With that began an interview of Sarah Curnoles, producer and director of the 2015 Charm City Fringe Fest Audience Choice Award winner, A Fool’s Paradise (formerly That Way Madness Lies). In just a few days, Sarah and her company will be the second Festival award-winner to take their production to Scotland to perform in the largest arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
To learn more about what led a dedicated Wizard of Oz fan from Baltimore audience member to international producer, I sat down with Sarah and picked her brain over a beer.
“I like telling other people’s stories.”
Sarah had a nagging idea back in 2015 that she just couldn’t shake. Having been involved in professional theatre for over 10 years, helping stage plays at Baltimore theatre institutions Chesapeake Shakespeare and Center Stage, she finally couldn’t bare putting off the idea any longer. In April of that same year, she took the plunge.
Charm City Fringe presented a natural way to develop her idea in a very tangible way. Did it feel risky? Of course it did, but Fringe presented a low risk opportunity to develop her idea. Sure she could fail, but she could also succeed in a big way.
“It should feel risky!”
A Fool’s Paradise was the first show Sarah ever directed, though that wasn’t the plan. For Sarah, being a novice producer was challenging enough for her first production, but when her director dropped out the same week Paradise was accepted, there were two options. She could let this derail her project and shelve the whole thing, or she could venture on with her vision.
Thankfully, Sarah chose the latter, but even at that point, it wasn’t all smooth sailing. The challenges abounded. Being her first production, there was no cash flow; really, there wasn’t even flow, Sarah wasn’t able to pay anyone until after the festival, so she had to seek out a patient and dedicated crew, able to weather work without pay. Paradise locked its cast into place two weeks into rehearsals, no easy task when you have 45 Shakespeare scenes to practice from the entire 37-play canon.
“Why should someone see my show?”
Solidifying the cast was not the end of the challenges, but it certainly made it possible for Sarah and her cadre to focus on other tasks. Namely, the nearly two-dozen other companies producing a new show at the Fringe Fest, plus after parties and other festivities to compete with. So how did she face it? “I tried to out-postcard everyone,” Sarah recalls.
She also focused on getting a great, eye-catching design for her show and started early, reaching out to a graphic designer as soon as she found out she was in the festival. Having a unique idea, or a novel way of presenting yourself is huge in the festival circuit, but just as big is making sure people see it. Paradise grabbed people’s attention with their design, and brought them into the theatre with their new take on a classic.
“Does this even work?”
After all of the prep, the rehearsals, the graphic design, and the marketing, what Sarah really wanted was a platform to experiment and realize her vision. To see if it would even work in any tangible way. What she ended up getting was audience feedback, new relationships with other artists, and an incredible bonding experience for her company. “It’s ride or die,” she explains, another valuable lesson from the experience. It’s not just whether the show is a success or not, but simply if you can do it. Even failing would have been a valuable lesson.
“Everyone got Champagne!”
But fail she did not. In fact, perhaps the biggest surprise to come out of the festival was that Paradise turned a profit and each company member got a nice bottle of bubbly. It certainly isn’t the end of her trip with Paradise, however. After a second successful run this spring, culminating in a rousing 15-minute excerpt at Nights on the Fringe, Paradise is going to Scotland and beyond.
“Edinburgh wasn’t the plan,” but seeing the response from the crowd, how great everyone felt afterwards, she couldn’t stop the show there. Following Scotland, the show is going on the road to Pennsylvania, including a stop at Washington College, her alma mater.
“Let’s see if we can tour this thing.”
Whether Paradise is the next Reduced Shakespeare Company, or something entirely new, Sarah has some final advice for audiences: “Be willing to explore and make the drive to the city.” Seek out a few productions, because who knows, you’ll uncover some gems, and maybe even the next big thing to go to Scotland!
And we’re so ready for that.
By Zachary Michel