Piro: The Locust Business District was the first place I approached [to host the festival]. I like the architecture. There's lots of little alleys, space that can be transformed into performance space. There are a lot of businesses and foot traffic. I'm a huge admirer of Grand Center, the way it revitalized the neighborhood. I liked the idea of a fringe festival on the fringe of St. Louis' arts center. We want it to be an insurgence and take over the area.

Some festivals have $1 million budgets. Ours is less than $25,000. It's the first year, and we wanted to see how it went. Also, I like the challenge to be creative about where to get resources. Schlafly has agreed to sponsor us, and KDHX, Metropolitan Artist Lofts, Pride St. Louis, Fountain on Locust, Grand Center, the Locust Business District. I have feelers out for more.

Croghan: We've borrowed our 501(c)(3) from Grand Center [so we can accept tax-deductible donations]. It takes time and money and resources and lawyers to get a 501(c)(3) of our own. We have an employee ID number and are registered with the IRS. But the 501(c)(3) is a separate entity. The breakneck speed with which we organized this — I get the feeling other fringe festivals spend more than a year organizing their first year. It takes time to get grants. We're doing this with no grant funding.

Dancers from Ashleyliane Dance Company:  Michelle Bohn, Jake Henke and Ashley Tate.
Jennifer Silverberg
Dancers from Ashleyliane Dance Company: Michelle Bohn, Jake Henke and Ashley Tate.
St. Louis Osuwa Taiko members Andrew Thacheimer and Eddie Pelikan.
Jennifer Silverberg
St. Louis Osuwa Taiko members Andrew Thacheimer and Eddie Pelikan.

Howser: The challenge is not getting money. It's getting things for free.

Obstacle One: Attracting Acts

Piro: The festival will have twenty local performers and ten national. (It's important to have the national shows. It helps to highlight our community to visiting artists.) We're doing this festival really, really cheap. The maximum cost to performers is $150. In comparable cities, the production fees are $600, $850. The $150 gets you marketing, a venue and tech, light and sound. The performers get to price their own [admission], between $1 and $12 in dollar increments, depending on how much they think the show is worth. They keep 60 percent of the ticket sales. The other 40 percent pays artists behind the scenes (the technicians).

We had a party on January 14, and then people started signing up at midnight. People who signed up in the first 30 seconds of 12:05 got in, and people in the second 30 seconds of 12:05 ended up on the wait list.

Bryson Gerard, St. Lou Fringe performer: I looked at the website and saw that was happening, the scope of it, and said, "Sign me up!" I could see it had what I love about amateur performance art and professional performance art. In terms of quality, the quality of everyone involved was at a professional level of showmanship and technique. But it was amateur in terms of being cutting edge and inventive. I saw it as a great platform and a chance to be part of something bigger.

Piro: We're trying to think of ways to get the wait list involved.

Croghan: Em and I went to FRIGID New York, the winter fringe festival.

Piro: I volunteered the whole time. He just wandered around.

Croghan: Fringe in New York was wild, but ours is going to be cooler, I've decided. They don't have street-level performers. Everything is all up in theaters. It was lame. They failed to capitalize on a huge market. We're going to have Fringe d'Fringe on the street. Anyone on the wait list can do an outdoor show for free, and then pass the hat. We'll have musicians and buskers and hula-hoopers and the Ladue High School improv troupe. We're also hoping for fire dancers.

Do you know any fire dancers?

Obstacle Two: Finding Venues

We hope to have the venues nailed down by the end of January.
— Em Piro, January 17, 2012


[Setting: February 17. The Locust Business District office, a nondescript conference room overlooking Locust Street.]

Piro: Martin Casas is letting us use his campaign office as an office and box office. We still don't have venues. Travis from Grand Center reserved the black-box theater and cabaret in the Kranzberg Arts Center for us. I was hoping for a "found" space so the focus would be on the performers, not the venue, but it's much better than nothing. The meeting with the Centene Center did not go well. Fubar freaked out about us using their space. They were OK with four days, but we have to tech. We need thirty hours. (Three hours per act, ten acts per venue.) Plus the four days of the festival.

John Armstrong, St. Lou Fringe adviser and former managing director, HotCity Theatre: Asking for seven days scares people. Could you go down to two hours for the tech runs?

Piro: I'd rather be comfortable and stay on schedule. The ideal is an hour and a half to tech, some time to breathe and then 50 minutes for a final run-through. Maybe two hours could still work.

Croghan: We could put all the two-day people in one venue. Maybe have four venues instead of three?

Piro: I'm nervous. I'm relying on my thought process. I looked at the upstairs of 3000 Locust. It's a cool space. But it's against code. It's got no heat.

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