You have to convince them they do. I thought advertising was a dirty word and promotion was something that only sellouts (in the bad sense) worried about.
Then I produced my first show with my own money. Lesson learned.
From a producer's standpoint, the Fringe is a dream because costs are low, but also because there is a huge potential audience. Potential. Because while there are thousand of people who go to the Fringe anxious to gorge on theater for a week and a half, stuffing themselves with dance, improv, comedy, kid's shows, monologues, anything, anything, ANYTHING they do have one, from the artist's standpoint, one critical flaw. They want it to be good (Bastards!).
And I'm the same way. I don't care if your Fringe show is your life's work, the honest expression of your soul. Am I going to be entertained? Is it going to be worth 45-60 minutes of my life when I could be sitting at another venue? What's in it for me?
So here's how you convince me to come see your show:
This is the single most important part of your advertising. This is a big freaking fish hook that can spear an audience member and reel them in. You can tell a good title to someone without any other description and have them see the show in their head instantly. I'll give you an example from a previous year: Kung Fu Hamlet. I hear that title and know instantly that I have to see it.
On the opposite end, there are two kinds of bad title. The boring and generic (e.g. My Wacky Ethnic Family!, Relationships! They're Crazy!) and titles that let you know the show is just going to be Hell on the audience. On a long car trip my wife and I played a game where we tried to come up with the worst Fringe title imaginable. I thought I came up with some good 'uns with Have You Ever Really Looked at a Leaf? and Can I Play This Banjo? but of course my wife trumped them all with My Plantation of Hope, which is so gloriously awful, laying there like a marble turd. And you just know it's the last line of the play, too; "And I knew that it was now my plantation... my plantation of hope."
The show title tells you everything you need to know about the show, and the producer, in just a few words.
This is the second biggest thing that will draw me to a show, or let me know that I should skip it. Whether at a Fringe For All or the online trailers, this gives me a taste for a show and lets me, for the first time, see how good the actual performance might be. I say "might" because it is possible to give away the best three minutes (or the only good three minutes) of your show to get me in the door, but as an audience member, that's the risk you take. There were several shows that I might have ignored had I not gotten a taste at the Fringe For All: The First Five Minutes Are Slow (which told me nothing about the show's story but was so visually arresting) and the trailer for Rachel Teagle Believes in Ghosts which, while the video wasn't that great, let me know how good her storytelling ability is.
Word of Mouth
"So what have you seen?" About 36 hours in to the Fringe there will start to be a consensus on what's good. People can game the online reviews, creating new identities and getting their family to post five kitty reviews, but it's a lot harder to lie to someone's face at Fringe Central, especially when they're drinking with the cast of the show they're pimping. And while not everyone wants to sit and type out a review, anybody with a Summit in their hand will tell you their opinion of a show.
It's been a while since I've gone to see a show because they had a great postcard. Back in the day, a glossy four-color print said something about the amount of money (and, indirectly the professionalism) a company was putting into a show, but now the cost has come down so much that it's practically required. It's now a measure of how good your graphic designer is. But postcards are vital as the second stage: people stuff them in their pocket, pull it out at the end of the day and it reminds them to ask about it, look online, find out more.
It's easy to have a bad photo. It's easy to have a well-shot photo. It's hard to have a great photo, one that, like a title, expresses the idea of the show with a kick to the eyeball. Zombie High School (which is also a good title) nails this: because not only does it have a well-shot photo of young man with horrible wounds (visually arresting, even on a table full of other cards), he's smiling, which throws me for a loop and makes me look at the title, and at this point I'm hooked. Because the photo, along with the title, tells me that the people putting this show together probably know what they're doing.
This is actually the biggest reason I go to see a show: because I know someone who's in it, and like I say it's hard to lie to someone's face about how good a bad show was, but it's even harder to lie about how good a show you didn't even watch was. I, of course, don't have this problem because all my friends are ridiculously talented and fabulous and I doubt I could take any of them in a drunken fist fight in the Bedlam parking lot.
So this is the list of why I might go to see a show, which does no one any good this year because everything they can control has been locked down for weeks, and word-of-mouth is out of their hands. Huh. So, while being completely useless, it gives you some idea of where I'm coming from.
Next up, a look at some of the shows that have hooked me in, including with one which has a bad title but a great preview, and the two parts of a show's promotion you can ignore.