A Fringe Festival Show Tour, By the Numbers

by Andrew Wade

Last year, I undertook perhaps the greatest personal and financial adventure of my life: Producing, writing, financing, creating, and performing in a Fringe Festival production called The Hatter, which took me across the country to four cities I’d never visited — London, Ottawa, Toronto, and Saskatoon — over the course of two months. I kept some records to see what it cost me, to compare festivals in different cities, and to decide whether or not I’d do it again. Here’s what I ended up with:

London audience numbers:

# of performances: 10
# of comps to media in audience: 4
# of comp VIP tickets: 13
# of comp Trouper tickets recorded: 1
# of comp performer tickets: 16
# of paying audience members: 54

Average # of paying ticket holders per show: 5.4

# of audience members (total): 87

Average size of audience: 8.7

# of shows without a single paying audience member: 3

# of advance tickets sold: 0

Average ticket price paid to me: $9.94

Ottawa audience numbers:

Number of performances: 9
# of comps to media in audience: 4
# of comp VIP tickets: 2
# of comp Promo tickets: 2
# of comp volunteer tickets: 9
# of comp performer tickets: 3
# of advance tickets sold: 9
# of paying audience members: 81

Average # of paying ticket holders per show: 9

# of audience members (total): 101

Average size of audience: 11.2

Average ticket price paid to me: $9.35

Toronto audience numbers:

Number of performances: 7
# of comps to media in audience: 8
# of comps (poor friend): 1
# of comp volunteer tickets: 11
# of comp 10x10x10 tickets: 33
# of comp VIP tickets: 8
# of advance tickets sold: 23
# of paying audience members: 90

Average # of paying audience members: 12.86

# of audience members (total): 151

Average size of audience: 21.57

Average size of audience, not including 10x10x10: 16.71

Average ticket price paid to me: $8.92

Saskatoon audience numbers:

Number of performances: 7
# of comps to media in audience: 3
# of comp staff tickets: 1
# of comp company (performers with password) tickets: 27
# of comp volunteer tickets: 20
# of comp promo tickets (???): 16
# of advance tickets sold: 15
# of paying audience members: 118

Average # of paying audience members: 16.86

# of audience members (total): 195

Average size of audience: 27.86

Average ticket price paid to me: $11.20


Failed Fringe application fees:
Edmonton: -$36.75
CAFF lottery: -$25
Winnipeg: -$20
Vancouver: -$50
Nanaimo: -$25
Victoria: -$28
San Francisco: -$35.60

Total: -$220.35

Pre-tour expenses:
Photographer for promo shots: ~-$100
New hat: ~-$25
Hot water urn: -$68.95
Pocketwatch: -$13.44

Total: -$207.39

London Expenses:
Festival fee: -$650
Props/supplies: ~-$11.37
500 Handbills (business cards): -$34.47
25 posters: -$20.95
Stolen bike light (bought for use in London): -$20.33
Beer for my techie: -$11.25

Total: -$748.37

Ottawa Expenses:
Festival fee: -$632.80
Cider: -$6
Stage Manager: -$100
500 Handbills (business cards): -$34.47
25 posters: -$20.95
Props/supplies/tea: -$7.94$
New backpack (other one broke in so many ways): -$58.76
Extremely generous BYOV venue fee: -$80
Gift to billets: ~-$15

Total: -$955.92

Toronto Expenses:
Application fee: -$27.50
Festival fee: -$750.00
Stage manager: -$80
Props/supplies/tape/tea: -$20.41
Timbits offered at last four performances: -$13.56
Beer: -$14.60
500 Handbills (business cards): -$34.47
25 posters: -$20.95
Weekly transit pass: -$38.50

Total: -$999.99

Saskatoon Expenses:
Application fee: -$30
Festival fee: -$670.00
Stage manager: -$100.00
Props: -$11.03
1000 Handbills (business cards): -$51.41
25 posters: -$20.95
Beer: -$23.50
Gift to billet/volunteers: -$7.74

Total: -$914.63

Travel costs to each city:
Plane ticket from Vancouver to London, through family friend: -$120
Suitcase-full-of-props as extra bag on Westjet: -$21.00
Greyhound to Ottawa: -$59.33
Cost to take suitcase-full-of-props on greyhound to Ottawa: -$16.95
Gas money to artist for ride to Toronto: -$20
Transit tokens in Toronto while waiting for Saskatoon: -$53
Greyhound (43 hours) Toronto to Saskatoon: -$139.56
Cost to take suitcase-full-of-props on greyhound to Saskatoon: -$15
Greyhound (25 hours) Saskatoon to Vancouver: -$110.78
Cost to take suitcase-full-of-props on greyhound back to Vancouver: -$15.75

Total: -$571.37

Expenses back home:

Rent/storage costs in Richmond for 2.5 months = ~$550

Total: -$550.00


London Income:
Donation: $5
Ticket sales at door: $532.00
Average ticket price paid to me: $9.94

Total: $537.00

Ottawa Income:
6 two-for-one ticket sales (5): $30
17 five/ten show passes (7): $119
9 Advance ticket sales (10): $90
40 ticket sales at door (10): $400
stage managed a show twice: $30
Average ticket price paid to me: $9.35

Total: $787.00

Toronto Income:
23 advance ticket sales (9 to me): $207
41 ticket sales at door (10): $410
3 Five-pack (7.5): $22.50
17 ten-pack (7.5): $127.50
6 performer (6): $36
Average ticket price paid to me: $8.92

Total: $803.00

Saskatoon Income:

Ticket breakdown made very complicated with $2 deducted from each ticket for administrative fees, plus goods and services tax (GST) removed from payout on each ticket. (Saskatoon is the only Fringe Festival that does this.)

Donation: $47.75
Paid by drunks for a photo taken with me: $3
Payout from festival: $1,322.11
Average ticket price paid to me: $11.20

Total: $1,369.86

Other numbers:

Hours on greyhound buses: 8+43+25 = 76 hours.
Food not considered: Grocery/food bill, as it was kept to my usual $200 per month.
Days away: 71
Homes graciously opened to me to stay in: 5
# of stars in London review (London Free Press): 3 (out of five)
# of stars in Saskatoon review (The StarPhoenix): 4.5 (out of five)

Total Expenses:

Failed Fringe application fees: -$220.35
Pre-tour expenses: -$207.39
London expenses: -$748.37
Ottawa expenses: -$955.92
Toronto expenses: -$999.99
Saskatoon expenses: -$914.63
Travel costs to each city: -$571.37
Expenses back home: -$550.00

Total: -$5,168.02

Total Income:

London income: $537.00
Ottawa income: $787.00
Toronto income: $803.00
Saskatoon income: $1,369.86

Total: $3,496.86

Here are some of my reactions, based on those numbers:

To fund my theatre habit, I have, since I graduated two and a half years ago, managed to accumulate an array of low-paying part-time jobs that allow me to disappear for months at a time. At this very moment I am a Heritage Interpreter (Gulf of Georgia Cannery National Historic Site), Science Facilitator (Science World), Concessions/Bartender (Gateway Theatre), Police Simulations Improviser (Justice Institute of BC), Conference Worker (BBW International), and Standardized Patient (UBC Medical Program). Oh, and I was an extra once or twice for film sets, and I got paid to perform in a haunted house production at the Sun Yat-Sen Classical Chinese Gardens in Vancouver. So: I work a lot of $10-$14 an hour jobs, often for weeks in a row without days off, pretty much. I have a really hard time taking days off, if shifts are offered. But I try to make sure that theatre comes first. (I should add that this year, I actually have a couple more paying theatre contracts that will keep me working in the theatre world through February, March, and most of April, so those will also go towards ensuring that a Fringe tour won’t make me destitute, no matter how well or poorly it goes.)

Yes, I lost money. A fair chunk of change: $1,671.16 , to be precise. But I’ve been spending money on learning experiences for a number of years now, beginning with seven years of university, followed by the National Voice Intensive last year, and now, this tour. Was I hoping to at least break even? Of course! But to take a wider view, I traveled to amazing cities I’d never visited, had grand adventures, even kissed a lady or two, and got to tell a story worth telling to hundreds of people (okay, 534 people + ushers + technicians) across the country.

For my own personal growth, I desperately needed to travel. It was all 100 percent worth it. Over the course of two-and-a-half short months, I learned a heck of a lot about theater, life, and myself, and I can’t wait to get back out there next summer (if the Fringe lotteries are willing to let me).

As a former professor once told me as he suffered through the first couple of years of his own theatre company, it’s not at all uncommon for businesses to lose money for their first two or three years of operation. This was my first ever tour. Hopefully now I have a tiny base of fans in each city, who might possibly come out and see a show of mine in the future!

In each city, to keep this numerical, I think I knew 1 (London), 3 (Ottawa), many (Toronto), and 1 (Saskatoon) people, respectively. There was hometown advantage for me.

Hey Fringe Festival volunteers! You know how you happily exclaim to audience line-ups about how lovely it is that you haven’t raised your ticket price from $10 for the past fifteen years or so? Well, inflation exists, and what you’re telling artists is that they’ve been earning less and less per ticket for every year for the past decade and a half.

I did not once hear a single complaint on the street or in the theater about Saskatoon’s $12/$14 ticket prices. Just sayin’.

Also, it’s interesting that even with a $2 administrative fee and GST being factored in somewhere, I still came out earning $11.20 per ticket in Saskatoon, compared to $9.94 in London, $9.35 in Ottawa, and a mere $8.92 per ticket in Toronto.

Speaking of which, that shortfall in Toronto exists almost entirely due to the five-pack and 10-pack deals in that city. While I love having frequent fringer packs exist, compare Toronto’s $7.50 tickets to Vancouver’s frequent fringer packs, which still offer $9 per ticket to the performer. Seriously consider raising those frequent fringer rates, Toronto. You certainly have a reputation as being a place where performers don’t make any money. I enjoyed my time in the city, but $7.50 tickets are hurting your reputation and hurting a performer’s chances of being able to break even in your city.

Every city is so different when trying to figure out the right number of flyers and posters. Before I set out, I pre-printed 25 posters and 500 business card flyers for each city. Rookie mistake, as I learned when I saw other performers in London editing their poster files for upcoming cities so as to include London review quotes. Come Saskatoon I finally began taping quotes onto my posters, but printing posters for each upcoming city as I go seems to be the smarter solution.

So what are the right numbers? Well, 25 posters and 500 business cards felt alright for a sleepy Fringe like London, but I could probably have put up 75 posters in Ottawa, whereas getting 25 posters up in Toronto in anywhere worth looking, proved difficult. Also in Toronto, I ran out of flyers before the fringe was half over — I could probably have handed out 1,500. As an experiment, I brought 1,000 flyers to Saskatoon, and despite the Fringe’s smaller size, still gave out most of them. So every city is different, and I’ve still more to learn! (It also makes a difference as to how many people you have out there, flyering — being on my lonesome can be a downside when it comes to talking up enough lines to find an audience.)

I gotta admit, it was disappointing to be one of 36 shows in Toronto not reviewed by Now Magazine, a weekly news and entertainment publication in Toronto. A few ‘N’s (which they use in their ratings system) might have helped! (For a few more numbers, there were 148 shows in the Toronto Fringe Festival this year — 112 of them received a Now Magazine blurb and set (or lack thereof) of shiny ‘N’s.)

In London, I recall one performer saying that two or three days before the festival opened, they visited Tourism London to ask for Fringe information, and the person there had no idea the festival was even happening. At Nuit Blanche, I (in full Hatter garb) was asked by several people when the Fringe Festival was beginning. That was the second-to-last night of the festival. It seems London is a hard place to get word out about the festival, which was evidenced by my having zero advance ticket sales, compared to 9 in Ottawa, 23 in Toronto, and 15 in Saskatoon. Toronto is very much more of an advance ticket city than the others — perhaps there’s more of a traditional theatre-going habit there? Or is there less financial disincentive to buy advance tickets in Toronto (when compared to additional fees other festivals add onto advance ticket purchases)?

I’m honestly impressed with myself that I was able to keep my grocery bills down to size, even while on tour. Chalk it up to a combination of kind billets, hunts for grocery stores, and restraint whenever out and about with fellow performers. You guys feel free to order your meals at the bar; I’ll just wait until I get back to the food I bought with my big grocery trips on the day before each festival began.

I didn’t have nearly as strong a show at the beginning of June as I did come mid-August. To be honest, it took me until Toronto to figure out the core of what the show was about — a man trying to get home — and so my show pitches for line-ups weren’t great for the first two-thirds of my tour. Please don’t take any of the above as me making excuses for perhaps not being as financially successful as I would have preferred: I fully accept my tour as it was.

Which is to say, a brilliant, daring adventure.

I suppose there’s no better way to explain how I felt about the whole experience other than to say that I am this year set to take The Hatter to four more festivals (in the Alberni Valley, Regina, Victoria, and here in Vancouver), as well as trying out a new show back in Saskatoon. Feel free to follow along with me at my site, and please do wish me many broken legs!

Andrew Wade is a writer and performer.