I’m writing this blog at 1:39 in the morning…fresh after our 4th Show at the Hamilton Fringe. Despite the requests of my mother to “go to bed early”, I have locked myself in my basement, hooked myself on the interwebs and am now scouring the internet for reviews on my play to post on every social media outlet.
My name is Aaron Jan and this is the first time that my company has participated in the Hamilton Fringe Festival. With the first 4 of our 7 shows complete, I’ve been asked by theHamilton Arts Council to provide some insight about the experience of being a first time participant in the Fringe.
When I told my Torontonian friend that our company had entered in the Fringe, his response (to quote magician James Biss) was less than fabulous: “Why the HamiltonFringe?” he asked bluntly. I didn’t really have an answer for him at the time. I made up some lie about “giving back to our community” and ended the conversation there – feeling exceptionally stupid and naïve. More on that later.
Contrary to my friend’s opinion, our experience at the Hamilton Fringe thus far has been nothing short of positive. A big part of this has to do with our venue technician, Adam Archer. Ever since our first meeting, Adam’s been there for us. Every day I see him extensively selling the shows at our venue to patrons. There’s a kind of loyalty and invested interest there that I’ve never experienced before. Needless to say, we’re purchasing him copious amounts of alcohol to show our gratitude.
I think that’s the thing I really dig about the Hamilton Fringe Festival. In my past dabblings with community theatre, I’ve noticed that other companies don’t necessarily support each other. Every community theatre (ourselves included) in Hamilton seems to have a circle of followers at every performance with maybe 10 strangers or random people. Cliques, if you will. Not so at the Fringe. Because the Fringe is unjuried and advertising is entirely self-motivated, the Festival puts onus on us to sell our show. Even companies with large networks cannot sustain 7 nights of shows with their circles alone.
Obviously, friendships make sense. Everyone is on equal footing. Everyone paid the same fee to apply to the Fringe. If there’s prejudice or contempt here, I’ve yet to notice it. Not only is the work of the other artists interesting, but partnering with another company to “double promote” shows has proven to be extremely popular and effective for getting bums in seats. There’s a sense of fellowship when you see other “artists of the Fringe” seeing your show, because you’re all alike in some messed up way.
This really comes together at the Artword Artbar. After shows, companies gather at the Artbar to exchange stories, whispers, rumors and flights of fancy. They get drunk, share marketing strategies. They laugh together, eat soup, and poke each other. It feels like a unified and cohesive community…maybe one that Hamilton’s theatre scene desperately needs.
Because at the end of the day, we’re all united by one desire: to sell. No one wants anyone to get an empty house. That’s the big struggle…trying to overcome that massive obstacle of not having people see your show. That’s also the fun of Fringe…the tactics of tempting a stranger to take a chance on your show. This is the reason why I’m up at this ungodly hour, advertising the show all over Facebook. Tomorrow I’ll be at the Fringe, communicating with patrons at the Artbar and handing them our postcards in the waiting lines of other shows. It’s obsessive and addictive.
It’s to these tactics that I credit our audiences. At best we’ve had over 78 people in the house. At worst we’ve had 25. I’ve been told that the first three shows are the hardest and based on our audience size tonight I’m pretty confident that we’ve crossed this hurdle.
So why Hamilton Fringe then? Simple: It’s a bunch of ragtag artists gathered in one spot with one desire. It’s a chance for both performers and audiences take a risk with potentially huge payoff. It’s a glimpse of the artistic community that Hamilton could and should have.
See you at the Fringe!
Aaron Jan is a Hamilton-based theatre playwright, performer, director and the Artistic Director of Fulcrum Theatre. You can catch the company’s entry in the Hamilton Fringe festival, Drafts, at the Citadel Theatre until Sunday, July 29th. You can follow him on Twitter at @afatchineseboy