Five Questions with the Publicist

by Ottawa Fringe

June 23, 2008

I am a big Catriona Leger fan. I’ve seen her in shows and I’ve seen her work as director. I’m excited to be working side by side with her on this year’s festival, professionally and socially. She is not shy with her opinions, which freed me up to ask her some tougher questions. Here’s her five.

1) You’ve been doing theatre in other cities, like Vancouver and Paris. What distinguishes Ottawa performers and crowds?

Well, Ottawa audiences are a tricky bunch really. They are very review based – be it in the media or by word of mouth – and rarely will you see them charging in droves to see a new piece just for their undying love of the theatre. If it has not yet been tested on a few of their friends or their favourite reviewer, audiences are slow to go to a show. Essentially, Ottawa audiences love to wait until the absolute last minute to see a production and then, when it’s sold out on the last night of the run, they love to wince up their face in an “I’m so sorry but it was out of my hands” way and go on about how they “tried” to go (even though there may have been only 12 people in the audience on Wednesday and Thursday of that week).

Ottawa is a town that has very limited performance space, audiences, media coverage and funding and this can often translate into an “us vs. them” situation for performers. The city is brimming with theatre artists who are screaming to be heard – to be identified and recognized for their individuality and to make a difference in the city they ultimately care deeply about. In an attempt to stand out from the crowd, performers often label themselves as “unconventional” or “innovative,” “daring” or “physical,” and no doubt they want very much to be those things. The tricky thing, and this is not the fault of these very driven and energetic performers in any way, is that Ottawa is a very intimate, conventional and conservative town when it comes to the theatre community (or almost anything else really) so theatre artists are often under the impression that anyone who isn’t working at or attracted the style of theatre one regularly sees at, say, the NAC or GCTC must be something out of the ordinary. However, the resources that are available to train artists who actually want to seriously develop unconventional theatre are sadly lacking. As a result, many actors either leave to seek their training, fame and fortune somewhere else or choose a different profession altogether leaving the brave and resilient few to take on what little work there is in this town – however conventional and unsatisfying. It’s very Darwinian.

2) As a publicist, it is your job to get the word out on the shows. Fringes are known for “Alternative” advertising, including giveaways and screaming actors. Have you employed any bizarre techniques to get us coverage this year?

I really believe in the “keep it simple” approach to marketing – word of mouth, establishing and maintaining great relationships and approaching every event or media opportunity while keeping the possibility of fun in mind. Gimmicky techniques are really not my style as “great ideas” usually come of as looking cheap in the end.

3) As a director, what advice would you give to Fringe performers looking to make a mark?

Be quality. Be thorough. Pay attention to detail. Don’t jiggle around and move sloppily. Don’t try to be “funny,” just be funny (if that’s what you’re going for). Choose every action and word. Be lovable. Don’t be annoying. Be yourself. Be original. Be actually original – not just a watered down idea of original. Be the quality coffee not the watered down, re-used, cheap corner store grounds on a toilet paper filter – the second one may catch someone’s eye for a split second but don’t ever fool yourself into believing anyone wants to pay to drink it.

4) In the theme of summer camp, what would you write home about when talking about the Ottawa Fringe?

Dear Mum and Dad,

Kamp Fringe has been really great so far. I’m learning so much, having fun and making loads of new friends. I knew from past marketing experience that I wouldn’t do a stinky job but wow! I never thought there could be so much more to learn about publicity and media relations. I’m getting along just fine with it though and have a great team to support me. The other counsellors are absolutely super – I wish I had time to write about every one of them but in short I’ll say they’re just awesome! Our Kamp director, “Old Man Waghorn,” has already given me one gold star for my work and I hope there will be more to come.

I have to go now. There’s a party in the tent and everyone is invited!

Wish you were here!

xox

Cat

p.s. The food is made by some people called A Culinary Conspiracy and it is delicious! Way better than your cooking. I don’t want to come home.

5) Who is your favourite member of the Fringe staff, and why?

Why, it’s you Brad. For obvious reasons.