October 2009 Archives

It's almost November, which means that if you're considering submitting a show to FringeNYC, now's the time to really get into the grind of finishing it up (or maybe starting, if you're that type).
A friend asked me today how much it cost to run a FringeNYC show, as she has a play she wants to submit. I know I had no idea how much going in, and I'd done NYMF before (which is more expensive manifold, but that's another story). So instead of just letting her know, I thought I'd break it down for anyone who's interested. Because when you go into any festival, the price seems like an uncertain.

The following is based mostly on my 2008 New York International Fringe Festival show. Prices may have risen since then, and your show could cost more or less than mine, but something to consider for you writers out there:
  • APPLICATION FEE: $50. You pay this when you send your script in, accepted or otherwise.
  • FRINGE PARTICIPATION FEE: $550. Seems like a lot but it isn't. This covers your theater rental, hiring people to work there, providing basic necessities to volunteers, etc. FringeNYC may be non-profit, but hosting 200 shows a year isn't free, nor is it even cheap.
    Also, you need a bank check; that's like an $8 fee. I can't remember if they accept Money Orders but generally, the only place you should get a money order without being grossly overcharged is the post office. I worked at a Bank once and we told people to go to the post office.
  • STAGED READING: $100+. This is obviously not required, but I highly suggest it (heck, do an even smaller 5-audience one before the big one). If you have a new play, you don't want the first night to be moments of "Oh, if I only had seen that onstage in front of an audience I would have easily known how to fix it". I suggest doing a staged reading even if only in front of friends--some research could find you a place that doesn't cost too much, especially if you're willing to take an afternoon (even on a weekday). Hopefully you can get some good actors/stage direction readers to do the reading for free on one or even zero rehearsals. On a sidenote, consider a talkback or an easy way to electronically get some feedback. But if you do a talkback, also research on how to conduct one all organized-like so it doesn't become a free-for-all.
  • INSURANCE: $185. FringeNYC gets a nice low group rate that covers actors, audience, etc.
  • SET/COSTUMES: Well, that depends on what you need and already have. I saw one Fringe show with a set that consisted of a card table. Others have been more elaborate. Our set was in the realm of $250, and our costumes ran around $150.
  • A TIP FOR YOUR VENUE DIRECTOR: Your venue director runs the place and keeps it smooth between shows. I'm not really interested in disclosing our venue director's tip amount, but tipping them is a good idea, especially *before* everything has happened. And: buy them dinner during your tech-through.
  • PUBLICITY: Depends. For my FringeNYC play, I spent $260 on too many postcards (I didn't need that much but I was foolishly convinced it was a good deal). Plus $80 to send it through FringeNYC's press mailing service. For my NYMF play (since NYMF tends to be more high-profile), I spent $1000+ on a publicity person and the like. It can be great to get you in various magazines and newspapers, but it *is* expensive.
  • WEBSITE DOMAIN FOR TWO YEARS: $15 or so. Seriously, your play should have a website and a decent URL. It's such cheap publicity.
  • REHEARSAL SPACE: We were lucky when we had the connections for free rehearsal space, but normally it can be very expensive to rent rehearsal space. It could literally be half your budget--think of how many hours of rehearsal there is and multiply it by the best rate you find. Assuming you booked early enough to get that one cheap place.
  • PEOPLE: Casting Person, Actors, Director, Stage Manager, Assistant Stage Manager, Set Builders, Costume Designers, Sound Designer, Lighting Designer, Person Who Runs Sound, Person Who Runs Lighting. This is why talented fantastic friends are good to have. Note that Actors and Directors who are equity have a minimum payment amount for festival shows--you can Google that. Similar may happen with other unions. All I can say is that it was nice that in both festival shows I'd done, I had written three-actor plays.
  • FIREPROOFING: You need your set fireproofed in most cases; if you want it fireproofed by the people FringeNYC hires (and it's a good deal from what I understand) it's $250. There are cases where you don't need to get this done; we had a certified letter from our set builder who took care of the fireproofing himself.
  • PROGRAM PRINTING: Do you have a printer? Can you get your whole program to fit on both sides of one piece of paper 8 1/2 x 11 so it's cheap and easy to "put together"? Oh good.
  • TRUCK RENTAL: $55, which was needed to move the set in.
  • WRITER'S GUILD REGISTRATION: $22. I don't know why, but I like to do this with every "finished" thing I write.
Of course I'm missing things. Bagels for the cast during read-thrus. Bottles of water. Clif Bars. But it's a place to start from if you're considering applying come January, regardless of the festival.

Our 3-person mostly-minimal show ended up costing around $2500, and that was with the savings on rehearsal space. Our ticket sales plus some donations let us pretty much break even. But I was a taskmaster on making sure that we were tightly on budget. It's going to cost you more than you think.

And unlike Kevin Smith and Clerks, maxing your credit cards won't put you in a good place. Very few people make tons of money back on FringeNYC shows. If you break even, that's a pretty good goal.

Or, of course, you could get your Fringe Play turned into an Oscar-winning movie. That's also a good goal, I suppose.

SHREK ABRIDGED

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Shrek just announced that it's closing.

And we're not ones to kick someone when we're down, are we?

Oh... we are. Right.

On Misleading Link Titles

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Jonathan Groff To Join Spring Awakening! See?

http://americanidolamericanidol.blogspot.com/2009/10/jonathan-groff-to-join-spring-awakening.html
Oh wait...

Jonathan Groff to Join Spring Awakening Co-Star Lea Michele on Glee.

Nevermind.

NYMF Review: Academy

For my third NYMF show this year, I went with "Academy". Mostly because I was aiming to see a musical with a friend whose schedule and mine only allowed for a number of shows, and she was a huge Urinetown fan (Urinetown's choreographer, John Caraffa, directed "Academy".)

The direction for "Academy", by the way, surely does not disappoint. A 80-minute musical about two upper-class prep boys making a high-stakes bet on whether they can compromise the integrity of a bright-eyed underclassman, the show moves swiftly through a story involving quick scenes, reflective musical numbers and a mix of major and minor characters. The cast is usually great--although at times Steven Kane's performance as the main sympathetic underclassman is often too over-caffinated and over-the-top. The music is enjoyable, and the lyrics were often surprising and clever, particularly the rhyme choices. The songs are courtesy of John Mercurio, who has a bright future as a songwriter.

His future as a bookwriter is a bit thinner. First off all, we get that it's a play off of Faust, and the adaptation is usually apt. But the continued need to reference the source material shows a lack of confidence in the adaptation: the main character is the role of Faust in the school play, characters recite Faust lines in between scenes, even the last scene is performed with the equivalent scene from Faust being performed alongside it just in case they hadn't hit you over the head enough. Would we have really needed a scene in West Side Story where we learn that in their spare time, Tony and Maria like to read Shakespearean romantic tragedy?

The real shame here is that when the show is 80 minutes and while much of it is fantastic in tone and really draws you into the world, 25% of it is spent with Faust references and irrelevant songs about inner feelings. You're left with a plot structure that suffers, especially when a student sings a song that seems out of character and a little too introspective/poetic. The "Devil" student only does one devlish thing, which is to have the "Faust" stand-in believe that he is failing school and that he needs to break into the teacher's computer to steal test answers. Yes, this is all you need in real life to get kicked out of a prep school, but when an 80-minute musical can be told in half that time, it stretches out a premise that had enough potential to stretch it out.

When the show does work, it's very strong and poignant. Were this a longer show I'd say it just needs to cut out the flat parts and all would be easily fixed. I'm sure that some of my disappointment was partially due to the strong buzz surrounding this show, and as an NYMF alumni I should know better. Before NYMF begins, even the people who run it don't have the faintest idea as to what's good and what's not, save for half of the shows being the cream script-wise of all the shows that were blind-submitted. Still "Academy" is mostly enjoyable and the production is slick and strong, and I do think with 2 rewrites it could have quite a lot of promise.

Oleanna: Abridged

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Oh, and the BroadwayOffers.com discount is OLMKT93 for $59 tickets on Tuesday-Friday, $65 Saturday and Sunday through 11/15. That's $0.79-$0.87 per minute!

Wait a minute...

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The setting is New York City, where the Phantom runs the freak show at Coney Island. Christine, a renowned opera singer, is down on her luck, while her husband, Raul, is a drunk. Christine has a child, but whose child is it -- Raul's or the Phantom's?
Wait... Does that mean the Phantom of the Opera actually raped Christine while she was asleep in Act One?
So says Variety:
Daniel Radcliffe will head the cast of an upcoming New York reading of 1961 tuner "How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying," marking the first musical turn for the "Harry Potter" star.
My first gut reaction was, "Can Radcliffe do an American accent?" In other words, the show is so quintessentially New York, so having a Brit in it can be a little alarming.

But then I thought about it in a different way: can he change his lower-to-middle-class British accent to an upper class one? Because if he can, he becomes the one charmer in a world of, well, Americans.

I'd like to see this happen; the last production was in 1995, which means that even if this is fast-tracked it'd be at least 15 years since the last revival. I don't think it's unreasonable for top-shelf musicals to be revived every fifteen years. Not to say that H2$ is a top-shelf musical. But if they get the comedy right, it can get pretty close. Especially with a good director, but I can't speak for Rob Ashford because I've only seen his Choreography...

PHANTOM TWO IS COMING!

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There are so many questions I want to know the answers to!
  • Is the Phantom just as whiny as he used to be?
  • Does he still sob like a little baby?
  • What happened to the other half of his face, given that he has to wear this full mask now?
  • Does the Phantom have any new magical powers?
  • And most importantly, what sort of hot dog does the Phantom order when he goes to Nathan's?

NYMF Review #2: Judas and Me

My second NYMF pick--Judas and Me--was chosen because I (am very possibly the only person who) actually liked The Wedding Singer. So when I found out the songwriting team was NYMFing a musical about Judas Iscarot featuring Leslie Kritzer as an angel, I jumped.

What I saw was often disappointing, unfortunately. The description above--particularly given the pedigree of the writers--set my expectations for a full-blown Comedy. Because unless it was going to be a deep psychological look at how Judas has been midjudged through history, it has so much potential for comedic moments. And while the show that I saw was light and had a few laughs here and there (50% of which were Kritzer-related) most of the show simply wasn't funny enough to be a comedy. Or at least not laugh-out-loud funny enough.

Consider the premise--Judas's mom wants her son to be the best, so in a Mama Rose style she pushes the shy Judas to become just as good a prophet and messiah as Jesus could ever be. This notion of Judas as Gypsy should be hilarious. But in execution we find Judas's mom to be just as overbearing as Judas find her to be, which rarely leads us to enjoy her lead-character part. And what we (I?) really want to see are more of the clever moments that brought this beyond a simple pageant-show... Jesus turning water into wine via magic tricks, Jesus being very surprised that he's walking on water, Judas and his totally weird love for irrigation. So when the story keeps pulling itself back to Judas's ever-whining mother (and no, not whining in the funny way), all I wanted was for Judas to get on with his stuff. Or for Leslie Kritzer to come back and make more funny.

The one lingering example I have for the misexecution is this:
so at the end of the play, Judas's mother has convinced Judas to turn Jesus in, and for this she is sent to jail on conspiracy charges. Then Judas falls out of the story for the rest of the musical when it's mentioned that nobody's seen him. What? Judas hanged himself, and nobody mentions this in any form? There's a good 4 jokes in there. Yes they may be a little on the side of tasteless, and maybe "a little tasteless" is my specific expectations when you're going to see a comedy about Judas Iscarot. But I also walked in expecting "a little tasteless" from the songwriting team who, in the same show, cleverly rhymed "chalked up" and "knocked up" when I very much didn't see it coming.

The cast is great. The direction is solid and crisp, the costumes are awesome and the songs can be very, very catchy. I don't think the show is without potential... with good rewrites this should be a much better musical than Fat Camp and it is more fit for an off-Broadway production. It's not that the show *has* to be more Judas and Jesus-filled and less Judas' mother-filled, that's just what I presume is the most obvious way to take it to more Funny.

NYMF Review: Fat Camp The Musical

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For my first NYMF 2009 outing I chose FAT CAMP, a musical about, duh, a bunch of kids' summer in a fat camp.
I didn't see this show because I particularly wanted to see a show about a Fat Camp. Having had a musical of my own in in NYMF, I've learned that picking NYMF shows is a crapshoot. So yes, my process for picking an NYMF show involves looking for subjects that jump out at me as clever/funny/something I'm interested in. But more often nowadays, I go with shows with cast members that I would enjoy seeing even if the show ends up being bad. My pick of FAT CAMP was a mix of Spelling Bee's Sarah Saltzberg and Hairspray/Batboy's Carly Jibson, followed by the fact that I've never *not* enjoyed Alex Timbers' direction and this outing was no exception.

For NYMF standards, FAT CAMP is a winner (and I'll explain that qualification in a second). I went in bracing myself for another stupid "it's important to not judge a book by its cover" message, and to my pleasant surprised I was served up very little of that cliche crap at all. Instead it was more a musical about "sleepaway" Summer Camp, with some heart to it that did in fact bring me back to memories of my own summer camp; the "fat" part was just a detail to the story. Carly Jibson steals the show as the most hysterical white-camper-with-a-penchant-for-black-men you've met, and Randy Blair (who also wrote the lyrics and co-wrote the book) plays the main romantic male in a way that was sometimes a little one-note, but other times was raw and emotional in a way that could only be done by an author who, I assume, had a love for summer camps himself.

And then there's Sarah Saltzberg. Who does a fine job, but is woefully underused. Her subplot as a female counselor who is having difficulties with her jerk fiancee is one that could be dropped from the show, along with a subplot about a camper whose mom won't let go, a subplot about a former fatty who is now buff, and a subplot about a girl with a lisp who isn't sure if she should spy on a counselor's behalf, and a subplot about a cheerleader who starts to see the romantic male lead as the guy who he really is... it's too many subplots, and too thin. Which is a shame because underneath is a very very funny 2 hour 20 minute show with about 1 hour and 50 minutes of fun material. And a cast of characters I enjoyed so much, that I was disappointed that there wasn't some hysterical "what happened to the characters after the movie was over" style of epilogue at the end.

Fat Camp is what I consider a success for NYMF standards. You're never going to see a perfect musical at NYMF. The Next Link shows (Fat Camp is one of them) are chosen out of a pool of blind submissions and are usually being performed for the first time (last night was actually the very first NYMF performance), and the Invited shows are shows that still need developmental work and a few more audiences. The question is whether a show you're seeing in NYMF has *promise*. Fat Camp does, and the job of round 2 seems easy: cut out the parts that don't work onstage, thereby tightening and shortening the show, clarify a few plot points about a love story that waffles a bit too much in Act 2, and they're golden. But being that this is the first time in front of the audience, and with zero preview time for rewrites etc, you can't get that done in an NYMF show. So here's to future productions of a very fun musical.


On a separate note: I'd like to talk about the character played by Ryah Nixon.

This sounds terrible but when I saw the "fat campers" get onstage in minute 1, I pointed at her and whispered to my friend, "what the hell is she doing at a fat camp?" Fine she's not a size zero. But she's not only not-overweight, but was the thinnest character at the Fat Camp. I mean look at her, she's gorgeous:

And then later on you find out that she's the romantic female lead. Is this the same problem in Broadway Musicals as it is in film? It's okay to have an overweight guy be the romantic male lead, but not an actually-overweight girl--not even in a musical called "Fat Camp"? Hairspray aside, the only film I can even think of with an overweight female lead is Shallow Hal. And frankly I don't think that counts, because you see more Normal Gwenyth Paltrow than Prosthetic Gwenyth Paltrow.

I just thought it was interesting that in order to make a female character the romantic lead at a fat camp, they had to choose the one who isn't actually overweight.

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