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Fringe festivals: frugal fun or fail?

Y'all, I have a confession to make. I... used to be a theatre person. I took acting classes for years and years and then graduated to writing and directing plays, until such time as I realized I kind of hate theatre and stopped doing it. </backstory>

Have you seen the 2003 movie Camp? About the musical theatre obsessed teens at summer camp?
That was my adolescence, basically. Except I didn't go to camp.

So, I'm not just like a fringe festival casual visitor, I am a fringe festival VETERAN. I did my first Fringe play when I was FOURTEEN YEARS OLD (it was about a teen girl in love with a vampire! It got extremely negative reviews! I was Stephenie Meyer before Stephenie Meyer was Stephenie Meyer). Since then, I went on to do six more Fringe shows in the next 10 years.

"But Annabelle, you can't quit doing theatre! What about the fans?"
"I just realized I like costumes, writing, bossing people around and organizing events... but not theatre. I am eschewing a life of theatre to become a Librarian."
"OK, that makes sense."

If you aren't familiar, fringe festivals where you can see sometimes REALLY GOOD shows that are just starting out, and frequently you will see EXTRAORDINARILY BAD SHOWS from people with far too much time on their hands. They can range from very small (20 or 30 plays) to extremely huge (hundreds of plays!). Wherever you live, here's my...

Fringe Festival survival guide:

1) Carefully plan out which shows you want to see. There's always room for serendipitious play discovery, but honestly? Go through the program and find shows featuring PEOPLE YOU KNOW ARE GOOD. Also look for shows that HAVE PERFORMED IN OTHER CITIES ALREADY.

2) Fringe festival volunteers are worth their weight in GOLD. They usually get free passes to shows, which means they've seen many of them AND they hear word of mouth from people leaving shows. They know which ones are catching on before anyone else. Even the reviewers rely on the volunteers to know which shows to catch.

3) While it may sound like hilarious fun to see a show that everybody says is TERRIBLE... it is not necessarily fun. Watching a bad amateur play is not like watching a crappy B-movie because a) the actors are right there in front of you and b) you're stuck in the theatre. You may be able to escape if it's really horrible... or maybe you will wind up like I did one time, sitting in riser-type seating watching THE WORST PLAY EVER (the story of a man trapped in a duct; it was like an hour long and the guy just kept saying, "OK, you're stuck in a duct. I can't believe this! What do I do now? I'm in a duct! How did this happen? STUCK IN A DUCT." I literally couldn't leave due to the riser-type seating, and me being in the back row. This cost like $5 and was VASTLY OVERPRICED.

4) Generally, the first weekend of a fringe fest is when everybody's figuring out what's good and what's bad. By the second weekend, reviews have come out and word of mouth has made some shows into must-sees... which means it's harder to get tickets. Ideally, you want to see the really good shows before anyone else knows they're good. This is why it's important to either volunteer or cozy up to volunteers. Or, often, there's a fringe preview show where you can see bits of various shows, which also gives you a heads-up on what's good to see.

Bottom line is that lots of shows will be good, a few will be OMFG SO BAD and a few will be SO GREAT. Ticket prices are way less than professional theatre, but there's a lot of risk in the way of your reward.

Plan what you're going to do, take a leap of faith sometimes to try something untested, and enjoy!

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