5 Rules to Making Money at the Fringe

A friend asked me how one makes money at the Hamilton Fringe.  Although, I’m hardly an expert, I have been involved in three shows that made money; one of which went on to win Best of Fringe in 2011.

My advice?  Have a hit show.

Surprisingly, she didn’t find the advice very helpful.  But, with a hit show, lots of people come to see it and the money usually follows.

How does one get a “hit show”?  That’s a good question…  It’s pretty much out of your control.

However, there are a few things you can do to ensure that you make some money during your Fringe experience.  It sucks when you don’t make back your production costs or entry fee.  Here are my five rules:

Rule #1:  Have a good show.  This is important, folks.  Are you telling a story that people want to see?  Will it entertain them?  Would your family go to see the show if you weren’t involved?  Will it dazzle the audience in some way?  Now, after you’ve answered “of course, it’s brilliant”, ask someone else who isn’t invested in the production.  Just because we like something, doesn’t mean that an audience will.  It should be something that you are proud of and have put a lot of work into.  My play Minced went through a bunch of drafts, had been presented at my playwriting group, and had a reading at the Artword Artbar (after which I rewrote it again).  But, I could tell from the reactions of the audience that I had a show.

Rule #2:  Size Matters.  Cast size is important if you are concerned about making money.  Obviously, the more people you have to share the “pie” with, the smaller your piece of the pie.   A one person show that you’ve written and directed will net you the highest percentage of the house, but it can be pretty lonely.  And a lot of people don’t like one person shows.  Don’t get me wrong – a lot of people do like them, too – myself included.  But I know many people that stay away from one person shows.  The three “successful” shows (i.e.they made money) that I was involved with had only 2 actors.

Rule #3: Your First Performance Is NOT A Dress Rehearsal.  Your first performance should be as slick and confident as your final performance.  People are paying to see your show so it better be ready!  Although, you have to get your Fringe entry submitted months in advance, you’d be surprised how many people wait until the last minute to get their show on its feet.  You don’t get a lot of technical time when you move into the theatre so be prepared.  Discovering production issues on opening night is not cool.  Lines should be learned.  Word of mouth is the strongest currency in the Fringe and if your opening performance sucked, the people that saw it will share that information with everyone they meet.

Rule #4: Advertise Your Show.  Make sure your posters are up in places near the theatres in the Fringe.  Get them up as soon as possible, ideally before the Fringe starts.  And make sure you ask for permission to put them up in stores.  Hand out flyers.  Everyone involved in the show should take turns walking the lines to hand out flyers.  You are your greatest advertisement for your show, so be friendly and polite when handing out flyers.  Ask people what they’ve seen or are going to see.  Don’t be afraid to recommend other shows if you think the people you’re handing flyers to might like them.

Rule #5: Pay It Forward.  See other people’s shows.  Recommend other people’s shows.  Commiserate with people and make friends.  Be helpful when you can.  There are a lot of performers from out of town and they’re lonely, so be nice.

Bonus Rule: Don’t Get Hung Up On The Money.  Making money should not be the main reason you’re doing the show.  See rule #1.  You have a story to tell.  Have fun telling it.

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