Ninety companies participated in the Seattle Fringe Theatre Festival this year. To date, most of them are waiting to be paid 90 percent of what they're owed--thousands of dollars for some. Their money has been spent by Seattle Fringe Theatre Productions. SFTP cites reasons including an increase in insurance costs and payroll taxes, loss of 46 percent of grant funding, a new ticketing policy, and low attendance.
The organization is missing the point. SFTP is part of the Canadian Association of Fringe Festivals (CAFF). All CAFF member festivals in Canada, as well as San Francisco and Orlando, treat the performer's share of the box office money as sacrosanct. At most fringe theater festivals, artists can pick up their box office money, in cash, 24 hours after each show. The box office money is never part of the sponsoring organization's budget. The money belongs to the artists. The reputation of SFTP suffered unprecedented, untold damage when it breached contracts by not paying artists. It's now unlikely that the artistic vitality we saw this year--with shows from all over the U.S., Canada, the UK, and beyond--will return.
The SFTP board of directors failed to fulfill its primary functions: raising money, and saying no when it mattered. Tough choices weren't made: scaling back, canceling galas, informing participants that the festival was struggling. SFTP claims it signed contracts without knowing it wouldn't be able to pay artists. Well, it should have known. Aggressive fundraising and cost-cutting should have taken place.
If SFTP wishes to continue as an organization, it must work to restore the artists' trust. It must: repay all artists, in full, with interest; be transparent, and honest, with its financial records; solicit the agreement of fringe artists before proceeding with any restructuring plan; appoint a fringe artist to the board. And finally, the SFTP staff needs the support of qualified and competent individuals. To that end, the SFTP board president should step down.
The fringe festival is the participating artists, not the organization overseeing it. The artists are the fringe, and they depend on the income generated by their work. SFTP needs to find where dreams and reality intersect, and plan accordingly, if the Seattle Fringe Theatre Festival as we know it is to live on.
Mary Jane Gibson, Aimee Bruneau, Sam Anderson, Charly Barker, Josh Beerman, Stacey Bush, Sheila Daniels, Tom Deering, Sara Edwards, Matt Fontaine, Peggy Gannon, Richard Harrington, Jonno Katz, Karen Lane, Jessica Marlowe-Goldstein, Jason Marr, Wesley Middleton, John Murphy, Scott Nath, John Osebold, Constantin Pârvulescu, Bob Redmond, Tommy Smith, Lela Szondy, Ethan Wagner, and Amy Wheeler