Yet despite operating on an upstart's resources, the Fringe keeps growing. Even though it just got letterhead, the festival has seen ticket buyers increase at a rate of 10,000 per year since 2002. Season 10 should welcome almost 70,000 people.Reader June has been speculating in Comments as to the appeal of the Fringe beyond diehard festival nuts. ("Nuts" being my word, not hers.) Perhaps the performance she went to suffered from underattendance because the nature of the event, where 200+ shows are spread very thin, and often at odd times of the day.
But if Variety is right (and of course they are) a lot of people are buying tickets to these shows. Many more than we expect at downtown theatre usually.
But my sense of the Fringe is that a big bulk of the crowd (the part that aren't regular theatre people) are personal friends of the performers, rangled into going. These audiences seem to have a nice time. But do they come back to these spaces during the year?
Fringe NYC has done a fantastic "brandnaming" themselves and becoming a "destination." (The Variety piece--worth reading--is a classic "success story.") For non-Broadway theatre they have extraordinary name recognition. Note how much easier it becomes to get someone to see your show in August when you say it's part of the Fringe. And all this with, frankly, a relatively low level of, shall we say, "quality control." (Fringe shows are selected by pitch, not on sight, remeber.)
So while I could lament that the Fringe hasn't "raised all boats," proving the audience is just fickle and fairweather--perhaps we should all focus on learning from the Fringe's success instead. Why not spread the perception of a "permanent Fringe." In London the term "fringe theatre" does not designate a month but, basically, their entire "Off-Off" scene. Imagine if the Times featured a regular section (just a banner, really) called "Fringe Theatre." I think young people might read that. They certainly help promote the August Fringe. Why limit it to a month when no one's in town?
(Answer: because it's such a slow month, the press will cover anything?)
Addendum: I should add that the most extensive Fringe NYC coverage remains Martin Denton's NYTheatre.com. So if you want to check something out, there are more reviews there than anywhere else.