How Fringe succeeds where others have failed

Ottawa Fringe Festival announces best-ever ticket sales in 2015

2015-10-05 20.20.59
Kevin Waghorn (left), managing director, and Patrick Gauthier, festival director, announce final numbers from this year’s Ottawa Fringe Festival and plans for the upcoming 20th year in 2016.

“We don’t say there’s something for everyone at the Fringe Festival; we say there’s something for you,” said Patrick Gauthier, festival director.

On Monday, Gauthier announced this year saw the best festival attendance ever with 13,700 ticket sales. This puts the festival in a good place to go into their 20th season next year.

The Ottawa Fringe Festival is part of a worldwide theatre movement that allows any artist to submit a proposal for a show. The shows are chosen by lottery rather than by quality of content or notoriety of the theatre company. If their plays are not chosen, artists can also apply to “bring your own venue,” also called a BYOV.

“If you’re an artist and you have no money and no one knows you, then Fringe gives you that very rare and vital opportunity to express yourself in a public setting,” said Meagan McDonald, a University of Ottawa master’s student who showed Ophelia’s Flowers in 2014 as a BYOV.

Unlike other arts and culture events that suffer from poor attendance and ticket sales, Fringe has been extremely successful. They had 56 companies performing 373 showings this year with 40 sold-out shows. This year there’s even a Fringe Encore performance Oct 8-10 showcasing two popular shows from past festivals, including I Think My Boyfriend Should Have an Accent, which sold out all seven of its performances in June.

Large arts and culture-related events in Ottawa have had their share of troubles with profitability, including most recently, the Neat in the Woods festival in September; Capital Pride declaring bankruptcy last year and being run this year with help from the Bank Street BIA; and the University of Ottawa chapter of Her Campus, a female-focused online student publication, taking over Ottawa Fashion Week after ticket sales didn’t meet the event’s expenses.

The Ottawa Fringe Festival is also non-profit and ticket revenues go to the artists putting on the shows. The festival is largely volunteer-run and takes care of marketing, promotion and ticket vending for the artists.

The biggest challenge facing the Ottawa Fringe Festival in 2016 is the redevelopment of Arts Court. The project will expand the current building to include a 250-seat screening room, a 120-seat theatre, condos and some classroom space for the University of Ottawa.

It’s expected to be completed by 2017, but for now the construction will mean fewer venues, and therefore fewer shows. Gauthier said it’s hard to know for certain what state the building will be in next summer since they haven’t been given a construction schedule.

“(It’s a) whole demilitarized construction zone we are living in right now,” he said.

The lottery for the festival opened on the same day as the announcement, allowing artists to submit proposals in hopes of getting a spot at an Arts Court venue—these are set up with sound and lighting boards.

The unknown hasn’t put artists off from applying: the Black Sheep Theatre company, who have been involved in every year of Ottawa’s Fringe Festival, will be coming back, as will McDonald.

“I had a really good experience,” said McDonald. “So good that we’re actually applying again for this year.”

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