I spotted this on twitter a few days ago before and thought I’d spend some time putting my thoughts about this years fringe when I got home.
Presently I’m sitting in Bar 50 at Smart City Hostel which up until yesterday had been a PBH free fringe venue. My shows have finished and I’ll be heading back to Manchester tomorrow. Tonight I have to retrieve my car from where it’s been parked for the month, and I’ll then go and meet some people for a drink. I’ve already said goodbye to few people in case I don’t bump into them later.
The reason I mention Bar 50 is because the last time I used the wi-fi in here it was upload all the photos to the Cockgate gallery after my website ran out of bandwidth for photo downloads. Since hastily creating that page it went viral within hours and clocked up over 10,000 hits in the first week. Cockgate and my part in it is most likely going to be a piece on its own later in the week when the dust settles. Tonight I’m going to try to catch the last Kunt and the Gang show at the Hive.
Anyway in no particular order are some thoughts about Fringe 2011.
I’ve really enjoyed myself mainly because I woke up every morning and thought “ooh I get to do my show again”, which is a nice feeling. Other years when I’ve done a solo show on my own I’ve never enjoyed it that much my thoughts in the morning have been “oh shit, I’ve got to do my show again.” As successful as the Butterfly Effect show was I did used to get to the end of it everyday and would quietly think to myself that it actually hadn’t been worth all the hard work writing in. I started the Butterfly show in September 2005 and wrote right up to August 2006. In 2006 I was lucky enough to have an early enough slot to not have a vast numbers of drunks randomly walk in my show and causing trouble. There was the one bloke who came in a threw a paid or wet underpants around, but in a show about chaos theory it seemed to fit nicely in.
I didn’t have that problem this year. I acquired myself a stage manager (Laura) a few days before I started the show and it made all the world of difference. During the show I wasn’t worried about people walking in part way through ruining the atmosphere and causing disruption. I knew I had someone on the door to tell them they couldn’t come in – makes all the difference to you while you’re on stage. She also made sure the audience sat in the right place and could see a video screen. Plus I was in a better room for comedy than 2006. One without a ladies toilet in the corner of the room or a kitchen.
The Three Sisters Meeting room.
Before you spend a year of your life waiting for the fringe and working hard on putting a show together, make sure you have a decent room to perform it in. The Meeting Room at the Three Sisters was well there isn’t anyway to put this nicely or tactfully, it was just shit. All due respect to Alex Petty who again this year did a brilliant job of everything this room should be sealed up never be used for anything every again. It’s too small, it’s badly laid out, it’s too hot, it’s badly decorated, everyone who performed in it said they felt like they should have presented sales figures as opposed to doing a show. That is of course when they had shows, because it wasn’t the easiest room to find and the staff at the Three Sisters were not particularly helpful. It’s a difficult situation in previous years the venue has been all right. This year before the fringe it’s management changed round and the company now running it are aware they have an increase in sales during August they just didn’t know that they had to do some work to make those sales. They also didn’t do much in the way of performer discounts on drinks such as tea and coffee, which quite frankly is a piss take. The shows in there have spent good money advertising their venue, spend a great deal of the day trying to get people to come to it and then working very hard in their to put on a show.
The bouncers weren’t the warmest of souls either, searching through bags before allowing people in an confiscating bottles of water doesn’t put potential audience members in the greatest of moods.
Point being that free venues are not always ideal, so be careful in choosing a room, and accept that there are going to be drawbacks over the paid venues.
They all operate with temporary staff recruited from universities and they’re only as good as the training they given them so the quality can vary drastically. Some venues don’t even both the training by all accounts. This year someone with a show at Just the Tonic told me the front of house staff neglected to announce shows starting so they had pissed off ticket holders walking in 15 minutes after start time. A reviewer told me at C-Venues she handed a ticket over to staff, who duly tore it in half and then lead her to the wrong show, at the Gilded Balloon one night I was refused entry into a show I was supposed to be performing in because I didn’t have a ticket. Assembly shows at George Square had massive sounds pollution problems as some rooms were just too close to each other. Two years ago Mick Ferry famously had to cope with the Chippendales in the room next door to him at the Gilded Balloon, and everyone in the underbelly complains of props becoming damp. There is no ideal venue space in Edinburgh.
This year I went over to the Jekyll and Hyde one night to do a show called Car Crash Comedy. A stand up show where comics have to improvise material based on the subject they are given when they get on the stage. It’s a nice idea for a show, I like the people involved in running it. Didn’t like the gig. Not because I died on my arse, I was fully expecting that when I walked through the door that was why I went. The problem is shows like this need a comedy savvy audience that like stand up and like to see comics getting challenged. Free shows that market themselves just on the phrase “free comedy” don’t always generate the right kind of audience. Firstly they have a tendency to attract the kind of audience that will happily walk into something part way through and then demand to be the centre of attention. The also have a huge curiosity value to people who don’t speak English as a first language not helpful for stand up.
I don’t think concept shows like Car Crash and Shaggers (a stand up show where comics are supposed to do shagging stories and filth) work as well in free shows as they do in paid venues. The audience for these shows needs to know what they’re watching. After pretty much falling flat at a gig in Shaggers this year someone in the crowd came up to me and said they thought I was funny but in their opinion I should vary my material a bit and not just talk about sex. They didn’t seem to be aware that the show was called “Shaggers”.
I’m not just having a pop at the people who write “Three Weeks” if you’re not paying the people who write your publication you’re never going to get people who are great at it. My main issue with critics this years has been the lack of discretion and unprofessionalism on their part. A review for the Comedy Picnic said they didn’t like Toby Adams. Which was interesting because Toby Adams wasn’t in the show, they also mentioned we had a shaky start to the show. The shaky start was the sound microphone dying completely and everyone having to do the show shouting. I think it would have been only fair to have mentioned that was the problem. Fair enough review the show you saw but no one goes up there to put on a bad show and deliberately setting out to make a name for yourself by having a pop at people working very hard is a grade A bell ends trick.
It wasn’t things like this that annoyed me though. I’ve always thought that reviewers were supposed to be discreet when they watched shows, not sit right at the front with a lanyard round the neck and a notepad as someone did in Him and Me TV’s show, or come up to you before the show and tell you they were there to review show but the rooms to hot and that they’re not going to stay (Gill Smith’s show at the Three Sisters), arrive ten minutes late missing the beginning of the show (George Innes Fire and the Rose), walk out of the room in full view of the performer shaking your head (Damian Larkin’s show), write that everyone in the room was uncomfortable without checking with anyone else in the room first (Eric Mutch’s show) and countless other stories I heard this year.
Don’t read them. The fringe is a marathon not a sprint you have to pace yourself. If you get bogged down reading reviews for your own show you’re going to lose all perspective. Don’t read anyone else’s either. I specifically asked every in my flat not to mention to me if I had any reviews. I found out about a 4 star one from the British Comedy Guide by accident, I also know there’s a 3 weeks one somewhere. At this point I still haven’t read them, and I’ll be honest I’m not sure I’m going to bother reading them at all. Get someone you trust to read them for you and pull out anything you can quote.
From previous experience I noticed in 2005 and 2006 when we put 4 star stickers our posters that the shows actually became harder. I think they raise the audience’s expectation levels and they become a tougher crowd.
Not a big fan of just thrusting a flyer in front of someone and yelling “free comedy”, if you’re doing a stand up compilation show with a revolving line up, or all your after is some stage time in front of some people who aren’t that arsed fair enough. If you want to build a career for yourself and pick up twitter followers or Facebook friends then the crowd really do need to know who you are and what the show is before they come in. That takes some real skill and dare I say it a show that is actually worth watching.
Name that show.
More than ever I’m convinced that you need a good name for your show. Sometimes if you’re flyering in a busy area like the royal mile, you only get to say three words to a potential audience member before they’ve walked past, so you need to get your show across in as few words as possible.
Other times you’re not even going to get to speak to potential audience members, they’ll make their mind up based on the fact they’ve got an hour and bit between other shows and stand outside your venue looking at the board with all the show times on it. Sometimes only minutes before your start time when you’re desperately trying to set up for your show so pick a descriptive name and have a quick sales pitch.
Good examples of titles that tell you all you need to know about a show“Jocks and Geordies”, “Free Jewish Comedy”, “Kunt and the Gang”, “Laughing Penguin Comedy Showcase” and “Laughing Horse Pick of the Fringe”.
Believe it or not and some people don’t the majority of the audiences at the fringe are Scottish. John Fleming found some survey to prove it a while back. I actually didn’t need to be told as someone who regularly comperes gigs at the fringe I usually ask for a quick cheer from the Scots and the English just to get to know the crowd quicker. Most of the time most of them are from Scotland.
Why am I mentioning this? Mainly just to point out that daytime shows on Mondays to Thursdays are quiet. Business picks up Friday to Sunday but you might need some extra help in getting a crowd in on those days.
Also because some people have some unrealistic expectations about whose in fringe crowds. Years ago there might have been producers scouting new talent, or agents looking for new acts. Now the it’s a completely different marketplace. Acts pursue agents so they’re not looking seriously for some undiscovered genius. As for the TV producers, last year I had a brief chat with one I met socially and because I was a nosey git I sneaked a look at their schedule of shows to watch. I can’t remember the exact names on the list all I remember was noticing each one of them was already on TV in one thing or another.
Don’t be a knob.
It’s surprising who you can bump into whilst you are out flyering. This nice lady offered me a flyer, which I may or may not have graciously declined I’m not sure. The point being we started chatting and during the course of conversation it came up that Louise plays one of the “Weeping Angels” in Doctor Who. I’m not really a “Who” fan but I know plenty that are, and I thought they would it interesting that I’d met someone in the show. Which is where the twitter conversations and plugs for the show Louise was in “The Curse of Misfortune” started . Now maybe some of that word spreading got some people into the show and maybe it didn’t. It wouldn’t have done any harm though particularly as Toby has over 3000 followers a large portion of them “Who” fans. The point being if Louise had jumped out in front of me to stop me from walking past, or been mouthy when I’d declined to take a flyer it wouldn’t have been long before the words “fuck” and “off” had come into use. Instead because she was perfectly polite, friendly and charming and it helped a lot more than behaving like a total knob. Ashley Frieze’s how to flyer piece is a good read if you want some pointers.
My god that place stinks.
If I think of any thing else I’ll let you know.