After my piece on flyering, I thought I’d share some flyering stories – where it all went differently to the rosy picture I painted.
Here are three simple sorry tales.
So I’m stalking this woman… except, I’m not. I’d been trying to give out my last flyer of the day before going to the venue to get ready to perform. I offered a flyer to a particular woman and she said no, possibly a little ungraciously, and I said fair enough, put it away and finished my flyering for the day. However, I also needed to go to the venue.
It turned out that the venue was in the same direction as this woman was travelling, so I ended up walking with her. I was trying to avoid acting like I was chasing her down to give her a flyer, so I tried to make conversation as I ambled along. I probably said something like – “Are you seeing much of the Fringe?”. She bristled at me and so I tried another tactic. I must have said something like – “Hooh yeah, it sure is busy.”
What followed was quite unpleasant. As I remember it, this late midde-aged, thin and wiry woman stopped, turned around, and let go. There was a lot of pointing, a lot of accusation, a lot of implication that the likes of us (the performers) were a nuisance and unwelcome in her city, and had been unwelcome for 20 years. In short, I was told off, on behalf of everyone ever, while standing shocked on Cowgate.
I let her walk away. I felt I’d probably provoked the reaction, even though I was being cheerful, rather than pushy. I’d invaded her space. I also thought she should, perhaps, get over herself. That said, I carried her unkindness on my shoulders for the next couple of hours, maybe escaping it only while on stage and engaged with the serious business of being funny.
There are lessons to learn here. Leave sour and dour scottish women alone, and perhaps don’t assume everyone’s happy to be a part of the festival by default. On the flip side, if you are a dour miserable old battleaxe, perhaps sod off and leave Edinburgh to us for a few days?
She got quite emotional. I’m not usually empathetic, but when you’ve had the flyering backfire, I guess you know what someone’s going through when it happens to them. The sort of people who get paid purely to flyer are often young cheerful women who can be unrelentingly pleasant and enthusiastic to strangers while handing them printed sheets of card.
One particular girl – I’ll call her Julia – had been flyering alongside me for a few days and we were on speaking and smiling terms. Support your fellow flyerers – it helps everyone. Anyway, I happened to witness someone in a queue turn on young Julia and brush her off in the same way you might handle, say, a vicious wasp. It wasn’t physical, but it was uncalled for and unpleasant. At the end of the day, most people would respond to “no thank you” as a first response.
I saw the signs. Julia was crestfallen. In fact, I think her crest pretty much evaporated. I suggested she step away from the queue for a minute. No. I wasn’t doing that to get the flyering advantage. I also wasn’t doing it to take advantage in any other way. I spotted that she was at breaking point.
Perhaps J.K.Rowling’s “dementors” do to wizards what a massive brush off (after many brush offs) does to a flyerer. All the joy gets sucked out of you and you feel 9cm tall. Julia may have shed a few tears, I may have told her some stupid jokes and said things equivalent to get back on the horse and drink your milk or somesuch.
A couple of minutes later, we were back there handing out the A6 colourful cards. There’s no rest for the wicked.
I get so emotional baby. I am a rock. I’m basically an island. And an island never cries. However, the Edinburgh experience judders away at your emotions, especially if you’re doing it in earnest. On top of that, I’m shit when it comes to receiving praise. I used to argue against it, trying to minimise it and make it seem less of a big deal. I realised after a while that that only made the praiser more forceful, so I learned to just say a genuine thanks and, with that word, kind of slide the praise into the right place in my head – that place marked “things I’ve heard and replied to and need never think of again”.
I was standing on the Royal Mile, flyering for someone else’s show. I was being nice. I was telling people to wander down the road a bit and just go and see this musical story, or whatever it was, and someone came up to me. He had seen my own show – The Musical! – something I’d put my heart and soul into putting on with a friend. He was also an American, and they’re quite hot on being emotional.
He said – “I just want you to know we saw your show and we loved it. It’s the best thing we’ve seen at the Fringe.” – and then he walked away. I didn’t get to say anything back. My first response would have been – “Wow, you’re easily pleased” or maybe “Ah… didn’t you get to see much?”, but I was denied any response.
I’ll be blunt with you. The inability to shrug off what had been a genuine compliment left me standing on a street corner on the brink of tears. Luckily, flyering is such a soulless job, that I could throw myself back into it, forget my feelings and try to avoid giving paper cuts to strangers for a few more minutes.
Final thought: When you’re out there meeting random people, trying to sell a show, you’re going to have a lot of short social situations. The human animal isn’t generally accustomed to this, and it can mess with your feelings. At the very least, it can mess with your voicebox. My advice – Keep Calm and Carry On.
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