Last year was my fifth time performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and was most likely my last. Or not.
In August 2018, I attended seminars at Fringe Central on how to sell your show, pitch your show, and tour your show. I met with the media office several times for ace advice. I swung by Fringe Central nearly every day, greeting the journalists, critics, promoters, fellow performers, and producers camped out there with a warm smile and cool conversation.
I saw about 34.5 shows and performed 49 times in my own two shows. Did guest spots on 7 shows. Hung out at all the “cool kid” venue bars and chatted with promoters. Tweeted publicly and personally with a dozen journalists and reviewers. And somehow I found the time to blog for several publications (including this over-shared blog about the critics’ mental health)
Aaaaand I was totally conflicted about the whole experience, as were many of my peers. For last year was without a doubt the hardest, sweatiest, anxiety-inducing, stressful, painful, Edinburgh Fringe I’d ever done. I heard this year was even harder, so I dug up this unpublished blog (because no one got back to me about publishing it on their platform, because Fringe Fried) and I share it with you, gentle reader, in case you were finishing this Fringe or thinking about taking it on next year.
NOTE: If you had full houses and more than one review this August, you can stop reading right now because you clearly did everything right (or wrong), or you had the words “WWII” or “Drunk” or “Potter” in your title (or you don’t). Or you’ve been on television or not, or you’ve been doing shows here for over 10 years, or it’s your first, or you were in an episode of “Game of Thrones”, or a movie, or no movies, or you have more posters around town than “The Lady Boys of Bangkok,” or no posters at all (you don’t need posters/you need posters).
You get a lot of conflicting advice leading up to and during the Fringe. From the Fringe Office, from books about the Fringe, from PR companies, from journalists and reviewers on social media, and from your fellow performers. So, let’s take a moment to examine some of the advice we’re all given at this monster festival and determine what to do and what not to do in the future. If that’s something you’d do to yourself. Or not.
“Flyering works” vs. “Flyering does not work”
Let’s just agree that flyering works. Sometimes. And never. And always. Three of my sold-out kids’ shows happened without me flyering at all that morning. Another morning, I flyered for 3 hours only to cancel the show because no one showed up.
“You need to flyer right before your show” vs. “You need to mentally prepare yourself for your show”
I’ve flyered an hour before the show and then had less energy to do the show, so the big house that bought into my pitch saw me perform at 75%. I’ve not flyered before my show, which resulted in a smaller house, but they got me at 100%. So, which one is better? Clearly, both and neither.
“You are the best flyerer for your show” vs. “You are not the best flyerer show”
I took a workshop early in the Fringe on how to flyer from someone called “The Flyer Whisperer.” He actually spoke quite loudly. It was very good. So good, that after the seminar, I realized that I wasn’t good at flyering. So, I hired a well-respected flyerer (who just happened to stumble into my show after a long day of flyering) and people instantly started coming to the show. However, in other years I’ve always done it myself and had a fairly good amount of success and failure. So, both of the statements are true and false.
“If you see a media person, introduce yourself and ask them to review your show” vs. “If you see a media person do not bother them”
The media are a tricky, hard-working lot. Some tell us, “Please talk to me if you see me,” while others say, “Please stay away.” Last year (and this year), dozens of media folks turned to social media to express how they were being harassed, stalked, texted, and tweeted by performers and PRs on a regular basis. I wasn’t sure if I crossed some line, as I personally included their names and publications’ handles in my tweets begging for a reviewer to cover my kids’ show. I mean, I’ve seen tweets asking if anyone needs a reviewer, so why not ask for one myself? Alas, my efforts were in vain. My #1 goal in investing about $7,000 to perform at the Fringe was to get my new kids’ show reviewed so that I could move the show forward in NYC and apply for grants. I got one 4-star review, and one 5-star review…two weeks after the festival ended. (The show actually got a grant and ran for over 6 months in NYC, in part because of those two reviews).
Fellow performer Cameryn Moore noted this conflicting advice: “Be persistent with media” vs. “LEAVE US ALONE JEEZUS CHRIST”. Pointing out that, “These are not contradictions coming from the same source, but often advice from Fringe Central, which runs contrary to what conditions exist in the real world.”
“Reviews mean nothing” vs. “Reviews are everything”
Reviews may mean nothing if your show has a title that people recognize or features a star from a UK television panel show or if it’s your tenth time doing the same show at the Fringe because people will pack your venue whether there’s a review or not.
There was a performer in my venue who had small crowds the first week. Then they got two 4-star reviews and they were turning people away every show after that. Another performer in my venue got a 1-star review from a well-known comedy journalist and also wound up making bank and turning people away at every single show. This was the only review this performer got. This performer also won an award at the end of the festival. Go figure.
“Read your reviews” vs. “Don’t read your reviews”
Hey, you want to miss out on seeing your 5-star review? Don’t read them. Get off the internet. Don’t talk to your publicist. Or your venue. You want to capitalize on your reviews? You want to see what might need improvement or how your work is being received so you can, I don’t know, do something about it? Google your name every hour. Or, perhaps The Scotsman will use your actual Twitter handle when they post your 2-star review on Twitter. You still don’t have to click the link to read it, but you’ll know you didn’t get 5 stars.
“Go to meet the media” vs. “Meet the media is a waste of time”
I surveyed about 15 performers who waited on queue for over three hours to meet the media and exactly NONE of them got reviewed by the people they met. I’m not sure any of the performers at Summerhall or Traverse went to Meet the Media, yet every show playing there got at least four reviews last year. The takeaway here is do your next show at Summerhall or Traverse.
“Publicists are a waste of money” vs. “You totally need a publicist”
Journalists and critics were going off on PRs last season from the word go. Too many emails, too many calls, not enough info, too much info. Whatever. I did my own PR for the first time in five years, following every bit of advice the media and the advice that media office gave me, and I got absolutely nothing. Last year I let go of my PR two weeks into the festival and managed to wrangle seven reviews. None of this makes sense.
“Develop your work at Fringe” vs. “Make sure your work is 100% developed and perfect before you bring it to Fringe”
If you are not famous, please do not develop your work at the Fringe or call it a “work in progress.” The famous ones have earned the privilege of charging people to watch them read off note cards. Get your ass famous, then use our time to develop your set.
A few more stupid or useful observations:
“Blogging for a website and providing them content does not guarantee that website will review your show, so just be happy you’re privileged enough to be asked to take a few hours out of your day to write for someone other than your mum and dad.” — Peter Michael Marino
If you see someone’s show, they will see your show. Also, if you see someone’s show, they’re not under any obligation to see your show. If you’re a solo performer and you’ve seen a show featuring a large company, the people in that company will not see your solo show. Accept it.
If you run a Facebook group or Facebook page that provides a huge amount of information throughout the year like deadlines and tips, and do’s and dont’s, or where to buy this prop, or how to get the best deal on trains, or where to find housing, or which PR to stay away from, or which journalist to contact, or which free events are happening at Fringe Central…do not expect those Facebook people to attend your show. But, please feel good knowing that you helped hundreds of people.
Don’t expect a fellow artist to follow you on Twitter just because you raved about their show several times and sent a dozen people to see it. It’s presumptuous to expect them to tap the “follow” button when they’re busy dealing with their production team, PR, agent, manager, handler, lover, and full houses.
Sometimes an entire venue staff will speak negatively about a performer who sells out every show because that performer treats anyone who isn’t a paying customer like shit. Don’t be that person and also be that person because that person is making loads of money because they are selling out their show, so they must be doing something right.
“Three stars are useless”
Can we just ban the 3-star review? You’re welcome.
“Fuck off, ‘Silent Disco.’”
How dare you create something that THOUSANDS of people clearly love doing? (Also, please change the name of ‘Silent Disco’ to ‘All the Single Ladies’ to increase your target audience).
“Free! or Not Free!”
“No one wants to see free fringe shows” vs. “No one wants to review free fringe shows” vs. “The Free model is dead” vs. “The only way to make it is to play at The Big Four” vs. “The Big Four are money-grubbing whores who have hidden fees that will wreck you when it’s all over.”
“It’s a marathon not a sprint” vs. “Give it your all every night”
I don’t even know anymore. Sprint. Marathon. Limp. Swim. Bike. This shit was exhausting.
“The Fringe is dead” vs. “See you next year” vs. “Never again.”
In short, I didn’t attend this year because I’m getting paid to act in a show Off-Broadway that I only got because of my years of experience and training at Edinburgh Fringe. Will I go next year? Make me.
Please feel free to follow or not follow me on Twitter @blackoutpete