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Live Active Cultures

Seth wraps up Fringe fest for 2011

First, an informal policy allowed Fringe artists and volunteers to fill any empty seats for free, bypassing the traditional comp ticket system. I appreciate the goal of building buzz for underattended shows, and confess to spending much less money on shows this year as a result. But that policy distorted audience counts and discouraged ticket sales for shows that weren't already selling out. A similar system could work if it were voluntary to opt into, and limited to certain dates or venues. But this year, it engendered resentment in some producers who point to it as a contributor to their lower-than-anticipated revenues.

Second, some artists were caught off-guard when they were asked for the first time to fill out IRS W-9 forms. Though the new policy should have been disclosed up front, it was always somewhat sketchy for a 501(c)3 to distribute checks for more than $600 without submitting a 1099-MISC tax form at the end of the year. Now Fringe producers will finally have the proper paperwork for their Schedule C forms, perfect for deducting all those business meetings in the beer tent.

Long-term, I'd like Fringe's next producer to address profitability. The 2011 Festival sold 20,139 tickets, returning $190,153 to the performers, so obviously someone is making money. But set aside sold-out hits Bitches of the Kingdom, My Monster and Dog Powered Robot (those shows combined grossed nearly $33,000, 17 percent of the fest's total ticket sales) and the remaining 67 shows each sold an average of only about $2,300. Suckers: A Freaky Little Musical, the show I helped produce, featured a slate of successful Fringe veterans and garnered rave reviews, but we only netted about $2,700 after a modest $1,200 in expenses (including Fringe's $775 fee). Once Upon a Pill producer Jill Craddock reports earning $1,600 on a $1,200 investment; split among a cast and crew of 10, that's meager compensation, considering the hours of effort that go into mounting a musical. With a record $36,000 in beer sales this year, I can guess what many artists did with what little they made.

If Fringe is to be profitable for more than just one-man monologians, the next producer must broaden paid attendance beyond the 6,000 people who bought buttons this year. Otherwise it's just us artists passing a dollar around in a circle.

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