I think I first met US promoter/publicist Calvin Wynter at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2007, when he was involved in opening the new Green Room Venue, but he had been going there since 2004.
Yesterday, he told me: “I went to school in Geneva for a year and I had no idea the Edinburgh Fringe existed. My parents were avid theatre-goers and we were travelling to Europe almost every summer, but they had no idea the Edinburgh Fringe existed. When I was made aware that Edinburgh was the place to go then, in 2004, I went over with five shows. All sold out, were critically-acclaimed and one won the Richard Pryor Award. The following year, Richard Pryor’s daughter went over with us with six other shows.
“Now we’ve taken 135 shows to Edinburgh and we’ve done 250 shows worldwide. We’ve been at 50 festivals worldwide and toured 120 cities.”
“It’s something I’ve been thinking of for about four years,” he told me yesterday.
“In the East Coast, there is no ‘open’ festival. Everything is either juried or curated. It’s either You spend your money but we’re going to tell you if you can get in or We’ll decide whether you get in and we’ll pay for it. But there is nothing on the East Coast that is You find a place, you register with us and you’re now part of the Festival.
“There is a New York Fringe which has been around for over a decade, but it’s juried and they take 2% of your box office gross for the next seven years. I think that’s absurd. If you participate in the New York Fringe, for the next seven years – simply because they provided a place which you paid for for maybe six performances – they then take 2% of your box office gross whether you play in Boise, Indiana or Brighton, England.”
“What will you do instead?” I asked.
“We won’t take a percentage when they’re not in our facilities under our Festival banner,” he told me.
“What,” I said, “if I have a wonderful success at the Brooklyn Fringe and decide to go with a promoter other than you?”
“I worked for 13 years on Wall Street,” said Calvin. “On Wall Street, we don’t have competitors. We have colleagues. We don’t worry about the size of the pie. We’ll all eat. I come from an entirely different mindset than what I’ve experienced in a lot of emerging entertainment areas, which seem to think that the world is small and that all of us are fierce competitors… It’s unecessary.
“If you go with another promoter, you are still going to tell someone Go to the Brooklyn Festival – and maybe they’ll go on to work with us afterwards. We’re thinking long term. The more the Brooklyn Fringe succeeds, the more our organisation gets a higher profile.
“At this stage, we’re looking for venues. By putting the word out that we’re looking for venues, we will also receive information about participants.”
“What if you don’t get enough venues to make it viable?” I asked.
“There’s more than enough venues to make it viable,” Calvin told me. “Brooklyn is so vibrant. There’s a new stadium. The Nets basketball team have moved from New Jersey. A hockey team The Long Islanders are going to move in less that two years. Jay-Z did an intro concert there. The amount of construction is… Let’s put it this way, if Brooklyn were a free-standing city, it would be the fourth largest city in the United States right now, but it’s trending that, in the next few years, it will be the third largest.
“We have no fixed number of venues. The New York Fringe has stopped at around 200 venues. The more the merrier for us. We already have a number of shows that would like to work with us in Brooklyn under any circumstances.”
“So,” I said, “I can come to you and say I’ve got a venue above a bar in Brooklyn and I want to put on a show and then you would put me in the Festival programme?”
“If someone registers a show from that location, then you are now a Festival venue. As long as you do it within Brooklyn, it’s part of the Brooklyn Fringe.”
“And,” I asked, “it will be ‘open’ like the Edinburgh Fringe? You will co-ordinate but not put on any shows yourself?”
“We will put on shows,” said Calvin. “We are going to be ‘open’, juried, curated and ‘pay-what-you-can’.
“If you go see a show that is ‘free’, the reality is that the performer, producer or someone stands there with a bucket or a hat at the end., asking for money. What is that really? It’s pay-what-you-can.
“So we are going to be up-front and say that some shows are pay-what-you-can.”
“So,” I said, “I can come to you either with my own fixed-price show or pay-what-you-can show and venue or I can come to you and you’ll provide the venue and hire it out to me?”
“Yes,” said Calvin. “Or some other entrepreneur will set up a venue and put on a show. It’s every variable. On some shows, if it’s necessary for us to put our own money up and bring our own expertise to it, we’re gonna do that, bringing in the creatives, the crew, the marketing effort.”
“Are you getting any money from the local council?” I asked.
“This is the American Dream,” said Calvin. “You go out. You focus on being the best. And you are able to create something that serves the public need. It’s a team of performers and creatives that also – almost all of us – have backgrounds in the financial industry. We do it in such a way that it’s self-sufficient. We can’t depend on government. Arts funding has been cut throughout the United States. We are not dependent on public funding or donations or grants. As we see government and foundation funding evaporate… we just create a business model that works for all.”
“So your background is Wall Street?” I asked.
“I retired 12 years ago, when I was 40 years old. I don’t need the money. I want to be creative. I want to help artists to grow.
“I was a performer as a child. Even when I was a baby, I was in a commercial for milk. But, when it came time for career selection, I ended up going to Wall Street and, just before I left Wall Street, I found out that I had – without my knowledge – been hiring actors, dancers, comedians. Every member of my staff was in not only one but the three major unions in the United States. Even in the case of members of staff from Britain, they were in British Equity.
“I had been unconsciously surrounding myself with performers. So it was natural when one said You should pursue this that I went, in less than 90 days, from taking three acting classes to being in one off-Broadway show, in rehearsals for another, doing indie films at the weekend and setting up a production company that would go on to be nominated for a Drama Desk Award in less than 18 months. I leased a theatre – the Gene Frankel Theatre – renovated it, started putting on productions.”
“You were an actor?” I asked.
“I was an actor, a singer and dancer. I’ve just got back from producing a show in Amsterdam, scouting theatres in Berlin for touring and being taken to Prague to consult on a musical that was in a 1,000 seat theatre.”
“So you are an actor, singer and dancer who turned producer, promoter and publicist?”
“In one instance,” said Calvin, “we were even involved in producing a show in a car. Two actors in the fronts seats, two audience members in the back. Whether it’s an elevator, a boiler room, a toilet or a 1,000 seat theater we want to see Art.”
“And a businessman,” I added.
“Brooklyn Fringe venue registration applications are due by Monday, 28 January 2013,” Calvin told me.
“And a salesman,” I added.