Does your venue care about the same things as you?

THERE’S an interesting insight into how an Edinburgh Fringe venue manager may be thinking in this new post on the website of Eco-Congregation Scotland, a charity that helps churches act in an environmentally friendly way. 

A number of Fringe venues are church halls, although the churches often have little or no involvement in the actual programming. How such venues behave is the subject of the post, which points out that:

Congregations who act as venues are being encouraged to see their
letting as part of their ministry rather than purely a commercial

There are two things to be said about this. The first, as discussed in The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, is that it’s easy to assume your choice of festival venue is purely a question of economics and logistics: how much does it cost and what do you get for your money? These are crucial questions, of course, but for many participants, so too is the question of a venue’s ethos. 

To use the example above, if your company has a strong religious conviction, it may prefer to rent a space in a venue that shares those beliefs than one that was indifferent or even hostile. The same is true in reverse: if you’re putting on a satanic comedy, you may get a frosty welcome in a church hall. 

But it’s not simply a question of religious belief. The Eco-Congregation blog goes on to talk about the audience as a “community” – and if that community is important to you (be it a community of physical-theatre fans, political thinkers, folk-music experts or whatever), then it will also be important to you to find a venue that has a similar sensibility. In such cases, the venue manager will be looking for performers who share their vision. The Fringe is more about love than money andyou could be just who they need.

The second observation about the Eco-Congregation blog is to do with the increasing awareness of environmental issues on the Fringe, indeed all of Edinburgh’s festivals. The question of theatre’s impact on the environment is one I wrote about here in the Guardian a few years ago and it remains a subject of concern for all the arts.

In her introduction to last week’s Annual Review 2011, Edinburgh Festival Fringe chief executive Kath Mainland praised a pilot scheme involving 20 Fringe venues reducing and recycling their waste. She said that towards the end of the 2011 Fringe, a recycling day resulted in venues and companies recycling “over two tonnes of paper”. You can expect to see more such initiatives in festivals to come.

I’ve included more about green initiatives on the Fringe, including material not in the book, on the venues page of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide website.

Fact by fact through the Edinburgh Festival Fringe

THE Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society published its annual report a few days ago. It includes name-checks for all the various board members, sponsors and partner organisations, as you’d expect. 

It also includes the following head-spinning facts:

  • • was viewed 12 million times between June and August 2011 (1 million up on the year before)
  • • The Fringe apps for Android and iPhone were downloaded 45,084 times in 2011
  • • An estimated 1,877,119 people attended registered events
  • • Something like 21,192 performers took to the stage
  • • There were 607 free shows and 1319 premieres
  • • Comedy accounted for 37% of the programme, theatre 30% and music 14%

    In bed with Alan Davies

    HERE’S  a rare picture of comedian Alan Davies (that’s him on the left, hiding under the covers). It’s from a student production  of Enchanted Night by Slawomir Mrozek in March 1986 at what was then known as the University of Kent at Canterbury. I know this because I was the director. Taught him everything he knows, I did.

    Anyway, this morning’s news is Davies is returning to stand-up for the first time in the UK for more than ten years with a run on the Edinburgh Fringe at the Edinburgh International Conference Centre. He’s already been touring the show, Life is Pain, in Australia according to this report in the Scotsman.

    In his pre-Jonathan Creek and pre-QI days, Davies was one of the brightest stand-ups on the circuit, with a free-ranging conversational style that endeared him to audiences. He was very funny in a way that many of the most spontaneous comedians are. It’ll be interesting to see if he’s captured the old stand-up spirit when he returns in the summer.

    The early announcement of such a big TV name – alongside Jimmy Carr, Jason Byrne and Rhod Gilbert at the same venue – reminds you that the Fringe operates on all scales, whether it’s Davies playing to 1200 a night or a first-time student company pleased to get an audience of double figures. As The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide shows, it’s a significant part of the calendar for artists at all stages of their careers and once you’ve got a taste for it, you can’t stop yourself coming back.

    Adam Riches gives Edinburgh Fringe advice

    CHARACTER comic Adam Riches is performing at London’s Soho Theatre next month. In February, he’s doing a five-week run of Bring Me the Head of Adam Riches, a highly acclaimed award-winning show spotted in Edinburgh by the theatre last year.

    Before he does that, however, he’s rather generously giving an impromptu talk on 27 January about getting a show together for the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s a subject he knows well, having taken seven shows, including a self-confessed “one-star flop” and his most recent Fosters Comedy Award-winner.

    He’ll be recounting his experiences of putting on a show under his own steam and answering your questions about trying to do the same thing. More details about it here.

    Sounds like a great opportunity. I didn’t speak to Riches for The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, but I did interview Mark Godfrey, executive producer of Soho Theatre. In the book, Godfrey talks about the importance of the Edinburgh Fringe to his programming, the pull of the bigger venues and the best approach to take if you want to get a producer to see your show.

    He also talked about the competition a newer comedian faces from the bigger-name stand-ups and the fine art of choosing the right time slot. It didn’t make the final cut of the book, so it’s a blog exclusive (yes, dear reader, that’s how generous I am): “If you’re going at 8pm and 9pm, which people seem to think are great time slots, then you’re going up against the established comedians. If you’re slightly newer, I would think about trying to get a 5pm slot when you’ve got less competition. If you do well, people will want to see comedy at that time. When you’re looking for shows to see, it’s always nice to find something that’s at a time you can do, whereas the other ones you have to trade off against each other.”

    In terms of the kind of work he’s looking for, Godfrey said this: “You’re looking for a spark of talent or something different, something that feels original or that you haven’t seen before,
    something that feels fresh to you. People should do what they want to do and then they should look around and decide where they want to take it and I’m sure they will find the right match for whatever they want to do.”

    It’s a book!

    A LOVELY surprise this morning in the post. The arrival of a new-born book. Coming into my world after an 18-month labour neither kicking nor screaming. And the young fella already knowing lots of words. 

    My editor hadn’t told me she was sending it, so I had no idea to expect it, which makes it all the more of a thrill. Still a few weeks before it’ll be in the shops, but this picture is proof it hasn’t all been a figment of my imagination.

    Fun, fun, funding

    WHEN I was researching The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, I expected to hear lots of horror stories about people going bankrupt and re-mortgaging their house as a result of the debts they accumulated by putting on a show on the Fringe. My evidence is purely anecdotal, but generally that wasn’t what I heard.

    Yes, there are people who get their fingers burnt and are still paying off their overdraft five years later and, yes, as in the recent case of Remarkable Arts, it happens that a venue management runs into financial trouble leaving companies out of pocket. But on the whole, the message is that with a realistic budget you can break even.

    How you draw up a realistic budget is the question. Today John Fleming has written a blog called How to finance a show at bottomless money pits like the Edinburgh Fringe which has a few tips on how to make ends meet.

    If you have more to say about money and budgets, I’ve set up this page to do so: The money – your comments.

    Late ‘n’ Live ‘n’ Lynn Ferguson

    THERE’S an article of mine in the Scotsman today about a four-part BBC Scotland series about Late ‘n’ Live, the 25-year-old Edinburgh Fringe comedy institution that kicks off at 1am and finishes round about 5am. Audiences arrive at the Gilded Balloon with a whole evening of drinking behind them, which is partly why the club has a reputation for being the most raucous on the circuit. Comedians approach it with trepidation.

    I watched the first episode on a preview DVD last night and can’t wait to see the rest. As well as capturing a sense of the onstage antics, it gives a great insight into the thinking of the comedians as they look back on their experiences and reflect on the fun and the fear of it all.

    In my telephone interview with Lynn Ferguson, who wrote and narrates the series, she told me how much the footage had reminded her of the importance of the Edinburgh Fringe. “The Edinburgh festival is an incredibly important institution,” she said. “What it does and its effects on the arts and culture can never be over-estimated.”

    It echoed the feeling I had as I wroteThe Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guidelast year. Of course, I already knew the Fringe was a thrilling thing – just as Ferguson did before she made her series – but talking about it to performer after performer only made it seem more astonishing still. Everyone you meet has intense stories to tell about it and every story is different.

    Ferguson also made a remark that is pertinent to the chapter in The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide about taking the next step beyond the Edinburgh Fringe. When you have a hit on your hands, the advice in the book from producers and performers alike is to be wary about signing up to the first offer that comes your way – especially if your discussions are out of hours.

    “There were so many deals done in Late ‘n’ Live, I can’t tell you,” said Ferguson. “I think I arranged a tour of Hong Kong just over the bar one night. These weird things where you’d go, ‘Yes, I’ll do that,’ and then you’d think, ‘Did I just say I’ll go to Hong Kong?'”

    The money: your comments

    Balancing the books

    APPARENTLY, IT makes the world go round. It also makes the Fringe go round, although nobody seems very sure where it all goes. Let’s just say you need quite a lot of it.

    The message of this chapter in The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, though, is that with careful budgeting and proper management of your expectations, you shouldn’t have to remortgage your house to pay for your show.

    Those offering tips include producer Guy Masterson, comedian Ed Byrne, singer Martyn Jacques, Assembly’s William Burdett-Coutts, the Stand’s Tommy Sheppard, the Underbelly’s Charlie Wood, the Pleasance’s Anthony Alderson and producer James Seabright.

    If you have comments about this chapter of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, please add them below.

    The next step: your comments

    Author Mark Fisher with a backdrop of Edinburgh Castle

    Beyond the Fringe and back again

    FOR MANY performers, the Fringe may be the first step towards a professional career. For many others, it is the place they return time and again to solidify their reputation and try something new.

    This chapter of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide considers your prospects beyond the Fringe and looks at how you can capitalise on your success.

    Sharing their experiences of exploiting Fringe hits are practitioners including Judith Doherty of Grid Iron, Suzanne Andrade of 1927, Cora Bissett of Roadkill fame and John Clancy of Clancy Productions.

    Also sharing their advice are international producers such as Tina Rasmussen and David Sefton, as well as Eugene Downes of Culture Ireland.

    If you have comments about this chapter of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, please add them below.

    The show must go on: your comments

    Author Mark Fisher outside the Fringe Office

    First-night nerves and second-night wobbles

    GETTING A show together and finding your way to Edinburgh is only the start of your adventure on the Fringe. Once August arrives, the serious work starts.

    This chapter of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide looks at the pressures you’ll be under and offers loads of tips about how best to deal with them.

    Among those sharing their first-hand experience are anthropologist Mark De Rond, playwright Simon Stephens, directors Alexander Wright, Jethro Compton and James Wilkes of Belt Up, venue managers Tomek Borkowy and Tommy Sheppard, actors Cora Bissett and Siobhan Redmond, singer Martyn Jacques and comedians Ed Byrne, Nick Doody and Phil Nichol.

    If you have comments about this chapter of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, please add them below.