10 Shows that Stand Out at the Fringe – 2013

It’s August in NYC, which means stanky subway platforms, throngs of tourists, and the New York International Fringe Festival!

And if you’re an obsessive, compulsive theatergoer then this festival is for you.

It’s chock full of more than 200 productions from all over the world performed in a sweet 16 days at over 20 venues.

Every year, I kill about 27 trees printing out the mammoth program guide of each and every show, and I pick ten shows that grab my attention and go on my list of “Learn more about this show.”

And then I share those shows with you so you can have an idea of what attracts a Producer who is always on the hunt for new product.

Are you ready?  Here are this year’s 10 Shows That Stand Out at the Fringe!

1.  Rubble

They had me at “The Simpsons.”

The first line of the description of Rubble reads, “From Emmy winning Simpsons writer Mike Reiss . . . ”  And bam.  I’m in.  Why?  Well, yes, I loved The Simpsons.  But I also know that The Simpsons debuted in 1989, which means early viewers will be around 42 years old . . . which is very close to the average age of today’s Broadway audience.  So the show’s demo is close to the demo that is naturally buying tickets.  The sell is a bit easier, if I saw something that I thought could go to Broadway.  (Want an example of the opposite effect?  American Idiot.  The Green Day fans weren’t in the Broadway-going sweet spot yet, which is why it was harder to get them to come out . . . as opposed to Frankie Valli fans for Jersey Boys, etc.)

It also doesn’t hurt that the show stars Bruce Effin’ Vilanch!  Oh, and Sopranos original cast member Jerry Adler!  And, on top of all that, it’s being produced by my Macbeth Associate Producer, Hunter Chancellor, with a daughter of a Macbeth/Somewhere in Time Producer as his associate.  And I work with the Casting Director.  And I also know . . . ok, ok, I know what you’re thinking, “Well, Ken, you’re just giving a shout out to people you know.”  Not really, but does having people involved with your show that Producers know help get their attention?  Yes.  Welcome to the world.

And did I mention that it was written by a Simpsons writer and stars Bruce Effin’ Vilanch!

2.  Naked in Alaska

Want to get people interested in your show?  Put “Naked” in the title.

Jk, jk, guys.  Sort of.

No, no . . . the real answer is “promise to open up the doors on a real world that the audience has never experienced before, but is fascinated by.”   Examples?  The mob, the oval office . . . and well, strip clubs.

Naked in Alaska is a “behind the scenes, true story” (another titillating characterisitc) of Valerie Hager’s life on a pole.  The show will be at The Chicago Fringe.   And on top of it, her video website is pretty dang cool.

While one-person shows rarely move on to the large commercial stage as is, sometimes they become something else entirely . . . like this.  Maybe Naked could too?

3.  Slut

Despite what you may think, the title of Slut isn’t what got my attention.  In fact, if I had just been flippin’ through the catalog and saw the title, I probably would have flipped right on. But the catalog wasn’t the first place I learned about the show.  I first read about it in this article in The Huffington Post about how a group of teenage girls wrote a letter to Anthony Weiner, condemning the use of the word “Sl*t” in his office . . . and telling him how they just created a play about it.  And then they offered him tickets.

Smart, truthful, and so press worthy that it got them an article off the theater pages . . . into the mainstream press . . . so people like me could learn more of what the show is really about.  These smart and savvy young ladies (who were behind one of my picks in ’11) knew a 50 word blurb in a catalog and a potentially turn-off title wasn’t going to do it.  So they came up with another way.

And it worked.

4.  The Skype Show or See You In August

An expired visa tore them apart.  Skype brought them together.

The two author-actors of this “dramedy with music” wrote a show based on transcriptions of their Skype calls (she’s here – he’s in Amsterdam) and now, they’re going to perform it at the Fringe. Only one problem, she’s here and he’s in Amsterdam.

Yep, the show is about Skype calls, and takes place over a Skype call.


Just pray the wireless doesn’t go out.

5.  Quake

Quake stood out for me because of its refreshing simplicity.  There’s no naked people.  There’s no super long fringey title.  It’s just about a divorced couple that gets trapped in a closet after an earthquake.  It follows one of my favorite writing axioms.  Which one?  Check the blog tomorrow.

6.  Horsehead

Some writers start writing where others stop.  That’s what Gregory Maguire did with Wicked.  That’s what Tom Stoppard did with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead.  And that’s what Damon Lockwood did with Horsehead.  He took one of the most famous scenes from The Godfather (you know, when the guy wakes up with the bloody horse head in his bed) and wrote a play about the two guys that planted the head.   And you know what’s even cooler?  The show is from the land of The Godfather himself . . . Italy!

It’s ok to be inspired by other people’s inspiration.  And it helps you stand out.

7. The Mythmakers

In a similar vein comes Mythmakers, which uses the popular device of putting two real-life strong-but-contrasting historical figures together . . . like Freud’s Last Session . . . or Copenhagan . . . or Frost/Nixon . . . and then allows the audience to watch the fireworks.  In Mythmakers, it’s Peter Pan author, JM Barrie and Antarctic explorer RF Scott.  Because I know something about these dudes, I’m already half on the hook before even getting halfway through the blurb.

8.  The TomKat Project

Ok, ok, look, I’ll admit it.  I’m a sucker for a Tom Cruise story.  David Mamet once said that when a scene (or play) starts, there is a secret. And when the secret is revealed, the scene/play is over.  Well, there has got to be a ton of effin’ secret skeletons in his closet, right?  And that’s why it’s not only me that’s a sucker for it.  The world is a sucker for it.  Which makes it stand out.  Does that mean you have to be inspired by tabloid mags for your next project?  No, but topical projects are already on the top of your audience’s mind, so you’ve got less marketing to do.

9.  Clown Play

Thankfully, I don’t suffer from coulrophobia (fear of clowns).  But just because I’m not afraid of them, doesn’t mean I want to see them in a play.  And guess who the central characters are in Clown Play?  Hint:  They aren’t goldfish.  Nope, they’re clowns, which would almost get me skipping right over this show and on to the next.  Except, it was if the Producer knew that some might be turned off by those circus freaks, because the blurb was filled with quotes from the Author’s last play, which was seen at the Fringe in 2011.  Another reason to write more plays?  You get more credibility and marketing tools for your next one.

 10.  Blizzard ’67

Even though it has the title of an 80s Disaster Movie, there was something about the last line of the this show’s description that grabbed me by the hairs on the back of my neck.  ” . . . is sure to haunt you long after you’ve left the theater.”  It sounds like a thriller to me . . . and audiences love them.  And, we haven’t had them in a while.  The Deathtraps and Sleuths and haunting, twisting, scary shows have been missing from the boards.  Blizzard’s description made it sound like it just may be one.

And that’s my Top 10!

You can get tickets for these and all the Fringe shows here.

Oh, and take a few moments to browse through all the titles.  And then, come back and tell me and your fellow readers what shows stand out to you!   What shows are you going to see?  What shows are you not going to see?  Why?  I learn more about the marketing of my shows by observing the marketing of others.  You can too.

Enjoy The Fringe!

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Looking to learn how to get your show to stand out?  Here are two quick tips:

1 – Read Seth Godin’s book The Purple Cow, my bible to product development and marketing.

2 – Take my Get Your Show Off The Ground seminar, which I guarantee will give you a bunch of great takeaways on how to get your show to stand out at the Fringe, NYMF, and on Broadway!  Take the seminar today.

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Ken created one of the first Broadway podcasts, recording over 250 episodes over 7 years. It features interviews with A-listers in the theater about how they “made it”, including 2 Pulitzer Prize Winners, 7 Academy Award Winners and 76 Tony Award winners. Notable guests include Pasek & Paul, Kenny Leon, Lynn Ahrens and more.