How much does it cost to be in Fringe (or any other Festival)?

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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.

4 Comments

I give so much blog fodder!
Thanks, Gil.

~ Megan
So what are the economics of NYMF then? Any hope of breaking even there?
Well in short, no.

In long? I suppose it's possible if you have the right incredibly-cheap show and you're not putting emphasis on publicity. "Gutenberg!" comes to mind--it was two actors, one pianist, and a bunch of hats. And a very funny book. I don't remember if they did a lot of publicity or not. I don't know if they recouped at NYMF, but I'm sure they did when transferring.

Here's what you're adding on when you do NYMF, although some of these would be true for a musical at Fringe:
- Instrument rental
- Musicians
- Rehearsal pianist
- Audition pianist
- A rehearsal space that has a piano
- Choreographer
- Musical director
- You probably want to do a few demo recordings
- Rehearsals are about a week longer if memory serves
- Insurance was about $450
- You probably want to do a photo shoot...

Basically what it came down to (for us) was that the competition at NYMF seemed a little stronger. But the stakes were a little higher, so we felt we could carve out a name for ourselves among NYMF's ~30 (now 20ish?) often high-profile shows more easily than among FringeNYC's 200. And so our publicity costs shot up.

NYMF tickets cost about 33% more. NYMF, however, doesn't cost only 33% more to produce. But a larger percentage of NYMF shows go onto something.
Thanks for all the info Gil. I'm not even in NYC but this is really interesting.
Cheers for taking the time!

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