When Edmonton’s Fringe Festival first launched its online ticket purchasing system in 2006, it wasn’t without its hiccups. There were technical issues and the Fringe faithful, weaned on live theatre, didn’t immediately take to the less tangible purchasing method.

Three years later, squeaky wheel sufficiently greased, the online system is running smoothly for the 28th annual Fringe fest. So much so, says the festival’s executive producer, that he only wishes they’d made the switch sooner.

“When I worked for the Winspear years ago, we had already seen the benefit of online ticketing there and it was something the Fringe had talked about doing for a while,” recalls Julian Mayne. “My goal was to make it as easy as possible to buy tickets.”

While this year’s Fringe theme is “Stage a Revolution,” Mayne says the festival has probably undergone its biggest evolutionary changes yet thanks to technological advents like online ticketing and the web 2.0 explosion.

As people emerge from plays, he’s counting on them to start disseminating reviews via social networking tools like Facebook and Twitter to their friends in town and around the world.

This year, the Fringe qualified for $414,300 in funding from the federal Marquee Tourism Events Program. The stimulus was established to help marquee events promote tourism and Mayne says the surest way to do that is online.

“Now, a lot of our expenses go towards web development,” he says. “Even with our performing acts, we no longer accept artist packages from them; we just have them upload all of their information directly to our website. It alleviates the huge management of paper we did before, and it’s also better for the environment.”

The other area of growth for the festival over the years has been beyond the confines of Old Strathcona. Fringe-goers can now find “Bring Your Own Venue” locations at downtown locations like New City Suburbs and the Avenue Theatre, amongst others.

Mayne isn’t too worried about whether Fringe crowds will make it off the Old Scona reservation. They did latch onto that new-fangled ticket thing, after all.

“People seem more than willing to support our artists and the distance hasn’t seemed to affect things,” he says. “The heart of the festival will always be the TransAlta Arts Barns, but there’s no reason the Fringe can’t be an all-Edmonton phenomena.”

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