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Do you want to make your own Fringe show? THEN DON’T READ THIS. Artists are cowardly, lazy people, and if we knew what it actually took to make our art before we started, we would never begin. AMIRITE?

Or maybe it’s just me who is cowardly and lazy. Maybe you are a passionate, driven, talented artist who also really likes being prepared and knowing what you’re getting into. Maybe you’re into spreadsheets. You are alien to me, strange one, but I admire you. Shine on, you crazy diamond.

Now that we know who you are, let’s get right into me. I’m Erik Harrison, Creative Director of the Coil Project and an actor in our 2015 Capital Fringe show #sexts. The show has been a labor of love for well over a year. Also a labor of hate. Sometimes just labor. If you want to follow in our footsteps, first you gotta:

Write the play. Written during a fit of insomnia, #sexts started as a seven page document called “cell_phone_play.doc” by Andy De. Over the next 17 months, Andy would write 15 drafts of the show based on feedback from seven workshopping sessions with the future cast members and Coil playwright Erica Smith. Dick jokes were added, subtracted, and tweaked like we were seasoning a delicate soup. There were heated discussions about what should happen to the hedgehog. Actors swapped roles back and forth to see how the voices changed the play before we finally could…

Rehearse the play. Small companies like the Coil don’t have access to permanent rehearsal space, and once you start moving around, you need something as big as the theater you’re going to perform in. We often worked in libraries, hoping that any of the children listening in during storytime wouldn’t repeat the line “fingerbang on a Dagstorp.” You can rent space, but you ought to save cash anywhere you can, because you will eventually have to…

Buy all the things! Fringe may be all about the DIY aesthetic, but it’s hardly free. Small companies like the Coil often don’t have storage space, and what larger theaters can get for free from the closet we have to buy again for every show. Designer Rebecca Fischler spent a lot of time on Craigslist, hoping anything we bought we could sell off again at the end of the run (if anyone wants nine folding chairs, gimme a call). No matter how frugal you are at this point, though, you’re still not done spending money, because you have to…

Advertise the play. Fringe this year has roughly 130 shows. That’s a lot of companies competing for audience eyeballs. Even if your company has an existing fanbase, Fringe’s complexities (like buttons and floating venues) mean you can’t count on them coming out. Marketing director Maggie Brown designed a clever ad campaign built around letting our provocative title speak for itself. We printed thousands of post cards, bought ad space with Facebook, cross-promoted with other shows, and launched an email campaign to explain to novice audience members how Fringe works. Of course, all of this is irrelevant if you can’t get word of mouth working for you. The play itself has to deliver on the promise of its marketing, and that means you have to…

Kill your darlings. The most common phrase in the last month of rehearsal was “cut it.” 50-60 slide projections for text messages? Cut. Penis costume? Cut. Sound effects? Cut every single one. Cut the throw pillows, cut the shark cloaca, cut the hotel room scene, cut, cut, cut. During the writing process you can imagine anything, but during rehearsal every element is one more thing to go wrong. The show has to be as simple as possible because you…

Tech the play. In two hours. #sexts involves 50 light cues, 11 costume changes, and a sword fight set to Metallica’s “Enter Sandman.” Most shows would get an entire week to integrate all of these elements together and make sure the play ran smoothly before an audience walks in. Fringe shows get two hours. If you’re lucky you have a genius like Colin Dieck doing your lighting design, it helps considerably. But remember, this two-hour tech window is the first and only time your cast will get in the space before the show opens. Once you do open, you better run like a well-oiled machine because you…

Set up the play in 15 minutes. At Fringe you share your venue with other performances. When one show clears out, the next has 15 minutes to assemble their set and props before the doors open to let audience members in, then 15 minutes for the cast to put on costumes and makeup before the lights go down. Once the show clears, you have 15 more minutes to get out of the space before the next show comes in and does the same process behind you. Once you’re set up and in costume, after months (or in our case, well over a year) of prep, you have to…

Actually do the damn play. If you’re lucky, your advertising has paid off and someone is actually there to watch you. I’ve been at good shows with five people in the audience, and bad ones with standing room only. #sexts went up on a Tuesday night for 30 people, and it felt like breathing for the first time. We’d never performed on that stage before, never performed with lights and sound before—in fact, had never performed the show for an audience before. Frankly, our rhythm was off, and during the first couple minutes of the show I didn’t think it was going to come together. But when the “over-the-jeans handjob” line earned a showstopping laugh, I nearly wept.

Afterwards, there was a lot of back-patting and hugs and wishing everyone a well-earned rest. I didn’t rest, though, because I had to…

Plan for next Fringe. Though it would be considerably easier to do so if I could just find a place to keep all these folding chairs for a year.

Photos courtesy of Erik Harrison