own ticket price and offer whatever discounts you want. That’s very helpful for enticing groups to pass on info about your show. The biggest problem here is time. Preparing a show and keeping up with the festival deadlines is usually demanding enough, especially if you are doing several festivals. Having templates helps a lot, so every time you write an e-mail or create an ad for a particular group, file a copy. Nevertheless, researching and contacting groups in a community you are not familiar with takes time, so with a well-established festival extra marketing is not usually a high priority. With the Frigid’s small audience, it was absolutely necessary (which is why I should have asked the questions in lesson 1).
3) Red Flags
- An ugly or uninformative website. Seriously. It is sooooo easy these days to create a professional looking website; a crappy one should be a huge red flag. For many people, the website is their first contact with the festival. If it is confusing and does not have the What, When and Where prominently displayed, they will quickly get frustrated and move on. When I first looked into The Frigid, the dates were buried half way down the page with the application form, rather than being at the top of the home page. This turned out to be a harbinger of things to come. The What and When continued to be less than prominent. The locations of the venues never, ever appeared anywhere on the site. I’d wager this goes a long way to explaining the aforementioned lack of audience. All the press in the world is useless if people can’t find you. And since the festival’s marketing and press is another reeason for doing festivals, in future I will give the appearance and organization of the website more weight in deciding whether to attend.
- They are proud of giving 100% of ticket sales to the artists. Sounds good, but I now have my doubts. Everyone wants to have a successful, well attended event but nothing motivates like the bottom line. If the festival has no direct stake in ticket sales, do they receive substantial funding from sources that expect to see numbers when it’s over? Selling mandatory buttons is another way some festivals make some income from the audience generated. I’m not sure what the Frigid’s income source breakdown is, but I’m pretty sure if they needed ticket sales there would have been a map on the website. Just sayin’.
4) This one is specific to my show. I need to give up on using the word “mime” in titles and descriptions. The associated assumptions are simply too restrictive and too negative. In a competitive environment where people are making difficult choices about how to spend their limited time and dollars, any doubt is enough to turn them away. I will gladly accept any new title ideas for the show formerly known as iMime. Leave a comment if you have one.
5) Make it portable. I hauled a PVC-pipe flat all the way out there for nothing. It didn’t work in the space and when I had to, it was actually pretty easy to rearrange things so I didn’t need it.
6) Why am I doing NY in February and LA in June? Doh!
7) Fringe festivals are rarely financially beneficial endeavors, so do them primarily as a way to workshop your work, gain experience, a chance to visit new places, and to have some fun. On all these counts, my Frigid experience was a success.