Arts Progress | Touring a show on the United States fringe circuit
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Touring a show on the United States fringe circuit

Touring a show on the United States fringe circuit

The U.S. is a fantastic place to take a show on the road – there are more fringes in the U.S. than in any other country. (Wondering what a “fringe” is? Check out this handy definition.) The logistics of mounting a tour can be daunting, and it’s unfortunately easy to end up in the red financially. But if you approach it smartly, you could have a fabulous experience.
There are fringes all year round in the U.S. – see calendar here to get a sense of the cycle. Sign up for various festivals’ mailing lists, cruise around their websites at peak season and read the press coverage about their shows – that’ll give you a great sense of each’s individual style. And if you can, of course, go visit – that’s absolutely the best way to see what kind of shows succeed there, the size and quality of venues, and mingle with artists and audiences in lobbies and the bar.
Topics to consider before you decide to tour:

  • Your goal: Cash? Connections for future bookings? Test-drive new work? Summer of partying? They’re all viable options, but identifying your goals will help you select appropriate festivals.
  • Geography: Are your destinations drivable (and do you have the right vehicle?), or will you fly?
  • Lifestyle: Can you leave your family/pets/day job for weeks at a time?
  • Organization: Can you simultaneously manage deadlines and travel details for multiple festivals?
  • Financial stability: Can you front the money for fees and travel, without going broke if you miss your revenue goals?
  • Personality: Are you willing to actively pitch your show to strangers and crash on other people’s couches?

And a few questions about your show:

  • How big is your cast? That’ll obviously affect your travel/housing costs.
  • Do you have a large set or very specific production needs? Big set pieces complicate travel, and tech options and venues vary greatly between festivals.
  • How flexible are you? If you need to control every aspect of your experience, then maybe Fringe isn’t for you.

Then,  once you’ve decided to tour, here’s the next round of questions to consider:

  • Selecting your festival(s). Consider geography and timing, but other factors matter too – for each festival you’re considering, look at their selection methods, application and notification dates, production fees, artist payout percentage and average payout (don’t assume that big festivals or 100%-payout festivals necessarily mean more net money for you), and how much support they offer (venue rental, technical help, marketing, press, housing, liability insurance, etc.). What’s the feel of the festival, and do you and your work match?
  • Create a budget, including festival application/production fees, set/costumes/props, marketing materials, artist/designer stipends and travel costs, including food and housing in each city.
  • Estimate your potential income – and don’t base your math on sold-out houses. On the road, you won’t have the built-in home audience that you may have grown accustomed to. Drumming up press attention and word-of-mouth will be key to your success – just remember that that takes both time and effort.

Touring can be a fantastic way to spend a few months, or it can be an expensive, soul-sucking endeavor. Proper planning can make all the difference, and if you’d like a helping hand with that, just get in touch with me.