Post-St. Lou Fringe, Em Piro Gives a Post-Mortem


Em Piro, post-St. Lou Fringe Festival. During the planning, she was a blonde. For the festival itself, she dyed her hair bright blue. Now it's back to reality.
  • Em Piro, post-St. Lou Fringe Festival. During the planning, she was a blonde. For the festival itself, she dyed her hair bright blue. Now it's back to reality.

The St. Lou Fringe Festival may be over, but St. Lou Fringe goes on. And on. And on.

"It's just as much work now as it was before the festival," says executive director Em Piro.

It's just a different kind of work. Instead of chasing down venues, Piro is spending her time balancing her budget and writing up a report for her sponsors and partners of how this year's festival went.

"I keep hearing stories from artists and staff members about the experience," she says. "There have been people who said how important an experience it was. It validates the project for me. I was perpetually insecure, whether I was doing this as a service to myself or if it was a legitimate need."

And in terms of cold, hard numbers, the festival came in under budget. There were, however, a few disappointments.

"To be honest, I'm not happy with the attendance," Piro says. "We projected between three and five thousand people would show up, but only one thousand came. And we gave away tons and tons of comps, so really we sold only 850 [admission] buttons."

Piro suspects the reason for the lack of attendance was that she had inadvertently scheduled Fringe for Pride weekend and didn't realize her mistake until she'd already publicly announced the dates. The construction on the Grand Boulevard viaduct made it difficult to travel between the two festivals, which meant that much of the Fringe target audience stayed in Tower Grove Park and the Grove. (Traffic issues also scuttled plans for a shuttle to run between Tower Grove Park and Locust Business District, site of Fringe.)

"I've talked to Pride," she says, "and we agreed we would never be on the same weekend again."

On the positive side, of the thousand people who attended the Fringe festival, the vast majority saw more than one show and seemed to appreciate the Fringe experience. "We didn't get any criticism," says Piro. "Sometimes I would recommend a show, and people would say they didn't like it much, but no one said, 'I don't understand this, this is stupid.'"

On average, each Fringe performance had fourteen audience members, and only one show had to be canceled because nobody bought any tickets.

"I'm not trying to make any excuses, like 'Well, this is our first year,'" Piro explains. "Our attendance was significantly smaller than other Fringes in their first years. But our numbers were also smaller because overall our festival was smaller. Chicago had 2500 people its first year and 50 shows. We had 30. The Minnesota Fringe averaged only fifteen people per show in its first year." She pauses. "I still think we could've done better. The whole time, everyone was keeping a running list of things to fix for next year."

Plans are already underway for St. Lou Fringe 2013, which Piro hopes will stay in the Locust Business District. In the meantime, Piro will do some traveling through the wider Fringe world -- to Minneapolis, Kansas City and the World Fringe Conference in Edinburgh, the great-grandaddy of all Fringes -- and through St. Louis, too.

This weekend, Piro, her two associate directors, Billy Croghan and Tara Daniels, and assorted other Fringe staff members will be dressing up as their Fringe alter-egos -- Croghan is the Cupcake Cowboy and Daniels is Lady Lou Cooper the cigarette girl -- and joining in Wig Stomp in the Grove.

"It's an opportunity to connect Fringe-y work with the bigger community," says Piro. "That was always our goal, to build a community. Now we're starting to establish a network."

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