Fringe Benefits: What does it take to self-produce a show?

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The Waitstaff, The Real Housewives of South Philly

Fringe season is just around the corner: Guidebooks for the 2013 Fringe Festival will hit the streets in August, fervent festivalgoers will start to painstakingly plan their show schedules and artists will take over all corners of the city from September 5 to 22. 

As the PR firm for FringeArts (formerly the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe) for 10 years, Canary Promotion staff meets each year with artists who are self-producing shows to offer tips on how to get in the spotlight, even on a shoestring budget.

While all shows take a bit of blood, sweat and tears to successfully get on stage, most people don’t know what goes into self-producing a Fringe Festival performance. These artists put on their shows without the support of a producer or presenter. They handle every detail of their productions, from fundraising and finding a venue to casting, designing, rehearsing and marketing. Some artists have a team; many go it alone for the opportunity to have total freedom and control over their art.

I talked with a couple of veteran festival artists for their take on getting a show up and running.

Sara Carano of The Waitstaff Sketch Comedy Troupe, which will perform in its 10th consecutive Festival this year, told me money is always a big challenge: “It's amazing how quickly a low-budget show can turn into an expensive show if you aren't careful, so it's good to have a talented treasurer who keeps track of what's in the bank and all the expenses that come along with putting up a show so that you can actually make a few bucks instead of just breaking even." 

Theater artist Justin Jain of The Berserker Residents, who have produced Fringe hits like The Giant Squid, The Jersey Devil and The Annihilation Point, agrees: “Hands down, the biggest challenge for self-producing artists (of all experience levels) is funding.” He says artists now have to find alternative ways to raise money. “We have to take charge in finding new ways to cultivate funds to make the work happen. I think one of the keys to this is looking at models outside of the theater-making spectrum – look at how rock bands, indie movie-makers, or the cool small boutique down the street are doing it.”

But even with these challenges, Sara also says being part of the Festival, which attracts tens of thousands of people, gives artists “built-in marketing and PR. … We see great audience numbers during our Fringe runs and that sets us up for the whole year!”

Justin says, “I think the biggest factor in attracting audiences to our shows is that we strive to offer an alternative to a lot of contemporary theater. … We’re also a bunch of geeks — we love comic books, video games, monsters, pop culture and playtime. So we’re constantly finding ways to infuse our work with our personalities. … At festival time, people are hungry for something different — something special and unusual.”

 Where you can see these artists:

The Talkback
by The Berserker Residents
9/18 – 9/21 at 8 p.m.
Plays and Players Theatre, 1714 Delancey St, Philadelphia
The Waitstaff Happy Hour!
9/6, 9/7, 9/13, 9/14, 9/17, 9/18, 9/20, 9/21 at 7:30 p.m.
9/8, 9/15 at 6 p.m. & 8 p.m.
L’Etage Cabaret, 624 Bainbridge St, Philadelphia


2013 Fringe Festival tickets will go on sale in mid- to late July at

Are you still talking about last year’s Festival? Is there a show you can’t wait to see this year? Share your Fringe Festival experiences and tips as an artist or festivalgoer in the comments.