How to do the Fringe

This is as much as a note for me to refer back to next year as it is info for you lovely bloglings, but if any of you are planning on going to The Fringe, maybe some of these tips will help –

  • Venue – things to take into consideration.
    The average edinburgh audience size is about 6, literally. If it’s your first year, you’re very likely to end up doing a few shows to virtually no-one. With that in mind, book a small venue. It’ll save you money, and feel less crap when you eventually get up to 15-20 people.

    a lot of venues charge more for ‘prime-time’ slots, so think about when your show is best going to attract an audience. I seem to do pretty well late night, so can take a cheaper slot between 11-12, rather than trying to book between 7-10pm, which is pretty much the main time for shows.

    When you talk to the venue, haggle over the cost of the room. I’ve never paid full asking price for an Edinburgh venue. Check what the extras are (do you need a tech? lighting engineer? door person? backstage help? most of that will be charged) – bargain with them. The usual deal is to pay a ‘guarantee’ and then it’s a 60/40 split in your favour over and above that. Some places do a straight hire fee where you get all ticket money. others can be convinced to do a straight 50/50 split.

    It’s also worth finding out what kind of publicity the venue are going to do. If you go into one of the ‘big five’ – The Pleasance, The Underbelly, The Gilded Balloon, The Assembly Rooms or C Venues – they’ll have a load of publicity of their own. It’s not worth relying on (shows in each of these venue complexes still end up with 2 people in the audience), but it’ll help. A bit. possibly.

  • Promo before the fest. Make sure you get signed up to the EdFringe press office mailings, there are lots of useful things to do in there. They send out info of lots of press opportunities and other promo things like playing at the Fringe Opening party, Fringe Sunday etc.

    Get good photos! there’s no substitute for having a really eye-catching image, something that says something about your show. Remember, there are close to 2000 other shows on, putting on nearly 30,000 performances in the month. That’s a lot of competition, and a tiny amount of time you have to grab the focus of your prospective audience – you need to grab them with the picture and show title first, then the strap line, then the blurb. It’s all got to be there, arty doesn’t really cut it. I’ve been given flyers where I can’t tell a) what kind of show it is, whether it be music/drama/comedy/physical theatre/dance etc. and b) what the story is if it happens to be a narrative piece. It’s all got to be there on the flyers and posters.

    Also worth spending a lot of time on is your fringe programme entry – you’ve only got 40 words, so they have to be the greatest words you can think of to describe what you do. Quotes are good if they’re relevant. be descriptive, pique people’s interest, be hyperbolic – everyone else will be.

    Work out your budget for promo. Flyers and posters are a must. An absolute must. But you might want to take out an ad in the programme, or some ads in the free papers at the festival (Three Weeks and SkinnyFest), or even on the website. Again, you might be able to haggle on price, or team up with another show to take out an ad between you.

    One way to expand your budget is to get sponsors – this can either be individuals – see Richard Herring’s SCOPE appeal for more on this – or companies that have some vested interest in the publicity you can offer. For the last two years, my show has been sponsored by the Bass Institute – an excellent music school in West London. They can obviously get access to loads of people interested in music, particularly bassists, through my show, and I give them a logo on thousands of flyers and posters, as well as a full page ad in the show programme. A great deal for all.

    Use the press list! The Fringe press office sends out a press list, with the contacts of everyone who writes or broadcasts about the Fringe. Write a great press release (get help if needs be), and follow it up with additional news etc. Stick to the recommended method of communication, and don’t bug the people if they ask to be contacted only once. This again is where those killer photos come in handy. Press people are 100x more likely to write about you if you got good photos. head over to Steve Brown’s site for photo stuff – he regularly takes magazine front covers, so knows all about generating eye-catching, product-selling images for artists.

  • Once you get to Edinburgh – keep doing all of the above. Use the internet to follow up radio and press contacts, chase up reviewers and sort out cabaret and showcase slots. There are a few of these – you should contact them before the fest if possible, and then follow up when you get there. Some times people have slots to fill last minute, make sure they’ve got your mobile number for last minute bookings. A lot of the showcase and cabaret slots will be 10-15 minutes long – make sure you’ve got a highly portable extract from your show. This is harder if it’s a play, but it’s worth doing for the audience it generates. Shows like Mervyn Stutter’s Pick Of the Fringe are a great way to reach a much bigger audience.

    And now all those flyers and posters come into their own – put posters up in every legal possible place. Shops are a great one, cafes, restaurants – get there early to guarantee a slot on the walls. Make sure your venue has done enough promo around the building, you want to catch as much passing trade as possible. Don’t go too mad putting out piles of flyers alongside all the other piles of flyers – they get buried fairly quickly.

    Then it’s time to hit the high street and sell the show – have a one sentence description – ‘late night music show’, ‘chill out comedy’ bizarre road trip comedy’ ‘shakespeare on ice’ – something that’ll grab people’s attention. Then have a prepared one paragraph description, so you don’t um and ah through it. Be confident and smilie, very friendly, ask people’s names, shake hands, say how much you’re looking forward to seeing them at the show. In short, make them feel like they are as special as the show is, and they clearly belong at it! As for quantity, you really need about 7000 flyers for your first week, and 5000 for each successive week. We had 5000 this year, and could easily have done 7000 in the time we were there. If you can get friends to come and stay and flyer for you, that’s great, but there’s nothing quite like people seeing your picture on the flyer and then chatting to you about the show.

    Same with posters – about 150-250 a week should do it – make sure you put them up on the pillars on the Royal Mile at least three times a day, as they get covered up pretty quickly. Same for the boards outside the E-ticket tent.

    Work out with your venue before hand what they are happy for you to do in the way of comps, 2 for 1 deals etc. Do you need to have special stickers for it? can you just write it on the flyer? how precious are they about it? If you’re doing three weeks, I’d recommend doing maximum effort in the first week just to get people through the door, try and create a bit of a buzz, get the word out. Lots of two for ones, comps to the casts of other shows etc. Be generous with other performers, most of them won’t have much money for full price tickets.

  • Take care of yourself. Edinburgh folklore is all about people staying up late, getting drunk, stoned and shagging anything that moves. Clearly not a good idea if you actually want it to be a success for you. Almost everyone at the fest loses money. Perhaps this is why. I’ve never lost money there. I hardly drink at all while I there, and try to get enough sleep – I really don’t want to be falling asleep on stage. If you’re a pro, it’s work, 24 hours a day. If you take it seriously, you can do well there. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t go out late night – it might be a great way to meet people who could come to the show, or review it. There’s a whole other world at the fest that starts at midnight. Just proceed with caution. ;o)
  • And finally, make sure the show is shit-hot. If your show is lame, all the promo in the world isn’t going to sell it. People will come, and you’ll get crap reviews, crap word of mouth and the crowds will die off. Come with a great show, and it’ll go the other way. Spend the time making it right, and you can do really well.

    What have I missed? If you’ve ever been there, post your best tip in the comments section…

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