Marketing The Fringe

Jan. 23, 2009
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I sit in a comfortable chair on the 28th floor of the Sheraton Hotel Tower contemplating the hour I’m going to be spending in below zero temperatures tonight. The Neo-Futurists' performance space isn’t far from where my wife and I are staying, but there are busses and there’s a transfer involved. The El would be an improvement but Google Maps is convinced that the busses would be a better way to go . . .


When my wife tells co-workers that we’re going to see a show while we’re here, they assume we’re going to the final weekend of Wicked. When she tells them that it’s more of an experimental show, they mention Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding . . . I guess she sort of gives up trying to explain it at that point. This sounds like a good time to point out the importance of marketing. It’s all well and good to feel cozy and countercultural going to some small space to see fringe art, but if you want the public to embrace the fringe, they have to actually know about it. Experimental stuff is capable of being really well accepted and if you don’t believe that, go on YouTube and look at some of the really amorphously bizarre pseudo-surrealist stuff thousands of people watch while they should be doing more constructive things with their time at work. The experimental edge in theatre is out there waiting to become the mainstream and I’m sure there are a lot of people inside the smaller theatres who would prefer it not become popular, but if you really want to change the world, the world’s probably going to have to hear what you’re saying.   


To this end, Alamo Basement and Insurgent Theatre have done a good enough job of marketing themselves with tonight’s BERZERK!!! show that the respectably small space of the Alchemist Theatre is now completely sold-out. This is really reassuring for a show entirely consisting of plays written in ten minutes and put together in 48 hours. The $5 tickets might have had something to do with it. The large number of people involved in the show and the similarly large number of their friends probably have something to do with it as well. Insurgent’s Ben Turk mentioned in an announcement that anyone showing up at the theatre with one of the Milwaukee Rep’s $30 tickets torn in to six pieces would get in free if there were still any seats available. Though it’s highly unlikely that there are going to be any available, it’s a clever marketing idea. It’s precisely the type of marketing that the fringe needs to get seen by the type of people who think Tony n’ Tina’s Wedding is edgy and experimental.


I won’t be able to make it to the show as I am currently stranded in a tower in the very frigid city of Chicago (and to be fair, Milwaukee is as well right now . . .) It’s unfortunate—I’m told the ten-minute submissions ended up being oddly violent and aggressive this time around . . . but I will have to content myself with a long-running Chicago show not altogether unlike BERZERK!!! The show in question is Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind—30 plays performed in 60 minutes that change every performance. As I understand it, the show has been running at the Neo-Futurist’s performance space for 20 years. It may not be as aggressive as what’s going on in Bay View this evening, but it’s worth a look. More tomorrow . . .





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