Nicole Zylstra

For Love Or Money

Category: Love

When It’s Okay to Toot

… your own horn.

My first fringe touring experience was with a solo show I had written called Firebird: 220 Horses of the Apocalypse. The Montreal fringe had finished and now a bunch of us who hadn’t made it into the highly competitive Toronto Fringe were in Thunder Bay which was significantly smaller. One of the benefits of a smaller fringe is that all the artists who are travelling westward on the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals circuit get to know each other really well. I quickly found a nice group of artists and we hung out daily, flyering together, drinking beer in the beer tent together, and seeing each other’s shows. My houses had not been that great – this was my first tour and first solo show and I had a lot to learn yet – and on the final night, my fringe friend posse came down to check out my show.

On the final night, my friends came to see my show. And afterwards in the beer tent, my friend Dave says to me, “Why didn’t you tell me your show was great??! I would have told everyone to come see it! I would have seen it again, myself. I saw Water four times. Do you think I wanted to see Water four times??? Water’s great, don’t get me wrong, but I didn’t need to see it four times when I could have seen your show again. TELL people next time!”

There are two lessons here: One is to comp artists into your shows as much as possible, as early as possible. There are loads of playgoers and festival freaks in each town who are there solely to pay for tickets to see great shows. Whereas your fellow artists are saving all their change in a mason jar just like you are. Artists have something better than a big wallet, they have big mouths. If you have a great show, other artists can’t help but spread the word, which is invaluable advertising and promotion. When they are flyering for their own shows and people ask “What have you heard? What else is good?” they will recommend you, and you’ll quickly become one of THE shows to see. When you have artists in your audience, send a shout out to them at the end of your show and promote their show to your audience. They will do the same for you, and everybody wins.  The same goes (but double) for volunteers. Get the word out to them to see your show in the first few days of the festival, because every playgoer buying a ticket from them for the hot show of the season, is going to ask them what they should see next.

The second lesson I got from that experience is even more important than the first.  It’s that it doesn’t pay to be modest. Literally. Keeping quiet about your own show means you don’t want to make money or have great houses. I thought I was being polite; like a nice Canadian girl I thought telling people how great my show was would mean I was being obnoxious and a braggart. There’s a darker side to it too.  If you tell people you have a great show then you have to deliver the goods. I didn’t tell people anything much about my show and kept it very low key because I wanted to keep people’s expectations low. That way nobody could be disappointed if it wasn’t great. And I couldn’t feel bad for disappointing people. This didn’t do me any favours.

One thing that keeps coming up over and over in my experiences is the need to believe in yourself. BELIEVE that your show is great, because it is. Otherwise you wouldn’t be doing it in the first place. You’re doing it because you know you have something really special to offer people. And then get that message out because really, who doesn’t want to see a great show? You’re doing people a favour by letting them know you have something really cool to share with them. Be confident. By the time everyone else figures out how awesome you really are on their own it might be too late. Give everyone a head start and let them know they don’t want to miss out!

Go ahead. Toot. You know you want to.

Nicole Zylstra

“You seem like a nice female. You must be very proud.”

Yes, thank you OK Cupid Random. I appreciate your attention. I really am a nice female. Maybe I should be more proud than I am.

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