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What It’s Like To Take Your Show To The Hollywood Fringe Fest: Interview With Writer/Producer Nicole Burch

66399-small 7 guys photoThis week the Hollywood Fringe Festival took place, which meant a city typically known for it’s TV/Movie industry was instead buzzing with fresh-live theatre. Nicole Burch is one of the many writers/producers involved with Fringe this year. Her show, The 7 Guys You Meet Before You Get Married (A Comedian’s Guide to Romance) is a departure from your typical straight play, in that it is a hybrid of stand-up comedy and sketch comedy turned one-hour show. I met with Nicole to discuss the ins and outs of putting up your own show and the process of doing Hollywood Fringe. Here’s what she had to say.

TN: Tell me a little bit about yourself?

I’m originally from Kansas City, I’m 34 years old, I moved out here (to LA) when I was 27, so I’m about to celebrate my 7th year. I immediately started studying at The Groundlings (theater and school) where I worked my way up to Sunday Company and ever since then I’ve been focused on writing and performing comedy.

TN: In a nutshell, what is your show, The 7 Guys You Date Before You Get Married About?

It’s about a woman’s journey through relationships- from high school to present day. It shines a light on seven different types of relationships, from long distance relationships to on-again, off-again relationships, etc. It pokes fun at those different types of relationships.

WRITING PROCESS

TN: What inspired you to write this show?

I got dumped. Horribly, horribly broken up with. (She laughs) I was writing The 7 Guys You Date Before You Get Married as a book and I had like five or six solid guys (relationship types) down- It was a comedian’s guide to romance type thing and I didn’t have the last one (Type of guy.) I had just gotten kicked out of The Groundlings’ Sunday Company and five or six days later my boyfriend dumped me and a lot of other bad things happened around that time, like all within a nine-day period. It was pretty much like hitting rock bottom. So after that, the only way to try to get out of it was to I saw the show, Women Are Crazy Because Men are Assholes, and when I saw that I thought, oh I know exactly how to turn this into a live performance instead of a book.

TN: Tell me about the writing process?

I knew I wanted to write (my idea) as a play and once I saw that other show I was like, oh, I can do any format that I want. My show is actually stand-up meets sketch comedy, but it’s in a play format at the same time. It kind of works itself out in a very different structure than I’ve ever seen. Once I’d given myself permission to write it however, I just sat down and started writing. Every day I’d write. I’d probably write like six hours a day. It was a fun process going through those relationships…and it was cathartic.

TN: When you wrote the show did you intentionally strive for a heavy female cast?

Yes. A lot of people have said, why don’t you just play all the female roles? But, I wanted to write a show where I was surrounding myself with the people who helped me out of that shit-hole (the horrible breakup). I wanted my girls on stage. I would be missing so much if I didn’t have that last scene with all the girls.

*In the final scene of Nicole’s show all of the younger versions of herself come out on stage and get present day Nicole back on her feet.

TN: Prior to the Fringe, you had performed the show multiple times at other venues. Tell me about this work-shopping process, how did the show metamorphose over the past year?

We had a table reading here at my apartment and it was great until the very last scene, which had to do with the break-up that kind of launched this whole thing. It was the worst scene because it was so masturbatory. It was literally our break-up verbatim, which ended up being so long and not funny. By having everyone read it back to me; I realized that’s not going to work on stage, so I trimmed that. Then we did our first show at The Groundling Theater and it went great. We had a few tweaks that we had to fix but the show hasn’t changed that much in the 25 shows total we’ve done.

TN: Doesn’t the ending of your show usually change every time?

Well, yes, my ending has changed every single time. Just my monologue at the end (changes) not the structure of the show or the format, but my monologue. I always write it fifteen minutes before (curtain). Sometimes I just come up with it on the spot. There’s only been twice where I’ve been like wow, I have no idea what I just said and none of that made sense.

TN: What does that on the spot mentality do for you?

I feel like it engages me more with the audience.

TN: Does your new ending pull from your emotional state of mind/what’s going on with you that week?

Yeah. I always make it a goal to leave the audience with one message, which is: It’s okay to be alone. That’s the biggest thing. So I’ve always left them with that, it just depends on how I decide to do it, whether it’s pulling quotes from my grandmother, or theories of relationships that I’ve created, or whatever. It just depends on how I put it out there. I change it so it doesn’t get boring to me.

TN: Aside from tweaking the ending is there anything you do to keep yourself present and inspired?

Yeah, I don’t really know the script verbatim. I don’t. I don’t know it word for word. I know what I need to say. I know the transitions, so I kind of have fun with that. I also like to have fun when I know certain people are in the audience. For example, if I know someone in the audience knows the real life Curt character I’ll talk a little bit more about TGI Fridays because I know that’s something that will get a bigger laugh, or be personable to somebody.

PRODUCTION PROCESS

TN: What was the process of getting your show into Fringe?

You apply by April 1st. You pick a theater. I’m sure they’ve got 20 seaters all the way up to 120 seaters. You pick a theater that fits your show/however many (tickets) you think you can sell. The average person does five shows. There’s preview week, so you may do one or two shows during preview and you do the rest during the main Fringe week. You pay that venue; you pay the application fee to be a part of Fringe Festival. Then if you want your artwork on their website you pay for that too.

TN: So it’s basically a first come, first serve process?

Yes.

TN: Is there anything else you want to share about the process of Fringe?

I will say this, you want a theater that is on- when they say ‘theater row’ they’re talking about The Complex off, Santa Monica. My theatre, while it’s considered part of Hollywood Fringe, it’s on the very outskirts of that. Most every other theater is boom, boom, boom, next to each other. So if someone’s done seeing a show, they can say, “Hey, there’s a 5:30 next door, let’s go to that.” The bar, Dragon Fly is the base camp for Fringe Festival, so people go in there and have drinks, and you can spend all day just seeing shows, boom, boom, boom, boom. For like $100 bucks you can see eight great shows and have some drinks at the bar and that could be your whole day. Nobody’s going to drive to the outskirt theaters to see your show unless they know somebody there. So location is key.

TN: Your show had a fluctuating cast. What were the pros and cons of the ever-changing cast?

Pros are I could always fill a spot. It was a great feeling for my self-esteem that everybody always wants to be a part of it. That was awesome, plus it was a lot of fun for me to see how different people would play different scenes.

The con was that I don’t think I’ve ever had my entire dream cast in one show. So that makes you want to keep doing it until you get your dream cast.

TN: What do you think you’ve gained from the LA Fringe experience?

I think we got exposure to people we wouldn’t normally have exposure to before. The reviews have been great, from people who would have never seen it when we did it at The Groundlings. Also, we’ve gotten a lot of industry, surprisingly. At Groundling’s you kind of expect it, but Fringe we’ve gotten some pretty heavy hitters; they’re top CD’s or they’re show runners.

TN: What challenges did you face while producing this show?

The casting was really hard. It’s 15 characters, I have to cast 14, and everybody’s schedules were different for summer, which led to the rotating cast. The biggest challenge is we had a few voice-overs and small parts here and there that people would jump in and play and it’s really hard to keep everyone organized. Filling in those spots at the last minute has been a nightmare.

TN: What challenges have you faced as a female writer in Hollywood?

Nicole Burch Theatre Nerds
Nicole Burch

One time when I was doing stand-up, I did one set on a Friday night at Flappers, and I did the same exact set the next Friday night at Flappers, pretty much the same crowd. But, I’d come from a catering gig and I was in a black dress, and I threw on a jean jacket to dress it down, and I put my hair in a ponytail but I still had full makeup on and I didn’t have any other shoes than heels, so I tried to dress it down as much as I could, my boobs were kind of out. I told the same set and it tanked. Nobody laughed. I asked the MC who was the same MC (from the week before) and I said, “Yeah, what was that about?” He said, “Nobody wants to hear Pam Anderson tell jokes.” He wasn’t wrong. The entire audience turned against me. You can’t tell self-deprecating jokes when you look d I’m not going to apologize for being super fucking attractive. (Nicole laughs)

MONEY

TN: Let’s talk about money. What was the cost of putting up your show in Fringe?

$2,800. That’s including everything. The theater was $1650. Fringe sign-in fee was $250. Promotional for the Fringe website was $140. Then I spent $320 on programs and I spent $120 on postcards and then I spent $50 on Facebook to promote it. I paid my co-producer $300. Oh, and I also spent $150 on food for the cast.

TN: Did you set the price for the tickets?

Yes. And the average ticket I think is $12. I think they go from $10-$15 usually.

TN: Did ticket sales go back to you, or to Fringe?

They go to me. Because I’ve paid for the venue and I’ve paid to join the Fringe. Anything I recoup goes to me.

TN: Prior to Fringe you had many sold out shows. What was the most effective way you found to promote the show?

Pick a venue that’s popular already, thus The Groundlings, that’s the reason we sold out every time (Prior to Fringe). Time slot’s important. Like 8pm shows are great. 10pm you’re going to lose a lot of audiences. Make it a big cast. If you’re doing a one-person show, then get someone to promote it for you. Get a PR person.

CONCLUSION

TN: What have you taken from doing a year long, on again, off again run of this show?

I’ve had a lot of fun. I think nobody wants to be done with the show. Everybody enjoys doing the show. Our well has definitely run dry. But it’s so much fun to do and I love it and I love being surrounded by all the people that are in it. It’s going to be kind of bittersweet to let it go next Saturday, but at the same time, I’m ready to write something new.

Written by Lisa Kay Jennings

Lisa is a voice over actress and writer with her B.F.A in Acting from Wright State University. Lisa lives in Los Angeles and when she's not writing or performing she's usually drinking wine and dressing up her Shih Tzu in funny outfits.

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