What I learned when I ran away to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Tiny Box Theater at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Photo credit: Joy Tomasko

I don’t recall being invited. When one of my oldest friends told me she and her partners had been offered a slot at the Fringe — a street performance piece that tells an interactive story using audio, antique boxes and miniature objects — I told her I was coming to help out. And she even let me. I knew I’d have fun, I knew it would be a lot of work, but I didn’t realise how much the experience would make me reflect on my work in marketing. And no, I’m not saying that I’m surrounded by a bunch of clowns (boom, boom).

The Fringe is massive and it is a tough marketplace. Visitors, all 400,000 or so of them, have high expectations. Yes, everyone who was there was primed, but you don’t walk more than five steps in the centre of Edinburgh in August without being approached by eager and determined entertainers coaxing you to attend their performances instead of the one you’re battling to get to. If someone’s giving up 5–10 minutes of their time, it had better be worth it. Here’s what we learned.

Not everyone is going to like you.

We were blanked. We were side-eyed. We were laughed at. We were told straight up and forcefully, ‘no’. But we stayed strong and kept finessing our elevator pitch to catch the eye of the kindred spirits among the torrent of people hurtling past. They were in there, we just had to find the right way to capture their attention and not worry about the rest.

Some people will like you.

Our audience was made up of all kinds — from affluent world travellers, to broke students, families, theatre professionals, and the savvy locals who’d been to every Fringe. But there was always that moment — when people would smile and lean in and forget the distractions of the Royal Mile. It was usually when the first drawer was opened up to reveal a previously unseen tiny magical world. And in return, people were so generous with cash donations and referrals — many groups came to us because a friend sent them (good old word of mouth).

Photo credit: Joy Tomasko

Everything hasn’t been done already.

From my friends and their interactive tiny box stories, to the joyful Lederhosen-clad Sasha and his wind-up disco across the square, to the living statue beside us, who spent her days covered in gold, silently sprinkling fairy dust on dazzled children, there are fresh ideas all around us. I am as guilty as the next person of getting a little jaded sometimes, feeling like it’s all been done before. But it hasn’t. We just need to get out of our bubbles and do something else for a change.

I’m glad I did, even if it got a bit soggy at times.

Thanks to Joy Tomasko, Sarah Murphy and Justin Steeve at Tiny Box Theater for letting me join its first trip to the Fringe.

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