Questions about the audience 1

I WOULDN’T be the first person to do a chat show on the Fringe. There are a whole load of them varying from best-of-the-fest type round-ups to practical discussions at Fringe Central. My idea, which for the moment I will continue to call The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide – Live, is closest to those organised by the Fringe Office. There is certainly a market for these – I know, I’ve seen the full auditorium from the stage – but how big is that market?

I’m going to have to talk to the Fringe Office – probably Barry Church-Woods, the venues and companies manager, who chairs many of these events – and ask why they programme relatively few discussions. Is it because they’ve got too much else to be getting on with or is it because they don’t think people would come.

My hunch is the audience is out there. I’ve heard the questions from the audience at Fringe Central and I know The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide – Live would deal with them. I’ve seen the companies sitting in the bar at C Venues, handing out flyers on the Royal Mile, hanging out in the sunshine at the Pleasance Courtyard, and they strike me as a readily identifiable market that would a) enjoy reading the book and b) enjoy coming to a show.

This will be a great help when I come to put into practice The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide‘s advice on marketing.

If the people do come, what, if anything, will they be prepared to pay? Events at Fringe Central are free. On the other hand, a two-hour session on “how to make it in Hollywood” had a full price of £30 (and was, oddly enough, part of the Laughing Horse “Free” Festival). Scott Capurro’s Position and Marcel Lucont Etc, both comedy chat shows, cost £10. Scott Agnew’s Scottish Breakfast Chat Show was £7 at 1pm. I think people would come to my show if it was free, but would they come for a fiver or a tenner?

And if they were prepared to come in week one, when they are full of energy and optimism, would they also be prepared to come in week three when the festival is nearly all played out?

The show

I ALWAYS thought I should do an Edinburgh Fringe show called The
One-Woman Black Watch On Ice

Every time I see an oddball Fringe show in a car or a private flat or with headphones, I imagine some other interactive experience that I could write.

In my head, I have redirected a festivalful of misfiringFringeshows.

I thought it would be funny to adapt an obscure academic book in the manner of the TEAM or the Wooster Group or to turn the discussion after this Guardian blog into a piece of verbatim theatre.

Call me chicken if you like, but if I followed up any of these options it would not be playing to my strengths. Chapter four ofThe Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guidediscusses motivation and looks at the reason you might want to do a Fringe show in the first place. There are as many reasons as there are shows, but the message is that your reason has to be good.

Perhaps one day I will stage The One-Woman Black Watch On Ice, but right now I can’t think of a good reason for doing it (making myself laugh is a reason, but I’m not sure it’s a good one).

Fortunately, I do have a reason for doing a show: to promoteThe Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide. The best way I know to do that is through some kind of public conversation and that happens to be something that plays to my strengths.

I’ve introduced post-show discussions, chaired events at the Edinburgh International Book Festival and appeared on panel debates at Fringe Central. In 2011, I presented a couple of podcasts in the Pleasance Bytes series, interviewing Julian Sands one week and Art Malik the next. I even got a four-star review for my troubles thanks to those very perceptive people at Three Weeks:

Celebrated journalist and critic Mark Fisher is full of warmth and humour when speaking to his guests, who come from their own respective shows and offer an unique insight into life on the stage. Fisher is the perfect host, and what shines through is his experience in theatre and depth of knowledge of his guests who speak to us during these interviews about their lives back-stage in the shows we wait so eagerly to see. This weekly podcast comes from the very heart of the Fringe, breaking down the actor-audience barriers that still exist and allowing us to ask questions of theatrical greats. This kind of show is why the Fringe is the biggest arts festival in the world – and the best.

Pleasance Courtyard, 13, 20, 27 Aug, 12.00pm (12.45pm), £5.00.
tw rating 4/5

Yes, my show is not yet fully conceived and already I have a quote for my entry in the Fringe Programme. “Fisher is the perfect host.” Perfect.

So my idea is to do a live version of the book, perhaps I’d even call it The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide ­– Live. It would be a series of discussions that mirrored the broad shape of the book; one day venue managers, one day comedians, one day publicists, one day actors, and so on.

I realise my questions are only starting to form.

The story so far

IN 2010, I was commissioned by Methuen to write a book about putting on a show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. It would draw on the experience of experienced Fringe companies and give advice about having a successful time on the world’s biggest arts festival. As a journalist, I set about researching the guide in the only way I know how: by interviewing as many people as I could ­and summarising what they had to say.

From the final week of the 2010 Fringe to the early part of 2011, I tracked down actors, administrators, comedians, directors, editors, musicians, playwrights, producers, publicists, reviewers and venue managers and quizzed them on everything from press releases to hangovers. After an all-night session at the end of June, I submitted the completed text to Methuen. After proof-reading, design and layout during the autumn, The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: How to Make Your Show a Success will come out in February 2012.

I’ll be giving more insight into the book on The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide website.

But when I’ve been talking about the book, more than one person has asked me if I’ve done a Fringe show myself. The answer is no – at least, not since acting in a student production in 1983. I have worked in the Fringe Office and, as a theatre critic, I have seen anything up to 70 Fringe shows a year for the last two decades, but I can’t claim to have put the lessons of my own book into practice.

And I’ve decided that’s the least I can do.

The purpose of this blog is to chart my journey to putting on a show on the Fringe in August 2012. I’ll use it to record all the questions and issues that arise. Maybe it will help other people doing the same thing: every show is different and I can’t claim to be a typical Fringe participant (if such a creature exists), but the experience of writing The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide has taught me that the questions tend to be the same even if the answers are different.

I’m hoping the process will reveal the strengths of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, but if it also reveals the odd weakness I’ll try and be honest enough to say so.