Doug Segal – Debrief Edinburgh Fringe 2011

This was Doug‘s first Fringe festival and he walked away from it with a load of decent reviews.

What are you overall feelings about the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe Festival?

It was my first year so I had no idea what to expect. I’ve not even attended as a punter before. I was shocked by several things: How much of a leveller it is – Although it’s true that the big acts have marketing budgets & a cadre of people helping them I was pleasantly surprised to find that if you have a decent show, work hard and just plain old ask people you can achieve incredible things.

I was also shocked by how many shows appear to be written on the train on the way up. It’s so expensive to take a show there why would you go without having it properly nailed down? I’d performed my show over 30 times in the preceding nine months before I arrived in Edinburgh.

How well do you think your show went?

Again I have nothing to judge it against as I’ve not been before but I was astonished by how well it went.

I had a 10 day run at a 50 seater Free Festival venue which I ticketed and worked my ass off promoting on the run up to the Fringe.

As a result, on the day I arrived, I had “presold” (to get a ticket for a ticketed free show you have to either queue at the Fringe box office or enter all your details on the Fringe website. In either instance you still have to pay £0.90 “booking fee” per ticket) 50% of the tickets across the run and both my first and last night were already sold out.

Ticketing was definitely a good idea but created it’s own problems – we had to make sure everyone that bought a ticket got a seat so there was a complicated dance each night where we had to make everyone else queue until 5 mins before show time while we waited for the pre-booked ticket people to arrive – or not. What I actually found was that around 70% of the pre-booked tickets turned up in time every night though it’s possible the missing 30% may have turned up after we opened the doors to everyone else.

I actually ended up stuffing over 120 people into that room every single night (on the last night the queue for “returns” stretched down the stairs and across The Three Sisters courtyard. Someone captured half the queue on video for me but couldn’t get out the door to video the alfresco bit – the people coming up the stairs on the left are ticket holders, the people on the right are just hopeful)

I picked up ten four & five-star reviews and towards the end of the run was getting interest from the “big papers” – The Edinburgh Evening news gave me four stars and a huge photo across the centre spread and I was on page 3 of The Herald. I know the Scotsman wanted to cover me as but were unable to get a journo to add me to their preselected schedules in time (I know ‘cos one of the guys they emailed to ask cover me told me) and The Sunday Telegraph emailed me after I’d left to say they’d wanted to see the show but had realised too late I was gone.

I even had the “big meeting” everyone hopes to have but I’m not currently able to talk about.

What did you think you learnt from the experience?

That having a decent show is critical but really just the hygiene factor. Once you show is decent then you can start doing the actual work. For me it was a four stage process in this order:

Get a decent show. Build an audience so you can deliver a decent performance. Get the reviewers in. Get the “industry” in.

The last three stages are the point at which the job actually starts not getting a decent show – that’s just the basic expectation surely?

What would you differently next time?

Do the whole festival!  I can’t believe how stupid I was to only do a short run. I feel like I left just as I was getting started. It keeps me awake at night wondering how much more I could have achieved if I’d kept that momentum going.

What was your biggest challenge this year?

The venue. The day I arrived the “PA” consisted of a single powered speaker “conveniently” situated behind the stage – have these people never heard of feedback? – and a “mixer” with only one mic input. What exactly is that “mixing”? I need two mics to perform my show – That can’t be that unusual surely?

Someone kept removing and hiding the light bulbs from the ceiling (there was no stage lighting in the room) every day for the first 5 days so most of my 15 min turn around time was taking up in just getting the room into a state I could set my show up in and perform it – Which is a bugger because it take me a minimum of 20 mins to set my show up! I ended up hiring a tech and arriving an hour early to each show so I could do some of the setting up “backstage” during the preceding show.

It did get better but they refused to close the bar (which ran the full length of my room) during the show and refused to turn down the enormous speaker in the courtyard directly under the window to my room so during the weekend shows I had “musical accompaniment” during the show. That said they were lovely people I just don’t think they really appreciated what it was the shows were doing. But at least 50% of my energy during any given show was directed at overcoming the unnecessary problems my room created.

What mistakes do you think you made?

Well clearly not doing a full run but also not being more careful about which showcases I booked myself into. One, which will remain nameless, was in hindsight so clearly the wrong venue for my act and it was the worst performance I’ve done in the last five years – To put in context the sort of venue it was at the point I left the act on stage was telling a heckler in graphic detail about how he’d “fucked his mum” while the heckler threatened to slit the comedians throat after the gig.

I also wish I’d seen more shows but that again is a consequence of not being there long enough.

Talk us through some of your favourite moments?

As a total comic book fan boy, Neil Gaiman coming to the show, hanging around for an hour afterwards then  tweeting how much he liked it pretty much made my year.

Finding myself number one on (I didn’t leave the top ten until a week after my last show) on my poor, long suffering, girlfriend’s birthday was pretty good.

Flyering the queue at the Box Office and everyday hearing someone shout out “I saw that show last night! It’s brilliant! Go see it!”

Finding out that Three Weeks had sent a reviewer but he couldn’t get into the room because it was so full.

I also loved the moment when the lovely Bernard O’Leary Comedy Editor of The Skinny leaned over to me when we were drinking in The Caves at 1am in the morning and said  ‘You and I will have to have words’. I replied ‘Why? What have I done?” and Bernard said ‘WELL, far too well….. Don’t you know you people come here to die on their asses? You’ve done it all wrong’

What were your thoughts on cockgate?

I thought a number of conflicting things:

Brilliant bit of guerrilla marketing.

Very, very funny.

If I’m completely honest with myself I’m not sure I’d have found it as funny if it was my money that had been on a very expensive 4 sheet which was now just mocking me.

One or two promoters seemed a bit heavy handed in their response.

The funniest gag at the fringe wasn’t the one about Snow White & the Dwarves, it was the guy from Edinburgh Council claiming he’d “had to pull off over 100 cocks this morning”

Anything else that you think you might want to say.

Something I was really overwhelmed with was what a fantastic opportunity the Fringe is to meet and make friends with extraordinary people. As a result I am putting in a mini season of breakthrough shows that did really well at this years Fringe at The Etcetera Theatre London 11th – 16th Oct.

The shows are mine, Mace & Burton’s Rom Com Con and Casual Violence’s Choose Death.

Full details are on this website:   do come!

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