My Fringe boycott

Calling it a boycott is giving myself more credit for organization and indignation than I actually felt – not to mention the fact that you hope someone cares about a boycott, and I’m not sure anyone minded that I skipped everything this year. But I feel like it’s worth mentioning, if for no other reason than to explain why my darling fiancée (then-girlfriend) and I spent over $300 to see so many shows last year and ended up not going to a single “proper” Fringe show this year.

It was because of a button.

The picture above is from the lobby of Woolly Mammoth Theater, and I think there’s a pretty clear message there indicating just how people felt about the button. When Fringe director Julianne Brienza spoke to City Paper’s Trey Graham about the button, he gave her a pretty strong reaction to the fact that – on top of your $15 ticket – you’d have to shell out $5 to make sure you have one and buy another if you lose it or just leave it at home. She didn’t divert from the party line, however: We’re a business, you get discounts in shops with it, you show support for Fringe by wearing it, and it’s your responsibility to keep track of your button.

Well, more accurately, it’s my responsibility to have and hold my button if I want to get into Fringe venues. So in the end, every time I though about going out to catch a Fringe show, I made the decision that I wasn’t willing to support that button policy. My one exception of sorts was Mike Daisey’s “If you see something, say something,” an excellent show that was at Woolly rather than a proper Fringe venue, and therefor immune to the button nonsense.

Before Julianne or some other Fringe apologist shows up and makes the stock excuses, let me save you some time:

  • It’s supporting the artists! I do when I buy a ticket and go to the show.
  • You get discounts! You could have arranged that deal without making button-wearing mandatory.
  • It increases the quantity of money to the artists! If you want and/or need to do that, be honest and increase the ticket price. This is in the vein of $5-to-check-your-bag airline sleaze.
  • Other cities do it!

I’ll quote Fringe and Purge commenter Devil’s Advocate here for this last one: “most of the Festivals mentioned charge a lot less per ticket – even WITH the button, many are under $15. (Minnesota: $3 button/$12 ticket; Orlando: $6 button/tickets set by artist at $5-$10).” It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison, and DA goes on to point out that other cities use the button to defray administrative costs so they can apportion 100% of ticket revenue to the artists.

The end financial result may or may not be the same doing it this way, but this system almost insures hard feelings. People buying a 10-pack to split among several people had to worry about getting the right number of buttons, eating into the savings, making going to shows more difficult, and giving the feeling – on purpose or not – that this is designed to impede savings through group purchasing. I didn’t put myself in the position where I’d have to spend $5 again because I’d forgotten my button at home but I can guarantee you how I’d have felt: pissed and ill-used.

So in the end, I voted with my dollars by keeping them to myself. I wonder how many other people did the same? Fringe and Purge’s wrapup quotes Julianne as saying attendance was up 10% from last  year but it’s impossible to know if that number was impacted notably by the button. The only two facts about the button we can state are that each artist got $249 as their share of the 10,000 sold buttons and that I spent $300 less than I did in 2007.

Well I used to say something in my profile about not quite being a “tinker, tailor, soldier, or spy” but Tom stole that for our about us page, so I guess I’ll have to find another way to express that I am a man of many interests.

Hmm, guess I just did.

My tastes run the gamut from sophomoric to Shakespeare and in my “professional” life I’ve sold things, served beer, written software, and carried heavy objects… sometimes at the same place. It’s that range of loves and activities that makes it so easy for me to love DC – we’ve got it all.


2 thoughts on “My Fringe boycott

  1. Here in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada (North America’s biggest Fringe) there are NO BUTTONS, however each ticket has a $2 handling fee that goes to the festival. Most tickets range between 10-14$CAN before the $2 surcharge. A $5 button would be lovely compared to the extra $22 I have already paid for the 11 tickets I have bought so far.

  2. Pingback: We Love DC » Blog Archive » Die, Fringe button, die