Inside D.C. entertainment

How will Fringe Festival participants spend their windfall?

August 11, 2010 - 04:15 PM
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I wrote today about Fringe Festival Executive Director Julianne Brienza signing the checks for this year’s performers, who will receive a share of the $204,000 in festival revenue allotted for artists. But now, it’s time to hear from the artists: How will they spend their festival windfall?

Let’s start with this year’s big winner, Happenstance Theater. Brienza revealed that their show, Handbook for Hosts, was the highest-grossing show of the festival. That was news to co-artistic director Sabrina Mandell, who learned of their achievement while she was traveling in Canada.

“Wow! Well this is a strange surprise,” Mandell wrote in an e-mail. “I can't wait to get the check and disburse it to the cast and collaborators.”

Mandell said that she hoped this would bring an elevated presence to the small theater company.

“Hopefully being so high-grossing will encourage audiences to come see what we are doing beyond Fringe and will make more theaters in town interested in booking us,” she said. “The Fringe is a wonderful opportunity and we love participating in it, and indeed, it can be profitable if you can figure out the formula.”

Next, Molotov Theatre Group, who had a unique situation in the Fringe. Their show, The Horrors of Online Dating, was part of Fringe, but they were responsible for finding their own venue because of the special needs of their Grand Guignol-inspired, bloody, messy, puppet musical comedy. They used the small theater within the Playbill Cafe on 14th Street, and since it was outside of the established Fringe spaces, they had more time to set up and clean up - which is crucial when you’re wiping stage blood off of the set and the audience seating. It also meant that Molotov could have a longer-than-usual run, since they weren’t restricted by the Fringe’s performance limit.

“We’ll be getting as large of a check as we can in the size of venue we had,” says artistic director Lucas Maloney. “We had a sold-out run.”

The money will go back into the pot for the theater company, which will use it to finance their “Blood, Sweat and Fears” series of short plays in October. Also: “We’ll spend it on dry-cleaning and cleaning products.”

While grateful for the exposure, Maloney said he was somewhat disappointed with the cut that the Fringe takes.

“I think it’s a bit steep,” he says. “[Fringe provides] box office support and the inclusion in the marketing, but beyond that, we didn’t have a box office person at the door. We’re find-your-own-venue, so we paid rental and equipment costs.”

Matt Wilson, the artistic director of Faction of Fools, is expecting to break even with his show's $4,000 budget. His company’s Tales of Love and Sausages was in the Studio Theatre’s Mead Theatre, one of the largest Fringe venues.

“We sold almost 600 tickets, so we’re expecting it to pretty much match our budget,” says Wilson. He plans to split his check up among the company. That doesn’t mean that they’ll be making off with a huge share, though: with more than 30 people in the company, the money will be spread rather thin.

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