A lot of people have been asking me why, as a Brooklyn-based artist, I've chosen to premiere my show, Conversation
, at the Philly Fringe
instead of the New York Fringe
. For me, there are some pretty clear reasons why Philly is a much more artist-friendly Fringe, and apparently there are at least 10 other New York-based groups heading down
to Philly this September who agree with me.
In my experience, artists generally participate in festivals for two reasons: the lower financial risks mean you can take greater artistic risks; and the organizations and communities built around festivals give you access to new audiences. Given those reasons, Philly scores higher.
A couple clear examples give a sense of the financial differences for artists between the Philly and NY festivals: the NY Fringe charges $640 in fees and then takes roughly forty percent of all ticket sales; the Philly Fringe charges $280 in fees and takes ten percent of sales only on those tickets sold at their box office. There's also the pernicious clause in the NY Fringe contracts, in which they lay claim to a percentage of gross income (that's the bigger number when you do taxes) if the show goes on to be a success after the Fringe. The fact that it's gross income is important because the reality is that ticket sales, even for the most successful Broadway shows, cover, at best, something like 30-40 percent of the costs of mounting a production. By demanding a percentage of gross income, the NY Fringe is actually making these shows more expensive to produce by forcing the artists to pay what amounts to a fee for the right to keep mounting the production, on top of all the other costs that tickets sales don't cover. That's not cool.
Business aside, Philly just offers more artistic freedom. The NY Fringe is juried, so only those selected by committee get to participate. Philly is open to all. In Philly you choose your own venue, so you can make sure that the setting and audience size suits the work. The Philly Fringe also boasts a better artistic track record, giving a start to companies like the now internationally touring Pig Iron Theater Company
, and it's now run by one of the East Coast's best performance festivals—the Live Arts Festival, which is kind of like a mash-up of the Under the Radar
, Lincoln Center
, and BAM Next Wave
Meanwhile, the NY Fringe is best for crowd-pleasing comedy shows like the post-Fringe success Abraham Lincoln's Big, Gay Dance Party
, that are able to shout louder than everything else already happening here, and student productions, where deep-pocketed schools can cover the costs and worry about production details. For artists trying out new work and looking to build new audiences, Philly is the better choice.
(photo credit: Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe; Lucinda Childs Dance; Nature Theater of Oklahoma)