If you have ventured to the East end of Mass Ave, you may have noticed the white “church” that sits across from 45 Degrees on the other side of College. This is the IndyFringe Basile Theatre, home to an eclectic mix of emerging acts and community events year-round. One week from today, IndyFringe kicks off their 10th-Annual IndyFringe Festival, which will bring 384 performances to eight venues on Mass Ave over 11 days, from August 14 to 24. With all genres of shows represented- comedy, drama, dance, storytelling, performance art, magic, music- there is something for everyone.
I recently visited with Pauline Moffat, the executive director at IndyFringe (and my former intern coordinator), to chat about IndyFringe’s journey these past 10 years. Since 2005, IndyFringe has grown from 28 performances and 5,000 patrons to 400 performances and 18, 000 patrons in 2013. This year’s festival will draw at least 20,000 attendees, Pauline estimates. What has been the key to IndyFringe’s success? Grassroots efforts executed with time, thought and care.
Word of mouth is the foundation of any strong grassroots campaign. At the IndyFringe Festival, the most popular shows aren’t always apparent in the beginning, but rather as the 11 days unfold. Crowd favorites begin to reveal themselves, whether it comes from waiting in line for shows, Nuvo’s reviews that come out mid-festival or patron comments on social media. IndyFringe counts on this indirect tactic to sell out shows year after year without fail.
Quality content always rises to the top. At IndyFringe, returning performers quickly learned that the “wow” factor isn’t as lasting as quality, innovative material. With just one hour to perform, these shows need to stand out against the competition. What’s more, for a show to sustain the buzz across its recurring performances during the 11-day festival, material has to draw an interest beyond a flashy title or alluring cover photo. Superior content outlasts surprising content every time.
Connecting with brand advocates and the community – perhaps the most important component of grassroots efforts. IndyFringe definitely has this down. Mass Ave and the Cultural District buzz with excitement leading up to the festival and for the weeks following. Strong bonds are made among performers and their host families, Fringe staff and volunteers, and patrons and Mass Ave business owners. Beyond the immediate downtown Indianapolis community, IndyFringe draws diverse crowds from out of town as well. Each year patrons visit IndyFringe from the Midwest Fringe circuit, which includes Chicago, Kansas City and Minneapolis. And there are always a few acts that travel abroad to participate in IndyFringe.
Where does IndyFringe see itself in the next 10 years?
“In the hands of young professionals who had the vision to embrace it 10 years ago,” Pauline says. “My hope is that IndyFringe will remain a huge part of the cultural fabric of the city of Indianapolis.”
Interns, young professionals and performers involved with IndyFringe over the past 10 years have all grown professionally and will undoubtedly be part of IndyFringe’s future. In turn, these talented and enthusiastic people attract others to live, work and play in downtown Indianapolis.
IndyFringe’s immediate plans include the addition of a black box theatre (a simple, somewhat unadorned theatre space) and a public restroom on the Cultural Trail, to be completed in 2015. Indy Eleven recently sponsored this “Trailhead” initiative as a joint effort to strengthen the community and quality of life in Indianapolis.
Whether you are a theatre-goer or not, IndyFringe is a unique experience that should not be missed. Be sure to check out the official IndyFringe schedule ahead of time in case shows sell out, and don’t be afraid to get a little Fringey!