Bob’s Bookshop was a pop-up venue that appeared in an empty shop unit at the 2013 Fringe. The retail business previously in there closed down at the end of June and Bob Slayer was able to rent the premises for one month and use it as a venue – much to the annoyance of the neighbours. He was also using the basement as his own personal living quarters. As new tenants will probably take over the unit before the next Fringe it’s unlikely to return again in the same location.
Bob’s Bookshop was one of the most successful pop-up venues I’ve seen. Located on South College Street – a popular walking route between the Pleasance and Gilded Balloon – the curiosity value of the space, it’s prime location and programming choice were the key to it’s success. One show in particular made the venue more conspicuous, ‘The Half Naked Chef’ – dressed only in y-fronts, chef’s hat and apron – incorporated activity on the street into his show. Audience seating had been repositioned so as they looked out on to the street and he would frequently leave the stage area to grab passers-by and involve them in the show – whether they wanted to or not. Walking past in the evening you would quite often see; home-made sold notices attached to vans parked on the street, melons speared on railings, chairs from the venue in the gutter labelled “the naughty seats” and the chef on his hands and knees in the street smashing an onion with a hammer. You’d also hear a large amount of laughter going on inside the bookshop.
PAY WHAT YOU WANT
A separate venture from the Free Festival, shows in Bob’s Bookshop and The Hive re-branded themselves as ‘Pay-What-You-Want’ rather than free and offered tickets for sale in advance for £5 to guarantee entry into shows. There was also a collection bucket at the end for those that hadn’t bought tickets. This business model proved successful for bigger name acts who had previously been uncomfortable with the idea of doing a free show and then asking for a contribution at the end.
For performers with an established Fringe reputation, such as, Ivan Brackenberry and Phil Kay it’s understandable why they’re attracted to the system, it gives them a lump-sum payout from the Fringe office in late September, as well as giving them cash each day during the festival. It also distances them from the Free shows which are routinely criticised for not exercising quality control on their shows.
The downside to PWYW venues at the moment is that there is a limited number of venues available, and in the case of Bob’s Bookshop, a limited technical set-up with a small stage area.
Still in it’s infancy PWYW will be an interesting one to watch. It’s worth noting that previous ventures, such as, the ‘Five Pound Fringe’ have only lasted a couple of years before their operators have deemed them to not be financially viable.