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A few months ago I did a blog about Fringe Theatre here in Manchester. Since then, I’ve had quite a few people contact me about the subject matter and have had interesting conversations with other people I know who work in the field.

If you recall, I spoke about how hard it is for Fringe theatre playing outside of festivals to get media attention with only a few places like our very own What’s on Stage and Broadway World being the exception to that rule.

My company’s next production OUT! hits the stage in a few weeks (June 9th – 12th at Taurus Bar) and we are happy to report that like the past 6 productions we have staged it looks set to be another sell out, this is great news. However, closer inspection shows that as well as a few dedicated followers of Fringe Theatre and our company Vertigo many of our ticket sales come from cast and crews' friends and family and their friends and family. 

Now, to us money is money as it keeps us alive and word of mouth from these audience members will increase the audience for the next play, but we are still struggling to find a bigger audience away from the dedicated fan base we have. Of course, much of this comes down to what I spoke about last time with not enough press coverage, after all our advertising campaign for the show was great with flyers and adverts placed all around Manchester, now after speaking to others it turns out I’m not alone.

Other fringe companies are finding the same problem that either their shows don’t sell period or they play to a familiar crowd, so what can we do about this. A few suggestions I had from people got me thinking so I thought I would share them with you.

As mentioned last time the main theatre awards in Manchester are the Evening News Theatre Awards, they however seem to disregard fringe shows unless they have been seen in a festival, after all they are the only ones they cover so how could they nominate others. Could the fringe scene get together in Manchester and create its own awards?  How could this help I hear you ask? Any awards is going to get the attention of the mainstream press who may not have taken interest in fringe before, if they talk about the awards they talk about the shows meaning that publicity for the shows can begin to grow, show the city that fringe theatre is alive and thriving and not just in the festivals.

A much bigger idea by someone but still interesting all the same.With the council's support of fringe theatre, how about a small venue for fringe to take a permanent home in?  A small 200 seat venue which would be run by a fringe team in Manchester and showing only fringe. This way fringe fans rather than missing out on great new pieces because there is no publicity to let them know where these shows are playing know that something small will always be on at the venue.  I have to say that this may be a large idea with lots of money needed to fund this but it’s is a good one. If Manchester wants to continue to support the arts then they need to start with Fringe, after all this is where the next lot of writers, directors, actors etc are.

Fringe companys work together.
Another idea by someone was that fringe company’s should get together and contact the media outlets about supporting us. Simply sending a press release does not seem to work (as we found out with this play when we heard nothing back from Manchester papers yet some gay publications and the wonderful people at the Big Issue did cover us) but if the fringe scene gets together to address this as a collective we could stand a chance.

A Manchester fringe site
This is something that a friend said to me a few nights ago and I happen to agree. We have Facebook pages for fringe theatre, some of the great sites have coverage of Fringe but how about a site devoted to just fringe where everything that’s happening in the city is covered. From cast interviews, ticket info, blogs, Videos etc, something to make people get excited about these shows. Again it solves the problem of fringe fans trying to find out from the small amount of publicity out there what’s playing in the city they can simply go to one site where all the info is and really get involved.

So, there just a few ideas from some of the fringe scene and I have to say it’s great to hear that it’s not just me that thinks this way but the scene, as a whole seems to find it a constant struggle. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want this to come across as sulky. All of us in this scene love what we do and that’s why we do it (it sure as hell isn’t for the money) but a little help for all our efforts would be much appreciated. 

You see, when we put money in to one of our shows we are risking everything, it’s not like we just dust ourselves of if we lose money, we could always be in danger of going under and for the casts and crews that work so hard for little or no pay on these shows, it would be a blow.

And the next time you want a night out at the theatre have a look at what’s really going on around the city, where it’s great to get dressed up and spend a night at the Palace or the Opera House, there tends to be far more interesting things going on at places like Taurus Bar, AXM, The Lowry Studio and Studio Salford (and its way cheaper lol).

So what do you think fringe companies can do to get their name out there more?

Till next time!

- Craig Hepworth


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