Yesterday was my first full day at the 2016 Edinburgh Festival Fringe – the largest networking, drinking and arts event in the world. I began with my first set of Surgeries – a chance to meet creative producers and artists who have shows here at the festival, which I may never see. We explore how they might move their work forward, or their career. It is always a delight, and yesterday was no exception.
Explorations of Fiji and the Pacific Islands, contemporary dance, missions and visions for a UK production company with a winning formula, close-up magic, queer trans* culture and comedy, all female shakespeare, hypnotism, and refugee stories from dark to light. Quite a day with immense variations in goals and ambitions. What came through as a series of common themes is the need to be able to clarly enunciate your work in a way which makes the right people excited to be talking with you. To know that the right people are out there, we just have to find them. Trying to reaching everyone can result in selling to no-one. And the special thing about festivals – every hour/day you don’t do something which could help your show is a day you will never get back, and a wasted series of empty seats or missed connections. You cannot take the foot off the gas for a moment. And if you need a break, then find someone else to put their foot on the gas.
My perennial bugbear was highlighted in the surgeries and again when I went to see two shows back to back last night. I have chosen to come to see your work because I want to support you, or have a good time, or review it. I would like one extra thing from you, the company. I am also happy to be asked for one extra thing by you. And they are both about making a connection between the performer and the audience.
Firstly PLEASE offer me a programme. When I have cheered 11 amazing actor-musicians strutting their stuff in a show, I want to know their names. I want to know who wrote the show, maybe who designed it, and who the producer or director was. An A6 piece of paper is fine – but most of the audience will have no idea who was behind Paper Hearts at Underbelly – and maybe we want to cheer a particular person as we help you with our word of mouth. [OK I have given a link here, so you can find out for yourself, but I don’t carry the link in my bag, and I might carry the programme for a few days]
Secondly surely you would like to know who comes to your show. I would be very happy to be invited to be on a mailing list, or help you the producer/performer/writer, know a little more about your audience. Over 3 weeks a free fringe show may play to 1500+ people popping money anonymously into a bucket to help your beer intake. But many of us could offer you some additional rich information. Where do we come from (city/town/county, country)? So you can see pockets of audience who might help you if you toured to their area. Why did we come ? Was it the poster, the flyer, word of mouth, or a specific interest in the artform/work/artist. And what did we think of the show ? Maybe it would help to have some quotes from audience to supplement (or replace) the reviews from bloggers and press.
We are at the end of Week One of the Festival as I type this – that still means for most shows there are 12-14 more shows, more audience, more useful information to gleen, and more people to take away the programme and tell their friends. Don’t waste a moment.
So finally – thank you to Tania Azevedo for directing “Paper Hearts” at Underbelly, which I believe was the world premiere of a new piece by a writer/producer. I don’t have their name, or the cast names – but I spotted some familiar faces from Mountview recent graduates. It was masterfully directed on a postage stamp sized stage. If anyone needs a director for the safe movement of traffic on a busy intersection, Tania is the go too director. But seriously it was a joyful, light but heartfelt love story, with enough grit to make us care for the characters. A double story in the City of Angels realm – bookshop writer and the characters in his emerging novel share the stage and offer us two parallel stories of despair and eventual resolution. Well sung, although suffering from odd sound design choices, and with a fine array of musicianship from the whole company. I sense that it has a life for future productions…hopefully on a slightly bigger stage. Congratulations. The company deserved the standing ovation, whoops and cheers from a warm and welcoming full-house.
This afternoon I am doing a Panel discussion with some fellow producers and directors as part of the Fringe Central’s support, training, and survival programme for artists. And then on Monday I do the same for the artists and companies of Space venues. These sessions tend to gather some of the companies who are having a tough time. The Fringe is so large, so explosive, and can be so brutal for a fragile artist with work in progress. When you are playing to small houses, and no reviewers have yet commented on your show, and there is noise bleed from the nearby bar, and everyone else seems to be having a good time – then it can be soul destroying. But if you have created your best work, and the few people who are seeing it are giving you honest and good feedback, then you have to perservere. There is a right audience out there for you, and you have no idea when the most useful person for your career and future will find a moment to see the show. Have faith. Stay true to your best work, and reach out to the audience across the City. Similarly if it is not your best work – don’t bring it to Edinburgh, make it better and bring it next year.
Now off to see some more shows.