What is Swindon Fringe Festival?
Swindon Fringe Festival started in 2012 as Madam Renard’s Mini Fringe. It came about because the co-founders wanted to bring something new to the Swindon arts scene, and for it to be affordable for audiences and artists. As we’ve grown and evolved, our values of being interesting and affordable for all have stuck, but we’ve changed our name to reflect that we include all types of performing arts not just theatre, and that we want to appeal to as wide an audience as possible. We’re not actually a fringe to another festival, but the name lets our audiences know we’re presenting original, and possibly quirkier work than they might usually find in Swindon.
We program 30-40 shows, plus about 10 workshops, and we attract local, national and international acts. We’re one of the earlier Fringes in the festival calendar, so aim to be a space for emerging artists to put on their first show, or for more established artists to present and develop new work or work in progress. We do all the organising, including booking venues, technicians and front of house staff. We don’t charge performers to enter the festival and we pass on 85% of the profits to them. If we had to describe ourselves in three words, they would be friendly, fair and professional. Sexy, huh. The Dave Grohl of fringes.
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When is Swindon Fringe Festival
We run annually. We used to be early April, but we've moved it back to get on the Edinburgh previews circuit. Our 2020 dates are xxx.
Where is Swindon Fringe Festival?
If you’ve never had the pleasure of visiting us, Swindon is a large town in the south west of England. The population is around 200,000. We’re about 30 minutes from Bath, 40 from Bristol/Reading/Oxford, an hour from Cheltenham, 90 minute’s drive from London/Cardiff or an hour by train… We’ve got a large commercial theatre, an arts centre, and a small independent theatre. There are various arts, literary and music festivals in the town and surrounding area, but we’re the one and only fringe festival.
Who is Swindon Fringe Festival?
We’re run by a crack team of 6, doing it for love as there’s obviously no money in it!
Allie – Festival Director
This will be Allie’s fourth Fringe and first as Director. The fringe is a busman’s holiday from her other jobs of… arts marketing and fundraising. Allie writes, mainly scripts, and loves stories – from lyrics to dance to radio plays to chatting to someone random in the pub. She’ll watch all types of show, but theatre and comedy are her favourites, especially new writing. A show that can make her laugh and cry is a winner.
Dom –Technical Co-ordinator
This will be Dom’s fifth Fringe. He’s got years of tech experience and has worked his magic on award-winning productions up and down the country, as well as in his day job at Didcot Cornerstone. When he's not playing with knobs in the dark, Dom enjoys music gigs and festivals, travelling and table-top gaming.
Helen – Communications
This will be Helen’s third Fringe. Helen is very creative, writing plays and scripts, as well as acting and illustrating. Helen loves comedy and anything Star Wars related. If you’ve got a show with both, she’ll marry your face.
What type of shows/acts are you looking for?
Firstly, ignore everything we’ve said in our bios about the type of shows we like as individuals. We don’t program the festival for us; we program it for the lovely people of Swindon and beyond. We and they are interested in all forms of performing arts. Literally anything goes. We’re interested in the quality of the show/act and whether it’s bringing something interesting and exciting to Swindon. It can be an original show or a remake of one of the classics or something uber-experimental. It can be a one-person show or large cast (bearing in mind the usual cost/space constraints of fringe shows). We program for family, teen and adult audiences, so basically everyone. Artists can be local, national or international. We had performers from as far away as Brazil, Italy and San Francisco and we’d love to welcome other international performers.
We’re keen that shows/acts are diverse – not as a box-ticking exercise, but because we want to attract diverse audiences and think that performers should be of all ages, colours, sizes, genders, sexualities etc, whose work covers a spectrum of subject matters.
As well as presenting shows, gigs and films, we’ll also be running workshops, aimed mainly at families, during the day in the Easter school holiday.
I’m nervous about applying as I’ve never done a show before
Don’t worry, you don’t need to have done a show before. We’re a festival which supports and promotes new and emerging artists. As part of this, we program shows as double bills, so performers have moral support from the show they’re paired with and don’t have the classic worry about not selling any tickets. We also get audiences to write 'three-word reviews', and we have various 'best show' awards to help artists develop their work and have reviews and awards to quote on their marketing.
How are the shows/acts selected?
Jelly-wrestling battles. We wish! We do our homework, like good boys and girls, and read all the applications individually, then meet up to discuss them all in turn. Quality of the show is always our top consideration. So although we have an eye on which shows might attract the biggest audiences, we’ll still pick ‘niche’ shows which might attach a smaller audience if they sound great quality. Or if it will attract an audience we’re not currently reaching. There are some slots which are genre-specific, for example weekend mornings are for kids shows, weekend evenings tend to be for comedy or more populist shows. Other than that, all slots are up for grabs.
What will it cost me?
We’re an open access festival, so it costs nothing to enter a show/act. We feel that many fringe festivals have become money-making exercises which financially benefit the organisers/venues at the expense of the artists, and they’re not about the promotion and support of new artists. By not charging artists to enter the fringe, we aim to remove much of the financial burden from companies. As practitioners ourselves, we understand the challenges and financial and logistical pressures of putting on shows, so we do what we can to minimise that for the artists we book.
To try and limit drop-outs, we ask performing companies to sign a contract once they’ve been formally added to the programme, and pay a £50 holding deposit. This is returned to you within seven days of your performance.
Will we get paid?
Yes. Now watch while we do some maths…
We schedule most shows as double bills. Ticket prices are £10 in advance or £12 on the door.
We also do some shows (for example, mixed bill stand-up comedy, and music) as pay what you want (PWYW). We’ve found that acts actually get paid more this way as audiences are bigger – lots of people are unwilling to pay to see comics/bands they’ve not heard of, even if the tickets are priced reasonably. But by making it PWYW, people take a risk on seeing unknown names as it’s not costing them anything. And once they’ve seen the acts and had a good night, they happily pay an average of about £5 each. Experience has shown us that if we charged £5 upfront, we’d likely get only a third of the audience.
We pay the costs of all venue hire, technicians, kit, marketing etc from the total takings of the whole festival. We then divide the total cost between all of the shows. From the profit that leaves, shows are paid according to the number of tickets their show sells, with 75% of the profits going to the acts and 25% to us to cover our expenses (bus fares, post-fringe rehab etc).
To manage expectations, we’d say that although 85% sounds like a lot for artists to make, remember that it’s fringe theatre, so you’re not going to make a fortune. But, it’s not going to cost you a fortune like some festivals can.
Here’s an idea of some of last year’s numbers:
No shows had zero audience members
Eight shows had single figure audience numbers.
Four had 10-19
Ten had 20-29
Two had 30-39
One had 40-49
Two had 50-59
Two had 60-69
Lowest audience number: 5
Lowest a ticketed show was paid: £18.59
Lowest a PWYW show was paid: £36.61
Audience size varied depending on the type of show. Comedy and family shows were our best sellers.
The longer we run the fringe the more we learn, the better our marketing expertise gets, and the bigger our audiences grow. We’re aiming for a 20% increase on audience sizes next year with no show having single figure audiences.
It takes us a few weeks to reconcile all of the finance after the fringe, but we aim to pay artists within 30 days of the festival ending. Payment is made by cheque.
Do we need to find our own venue?
No. We source and book venues and schedule shows in venues appropriate to their size and requirements. For 2020 we're aiming to have all shows in the same venue so we've not got shows competing against each other.
What type and size of venues do you use?
We use various venues in central locations around the town. We allocate shows to venues according to date availability, show suitability for the venue – which includes size and tech requirements, and the audience size we think they’d attract.
These are the venues we’ve booked so far for 2020. We are currently sourcing another theatre-style venue and will add others if needed.
The Vic is a live music pub. We use their gig room, which has a stage and all the kit you’d expect. It’s windowless, and blacked out, so is great for music, stand-up, talks, and small-scale theatre. Capacity seated is about 70, standing about 200. (Spec: https://thevicswindon.com/venue/)
The Town Hall is a professional dance and theatre space. It’s great for all shows. Due to the size and date availability, we tend to program stand up, family shows and larger productions there. There’s a large, fully sprung stage, Harlequin dance flooring, lighting rig and technicians box, sound system and piano. It has lovely acoustics and retractable raked seats with a capacity of 97. (Spec: https://www.swindondance.org.uk/venue-hire/)
The Brunel Shopping Centre. This is an indoor town centre shopping mall, which has an empty shop unit which is used for community projects, and which we use for kid’s workshops. It’s a large and flexible space, with room outside the front of the shop if required. There’s also a stage area in the food court (a lovely social area, nothing like some sterile mall food courts). We sometimes program acoustic bands or kids’ entertainers here.
Will we need to bring our own lighting and sound technicians?
You’re welcome to bring your own technician, however ours (Dom) will be available to assist/run your show.
How long will we have the venue for to get-in, get-out and tech rehearsals?
As it’s a fringe festival, time in the spaces prior to the performance is generally limited to a couple of hours. If you might need longer, please let us know and we’ll see whether it can be accommodated.
Do we need to provide people to do front of house?
No, we provide front of house staff.
How will you promote our show?
We create a brochure for the fringe, which we print around 10,000 copies of. These are distributed to fringe venues, and other public places in the area (libraries, pubs, restaurants, cafes etc). We put all the show posters in the venues and other public places in the area, as well as on our website. We get features and interviews with the local print press and radio. We have an active social media presence before and during the fringe to promote the shows. Our tickets are sold through the Wyvern Theatre Box Office and all our shows are promoted on their website, newsletters, programmes and social media pages. We strongly encourage performers to promote their shows and the fringe as a whole as much as possible, as this increases the audience/takings for everyone involved.
Where can people buy tickets?
Tickets will be sold through the Wyvern Theatre (our local commercial theatre) and will also be available on the door for each performance. A limited number of Platinum Tickets will also be available, giving access to ALL festival shows for a one-off fee.
Can I join the team?
Of course! We’re always happy to have an extra pair of hands, whatever your skills and availability we can find a role for you. Get in touch via our Contact Us page or at email@example.com.
When will I know if I get picked?
We look forward to reading about your show/performance and will be in contact by the end of February 2020. The full programme will be announced by mid April.
I’ve got a question you’ve not predicted
No prob. Just contact us via our Contact Us page or at firstname.lastname@example.org.