Interviews with NYC's Indie Theatre Directors

Standing Out

I’ve been fascinated by the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for years. It’s one of those bucket list items for me. But I’ve been warned that directing there was unlike directing anywhere else. So, inspired by Articulate Theatre Company member Katrin Hilbe, and ATC friend Joan Kane, I decided to reach out to a few “Fringe-Bound” directors and find out just what goes on ‘across the pond’ in the pressure-cooker theatrical event known as Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Some of these directors are old hands at EFF and some are first-timers. Read on to delve into the minds of these Festival Directors! — Cat Parker

MEET THE DIRECTORS: (click on the names for bio and show info)

Katrin Hilbe
Martha Wollner
Joshua William Gelb
Joel Polis

Joan Kane
Scott W. Slavin
Luke Tudball
Antony Raymond
John Clancy

Jessi D. Hill
Cindy Sibilsky
Peter Michael Marino
Padraic Lillis

CP: In such a dense field of theatre, how do you get your production to stand out?

Katrin: Good question. Do everything: good flyer design, posters, social media, have a website, network, send out your press release to everybody who you think could even remotely be interested in your play, use all angles, try to get promo slots, keep your ear to the ground and your nose to the grindstone. Be willing to stay out late. If you’re a producer, try to get badges to the private clubs, where industry hangs out. Stay for the whole festival. The first week is for set-up, sussing out, reviews, the 2nd one for more reviews, word-of-mouth, the last 10 days are when heavy industry comes to town to buy. You gotta be there for that. And never ever leave the house without a pack of flyers and your business cards. Never.

John: No easy answer to that.  Like anywhere else, have great images, talk to everyone, see other people’s shows, etc.

Joel: To get an audience is probably the most difficult problem any production will face when going to the festival. I remember in 2005, walking out onstage to find 3 people in the audience. The best way to get viewers, he said hopefully, is to have a project you are really jazzed about, find a well attended venue, and secure a widely popular time slot. With Years to the Day playing at the Pleasance Courtyard at 13:50, we have accomplished just that. Come on by and you’ll see a new play that is provocative, genuinely moving, and very revealing of life in the United States in the early 21st Century.

Joan: The show I am directing this year makes fun of doing a play in a festival, so we are going to market it to the people that are coming to Scotland to present plays as much as we are to the regular “punters” (UK for audience). We are also doing an improve drinking game  show in a pub in the  Free Fringe- Are You Better Than An American?. It is a satire, improve show that Dev Brand and Nick Palladino (2 of the actors in our play what do you mean?) created because they did not want to flyer on the Royal Mile.

Joshua: This question was really at the forefront of our decision to take this particular show to Edinburgh. Because Party in the USA! is just bigger, more ostentatious, and more flagrantly “American” then what you’d expect to see from other Fringe offerings. You’ll recognize us by the red, white, and blue track suits we wear to collectively jog through the streets while flyering. We’re also bringing back a viral gimmick that worked wonders for us last summer. We’re asking all assortments of friends, artists, and musicians to make covers of the chorus to Miley Cyrus’ Party in the USA. Right now, we’ve only got 25 or so posted to our website and youtube channel. But by the end of the summer I’m hoping to have well over a hundred. Would you make one for us, Cat?

Luke: This is one of those questions that really doesn’t have a definitive answer. I think you just have to try and do all the things I’ve mentioned. Bring your best work, believe in it, be out on the street, in the pub, in the hotel, everywhere telling people about it, handing out flyers, inviting them to see it. People love swag. By that I mean, have badges or stickers, or something small with your show details that people can wear or keep on them to remind them of your show. It’s a little more expensive, but one of the best ones I ever saw was a show that gave out tote bags with their poster on them. It was like thousands of walking posters all over the city. People love bags in Edinburgh! You can always do performances in the street and so on too, and there are many many opportunities for additional exposure during the Fringe. The Fringe Society have a number of outdoor stages that you can apply to perform on, and venues often have cabarets, and so on where you can get a guest spot. There are radio, tv, and other media people all over the place. I would say try to find something quirky about your show that will stand out and be memorable. Something that people will instantly remember as being yours, and then go do it all over the place, all the time. And give out swag. Lots of swag.

Cindy: The show has to be good, that’s key, for if its not and you get people in, they won’t come back, if it is, they will, in droves. Word of mouth is still the most powerful marketing tool (one you can’t control). Hitting up the Royal Mile, stunts, monologues in the street, and shamelessly promoting to everyone you meet! Douglas makes vintage bottle cap pins which he hands out as “free art,” so if you see anyone wearing one you know that they have been touched by 666 DSM!

Anthony: Hire a really good press agent.

Jessi: I focus on what makes Lucie (Pohl) unique as a writer and performer and trust that there’s an audience there for us to share it with.  We have had a lot of fun thinking about unique ways to market the show and are at work making them happen.

Padraic: Well the challenge is really about the advice we’ve been given. We have a very good PR person that helped get some interviews done already over there. However, I have heard that the best way to get people to see your show is to go out, socialize, and spread the word yourself. Since we are a solo show and a small crew – I’m hoping to connect our show with a group of other solo shows I know are going over. That way we can help spread the word about our shows – and have a bigger crowd to go out with at the end of the day.

Peter: You work the lines of people going into and out of shows that are like yours. You talk to them. You connect. You follow the media and interact with them. It’s so easy there even though you’re competing with 3,000 other shows. You get fellow performers to like your show and then they talk about your show. Be interesting and be passionate. Have a story. See other stuff. In a weird way, I think just being supportive of other shows is the way for YOU to stand out … and your show will follow.

Martha: I actually welcome density of the field of theater. It brings a density of audience as well. Every story gets exposed to people who might not have found you in some other setting.

Scott: Valerie Hager (writer/performer of Naked In Alaska) made a decision early on that it was either Assembly or bust. Her reasoning was, “If we are going to invest in the EFF as international artists, we’re only prepared to do so if we have the opportunity to be in a top venue that audiences are already attracted to.” Assembly’s brand is incredibly strong at the EFF and, in my experience so far, their attention to and support of their artists is unparalleled. From day one I have felt that the entire Assembly team is deeply invested in Naked In Alaska’s success, and they have offered so many options for promoting the show. The experience so far has been a true gift.

We also knew far in advance that we would need the support of a UK-based publicist. When we received a four-star “Critic’s Pick” review in Time Out New York last August—and then this February were re-listed as one of the week’s “Recommended” shows—we experienced an immediate increase in ticket sales. Certain publications can be real game-changers. We began working with Ann-Marie Baptiste & Associates in April, and Ann-Marie’s become a treasured collaborator and advocate for the show. A good publicist is gold. Going to EFF with the kinds of awards and reviews Naked In Alaska‘s accumulated over the past two years has also helped us generate buzz and enthusiasm–both in the press and in the Assembly and Edinburgh Fringe offices. These types of notices–at any level–certainly whet the appetite of the potential audience and make a show more of a “known entity” than new, untested productions.

Finally, Valerie  thrives off others’ presence (and vice versa), so I’m continually thinking of new ways to put her in front of our audience. She’s a quintessential “born performer”—but it goes much deeper than that. Her performance has almost nothing to do with her—she creates moments where something special and unforgettable happens with the audience through the medium of performance—moments that couldn’t happen if those specific people weren’t there. She got this from her dad, Jerry Hager, a celebrated mime and movement artist in California who began casting her in his productions when she was barely five years old. He’s a master at dissolving the artifice to make moments of real connection possible. Valerie has a huge heart with room to welcome everybody in it. It’s astounding to me. To the extent that we can create opportunities outside of the performances to connect Valerie more personally with our audience, Edinburgh will know about and be excited to share with her the incredible experience of Naked In Alaska.

Keep reading – lots of good info on the links below!

Have you been to the Edinburgh Fringe before?

What are some changes you’ve had to make to your production in order to take it to festival?

What makes it worthwhile for a director to have a production at the festival?

What surprises/challenges have you faced during the process?

What’s the best piece of advice you’ve been given about taking a show to EFF?

Bonus question – what one food, drink or establishment do you look forward to trying/visiting the most?


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