10 Shows that Stand Out at the Fringe – 2014
Some people like to read Stephen King or John Grisham novels in the summertime.
You know what I like to read?
The Fringe Festival catalog!
Oh, man, there’s nothing like downloading that sucker, flipping through the pages, and looking at all the potential! There are one-man shows, one-woman shows, and even a few one-man-who-used-to-be-a-woman shows!
The New York International Fringe Festival is the melting pot of the theater. Give me your tired, your poor, your odd ball musical, and the Fringe will give you a space to showcase it to the world . . . and to Producers like me.
Several years ago, I started sharing my Fringe Catalog flipping process with you, to give you insight into what a Producer like me looks for when “shopping” for shows.
And this year is no different.
Below are the 10 Shows from this year’s Fringe Festival catalog that piqued my Producer interest and why. And they are (in no particular order):
If you’ve watched the news at any point in the last, oh, four
days years, then you know the topic of illegal immigration is at a boiling point. No One is about exactly that, but smartly they’ve focused on the most innocent of all – the undocumented children, and used actual stories of “illegal” NYC stories as the foundation for their piece. Controversial “ripped from the headlines” subject matter is sure-fire way to get attention from Producers . . . and press.
The first seven words of Your Radio Adventure’s marketing description tell me exactly what I’m in for if I buy a ticket: “Radio play meets choose your own adventure novel . . . ” Is that specific or what? (If there were Fringe Awards for marketing blurbs, YRA would win hands down.) Now that type of show may not be for everyone, but I’m a Producer that believes that “immersive” (the new word for “interactive”) entertainment is the wave of the future. Tell your audience exactly what your show is from the get go. Some people may move on to the next listing, but they were never going to buy a ticket anyway.
3. The Flood
Breaking News: Advertising works. The Fringe Catalog is filled with quarter page ads, 1/8 page ads, and 1/232 page ads. And with all those shows trying to grab your attention, the pages can start to look like you’re staring at a theatrical kaleidoscope . . . after you’ve eaten 140 “funny” mushrooms. You know what The Flood did? They broke through all that funny-stuff and sucked it up and bought a full page ad. Sure it may have cost more, but they were smart enough to put their money in the place where they knew the most buyers would be. I did the same thing for Altar Boyz back in ’04 at the first NYMF. When you have a limited budget, don’t spread it out. Focus in on where it’ll do the most good. FYI, there were other shows that placed full page ads as well, but The Flood’s was first – and placement is everything (Ad agencies fight with the NY Times all the time about which full page ad will appear first in the A&L section every Sunday for this same reason).
Guess what this show is about? That’s right, it’s about
Soccer Football. And more specifically, The World Cup. It’s as if the Producers timed this, right? Duh. They did. Capitalizing on world wide crazes is an easy way to get people to line up at your box office. Why do you think there are 147 versions of 50 Shades of Grey parodies?
First of all, if you grew up going to the arcade and playing Donkey Kong, then you must see the movie on which this musical is based. Second, if you grew up going to the arcade and playing Donkey Kong, then you are probably in your early 40s. You know who else is in their 40s? The primary theater going demographic. The video game generation is about to age into the theater going generation. And they’re going to want shows that remind them of where they came from and challenge them in the same way those games challenged them (read this post for more of my theory). And King of Kong is capitalizing on just that. But they aren’t the only ones. There’s another video game show in this year’s Fringe called Jump Man, and there’s a lot of buzz about this show from the DC Fringe that may be jumping to NYC at some point in the future. All this activity means a show about gaming is going to hit. But which one?
6. a kind shot
A 6’1″ Pro Basketball player would probably have interesting stories to tell. Now imagine that pro baller is a “chick” (her word, not mine!). The best dramas open up the doors on worlds we’ve never seen before (The West Wing, any mob movie, etc.) and pro sports aren’t something we get access to everyday. But we’re fascinated by it. Now take your hero and make it someone who may have been made fun of as a kid (she was 6’1″ by the time she was in the 6th grade), who may have been told she was playing a “man’s game,” and all of a sudden we’ve got an underdog that we’re rooting for to succeed. And that’s a story that I, and the majority of theatergoers, want to watch.
You know who else is in the primary theater going demographic? Women. Women see shows. Women buy tickets. And women tell their friends to buy tickets. Urban Momfare is a musical about mom-hood on the Upper East Side. The subject matter seems so commercial you can smell it (and no, it doesn’t smell like diapers). A bunch of mom-musicals have tried to break through to this market, but I still think there is one “Menopause” like success to come. Maybe this is it?
Speaking of other attempts at similar subject matter, I would run out of fingers if I tried to count on my hands the number of adaptations of The Picture of Dorian Gray I’ve heard about. But people keep trying. Why? It’s a beautiful and innately theatrical story. It seems to belong on the stage. I’m still hoping someone can get it right. Neal Utterback from The Gravity Partners is giving it a go with his adaptation this year. I’m crossing my fingers for him. Classic adaptations have produced a lot of big fat Broadway hits, from Pygmalion to Les Misérables. So whenever I hear about one that feels right, I take notice.
This show has so much going for it I don’t know where to begin. It’s a Marx Brothers comedy (proven masters of entertaining audiences). It is the first ever revival of the show (firsts are always great and revivals are less risky). It was the only Marx Bros comedy never made into a film (so it’s rare – not many people have seen it – and why wasn’t it filmed?). Although I might have added The Marx Brothers to the title of this like Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Cinderella, they had me at Groucho.
10. Bedroom Secrets
Don’t we all want to know what goes on behind closed doors? The title tells the tale of this show about a shrink who delves into the sexual exploits of her patients (aren’t you curious what therapists hear from their patients? oh man!). This show was also one of the few of this year’s festival that showcased their actors in their description and listed credits like Nurse Jackie and Fat Pig. When you show me that you’ve surrounded yourself with quality folks, then the show’s quality goes up a notch in my book as well. Good people work on good projects. And the authors won last year’s “Audience Favorite Award” at the Fringe. There are a lot of shows at the Fringe. And even the festival organizers would admit that they can’t all be of the highest quality. The marketers of Bedroom Secrets made me feel that even if I came and decided the show wasn’t for me, I wouldn’t be disappointed with the production.
So there you have it. Those are the 10 shows that I’d see first in this year’s festival.
What about you? What shows are you going to see? Comment below on what you’re seeing, or what stood out for you (you can look at all of this year’s Fringe listings here).
Oh, and then go see some shows. The Fringe starts this Friday, August 8th and runs through the 24th. Get tickets here. The next generation of artists are just a few blocks away. Don’t you want to be able to say, “I saw that MOVIE STAR when he was in a show at The Fringe!”
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I drafted this blog in 2020. And then, well ….
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.