Artist representation needed in the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals

Fringe Festivals, as we know them to exist in Canada and the United States, are under threat.  What began as an artist- and audience-centric form of theatre festival is becoming more and more commercial, pitting artists against administration, and audiences against corporate interests.

The body that governs Fringe Festivals is made up entirely of festival directors.  Artists -- once the very raison d'etre of the Festival circuit -- are not represented on this body.  In order to protect the integrity of the Fringe, it's time for this to change.


The first Fringe Festival in Canada -- modeled after the Edinburgh Fringe -- was founded in 1982.  The intent of the festival was to provide all theatre artists a chance to produce their work, regardless of form or content, in an accessible and affordable environment for audiences.  Spots in the Fringe festivals were awarded on either a lottery or first-come, first-served basis, and all ticket revenue was returned to the presenting artists.

Today, the formal network of Fringe Festivals represents 21 individual events across the United States and Canada, resulting in a touring network that operates from May through September every year.

The Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals

In 1990, a network of Canadian and American Fringe Festivals began meeting as the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF).  Made up of festival directors from across North America, the association was incorporated as a non-profit organization in 1994.  Because it was concerned about the growth of festivals that claimed the "Fringe" title but were not aligned with the original spirit of Fringe Theatre, CAFF adopted four minimum guiding principles for Fringe Festivals:

1. Participants will be selected on a non-juried basis, through a first-come, first served process, a lottery, or other method approved by the Association

2. In order to ensure Criteria One (above), the audiences must have the option to pay a ticket price, 100% of which goes directly to the artists.

3. Fringe Festival producers have no control over the artistic content of each performance. The artistic freedom of the participants is unrestrained.

4. Festivals must provide an easily accessible opportunity for all audiences and all artists to participate in Fringe Festivals.

The mandate of CAFF, as defined in 1994, is as follows:

- To safeguard the integrity of Fringe Festivals as outlined in the four minimum criteria

- To recognize that the health of all member Festivals is important to the Circuit and therefore the artists' health as a whole

- To encourage communication and cooperation between member Festivals thereby fostering the continuity of our guiding principles

In 1998 CAFF successfully applied to have the terms "Fringe" and "Fringe Festival" trademarked in Canada to ensure that any theatre festival in Canada who wishes to call themselves a "Fringe" would obtain membership in the association and agree to abide by both the CAFF mandate and the four guiding principles.

How the festivals have begun to go astray

As part of efforts to improve the appeal and financial feasibility of Fringe Festivals, CAFF member festivals have begun to implement policies that, little by little, are eating away at the guiding principles on which CAFF itself was founded.  Here are several examples:

- Festival "beer tents", once an ideal place for artists to mix with crowds and promote their work, have become the de facto property of corporate sponsors.  In Saskatoon, all advertising space is reserved for festival sponsors, and artists' show posters are not permitted. This infringes upon guiding principle #4

- In 2006, ticket surcharges on advance tickets were being deducted from ticket prices in Saskatoon without permission from the artists, meaning that the cardinal rule of returning 100% of ticket prices to artists was broken.  This infringes upon guiding principle #2

- In 2007, the Toronto Fringe Festival still took a cut of advance ticket sales instead of asking audience members to pay an additional convenience fee.  This meant that a $10 advance ticket price resulted in $8 being given to the artist.  In spite of this fact, all speeches made to audience members before every show insisted that 100% of box office proceeds were returned to artists.  In reality, the only way this happened was if tickets were bought at the door, one hour before showtime.  This infringes upon guiding principle #2

- In 2007, the only option to direct 100% of the value of an Edmonton Fringe ticket to the artists was to purchase "Frequent Fringer" or "Double Fringer" passes.  These passes were limited in quantity, and were sold out before the 2007 festival began.  All other tickets were subject to a mandatory $2 surcharge, meaning that a $12 ticket actually cost $14.  This infringes upon guiding principles #2 and #4

- In 2007, the Edmonton International Fringe Festival did away with door sales.  All tickets had to be purchased in advance at kiosks around the Fringe area.  While the festival claimed that all venue doors were "within sight" of at least one official ticket kiosk, several "Bring Your Own Venue" productions were located more than two blocks from a sales location. This made last-minute sales for those shows almost impossible.  Last-minute ticket sales were seriously affected, and and systems that artists traditionally used to give complimentary tickets away were completely thwarted.  Productions were not permitted to sell their own tickets at the door, and both technicians and volunteers were reprimanded for allowing artists to attempt workarounds.  This infringes upon guiding principle #4

- In 2007, the Vancouver Fringe Festival decided to program an "Encore Series" made up of five sell-out productions from previous years.  The Festival brought the artists in, gave them prime theatre spaces, prime performance times, an increased ticket price, and a schedule that directly conflicted with the entire run of the normal festival.  After artist outcry and the threat of a law suit, the festival collapsed the Encore Series to the opening weekend of the 2007 Festival. This infringes upon guiding principle #1

What we want

This petition is intended to help CAFF enforce its mandate of "safeguarding the integrity of Fringe Festivals as outlined in the four minimum guiding principles".  It aims to do this by asking CAFF to formally include representation from artists in its membership, and to foster the creation of communication channels between individual festival administrations and artists.  Concerns from the artistic community are easily ignored at the moment because the community is widespread, diverse, and has no official place at the CAFF table.  As artists, we are united in the belief that the Fringe cannot survive without input from the artists, on whose work the existence of Fringe is predicated.

Representation at CAFF will ensure that concerns over festival-specific decisions like the ones outlined above can be discussed.

Please sign this petition in support of our request.
In light of ongoing, incremental and recent changes to the operating procedures of Fringe Festivals associated with the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF), such as:

- minimized availability of Fringe theatre tickets that are not subject to service charges

- the elimination of ticket sales "at the door" at venues in Edmonton

- reduced "return on investment" for artists on festival application fees, in terms of venue suitability and technical capability

- the creation of a hand-picked "Encore Series" at the Vancouver Fringe Festival, presented in competition with the regular un-juried festival

We, the undersigned, call upon the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals to do the following:

1.  Create a permanent membership position or positions within CAFF, to be filled by artists that have participated in CAFF-affiliated festivals

2.  Foster the creation of communication channels, such as Artists' Advisory Panels, at the level of individual Fringe Festivals on the CAFF circuit

3.  Take a more pro-active approach to ensuring that CAFF member festivals adhere to the four guiding principles by renewing its commitment to adhere to its own mandate, i.e. to safeguard the integrity of Fringe as outlined in the four minimum criteria.

Please allow the artistic community to contribute to the ongoing health and success of Fringe Festivals across North America by accommodating these requests.  Thank you in advance for your thoughtful consideration.
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