Aliens, Zero-waste and self-care – EdFringe Blog 2

Greenhouse at Dynamic Earth / concept

The city of Edinburgh is packed with hundreds and thousands of tourists, performers and audiences for every manner of amazing free and paid, fringe and “official” work out there. I’m starting my week of reviewing for the Musical Theatre Review and so can’t use this blog to give my opinions on shows. But I can explore the spirit of the fringe as I am sniffing it out this year.

I must celebrate and champion you to head down to Dynamic Earth where a pop-up zero-waste theatre company are offering 7 shows a day in their zero-tec cosy theatre space.  You won’t find a flyer or poster anywhere for Boxed In Theatre and their Greenhouse space and so it is up to us to help them spread the word and help you to get to and other pages to buy their tickets.  When I visited to see a dress rehearsal of one show, the appreciative home crowd of friends and fellow company members were in a theatre which was being built around us. A sense of magic was being created and I hope the sun will shine on them.  They are also offering an innovative way to flyer on the high street – they tell me they will be there with buckets picking up unwanted flyers from the street whilst talking to customers about their shows. That is the way to engage and inspire.

Quick tips for myself (and others) this festival as I spend most of each day/eve moving from show to show.  Remember my keep-cup. It is a perfect cool water holder, and there are plenty of outlets now with jugs of water on the counter. Keep it filled up and no waste and good hydration.  Remember to eat. Make sandwiches or take in a salad. Carry an apple or two. Avoid spending £5-15 a day on just grabbing something from a take-away.   Keep some time in your diary just to sit down and enjoy watching the world go by. Pack a novel so you can read something completely different. Enjoy turning your phone off.  Keep writing blogs.

I have about 50 shows to see in between the workshops I’m running for Fringe Central and the work I’m doing in week 3 for the International Festival. When I have that schedule I may be able to fit in some more of my long list of “wish I could” shows. There are 45 of them still on the list.   So there will be some shows I just champion because of the skill of the flyer person to capture my imagination: 

“Do you believe in aliens?” is a great opening line. “Yes” says I. So I am the proud owner of a flyer for Portents by why this sky theatre company playing Bedlam at 15:30 until 15th August. I will probably not get there, but I have the flyer so, if you do or do not believe in aliens, maybe worth a look at this Arts Council England supported production in one of my favourite venues.

So yesterday was bagpipes, gospel, broadway, silly, deeply moving, powerful, Scottish, English, American, historical, contemporary and in the main presented by artists completely committed to giving us an experience which will move us through their storytelling.  Today will be another patch of delights, I hope.  I am always looking to be moved and to know that I needed to be in that theatre with that storyteller because it has changed me or delighted me in a very special way. I always enter a space hopeful.

From Russia with laughs -EdFringe 2019 / blog 1

Catching up for a gentle drink with my daughter at the Sekforde Arms in Clerkenwell last night we were corralled into an EdFringe preview by host Milo Edwards. I was tempted by the Russian comedian Ivan Yavits given my work with Perm. It was free and there was space.

There were three comedians on the bill opening with Ivan who was warm, welcoming, and played off the 50/50 Russian and English audience. I’d enjoy checking out The Russian Comedy Experience if I could find a slot in my diary.

The second comedian is also taking a show to Edinburgh but chose to use the Preview as an opportunity to try out new material, working away with his notepad to decide what he might use in the next show. So I can’t tell you anything about Luke McQueen: Bad except he did have one of the best oneliners (for his next show) in the evening. I won’t spoil it for you for 2020.

The headline act was Milo Edwards who is “famous in Russia” and definitely had the whole audience in deep belly laugh stitches. Anyone who has ever been to Russia, worked with Russians, or just loves to explore the differences between cultures should have a great time, and learn stuff.  We got most of his EdFringe 2019 show, Pindos, and I look forward to following him and his reviews.

Check them out. I will definitely be recommending it to my visiting Russian producers when they come for a scouting week.  No flyers there or biog material. I guess comedians don’t do that, but it is so so helpful if you expect us to shout about your shows without waiting to get back to the desk and googling you.  I even had to heckle each comedian just to get them to tell me when and where they were playing in Edinburgh.

Shame the bar was closed when we came out of the theatre space – surely that’s one of the ways a pub makes money. Hey ho. Got us home more quickly and saved us a round or two.

The invisibility cloak

This is a follow-up to my “Being Seen” blog of May 2019, and my annual suggestion blog on visibility. May I celebrate those who are preparing to arrive in Edinburgh for the Festival Fringe in the next few days.  So often I hear “I hate networking” or, as we are mid-festival, “no-one is noticing me”. So here is my quick suggestions of when, & when not , to wear the invisibility cloak.

There’s a balance between being a network master, an interesting person/show to be discovered, and a megaphone or over-pushy self-defeating champion of yourself and your show.  The magic is to think NOW exactly who are the right people who could/should know about and enjoy your show, and to get yourself in their shoes, walk their paths, and meet them on their ground.

Some quick suggestions:

  1. Do a quick character map of your ideal audience member – age, interests, reason for being in Edinburgh, where they might hang out, what artforms, shows and artform hubs they may be attracted to.
  2. Check Fringe Central programme and find any events where there are likely to be useful people to listen to, meet, talk with about your show.
  3. Have a suitable arsenal of material on-line, in your pocket, ready to pin-up, ready to share.  I’d have business cards if you can, with the show details. I’d have A6 flyers ready with email address and website info.

Now you know who you are looking for, where they might be, and you have material for them if you meet them.  Just re-check your (a) list above – it may be a mix of paying public, friends, student colleagues, promoters, press, die-hard lovers of your kind of artform, and people who love to see stuff at your time of day.

Some of those people may be walking the Royal Mile on the off chance that you will hand them a flyer – but that is the equivalent of “broadcast” marketing (see pic above). For every 1 perfect audience member you could be seeing a 100 or 1000 people pass you by enjoying the jugglers and looking for haggis or kilts.

  • Be forensic in where you look for your ideal (a) list audience. Think about their habits. Where are they 2hrs before your show, where are they the same time as your show 2 days before. Maybe, just maybe, the perfect person hasn’t booked a show yet at your time.
  • Be generous with each other and find another company who could shout out for you to the same perfect audience that has just enjoyed their amazing show, and then do the same for them.
  • Find the queues or groups of people doing what you think your kind of people might do, and sit/stand and chat to them. Don’t thrust a flyer in their hand. Ask “what kind of shows do you like?” “what have you seen, you’ve enjoyed?” – get a tiny conversation started.  Then, only then, tell them about your show…if they seem likely people.
  • Time your flyering, split your company (or get a friend from somewhere if you are a solo artist) and go have these conversations.

My sense is that on-line promotion is good for your show, and doing some digital networking is important, but that die-hard audiences are out on the street and in the theatres seeing stuff. They are not checking their mobiles for the latest twitter posts. Having said that….

  • Think when your audience might be home checking their emails and facebook. Maybe early morning, maybe late night.  Focus on what feels the right time and play with different times.
  • Who do you know who could “amplify” your “narrow-cast” focussed message to the right people. Who could champion your show to other like-minded folk.
  • And remember your audience who see the show today are potentially champions and amplifiers to future audiences. GIVE THEM A PROGRAMME as they leave the space. A small A6 piece of paper with the names of everyone involved in the show, an email address, website, and any hashtags you want to share.  They might take a moment to tell their facebook friends about the shows they saw – but only if they know the names and champion the facts/team/info.  Help them to help you.

And remember that Edinburgh Fringe audiences churn through the City every 2-3 days. It is a tiny minority of us who dedicate the month to seeing stuff. “And another hundred people just got off of the train”.  Well probably 1000 plus, and some of them may be your next tranche of perfect audience.

  • Never give up. What worked two days ago, and brought in new audience today, has to be repeated day after day after day.  Try new things, new times to find audiences, new places to target, new shows to buddy with.  You will probably never find the winning formula, but cumulatively you will make a difference.
  • Never say “oh its too late for that idea this year”. If it’s a good idea, find a way of trying it today or tomorrow at the latest.
  • Set yourself some realistic small achievable targets for each day. “I want two new people I don’t know to see the show tomorrow”.  Start small and feel some success along the way. [Now is not the time to worry about 40% capacity overall if you are playing to 10% now. Aim for 15% within 2-3 days. Don’t be overwhelmed by targets]

You can’t/shouldn’t rely on the venue or your flyering agent or your PR company or your best mate at home to solve your audiences challenges. You can reach out to all of them and re-visit and re-talk through your challenges at the moment. But YOU have to grab the initiative. The venue and the Fringe office are used to having these conversations. They can sometimes help to crack through with something – an idea, a piggyback opportunity, a contact, or just a cuppa.  And your best mate at home just might hop on a train, come up and help, sleep on your floor or in your bath. Or they might do a couple of hours online championing from their laptop at home.

My last blog talked of taking up space, being noticed. If you have brought your best work then there are people out there who want to find you. Don’t be invisible to them – they are still looking for the unexpected joyful surprise. 

Sometimes the invisibility cloak can be great. Do lots of listening to audiences as they mill around before the show in your queue, and as they walk out.  Go chat to people in other foyers of other theatres – you can’t flyer there, but you can chat to people.

Maybe you can get someone in the queue (that best mate or a friend from another show) to ask each member of the audience (i) why are they coming to see this show (ii) how did they hear about it and (iii) what else are they seeing.  Get your mate to do tiny thumbnail sketches of each person, or check them against your character map (a) list. Are you getting unexpected people in the audience ?  Why ? Go by your gut, but then talk to them ?

It is exhausting. It is exhilarating. You may get rained on or sun-kissed. 6 months ago you wrote 40 words of copy for a festival which seemed far far away. Now you are in the midst of the greatest circus on earth.  Take care of yourselves. Find a quiet garden, a wonderful view, a great walk, the perfect quiet teashop, or a single painting or museum exhibit you can sit and be calm with. Do yoga, meditate, eat fruit. Whatever it takes to keep up the joy.

[Written in a primary school in the Finnish village of Fiskars (see above) where the tech/dress for “Honey” by Tove Appelgren is in preparation in a Scottish premiere version with Sarah McCardie and translated/directed by Julian Garner. It heads to EdFringe on Monday as part of the Start to Finnish season to play Zoo Playground 16:30 (17:30) daily.  I am listening to the Spanish/Manchester sound designer creating and inputting sound cues. I can’t wait to watch this afternoon having read an early draft by Julian. “Honey, single mother…eleven disfunctional characters: one body” to edit their 40 words

Hiding in Plain Sight

I was having a session with a very wise friend and mentor this morning and we were exploring my current sense of discombobulation. I’m only shortly back from a month in Australia, the e-mails are firing on all cylinders,  I’m getting new project proposals underway and yet I have moments of feeling unseen.  I was sharing with her that my Blog is one way in which I choose to make myself visible, whilst also remaining very private.

Last night I was with a wonderful StageOne grad theatre producer who is working with me on making Producers’ Pool and CGO’s work more visible, which is wonderful, and she seemed bemused that I felt the need to get more underway when so much is happening already.

Something’s going on inside me which I will take the challenge to share and explore through this blog.  It clearly goes back a long way and I’ve always thought it was something to do with the need for money. I do so much on spec, so much where others tell me I must charge, so much where I invent something and then the next person gets a £big salary to run it. That’s my life.  But maybe my discombobulation comes from something else. Maybe it is something to do with being “valued”. More about being “not seen” rather than “not paid”.

For 40 years I’ve driven myself to make stuff happen, usually stuff which didn’t exist before. Lost in the mists of time are my involvement in creating the environment/spark which enables stuff to move forward in new ways – whether a new building, a new way of working with audiences, a new festival or the validation of an artform.  I’m at the time of my life where I am watching my old school-mates retire. Those who went into the city and hung up their ballet shoes or their hard-hats from the school theatre, are now banking their retirement as they sell their companies for, in some cases, millions. Now they can get back to doing a bit of theatre on the side. I didn’t take that path.

I went off and became a tea-boy, ran a theatre company, and took a crazy idea to the Arts Council who told me I was mad. [PS the idea is still valid and still in my head and still never been done, but it has shaped much of what I have done over my life]. Those who chose to join me on the theatre path have stayed on their upward trajectory rather than skipping around inventing new things. They now run the West End or are retiring from the very top jobs in theatre. I’ve chosen to stay in/on the fringes making small stuff happen which felt needed. Less pressure, more joy, but less recognition and money in the bank.

Now at 60 I’m a bit tired, moved to a new Country where I am not known, stopped teaching on a high visibility course, and spend a lot of time trying to get key gatekeepers to make decisions on ideas which I have bubbled and presented to them. One “yes” phone call will move me from tired to inspired, but all this solo pitching, waiting, and being unseen is hard.

My guide this morning asked me to explore back to when I first felt “not seen”. My immediate image was of two empty seats in a full house at the start of the 2nd half of Dr Faustus which I was company managing with a cast of 100+ at my school. I was 15. My mother and step-father had come to see the show, got bored, and left at the interval. I saw it in my mind this morning and got angry because I wanted them to be proud of me, to be seen, to be recognised for 8 weeks of work culminating in a stunning (in my eyes), dangerous (only ghost I’ve ever encountered) production of Marlowe’s amazing play.  

Now I wasn’t playing Faustus or Mephistopheles or the wonderous Helen of Troy. I wasn’t seeking validation through applause from an audience. In fact that is always something I shy away from. I am not a performer or showman. I am a shy creator of ideas, projects, and opportunities. Yes I can stand up and teach. I can make curtain speeches to 900 people asking for money for a theatre. But I don’t attract applause.  But when the right people notice that is very important to my wellbeing.

This is not a misery-blog, Far from it. It is a revelatory one to me. I know I have to balance the on-line presence which makes people say “wow you are so busy” with the reality that I have many irons in the fire, and at the moment it is mainly awaiting gatekeepers to turn it into paid employment.  In moving to Edinburgh I knew it was going to take time to re-group as a freelancer. Yes I am very busy through to August with planning 3 chinese delegations, working for a few days for the International Festival, and completing a major project for Stagescripts. But my dance-card is ready for your approaches from September.

So I was asked to write about the “phases of being seen” and this slight splurge of thoughts seeks to touch on 2-3 areas. The need for face-to-face acknowledgement and validation to help me know that I am seen, by the right people.  The need to find ways in my own control to be visible – such as my blogs and doing networking. The requirement to identify what I need – to be seen, not just paid.  And then to find ways in networking events and social settings to be slightly more visible by my own actions – not least so that people know that I do need, as a freelancer, to work until…well until I get my state pension.

19 years ago I met an amazing woman on a blind-date. She reflected on that when we were in Australia and how she nearly left me very early on. She was horrified when I challenged whether anything that happened in my very happy childhood had any effect on my current life.  She hung-on-in-there.  My work as a coach and support for so many extraordinary explorers of personal growth have made me aware that, yes, young Master Grady needs attention/care from his older self. I am fascinated to be reading “Waking The Tiger” by Peter Levine…and to be blessed to be having deep emotional conversations with my own mentor by skype and in person, helping to check-in on my child within.  He is hiding in plain sight…I’ve just not noticed him enough…until now.