As we approach another year of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with the ink drying on the flyers, the cramped sweaty venues being erected and the bottom line of budgets steadily turning red, I thought we could all use some survival tips for producing at the chaos that is the Fringe. I’ve produced a number of shows and will be up again (plug: No Miracles Here by The Letter Room, Gutted by The Conker Group and Lists for the End of the World by fanSHEN) and if there is one thing I’ve learnt is you can never be prepared enough and expect the unexpected.
Survival Tips for Producing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Venue Staff Are Your Best Friends
Whether we’re talking about the box office staff to the technical managers or the press team you want to make a good impression early on. The people running the venues are the front line to potential ticket buyers and the problem solvers if anything goes wrong. The last thing you want to do is piss them off. Remember that you’re working with these people for (more than likely) an entire month, everyday, non-stop. Some people resort to bringing fruit, baked goods or even alcohol to make that friendship that little bit sweeter, which can help. The first week is going to be the toughest, don’t make it anymore difficult for them by being the producer that is demanding last minute comps and an extra haze machine and disco light that you left off your tech spec. Most of the venue staff are underpaid and/or volunteers, buy them a drink whenever you can, they deserve it.
Flyering works. There, I’ve said it. Now organise a flyering team (paying them at least national minimum wage) and be strategic in where and how you flyer. Your flyering team just like the venue box office staff are on the front line. In all weathers they will be the ones trying to lure potential ticket buyers into your show. Brief them early and make sure they see your show in previews. Give them the main marketing message of your show but also allow them to develop their own words for how they sell it. Allow them to practice with you and other members of the team. We’re not going all out role-play, but we do want on message and enthusiasm. Check in with them every few days, if not everyday, to make sure that you are developing your flyering locations and timings. Exit flyering of shows with large audience numbers is good, and there are key locations across Edinburgh where audiences tend to mingle before shows. Avoid the Royal Mile, you might as well be chucking a box load of flyers on the floor and be done with it. If you don’t have time to organise your own team talk to your venue and see if you can hire their team.
Healthy Fringe, Healthy Living
I don’t mean to sound like your mum here, but make sure you’re getting enough sleep, enough fruit and vegetables and not living solely on a diet of £4.50 pints and Mosque Kitchen curries. Taking the down time is more than important, its vital to surviving. It is also about demonstrating to your entire team that its okay to not be on it 24/7. Just like your cast need to be ready to perform each day, you must be too. Spend the first week trying to figure out what you need; if that means an early night at 10pm, then do it. There will always be another Fringe and there will also be a show you won’t get to see. Look after yourself. Climb Arthur’s Seat at least once and if you can on your day off go to Portobello Beach, to the cinema or even Glasgow.
One of the joys of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the ability to network from 10am – 4am and in the most unusual of places. Meeting a programmer of a venue you’ve wanted to be programmed into at 3am at C venues bar (because its the only god damn disco place open each night and you want to feel young again) is usual. Its what makes the Fringe the best experience. Get the list of Arts Professionals attending the Fringe from the Arts Industry Office and contact them in advance to see if you can meet for a coffee at 11am. Most programmers, producers and artistic directors won’t be seeing shows before midday, so those early morning coffees are easy to book in, providing you can both talk coherently on a hangover. Those industry folk are seeing a lot of shows and may not be able to make it to yours but introducing yourself is the first step for potential future collaborations, embrace them.
Slow Selling Shows
Look, a slow selling show happens, and it may not have anything to do with the quality of work. Don’t get despondent, push through it and make sure your entire team are embracing this as a positive challenge. Set targets each day, and be on the street with your flyering team and call in favours with other producers. Exit flyer other shows, get stapling those reviews and star ratings on your flyers and keep the faith. Talk with the venue staff and see if there is anything you are particularly missing, they know how their venues work. You might want to offer some tickets to the Half Price Ticket Hut (most venues require a few days to get this organised, so be prepared for that) or to offer some more papering comps to boost your numbers and make your cast feel more supported. If you’re working with a PR, ensure you know when the reviews are going to land, this will impact your ticket sales. If you get bad reviews don’t email the reviewer or the publication unless there is something factually incorrect. Speak with your PR or the venue press team, and never write an angry blogpost about how everyone is wrong about your show, it won’t do you any favours.
Future Life of Shows
As a producer you should be thinking ahead for your show(s) and what the future life of them might be. Being realistic early on about what you can achieve and what the trajectory of your show/company/writer/artist might be is important. A tiny percentage of shows get transferred and there are only so many Fringe Firsts available and really, it doesn’t matter if a producer or venue doesn’t pick up your show for 2018 programming. What does matter is building a long term strategy. Introducing yourself to venues and programmers, getting them to know about your work and talking with other producers and of course to artists. Some of the relationships I’ve formed at the Fringe have taken years to develop into anything. I first met The Letter Room in 2014 and its only this year I’m producing with them. That’s okay because its about the long term relationship building.
Bursting the Edinburgh Bubble
You may have picked up throughout this blog post a general vibe of none of this really matters. Well, its true. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is not the be and end all. Its a place of possibility, sure, but the emphasis that the industry places on the festival is at times overrated. If your show bombs, its about the learning experience you gain from that. If you show explodes with critical acclaim, ride with it and see where it takes you. Don’t let your ego get the better of you and certainly don’t let the festival break you. There are still touring options, transfers and commissions available outside of the festival, there are still meetings and audiences and flyers to get printed all year round. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is one of many possibilities.
If you’re up at this year’s festival and need advice or want to grab a cup of tea or pint, do get in contact, I’ll be there from 30 July – 12 August.
Image used via a Creative Commons Licence by Steve Greer.