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

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