Monthly Archives: February 2015

Ideas for a practical approach to fringe festivals for emerging artists….

Performing in fringe festivals is a risky and expensive venture. Presuming you are even selected after paying the application fee, you almost always have to pay several hundred dollars in entry fees to get a slot in the festival. You have to book and pay for travel. If you have a job, you usually have to leave that job for some period to participate. You have to invest in promotional materials to distribute, or other similar efforts… and there’s no guarantee you’ll draw an audience even with thorough promotion. No matter how good your show is, you may end up performing for rows of empty seats, and might not even make your investment back, let alone pay your bills.

I traveled with Xan Scott for her show Apocalypse Clown a few years back. I produced my own solo show, Drawn Dead, at the 2013 Seattle Fringe Festival (SEPT 2015 EDIT: And the 2015 Elgin Fringe Festival). Along with the firsthand lessons, I got to meet and take in the efforts of more successful touring performers. Their years of development allowed most of them to profitably tour fringe festivals across the continent.

Those of us who don’t have that following face far greater risk. Personally, I racked up a lot of expenses doing it and eventually settled back into a day job, one I wasn’t ready to give up just yet to take a shot at out of town festivals, even if the upside was great. Often, the end result is a smallish audienceĀ and a significant net loss.

(Festivals claim to promote your show. Technically, this is true, but that means putting your name in their program and in media promos. Telling people about and selling your show is still up to you directly.)


When I first got to Chicago, I had no notion of trying to do any fringe festivals for a while. Making do in Chicago alone was going to be tough enough, and getting the time off to travel for festivals wasn’t currently practical.

… or so it seemed. Living in Seattle I took for granted being very far from any other accessible major festival venue. The closest cities were Vancouver BC and Portland, each about 3 hours away by car. Everything else was a flight or a long drive away. I pretty much had to leave Seattle behind for 1-2 weeks to do a festival. If I had a day job and bills to pay, there was no way I could manage that. Only when I went freelance and/or self employed was it even possible.

But Chicago is in the Midwest, very close to a lot of other major cities. Milwaukee is only about an hour north. Indianapolis, most of Michigan, Iowa, St Louis, Cincinnati, Louisville are all less than 4-5 hours away by car. Minneapolis and KC are only 6 hours away. Hell, I can get to Toronto in about 8 hours if the border wait isn’t ridiculous, and Hamilton or London Ontario even sooner. So many places are within reach now.

Also, Chicago itself is a theatre hub, itself home to the Chicago Fringe Festival. But many of the suburbs have active theatre scenes, e.g. just an hour west is Elgin, which hosts the Elgin Fringe Festival. Just around Lake Michigan in Grand Rapids is the Lake Effect Fringe Festival. There may be others I haven’t found yet that are within an hour.


That all said, I remember how much work and investment I put into Drawn Dead in 2013, and the return I got from it. It was an expensive experience rather than a lucrative or sustainable one. Once the thought of giving festivals another shot started crossing my mind, I had to consider the personal cost and benefit of the effort. But I felt there was more of a gray area than the seemingly blunt divide between Martin Dockery or Wonderheads level success and what was basically an expensive theatre vacation.

And it was an unlikely subject that led me to explore that possibility…


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Checking in after seven weeks in Chicago

Hello from fairly cold Chicago. It’s been a while and I wanted to check in.

I’m currently living with a friend in an old Lakeview apartment near Wrigley Field. it’s a great, central location accessible to many theatres and the CTA train. I’m not terribly far away from most of the places I’d want to visit and practice at. Work is about 40-50 minutes north, depending on conditions and whether I drive or ride a train there.

Aside from open mics and other random events people bring me to, I began taking improv class sequences with iO improv and The Annoyance, and taken advantage of student passes to see many of their mostly excellent shows. After a couple of years out of regular improv practice, I wanted to shake the rust and resume a creative practice. Restoring those habits is a struggle and at this point I’m working towards the breakthrough where I’m comfortably myself again. Here and there, I’m writing and working on my show material.

Adjusting to life in Chicago has been fairly difficult for many reasons obvious and not so obvious. My new job has a lot of demands and learning its many nuances has been a daily struggle. On top of that, Chicago is in many facets an aggressive and unforgiving place, despite its many pockets of community. Right down to walking down the sidewalk and driving down the street, people are ruthlessly, obliviously aggressive and self serving, and realize that I myself am fairly assertive in my commute. You have to be especially proactive and yet defensive in your moment to moment living.

But, most of all, it’s a casually corrupt place. When you think of the typical image of Chicago corruption, you think of backroom dealings between mob-quality suits. But a lot of the corruption here is honestly just a product of a simple, collective, spiteful laziness. People for whatever personal reasons don’t want to be responsible, so they aren’t. The mail carriers don’t bother delivering mail for days or weeks. Public service staff will fight with you and give you a hard time at random when you do business. Drivers en masse break traffic laws and put people in danger right in front of cops, and the cops don’t care. I’ve had to call or confront people directly and coerce them to actually do their jobs. I can’t even imagine how screwed I’d be in my personal life if not for how aggressively proactive I’ve been about confronting people and demanding they do what they need to do. Sometimes, Chicago feels like a third world country.

Society in general across the board likes to finger point at big boogeyman when the root of the problem is how we conduct ourselves, the standard to which we hold ourselves and each other… but it’s really bad in Chicago.

I knew all this would be the case coming in, but you still have to face and adjust to it. It’s never what you could possibly envision or expect.

I’ve had to remind myself, and others have had to remind me, that I’ve only been here a few weeks and there’s no way I could be anything other than struggling to acclimate to a strange new world. I am in general an aggressively proactive person, who wants to grow faster than most are capable or used to. For the most part, this attitude serves me well. You don’t do a lot of the stuff I have if not for demanding that much of yourself.

At the same time, it sets my expectations fairly high and I easily get disappointed at how far I am from where I want to be, even if the circumstances dictate it’s far too early to expect that of myself.

So I think a big part of my struggle right now is dealing with wanting right now to be acclimated and fully doing what I want to do with my life, even though after only seven weeks I can’t expect to get that far. I’ve done quite a bit and there’s quite a bit more to go.

That’s all I’ll say on that. I actually have a couple more topics I’ve considered and want to cover later. But I wanted to check in on where I’m at in life right now.