Well, I just purchased tickets for our Fringe Extravaganza in June1, and so I’d like to add some observations. This was triggered by the show we saw last night, Lunatics and Actors2…. well, actually, it was triggered by the program for the show. In the program, Ben Hill, director of the Fringe, is quoted as saying “Our mission, however, is to create more theatrical producers.” This is clear from their workshops and all the efforts they make — it is geared towards the individual producer and artists, making it easy for them to present their shows, find a venue, and promote.
They’ve forgotten someone.
To be specific, they’ve forgotten the someone who makes the Fringe successful, who provides a good chunk of the funds that keep these shows going.
They’ve forgotten the audience.
Whereas the Fringe may be artists friendly, it is less audience friendly. Here are some specific suggestions on how to improve the Fringe experience for the audience:
- Parking. Parking in the area around the Fringe Theatres — specifically the stretch from W of the Hudson Theatre to E of the Lounge Theatre — is horrible. There are numerous limits on where you can park, and not a lot of street spaces. Working with some of the businesses in the area to rent parking spaces and run a free Fringe shuttle would remove a lot of stress from Fringe attendees (and participants). This could easily provide income to the Fringe: I’m spending over $200 on tickets — a $25 Fringe parking pass would be noise and would reduce my stress quite a bit. This might also include a stop at the closest Red Line station, encouraging participants to park on the outskirts and take Metro to the event.
- Food. Fringe makes a valiant effort with Fringe Central, and there are a few restaurants in the area. There are more in driving distance, but given the parking situation, you don’t want to move your car. There are multiple ways to address this. First, Fringe might arrange to have some food trucks park near the Fringe Venues — especially in the dinner hours (4pm to 8pm). Second, Fringe should provide a list of nearby restaurants to audience members when the register. While it is true that the information may be in the Fringe program, you don’t get that until you are on-site — which may be too late.
- Communication. Fringe needs to communicate with the audience members better. In particular, Fringe should send a welcome message when they purchase tickets giving information and food options near the theatres they select. This can either be a stock information sheet covering all the fringe, or it can be something tailored to the audience member based on the shows they select (it is not hard to have the code go through their cart and pull together localized parking and food info).
- Fringe Central Hours. Fringe Central — the Fringe clearinghouse and where you pickup Fringe buttons — is the heart of the Fringe experience. The buttons enable food discounts, which you need after purchasing a full Fringe schedule of tickets. But Fringe Central doesn’t open until after Preview Week. This means that for the first week of Fringe shows, there is no Central. Fringe Central should open up two hours before the first scheduled Fringe show each day in June, and close no earlier than an hour after the last show starts that day. This would mean that, yes, Central is open the first week of June.
- A Fringe Pass. Scheduling a full schedule of Fringe shows is expensive. Having some form of Festival Pass that might provide significant discounts — on top of the button — for those purchasing at least a dozen Fringe shows would be a great encouragement to Fringe participation. The people Fringing at this level are your biggest proponents — they are dedicated to attending theatre and encouraging them is vital.
- Ticketing. The HFF Fringe ticketing assumes the model of one person purchasing tickets for themselves. Although you can buy multiple buttons, only one applies even if multiple tickets are purchased. The ticketing interface must acknowledge that people may be buying tickets for their group. You should be able to purchase multiple buttons, and have the button discount apply to as many tickets as there are buttons in the cart (e.g., 2 buttons == button discounts on 2 tickets per show). P.S.: This might even automatically introduce a special discount based on the number of shows in the cart: purchase 12 shows, get the 13th free or something silly like that.
The Fringe Festival is more than the actors, producers, and directors in the shows. It is the audience, and this audience consists of not only the aforementioned actors, producers, and artists (and their friends and families), it consists of theatre lovers throughout Southern California. Fringe provides these people with a taste of shows they might not normally see, and can introduce them to the world of intimate theatre — the theatre beyond the Pantages and the Ahmanson. It can draw these folks in as financial backers for shows and artists. Listed above are my simple suggestions on how to make the Fringe experience better for the audience members.
There’s still time for Fringe leadership to introduce these suggestions this year. Fringe doesn’t start Fringing until the first weekend in June. Let’s make Fringe a success for audience, actor, and producer alike.
1: Ouch! Tickets for 15 shows add up, even at Fringe prices and with a button discount.
2: Writeup this afternoon