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Saturday, March 2, 2013

creating a/broad, March 2, 2013

Flyering, Showcasing and the Regular Folk
by Cameryn Moore

I went to the Quebec Drama Federation spring showcase last Monday, partly to see what was on offer for the next few months, partly to flyer. In case you don’t remember from my previous columns, I love flyering people for my shows. It’s a thing. But it’s only really a thing for me, and only really a thing for Fringes. Because any other time of year, in any other theatre environment—even a showcase—you try to talk to someone and hand them a flyer, they look at you like you are trying to give them an expired coupon for canned gerbil meat.

In fairness, not everyone at the QDF event reacted that way. A few of the people I chatted with were familiar enough with the Fringe approach to flyering that they didn’t even blink, or they recognized me from Fringes past or from my picture at the top of this column, and so that was easy. I’m talking about the “regular” audiences: they ain’t used to bein’ pitched. They put on a little screwed up, faux-interested face, or just brushed right by me, including one Montreal English-language journalist who is fully conversant with the Fringe way, but has never known what to do with me except in the context of pancake breakfasts at the Fringe park. (If you’re reading this and recognize yourself, I invite you to check out my Hot Threesome festival at the MainLine March 7 through 9. You can catch up on all three of my shows, and then, when you talk about me as a “Fringe veteran” in a round-up article, I’ll believe that you know what you’re talking about.)

I’m not saying this so that people will come see my shows, although I hope they do; I’m saying this so that my people will go see other people’s shows, too.

Taking flyers is just one part of showing that a person would even consider attending shows, other than the one that they’re there to support, and that openness is an important part of surviving as a performance community. If you don’t get out there to support everyone—by attending shows, reading the flyers and posting them up, tweeting and buzzing other people’s shows, word-of-mouthing, workshopping—you are working alone, and that is not healthy, long-term.

I’m not saying this so that people will come see my shows, although I hope they do; I’m saying this so that my people will go see other people’s shows, too. That’s why showcases exist, and that’s why they need to be part of every fucking festival, gathering, and season EVER, with all performers involved being told to reach out to their fan base and BRING THEM IN. By hook or by crook. For the whole evening. None of this leaving after your segment is finished, or applauding outrageously only for their own team. (Comedians, spoken-word artists: this applies to you and your fans at open mics, too.) People need to come and see what else is being done, and be encouraged to spread the word.

QDF took a good step in this direction by offering a notes sheet for keeping track of performances (although they should have raised the lights between sets so we could find the right line and check the correct box, “must see” or “tell a friend”). The notes sheet added a sort of menu feel to the evening, as if we were checking off which sushi we wanted in our bento box, and I approve. Better to think of the theatre season as a buffet where people can sample and share, rather than… I don’t know, what is the appropriate metaphor for the theatre scene here? It feels like a cluster of private dinner parties, that’s what.

A few people expressed interest, not enough to get it going, and part of that reluctance—I’m going to go out on a limb here—is that companies were afraid of diluting their audience.

That’s true for almost everywhere else I’ve visited on tour; it certainly was true for Boston. Back in 2007 I tried to set up a showcase there, after I had experienced a couple of years at the Montreal Fringe and participated in the Fringe-for-All madness. The short-form requirements, the rowdiness and excitement… all of that made me super excited, made me think that it was a great idea for smaller companies. A few people expressed interest, not enough to get it going, and part of that reluctance—I’m going to go out on a limb here—is that companies were afraid of diluting their audience.

Organizations and events like the QDF showcase and the Fringe are constantly pushing back against this scarcity mentality, even while the individual participants in those events tend to actively, if not consciously, reinforce it. For example, at QDF I met very few spectators who were not affiliated with one of the presenting groups. Admittedly my own survey methodology was unscientific, but nonetheless... when I was chatting with people in the lobby prior to the show, the majority came to the evening to support a particular company. They weren’t free-roaming audience members, they were boosters, with strong allegiances as inner-circle patrons.

This is a shame, because the showcase is a great place to browse, and it’s just a great time in general. A Boston friend was with me at the showcase, he was enthusiastically marking shit off on the checklist and debating the relative merits of the excerpts, even though he was not going to be able to attend any of the shows. I sat next to a woman who was on unemployment, so didn’t have a lot of discretionary income, but she loved theatre and was constantly looking out for free and low-cost opportunities to see it. 

The intermission crowd was pretty hoppin’, so I’m going to assume that lots of industry networking was going on, but I just didn’t get the sense that a lot of non-booster patrons were there. This makes me suspect that the companies involved didn’t work as hard as they could have. They need to get more of their fan base out—it was on a Monday, for chrissakes, it’s not like there are a lot of shows happening on a Monday!—to window-shop the shit out of that showcase. An event like that should be as hotly anticipated and as feverishly attended as a fashion show. 

More people seeing more stuff, not just your stuff, is good for everybody.


camerynmoore.com
indiegogo for Phone Whore, the Movie
March 7-9: Hot Threesome (a one-woman festival of sex plays)
March 19: Three Different Paths to a First Draft (a workshop)
April 8-13: Release (world premiere of Ms Moore's new show)

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