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Taking a Show to the Edinburgh Fringe

Taking a Show to the Edinburgh Fringe

Highly recommended reading: the official Fringe guide to doing a show.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest performing arts festival in the world. It happens for three weeks or so every August, with 3,000+ shows put on across nearly 300 venues in Scotland’s capital. Thinking of staging a spoken word or poetry show yourself? Before getting into the how of putting a show on at the Fringe, it’s worth asking yourself two questions: am I ready to put on a show, and why am I putting on a show?

Am I ready to take a show to the Fringe?
The Fringe is incredible in that it is open access: there are no restrictions or entrance requirements about who can perform. As long as you can find a venue willing to put you on, you can perform your show. You’ll be in a programme with some of the best and most successful performing artists in the world. You’ll also go to shows and see things that are of a low quality, which is clearly a category you do not want to fall into. For this reason it is extra important to ask yourself if you’re ready – artistically, mentally, and financially.

It’s hard to describe what the Fringe is like, especially for a performer. If you’ve never been as a spectator, it might be worth going up and experiencing it before taking your own show up. If you decide that you’re not ready, then perhaps visit the Fringe as a punter – you can see shows and scout out venues; perform at open mics, slams and in other people’s shows; network and drink with other poets and promoters; and just have fun without the pressures of trying to make successful something you may not be ready for.

That said, you can always argue that you’ll never be ready – at some point, you have to go for it, and doing the Fringe may well help you develop your creative practice. The key is to make an honest assessment of yourself as an artist and the work you hope to put on before deciding to Fringe or not to Fringe.

Why would I take a show to the Fringe?
The second question is about your motivations for taking a show to the Fringe. It’s important to decide why you are doing the Fringe and what you want to get out of it to make it a success for you.

There are plenty of good reasons to take a show up to the Fringe:
•    Artistically: as an aim for the year and to force yourself to create new writing by a 
     specific date.       
•    To develop yourself as an artist by trying something away from single poems or 10
      minute sets, and to develop your writing and performance skills.
•    To put your name out there – to the spoken word scene and wider arts industry.
•    To get reviews from more well-known or mainstream press.
•    As a way to try to tour a show by getting promoters to see it, or as part of an existing
     tour.
•    For networking and making contacts in spoken word and the performing arts.
•    To see other shows and performers, and learn from those.
•    For the social aspect – it’s lots of fun!

There are also a few not-so-good reasons to take a show up to the Fringe:
•    To get famous / discovered – this will almost certainly not happen.
•    To make money – many shows lose money, and even the free versions of the Fringe
     have associated costs.
•    To turn “professional” – a successful show will not necessarily mean you’ll be able to
     leave your day job (though it might help).

Ask yourself what a successful Fringe would be for you: a good review in a national paper? Being seen by people who book performers for gigs? Breaking even financially?

Applying to the Fringe
You’ve decided to take a show to the Fringe! Awesome. How does that work? Well, the most comprehensive guide to doing a show is on the Fringe site itself so start there.

An important aspect of the Fringe to understand is that it is made up of lots of organisations that each control and programme the venues they run. Most likely, you will apply to be part of that organisation’s programme at the Fringe. These organisations, including the free Fringes, tend to put minimum quality standards in place to ensure that they have a high quality programme. Have a look at Zoo Venues as an example of paid venues, and PBH Free Fringe for an example of free venues.

Briefly, you’ll need the following things to start applying to an organisation:
•    A show (or, at least, to be working towards one that will be ready in August):
             o    Spoken word shows take many forms – an extended set of poems and links
                   from one or more performers; a more-theatrical spoken word monologue or
                   group piece; a mixed bill or slam event.
             o    A title (or a working title).
             o    A blurb / description – broadly what sort of show is it, how many people, major
                   themes, is it funny / sad / silly / geeky / etc?
•    An idea about length of run – how long can you go to Edinburgh for, thinking about work
     and other commitments in August, as well as financially.
•    An idea of what venue and time of day you’d like to perform.

Once you have these, go to the relevant organisation’s website, find their application page / form, and follow its instructions. Ideally, you’ll also have these things for yourself:

•    A budget: work out if you can afford it, especially the paid Fringe. Ideally, you’ll make a
     rough budget with what it will cost and what you might make in best and worst case
     scenarios.
•    A commitment to do it – once you’ve made an agreement with an organisation, it’s a
     contract: you are committing to putting on that show.
•    A plan from here to August to make the show happen.


Paid Fringe v Free Fringe

As mentioned, there are lots of organisations who programme the venues at the Fringe. These broadly fall into two camps: the paid Fringe and the free Fringe. Who you apply to is one of the first decisions to make about your show, and you should put a bit of time into looking at your options.

The main difference between Paid and Free is financial. With the free Fringe organisations, you get a free venue and raise money by passing a bucket round at the end of the show. With the paid Fringe organisations, you enter into a financial deal with a venue; an arrangement which, broadly speaking, will fall into one of two categories.

Many of the paid venues operate on the basis of a flat hire-charge: you pay a fixed fee for your slot, and whatever your show makes at the box-office is yours. The ‘big four’ paid venues (Underbelly, Pleasance, Gilded Balloon, Assembly Rooms), along with C-Venues and Zoo Venues, do things slightly differently. They ask for a 40% guarantee of 40% ticket sales. Here’s an example of how this might work, based on Underbelly’s rates: if your average ticket price was £9 and you were performing in a 100-capacity space for 24 days (Underbelly’s run is 25 days, so that’s allowing for a day off), then your maximum box-office gross would be £21,600. Based on a box-office split to Underbelly of 40%, their fee would therefore be £8,640. They would then ask you to guarantee 40% of that figure (i.e: that you would sell at least 40% of your capacity) which would mean a guarantee to them of £3,456.

In addition, the Fringe central box office will take 4% commission on sales, and you may have to pay a technician. You may also want to spend more on marketing to try to cover the organisation fee.

Below is a rough guide to the differences between paid and free, though there are exceptions to both:
   
Paid  |  Free

Performance space / venue   
Shows happen in a professional black box / theatre / neutral space.   
Shows happen in pubs, bars, clubs, cafés.

Tech   
Professional lighting & sound rig (you’ll need a technician to operate these).   
Possibly a PA system and sound board, basic lighting a bonus (techie not necessary / friend).


Outside soundbleed & interruptions   
Probably not – generally quiet spaces.    
Possible – room is part of a working venue.


Box Office   
Ticket system with front of house staff. 
  
Generally non-ticketed, walk-up shows and bucket to raise money.


Length of show   
Average 60 mins max, but negotiable. (A longer show may incur higher charges.)   
60 mins max (less negotiable).

Marketing   
In organisation’s brochure (possibly an additional cost).   
In organisation’s brochure (usually free).

Cost   
Flat hire-charge; or box-office split with guarantee.   
Free, all profits go to performer.



Making the Show

Naturally, all shows are different and will be based on your vision for them. This is a basic guide to making a show for the Fringe:

Write it!

•    First draft: ideally over Christmas and New Year.
•    Scratch: January–June and after perhaps (can do just smaller pieces of the show, and
     individual poems at open mic too!).
•    Rewrites: till July.
Scratch it!
•    Scratch means testing material and technical elements with audience feedback.
•    Where?
•    Organisations who do scratch (might be some level of working with “established” artists
     or an application as v. popular): BAC, Pleasance, Southbank, Spread the Word etc.
•    More open scratch events: Hackney Attic, Brockley Jack
•    Do it yourself: partner up with other Fringe shows or performers and book a venue i.e.
     Poetry Café, Free Word, front room.
Learn it!
•    Before the Fringe ideally, so…
Preview it (ie. you feel the show is ready to a professional standard)!
•    In your hometown / place you have reputation.
•    Partner up and do a double-header.
•    First day or two of your run at the Fringe can be previews too (this is a good idea to
     make sure technical elements all work, iron out last creases).
Finalise it!    
•    Especially technical elements (light and sound, props, costume changes etc).

Marketing the Show
You have an excellent show, now you need people to see it instead of any of the 3,000 other ones. Marketing will be the thing you spend most of your time doing in Edinburgh, and plenty of time beforehand too. These are the areas to market in:

Print:
Big Brochure: the guide that lists (almost) everything on at the Fringe. It’s not necessary to be in this programme (though paid venues will make it part of your contract) but it is the first stop for many audience members at the Fringe. To list your show will cost you nearly £300 (if more than 6 performances).

For this you get 40 words including title,  a small square image, a listing of the producer / Fringe organisation, venue, dates, times, length, age group tickets, link and phone number to buy tickets. You’ll pick a Category (probably Spoken Word) and two Genres (ie. sub-category). Eg. poetry, storytelling, cabaret, comedy, satire, true-life, theatre, political, music, hip hop, variety, LGBT, science and rationalism, historical, solo show, new writing, etc. You also get access to Fringe Central in Edinburgh (a place to hang out, do photocopying, attend official events and workshops etc).

Organisation brochure: paid and free fringe organisations often have their own mini-brochures, which you’ll send similar information to.

Flyer: to hand to people to promote your show. Possibly the most important item in getting people into your show. The visuals should be eye-catching, clear and interesting. The copy or blurb should be easily understood, clear and simple. It should have all important information (title, venue, time, dates etc). These should all match up to brochure listings. Consider using a professional designer or someone with PhotoShop skills – pay for this if necessary.

Poster: as above, only bigger. Put up in your venue, and any other venues in the organisation you’re part of (check if unsure).

In person: People will mainly, and certainly initially, hear about your show from you.
Flyering: handing out flyers to people and telling them about your show, ideally in a costume / something relevant to your show. Have a plan, and be prepared to change it as you go:
             o    Places to leave stacks & posters:
•    Venues: won’t allow flyers for shows not at their venue.
•    Venues with similar shows.
•    Non-Fringe places eg. shops.
•    Bars, pubs etc (always ask!).
             o    Exit flyering (handing to people as they exit a show):
•    Similar shows
•    Popular shows
             o    Fringe Box Office line:
•    Rules change daily!
             o    On the Royal Mile / Half-Price Hut / streets – pitch to get flyer in punter’s hand:
•    Handing out flyers is a performance and an intro to you and your show. Be confident!
•    2-3 second pitch – your show in 10 interesting words → THEN
•    5-6 second pitch – perhaps a joke or an intriguing question → THEN
•    Chat – a bit more detail, why you think they’ll like it, bit of a poem if they ask.
•    Don’t spend all day convincing someone who’s already said yes.
•    Cut your losses if it’s a clear ‘no’.

At other people’s shows: take all guest slots, opportunities and chances to appear in other people’s shows. There are slams, showcases, open events etc. Look outside your own art form – if you’re funny do comedy events for example. Research them and ask if you can do a bit, and plug your show (flyer in hand) at the end of your set.

Street Stage Slots on the Royal Mile: there are outdoor stages – sign up for these at www.edfringe.com and be prepared to shout loudly.

Stunts: Create a stunt: Barry Ferns taking over Broadway Baby, Ginger Pride March (Google these!).

Online
Your website: make sure your online presence is up to scratch as reviewers and audience will look it up. If it looks amateur, they will think your show is too. Reassure them of your quality.

Social networks:
• Facebook – overrated as it’s your friends and a small audience seeing the same thing every day.
• Twitter – better, but don’t bombard.
             o    Be interesting / funny / silly about the show and being in Edinburgh.
             o    Retweet and tweet good reviews, be grateful not arrogant!
             o    Be reciprocal: tweet about other people’s good things and they will do the same
                   for you.
             o    Use a Hashtag for your show (tell your audience about this when they see your
                   show!)
             o    Tweet @PBHSpokenWord / your venue Twitter for RTs.
             o    Thank reviewers / press coverage / audience members who tweet @ you etc.

Press and Reviews
Write a strong press release (or ask someone to help if you do not know how). You might consider hiring a professional press person. General structure for a press release:
•    Title
•    One line summary
•    Each paragraph works by itself
•    Quotes
•    Bio
•    Contact
•    Listings
•    Personalise email but not much (find names, Fringe office publish list)
•    Follow site’s advice!
•    Go to meet the Press day at Fringe Central and bring your best pitch and flyers.


Accommodation

Sort out where you will stay as early as possible – the population in Edinburgh during the Fringe doubles, so rooms and spaces are at a premium. Shop around but confirm early. The Fringe site has links, for example to EdLets, Gumtree, AirB&B. Be careful though – there are people out there to swindle you. You might consider going with a group (fellow poets, your show crew). It’s important to look at distances from your accommodation to your venue and Royal Mile, as you might be walking a lot. Budget around £120-£150 per week plus your food costs.

Finances

Doing the Fringe isn’t cheap, even on one of the free Fringes. Work out your expenses, what you may potentially make back from tickets or bucket, plus merchandise, and what you’d be comfortable with losing. You might see the cost as worth it in terms of developing yourself creatively, meeting people, putting on a piece of work to be proud of, and having fun at one of the best places to be in August.

Here are the lines for your expenses, and very approximate costs:
•    Venue: £0 (free Fringe) to £thousands (paid Fringe)
•    Fringe Brochure: £300
•    Show itself (props, costume, music etc): anything from £0 to £thousands
•    Photo session for flyer / poster design: £50
•    Artwork design for poster / flyer: £100
•    Poster and flyer printing: £100
•    Travel: £70 (2 x singles on the train booked 12 weeks beforehand)
•    Accommodation: £450 (bear in mind if you rent at home too you still have to pay that!)
     for 3 weeks
•    Food: £75 for three weeks
•    Drinks: depends how much and often you drink.
•    Tickets for shows: depends how many you see.

Income:
•    Tickets or bucket: £hundreds to thousands, depending how many people you get
     through the door.
•    Merchandise: as above.

Funding: there is not much around for specifically funding a Fringe show. The Arts Council will not fund a show for the Fringe, but might support the development of work. IdeasTap, Escalator East and various theatre companies offer Fringe-specific funding. You can also consider private sponsorship and crowdfunding. Mostly, you will be funding your show yourself and through the income.

A Day at the Fringe
Everyone’s Fringe experience will be different, but here’s what a typical day might look like for a solo performer marketing their own show:
•    9am: wake up – breakfast, shower, dress
•    10am: admin – check emails, send tweets / FB status,
•    11am: drop off props, pick up flyers from venue
•    12pm: flyering Royal Mile, exit flyering, Street Stage performance
•    2.30pm: head to Venue, help exit previous show
•    2.45pm: showtime!
•    3.45pm: finish show, pack away, count bucket
•    4pm: home – cup of tea & feet up / go to a workshop / admin
•    5.30pm: flyer evening showcase / see a show
•    7.30pm: hosting show / guest slot
•    8.30pm: finish evening show
•    9pm: see a show / go for drinks / check emails and do admin / have an early evening

General Advice
•    Arrive early (a day or two before your first performance), scope out Edinburgh (nearest       food shops, walk to and from venue / Royal Mile etc), prepare your show / rehearse.
•    Pack for all weather every day, have good walking shoes.
•    Have a plan / to do list every day.
•    Have days off and downtime – it’s very easy to burn out.
            o   Especially during the day if your exhausted, quality of show itself most     
                 important.           
•    Use Fringe Central – to stop for a coffee, use photocopier, for advice and to go to    
     workshops.
•    Make opportunities – talk to people!
•    Say yes to all feature slots offered at events.
•    Do interviews / podcasts and seek these out.
•    See shows!
•    ENJOY IT!

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