The city and its festivals: your comments

Author Mark Fisher with a backdrop of Edinburgh Castle

Welcome to the greatest show on Earth

IN THIS chapter of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, we discover the incredible scale of the festivals that take over Edinburgh during August, not only the Edinburgh Festival
Fringe itself, but several more besides. 

Fringe regulars such as New York director John Clancy, Montreal producer Sarah Rogers and Assembly boss William Burdett-Coutts explain what it feels like to stage a show in such an enormous event and how you start to get your head around it all.

We then go back in time to the origins of the world’s biggest arts festival and take a look at how it grew to the thrilling event it is today. Comedian Ed Byrne talks about how compelling the Fringe is, while international directors such as Toby Gough emphasise its global importance.

After that, there’s just time for a quick bit of orientation in the beautiful Scottish capital, then we’re ready to go . . .

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

Fringe registration

REGISTRATION is now open for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2012. If you want to do a show in the world’s biggest arts festival this year, then follow the links on the Fringe participant show registration page

If you register before 21 March, you’ll qualify for a reduced fee. That means you still have two months from now to think about it. If you leave it later than that, you’ll have to find another £100 or so.

The final programme registration deadline is 11 April. You can register after that, but you won’t be included in the printed edition of the Fringe Programme. As The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide explains, that can put you at a considerable disadvantage. This is a highly competitive festival, so no need to make the competition any harder for yourself.

In the meantime, you should click on this link to order your copy of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide.  It’s out on 16 February.

The Actors Guide to Surival documentary review

JUST watched a documentary called The Actors Guide to Survival (yeah, the lack of apostrophe bothers me too), which I stumbled across the other day while thinking about how to promote my book, The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide

If you are actually an actor looking for tips on survival, Mark Ashmore’s low-budget, fly-on-the-wall film will tell you virtually nothing. But if you are a performer wanting to get a sense of the chaos, desperation and exhilaration of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, then it’s definitely worth a look. 

You get a sense of it in this YouTube video:

Ashmore followed actor and comedian Jody Kamali as he performed his show The Backpacker in 2007 (or maybe 2008; the documentary is not big on detail), following him backstage, observing the different audience reactions and charting his sometimes tense exchanges with director and techie. If you learned how to “survive and thrive” from this, I’d be impressed, but you will get a real flavour of the intensity, passion and gung-ho spirit that the Fringe cultivates.

I found lots of it very funny, but that might because of my love of Annie Griffin’s 2005 movie Festival, which is also set on the Edinburgh Fringe. Some of this feels like Griffin’s out-takes or like something Christopher Guest might have done as a spoof. You can never quite tell if Kamali’s show is brilliant or awful, which is kind of appropriate: isn’t that exactly how it feels for every actor as they arrive full of hope in the first week of the world’s biggest festival?

Also valuable for the would-be Fringe performer are Ashmore’s scene-setting sequences in which Glasgow actor Vivien Taylor accosts performers, directors and producers on the Royal Mile as they publicise their shows. Some of them have useful tips to share, especially in the extended interviews included in the DVD extras. But rather than offering straight advice, the footage works best as a taster of Edinburgh at festival time. There’s no substitute for the real thing, but this gives some pointers about what you’ve got in store.

It’s nice that the documentary focuses not on the big success stories and the famous names, but on the average performer doing their best to be heard above the hubbub. Most of them have that special shell-shocked look that the Fringe generates. It accompanies the feeling of tremendous excitement and tremendous exhaustion, a sense that even if you’re not enjoying it right this minute, you’ll look back at it one day and think it was the most amazing time of your life.

So well worth picking up for a tenner off Amazon or direct from the filmmaker for even less – not so much because it teaches you a lesson but because it gives you a bit of a warning.

Public image II

ON THE basis that anyone who’s anyone has a YouTube video to promote their show, I reckoned it was time I got one to plug The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide. It’s impossible to capture the flavour of the Edinburgh festival unless you’re actually filming in August (and even then, it’s not an easy thing to do), so I had the challenge of how to suggest the idea of the Fringe even though it was a grey day in January.

It was my wife who suggested the solution. The video could be about the transformation of the city, focusing on various places around town that are evidently not buzzing with festival life and describing how much they will change. If you’ve never seen it happen, you have to take my word for it, but change they do.

Making the video took two attempts. I went out with my son last weekend and, in theory, got all the shots we wanted – views of the city, the Fringe Office, the Underbelly, the Bedlam Theatre, the Gilded Balloon, the Pleasance and the Stand Comedy Club – but we set out too late in the afternoon and it went from light to dark in the couple of hours we were out. Although this did mean some rather nice shots of Teviot House (aka the Gilded Balloon) with a changing pattern of coloured lights projected on the facade, it left us with some pretty gloomy footage and potentially confusing continuity problems.

It meant more work, but it was to our advantage. I was able to knock up a rough version of the video and identify its strengths and weaknesses. By the time, we headed out again yesterday morning, we had a tightened up script and a better sense of the images we needed.

I was still useless at remembering my lines to camera – you can see me stumbling over them on the finished version – but with a separately recorded voice-over, I think I just about got away with it. The shots of me wandering around town rather stiffly are a bit cheesy, but I hope it gives some sense of the atmosphere of the city and puts a human perspective on the book.

Public image

If you want Fringe information, step this way. Pic: Lotte Fisher

INSTEAD of writing the feature I’ve been attempting to write for most of the week, I headed out with my daughter to get some high-res photos taken. It’s early days, but already I’ve had a couple of requests for pictures, so I thought it would be better getting images taken that vaguely related to The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guidethan just some snap of me on holiday.

We chose Calton Hill because it has commanding views of the city, taking in iconic sights such as Edinburgh Castle and the acropolis. It’s hardly original thinking, but if the pictures suggest the city, it’s a good visual clue about the book. It was a really clear day with some sharp low winter sun, which was great for lighting. 

Then we headed down to the Fringe Office for some more pictures. In terms of visual clues, that’s the really obvious one – though not quite as easy to get a shot that draws everything together. Remembering my photo shoot the other day with the Scotland on Sunday photographer, we made use of the “Fringe Information” sign – a gift for a man with a book providing Fringe information.

I’ve put downloadable versions of five of the pictures on a new press area on my website.

Oh the glamour

TODAY I was photographed by Scotland on Sunday for the article Brian Ferguson is writing about The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide . Naturally, I suggested I should meet the photographer in front of the Fringe Office – and he was pleased to be able to take some shots beneath the sign that says “information here”. Nice touch.

Despite it being January, straight outside the Fringe Office, there was a bloke juggling with fire for the entertainment of the half-dozen tourists who were ambling around. It’s a terrible cliche that the Fringe is all about street theatre clowns and unicyclists, but it was too much of a temptation to make use of the opportunity, so we got some shots with him and the Fringe Office in the background. Better than a standard shot of another middle-aged bloke staring seriously into the camera.

The campaign begins

Ha, my evil masterplan works. Scotsman/Scotland on Sunday reporter Brian Ferguson spotted my recent twitter activity and called me up for an interview this morning. He liked the idea of me not only writing a book about the Edinburgh Fringe but also doing a show on the Edinburgh Fringe. I guess that’s me committed to doing a show then.

I was working not far from the Scotsman offices, so was able to get down there at lunchtime for a spontaneous interview. It’s a little earlier than I expected to get coverage, but the book is available for order from Amazon here: The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide so it’ll all be healthy publicity.

That reminds me: I need to set up a press page on my website, both for journalists to have a press contact and for readers to check out the press coverage.

It was odd being on the other side of the interview table from where I’m used to sitting. Normally I do 10 per cent of the talking and 90 per cent of the listening; this time it was the opposite way round. 

I hope I gave Brian what he was looking for. It brought home to me that interviewees have to be focused and have to work hard to provide interesting and relevant material for the journalist to use. People I interview are always so good at it, I tend to take it for granted, but there’s a skill involved.

I guess the more I talk about it, the better I’ll get at focusing on the key stories and summing up the things that distinguish the book from all the others.

Getting word out

Seeing as it’s only six weeks until the publication of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, I’ve been on a mission to get word out about it. It’s a bit of a challenge not to sound like blatantly advertising even though I am blatantly advertising, but the good thing is I have a lot of followers on Facebook and Twitter who will be genuinely interested in the book, so I don’t feel too much like a door-to-door salesman.

With that in mind I’ve set up a Facebook page for the book here. So far it’s attracted a couple of dozen likes, which is heartening.

I’ve also started to send out two or three tweets a day with choice quotes from the book, especially from those with Twitter accounts in the hope of attracting the odd retweet. Guardian theatre critic Lyn Gardner kindly did that very thing with the first tweet of my one-man campaign this morning.

In addition to that I’ve been sending emails to contributors and press officers asking them to spread the word. New York director John Clancy, who’s quoted in the book, gave a nice mention on his Scrappy Jack’s World blog.

Normally I’d say I wouldn’t expect any of this to change anything over night, but the book’s ranking on Amazon has shot up. It might not sound such a big deal to have made it into the top 50,000, but only a couple of days ago, the book was at 469,854 and an increase in 400,000 ain’t bad by my reckoning. No idea how that translates as sales, but for a book that isn’t out yet, I can’t complain.