Time isn’t a jet plane; it’s an elastic band.
The experience of our time in Winnipeg went very slow — like the slow deliberate stretch of an elastic band — and then it snapped to a quick and unexpected finish. After spending several days feeling like we had been out west for a very long time, all of a sudden, it felt like we had barely arrived and were already heading home.
From a performance perspective, we did very well. Ray and I were very sharp and at the top of our game. More than a few people commented on our crisp comic timing and our rapport on stage. Dave brought his A-game for his supporting role and he stole more than a scene or two. I’m sure that the vast majority of the people who made it to the show had a great time.
From a numbers perspective, however, we didn’t do nearly as well as we had hoped. The final numbers aren’t in but breaking-even seems unlikely.
A big part of the problem, of course, is the cost of air travel. Due to work commitments, driving wasn’t an option this year. Air travel was an extra cost that could not be avoided.
We knew this going in, however, and we expected to pull enough punters to justify the cost and to make a profit. We had sold out a 175 seat venue in Edmonton three times last summer and we posted strong numbers for every other show. It seemed plausible to estimate that we’d post comparable numbers in Winnipeg and make a profit.
One important factor for our lower numbers, I think, is the nature of the Winnipeg Fringe audiences.
I suspect most of the Winnipeg Fringe ticket sales are driven by a hardcore group of Fringers who watch many many shows. Very often, these hardcore Fringers have their schedules carefully planned before the first poster is up or the first flier is handed out. They may tweak a schedule for an unexpected hit but they are unlikely to revamp it for an unknown show by an untested production company.
Additionally, there is a second group of more casual Fringers who live and die by star reviews. With so many quality shows to choose from, any show which can’t boast four or five stars is going to have a hard time corralling more than a few of those star-chasing Fringers. Even a four star review is no guarantee.
And from this perspective, we actually did pretty well.
For Winnipeg Fringe audiences, G-Men Defectives was a brand new show from a brand new production company that wasn’t reviewed by anyone local until late in the game. This implies that the vast majority of people came to our show thanks only to our street-level publicity efforts and the word of mouth support. Eventually, they even came out despite less than ideal star ratings.
And that’s a job well done.
More to the point, for a goodly number of people, the creative team and the company is now a known entity in Winnipeg and is now known for bringing a quality product. So the next time out, a few more of those hard core Fringers might build our show into their schedule before a single poster is up or a single flier handed out.
And there is an important lesson here for theatre marketers (all marketers, really). Successful marketing involves building a relationship of trust over time. Overnight sensations are the exception and not the norm. And more likely than not, a little digging will reveal a long hard stretch of effort before the sudden snap of success seems to happen overnight.