Expert Analysis: I Don’t Think It’s Really Such a Big-Ass Deal that the Capital Fringe Festival Is Raising Ticket Prices
The Sixth Annual Capital Fringe Festival will see the 17-day, 100-plus-show bacchanal’s first price hike. While the cost to performing artists to apply to the festival has
more than doubled risen significantly since 2006—to $850 $750 last year, including a $175 insurance fee—ticket prices had held firm at $15 a performance, with a number of multi-admission options available at lower per-show cost.
This year’s festival, slated for July 7-24, will charge $17 for individual tickets and $7 for the controversial Fringe button—a one-time purchase required for admission to any Fringe venue that was introduced in 2008. Capital Fringe Executive Director Julianne Brienza has defended the button as a necessity that quickly pays for itself if one takes advantage of the various discounts it brings at area restaurants and other Fringe sponsors. The multi-ticket packages are inflating by $5 apiece, which is a smaller markup, percentage-wise, than the others.
I wrote a story taking stock of the Fringe’s five years of evolution last summer, and my reaction to the increase is basically a shrug. The festival is a boon to the city in my opinion, one very good reason not to blow town during the severely dehydrating month of July. Brienza claims the quality of the festival has increased in the last half-decade, and I’d concur. The volume of Fringe applications, and particularly the number of artists traveling from other cities to participate, has grown faster than the Fringe’s capacity has, anecdotally improving the odds that the number of quality productions will also go up.
Fringe remains a crap-shoot, of course, but the whole purpose of a festival is to promote risk-taking, not just by the artists but by the audience, too. And if you buy a multi-show pass, the actual amount of the increase becomes negligible—especially when weighed against the enhancements to the Fringe experience that’ve come into being since the beginning, like the advent of the Baldacchino Gypsy Tent, that faintly pee-smelling oasis with its cold, abundant, not-overpriced Southampton Double White Ale and similarly reasonable if very-slow-to-arrive offerings of bar food, wherein makers and consumers of theater and Theatre can (and actually do) mingle freely. Brienza told me last year it’s the concessions that’re mainly responsible for helping the festival earn more than 70 percent of its annual operating budget, making it far less reliant on grants and contributions than are most performing arts organizations. But the bottom line is that attendance has grown every year of the Fringe's existence, and last year broke all prior records. Attendees purchased 33,897 tickets, up from 25,500 in 2009. In both raw numbers and as a percentage of the prior year's sales, that was the biggest attendance boost in the Fringe's history, by a big margin. My unscientific hunch is the new pricing won't depress turnout this summer.
Tickets for the 2011 Capital Fringe Festival go on sale June 20. The next event on the Fringe calendar is “Wattage: A New Theater Illuminating Tradition and Survival,” a four-play collaboration with the National Museum of the American Indian that runs April 21-May 8.