HEY, people, if you want to get publicity, think the way the Blitz Sisters think. I heartily approve of all they do. More of them here.
I have a similar liking for all the wonderful Edinburgh Fringe people on my earlier post here.
HEY, people, if you want to get publicity, think the way the Blitz Sisters think. I heartily approve of all they do. More of them here.
I have a similar liking for all the wonderful Edinburgh Fringe people on my earlier post here.
I’M JUST back from a lightning visit to the Avignon Festival courtesy of the Institut francais d’Ecosse and Festivals Edinburgh. In addition to catching It’s So Nice, a delightfully deadpan tribute to Mary Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I, my main purpose was to participate in a presentation about the Edinburgh festivals to would-be participants.
In the panel discussion, Jonathan Mills, artistic director of the Edinburgh International Festival, talked about his prestigious cross-artform programme; Kath Mainland, chief executive of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society, laid out the open access principles that underpin her work; Faith Liddell of Festivals Edinburgh gave an overview of the city’s 12 major festivals; Rupert Thomson of Summerhall and Vincent Guérin of the Institut francais d’Ecosse gave an insight into the way their programmes work; and I conducted an interview with recent and imminent French visitors to the Fringe.
Knowing I’d be there for little more than 24 hours and wouldn’t have the time to see more than one show, I had made no attempt to find out what else was on. That meant it was only while sitting in a pavement restaurant in Avignon that I first laid eyes on the programme for the three-week Avignon Off, the Francophone answer to the Edinburgh Fringe.
Was this, I wondered, what it felt like for a newcomer to be confronted by the Fringe Programme for the first time? For here was a 396-page guide that was stuffed with plays I’d never heard of, performed by companies I didn’t recognise, taking place in venues that could have been anywhere in this unfamiliar town.
Such a profusion of artistic activity was both tremendously exciting and utterly bewildering. The Avignon Off – “le plus grand theatre du monde” – is not as big as the Edinburgh Fringe, but even at 10am, you have your pick of over 30 shows. That’s more than enough to overwhelm anyone.
I realised straight away that, if I had been able to see a show, I would have been highly susceptible to the twin factors that drive audiences in Edinburgh: flyering and word of mouth.
It would have taken me far too long to study the programme and make guesses about how good the shows were likely to be. What would have made all the difference is a conversation with an actor promoting their show (flyering exists in Avignon much as it does in Edinburgh) or a recommendation from someone who sounded like they knew what they were talking about.
With a few more hours in Avignon, this is almost certainly how I would have decided what to see.
My conversations with the performers I interviewed for The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide confirm this to be the case. Of course, there are people who make a serious analysis of the Fringe Programme and select their shows on the basis of what they know to be good. You need only do a quick search on Twitter to see comedy fans announcing what tickets they’ve been buying for their favourite stand-ups. Those people may be persuaded to see more shows, but much of their time and money is already committed.
Most people, by contrast, are not arts specialists and are likely to be as bewildered by the 376-page Fringe Programme as I was by its Avignon equivalent. If they are in Edinburgh in August, they will most likely be willing to see something; they just don’t know what. This is a great opportunity. Unless your show is aimed at a specialist niche market – like my own Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: Live! – these people are your potential audience.
And the exciting thing about the Edinburgh Fringe is you have the same chance of attracting them as every other company. Here in mid-July, everything is still to play for. That’s a valuable lesson from Avignon.
THE SAD news today is that Victor Spinetti has died at the age of 82. As recently as 2007, the actor was appearing at the Pleasance on the Edinburgh Fringe. Here’s an interview I did with him for Scotland on Sunday then:
He’s not one for holding things in is Victor Spinetti. His autobiography, Victor Spinetti Up Front, is an anecdotal romp through a life that began in a Welsh mining village and flourished in the London of the swinging 60s with roles in Joan Littlewood’s Oh! What a Lovely War! and a string of films with the Beatles, a period he has capitalised on as a professional raconteur ever since.
But even though he is frank, funny and candid about his private life – whether he’s recalling stories of the sexual advances of the soldiers in a military hospital, his male “life companion” Graham Curnow or his steamy affair with his room-mate’s girlfriend – he never pigeon-holes himself with words like gay or bisexual. It’s partly because he’s never been part of a gay scene (“I’ve never even worn a pair of jeans,” he says), but more because he’s always been open to sexual expression in whatever form it takes.
“If there’s somebody you like or love, it’s possible to do something, even if you just hold each other or lie with each other,” says the 73-year-old. “But it never occurred to me to be straight or gay. If there are people you really like and enjoy, you can lie in bed and there’s always something you can do. I can’t bear labels, but on the other hand I support Gay Pride. In the 60s we were persecuted as much as anybody for living together. We were advised by our lawyers to tear up all the correspondence we’d ever written. Finishing a letter with ‘all my love, Graham’ was enough for a court case. I grew up without knowing about it [homosexuality]. I found out about it, luckily, through somebody who became my ‘significant other’.”
He’s saving some of his racier anecdotes, including “true stories about Edinburgh”, for an “Uncut” performance of A Very Private Diary Revisited at midnight on August 24. Those seeing his daytime show, which opens this week, will be spared the more outrageous details in favour of comic tales and expert imitations of Marlene Dietrich, Frank Sinatra, Princess Margaret, Elizabeth Taylor, Richard Burton, Sir John Gielgud, Laurence Olivier and John Lennon. It’s an off-the-cuff show he first tried out on the Fringe in the early 80s and recently returned to at London’s Donmar Warehouse to much acclaim.
His only problem is how to get so many stories into a single show. Will he, for example, have time to tell the one about being denounced by the Pope for directing a production of the hippy musical Hair in Italy? “I arrived in Rome wearing a suit and tie, cufflinks, a hat, a brolly and a briefcase,” says Spinetti, a man never lost for words. “All these kids were sitting in the Sistina Theatre waiting to audition for Hair and they’d expected a hippy. There was a table with the producers and their girlfriends, sitting like a tribunal. I came in and said good morning. Then in my Italian that I had only just learned, I said, ‘You have read in your papers that there is a scene in Hair which is the nude scene.’
“As I was speaking I was gradually taking off my clothes. When I was finished, I was absolutely naked and I said, ‘Ecco la scena nude. It’s the easiest scene in the show to do.’ Some people got up and left in disgust, so they would have been useless anyway, the others applauded and the producers fled because they were with their girlfriends. Twenty minutes later Franco Zeffirelli phoned and said, ‘Victor, I hear you’re showing your cock at the Sistina Theatre.’ I said, ‘The only thing that travels in Rome is gossip.'”
THIS MORNING I came across a couple of tweets from Fringe participants about having festival-releated dreams or nightmares. It reminded me of an article I wrote in 1997 for The Herald. That’s a long time ago, I know, and few of the people quoted are doing the same jobs, but it was lovely piece to research and the idea still stands. I’ve copied it here. It’d be great to hear your own Fringe anxiety dreams in the comments below:
IT ALL started a few weeks before the Festival when I woke up convinced that Brian McMaster’s programme had taken a bizarre new twist. I had dreamt that Peter Stein’s Cherry Orchard was going to be done not in the respectable confines of the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, but in Glasgow, as street theatre. How would they sustain an audience’s interest in Chekhov for three hours on Sauchiehall Street, and how would I get back to Edinburgh to get my on-the-night review phoned in?
It struck me that if I was having such dreams, then so too would Festival workers across the city. I wasn’t wrong.
Fringe supremo, Hilary Strong dreamt she’d arrived at the office to find it closed with a crowd of people waiting to get in. “I looked in the diary and realised I’d forgotten to do a live radio link with the Today programme, which had been scheduled for 7.30am,” she says. “By this time, I was due to attend a formal award ceremony, but for some reason, I was wearing painting overalls, and my shoes were covered in white emulsion that left footprints all over the carpet in the City Chambers.”
For performers, the anxiety of revealing themselves on a daily basis inevitably plays havoc with a peaceful night’s sleep. Gerry Gowans, starring in Garland, Judy With Love, at Hill Street Theatre, dreamt she was coming to the Fringe, not as an actress – but as a stripper. “I went on stage, but found it impossible to get my clothes off,” she quivers. “The show was a flop.”
Mervyn Stutter, he of Mervyn Stutter’s Pick of the Fringe, at the Pleasance, was convinced he’d hit the big time. “I got a call from the BBC saying they wanted to broadcast my show on prime time TV,” he says. “I was in the wings waiting to go on. The audience went into a hush. Then a voice: ‘Ladies and gentlemen, live from the Edinburgh Festival, will you please welcome your host – Julian Clary!'”
Perhaps the most revealing dreams are those for which the dreamers have asked to remain anonymous. A member of the Traverse Theatre’s production staff, for example, would sooner keep quiet about finding him or herself in a dentist’s chair which had somehow appeared on the set of Knives in Hens during a sell-out show. “For some reason I had no clothes on and was in the dentist’s chair. I soon realised that Helena Christiansen was there, also naked – but what could I do in front of the audience and cast? The rest is a bit sordid.”
Then there’s the Fringe Office worker who had to go out for a night on the town, and had to get dressed in a hurry. “I couldn’t find anything to wear except a huge pair of pink underpants that came up to my armpits,” he or she confesses reluctantly.
For reasons of diplomacy this dream about our own arts editor is also anonymous: “Last weekend I woke up next to my partner, who looked at me rather frostily and said, ‘Who’s Keith Bruce?’ I had been having an angst-ridden dream about The Herald’s switchboard, and had been calling out, ‘Get me Keith Bruce’. When I told him Mr Bruce is the arts editor of The Herald, he raised his eyebrows as if to say, so it’s true you’d do anything for press coverage.”
The Fringe of slumberland is an even more amazing place than the real thing. Stephanie Noblett, press officer at the Famous Grouse House had a radical new vision for Chambers Street: “I dreamt there was a show-jumping gymkhana as part of our programme. The whole of Chambers Street had been turfed over, and all our performers were on horse back. I woke up in a cold sweat when of the Wrigley Sisters (one of the folk music acts) took a fatal fall.”
Theatre Workshop publicist Jane Molyneux was in populist mode: “I dreamt Diriamba! would have more commercial appeal if done as a version of Cliff Richard’s Summer Holiday on the Meadows. Cliff was very obliging and was quite happy to belt out several songs with Theatre Workshop’s Nicaraguan and Scottish performers from the top deck of one of Edinburgh’s open-top tour buses, but things started to get out of hand when I found myself on a Keystone-Cops type chase, following after a convoy of three buses, heading across the Meadows, straight for Nicaragua, with Cliff singing the theme tune to Ken Loach’s Carla’s Song.”
While Mike Griffiths, the Traverse’s production manager, was trying to figure out how the main theatre had been turned into a swimming pool, stage manager Gavin Johnson was discovering how the Festival budget had been overspent: “I went to the green room to find the fridge full of bread – and no matter how much I pulled out, there was still more and more. It wasn’t even the right kind of bread, because I needed wholemeal and this was all Sunblest white.”
THE EDINBURGH FRINGE SURVIVAL GUIDE: LIVE!
A show presented by Mark Fisher
Directed by Sue Emmas
AS PART OF THE EDINBURGH FESTIVAL FRINGE 2012
Critic turns presenter for stage version of acclaimed Edinburgh Fringe book – and promises audience an extra dose of vitamin C
Theatre critic Mark Fisher is moving across the footlights to present a show on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. Following the publication of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide in February, the Edinburgh journalist is hosting a chat show, supported by the Pleasance Theatre Trust, based on his celebrated book.
“I made my first appearance on the Fringe in a student show in 1983,” says Fisher, 47, a freelance contributor to the Guardian, the Scotsman, the List and Edinburgh Festivals Magazine. “I’ve been addicted to it ever since. I can’t wait to be back on stage.”
For each of the six shows, Fisher will be joined by top Fringe actors, comedians, directors and producers who will share their secrets about staging a successful Edinburgh Fringe show. “With over 20 years’ experience writing about the festival, I can guarantee every show will be crammed with great advice,” says Fisher, who will record the shows and make them available as podcasts on iTunes.
Thanks to the sponsorship of Leith Walk greengrocer Tattie Shaws, Fisher will be handing out fresh fruit to help audiences survive the pressures of the Fringe. “This is the world’s most exhilarating festival and also the toughest,” he says. “Every apple, orange and banana counts.”
“A WONDERFULLY PRACTICAL BUT ALSO INSPIRATIONAL BOOK FULL OF GOOD ADVICE”
Lyn Gardner, the Guardian
Published by Methuen Drama in 2012, The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide draws on the experiences of the festival’s leading figures to help readers make their show a success. Among those sharing their expert advice in the book are playwright Simon Stephens, comedian Phil Nichol, actor Siobhan Redmond, producer Guy Masterson, Tiger Lillies front man Martyn Jacques, theatre critic Lyn Gardner and Foster’s Edinburgh Comedy Award director Nica Burns. The book also has an introduction by playwright Mark Ravenhill.
Website: www.edinburghfringesurvivalguide.com | Twitter: markffisher
Sponsored by Tattie Shaws, 35 Elm Row, Edinburgh: www.tattieshaws.co.uk
For further information and images, please contact:
Mark Fisher on 0131 556 3255 or 07799 033407 or firstname.lastname@example.org
IN other circumstances, I’d be attempting to say something deep and meaningful about the Fringe Office’s decision to draw attention to mildly rude words by adding asterisks to them. However, I’ve been caught up with co-convening the Critics’ Awards for Theatre in Scotland (2012 nominations just out) and I can no longer tell my prick from my elbow. Read John Fleming to get an idea of all the hoo-har.
What I can pass on, however, is the news that The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: Live! is both asterisk-free and on sale at edfringe.com. Six shows at the Pleasance Courtyard at 11.30am, Thursdays and Fridays, doing the same kind of thing the book does, only with extra spontaneity. Tell your friends. See you there.
SAY what you like about modern-day dress sense, but when Edinburgh’s Assembly Rooms returns to life, today’s fashionistas will have some stiff competition. Yes, they’ll be excited about the opening ceilidh in July and the high-profile Fringe line-up that includes Stewart Lee, the National Theatre of Scotland and Phil Nichol, but will they be any match for the audience of August 1822, when King George IV came to town?
Back then, eyewitness Thomas Mudie was so taken by the guests at the Peers Ball, he wrote a whole book about it. ‘The ladies were in most elegant white dresses, richly bespangled, and had on plumes of white ostrich feathers, their plumage in constant undulation, appearing to the eye like an ocean of foam,’ he wrote.
Stick that in your Topshop and smoke it.
But even if our glad rags don’t have quite the same class, we’ll certainly be able to savour the refreshed elegance of a building brought back to its 18th century splendour. After an 18-month closure and a £9.3m refit, the George Street venue where once Dickens, Scott and Thackeray gave readings has been returned to its Georgian prime – with a Jamie Oliver restaurant thrown in for good measure.
‘What people will notice is it’s going to be much lighter, airier and more contemporary when they come in,’ says general manager Shona Clelland. ‘Then, as they go up the stairs, they will be blown away by the restoration in the first-fl oor rooms. It’s going to be back to the grandeur that it originally had.’
Visitors will now find ground-floor shop units where previously the Wildman Room and the box office stood, as well as a branch of Jamie’s Italian in the old Supper Room, with a second entrance on Rose Street. Upstairs, the Ballroom, Music Hall, Crush Hall and the East and West Drawing Rooms have had plasterwork, cornicing and chandeliers spruced up. Walls have been repainted in muted tones, gold-leaf finishings have been replaced and decorative rosettes restored.
‘People will notice the obvious things like the decoration and the restoration,’ says Clelland, who’s lining up a programme of book readings, dances, conferences, dinners and craft fairs, ‘but all the infrastructure – new sound systems, new heating and ventilation system, all the behind-the-scenes things – will make being in the Assembly Rooms so much easier.’
The scheme has not been without its critics. Longstanding festival resident William Burdett-Coutts was forced to move his main Assembly Fringe operation to George Square after last year’s closure. He was concerned the loss of the smaller groundfloor spaces would put an end to the building’s ability to present work on all scales and force promoters to concentrate on the more commercial end of the market.
It is not an argument that convinces Clelland. ‘The Assembly festival created lots of spaces within the building, but for the rest of the year, those spaces were not utilised fully,’ she says. ‘OK, there’s not so many spaces downstairs during the festival; however we’ve still got four spaces upstairs, two of which are small. I’ve never been concerned about that, because I have to make the building work year-round. For the citizens of Edinburgh, we want this building to be somewhere people come – they might come for a meal or for a shop, but at least they’re coming to the building.’
Equally convinced is Tommy Sheppard, director of the Stand Comedy Club, who has been awarded the five-year contract to programme the venue in August. He’s broadening his previous programming range to include theatre and music, while holding on to the ethical values that have made his existing venues such a hit with performers. ‘We’re going to translate to the Assembly Rooms the attitudes we think have underpinned our success on the Fringe,’ he says. ‘Broadly speaking, we are taking the risk on the programme and we should be able to ensure the profit-making shows subsidise the loss-making shows, so we won’t be transferring those losses to the individual artists.’
The programme ranges from Stewart Lee’s Carpet Remnant World to the National Theatre of Scotland’s An Appointment with the Wicker Man, from Irish chanteuse Camille to Phil Nichol in The Intervention, a serious drama about an alcoholic. The smaller shows will have a top ticket price of £10; the bigger ones shouldn’t go much over £15.
‘We’re in it to do something good for the city and the festival,’ says Sheppard. ‘We’ve taken advantage of moving up the road to allow a number of the people we work with to move to that platform. Stu and Garry, who have done a show every Sunday for nine years, are going to be doing a lunchtime improv show every day at the Assembly Rooms. And there are a few people who we’ve worked with, like Bridget Christie, who are going there, not so much because it’s a step up but there’s a different tone to it – it’s a bit more theatrical.’
If negotiations with the council are successful and if traffic can be diverted off George Street, he’ll be putting a tent on the front of the building to create a festival hub and to give audiences an extra place to hang out. Even if that doesn’t happen, the venue will have a less hurried ambiance than elsewhere on the Fringe, chiming in with the more classy approach of neighbouring venues such as the New Town Theatre, the Traverse and St Stephen’s, as well as the Edinburgh International Book Festival. ‘The sub-Glastonbury atmosphere being created in the university area is a million miles away from where I want to be,’ he says. ‘The emphasis in the bars and the programme at the Assembly Rooms will be the best possible quality at the lowest possible price. And if I can get through August without having a single queue, I’ll be happy.’
In the meantime, Sheppard is like a child with a shiny new toy: ‘The Assembly Rooms always was the best venue on the Fringe and the council has spent £10m on it, so imagine the Assembly Rooms being fully air-onditioned, with new sound systems, 100 per cent new seating, new floors, sound-proofed, new bar areas and better circulation space, and then with a programmer saying, “You won’t have to queue – and you’ll pay less than you paid before.” I’m feeling extremely positive about it.’
Flingin’ wi’ Ceilidh Stomp, Sat 21 Jul, Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh. Fringe programme, Fri 3-Sun 26 Aug. © Mark Fisher, 2012
COMING soon to a Fringe Programme near you:
|Ian Fox’s ebook|
IN the course of researching The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, I conducted about 70 interviews with actors, comedians, venue managers, producers, publicists, critics and editors. What this brought home to me was something I knew instinctively: that everyone’s experience of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is unique. No two stories are quite the same. I could have interviewed another 70 people and discovered 70 more unique perspectives on the world’s biggest festival.
My approach when writing the book was to encapsulate as many of those perspectives as possible. Your experience of the Fringe won’t be exactly the same as any of them, but I hope it has similarities to a few. More to the point, by establishing a set of general principles, The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide offers a template you can use to tackle the Fringe on your own terms. Get the basics right and you can make it work for you.
Comedian Ian Fox has taken a different approach. In his self-published ebook, How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show, he writes primarily from his own perspective. He is someone who has been performing on the Fringe since 2002, doing solo shows and ten-minute spots as well as producing mixed bills. Much of his experience has been on the Laughing Horse Free Festival, so he knows about the ups and downs of doing comedy to an audience that hasn’t paid, in a room in a pub that is often not designed with stand-up in mind. He’s also performed on the paid-for Fringe, so understands some of the advantages and disadvantages there too.
This first-hand experience is the book’s strength. Whether he’s telling you about the likely costs, the challenges of dragging your props through the streets of Edinburgh or the hazards of doing accommodation on the cheap, Fox has been there. In the final section of the book, he slips into anecdote mode and recounts a whole series of entertaining stories involving drunken, impoverished, egotistical and unlucky comedians. No reason any of the same things should happen to you, but they serve as a warning of the kind of thing that could take place.
I’m probably not the right person to judge, but it seems to me Fox’s book complements The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, but is not an alternative to it. There’s a small amount of overlap between the two books, but mainly what Fox offers is an extra level of detail from his own very particular perspective. If in doubt, buy both – you’ll still have change from £15.
What he has to say will be most useful if you are his intended reader – a stand-up comedian, probably performing in one of the free festivals – and will be less relevant if you’re not. Even then, you’ll still find it interesting; the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is an endlessly fascinating place and this book adds more colour to the picture.
On the downside, How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show does bear the hallmarks of being self-published. Fox has complained about how long proofreading took, but it should have taken a lot longer. I’d say there was an average of one typo per Kindle page. It’s probably my bad reading rather than his bad writing that persuaded me the entire cast for one of his shows had testicular cancer, but you get used to skipping over repeated words, filling in the missing phrases, mentally adding the apostrophes and translating the homonyms.
There are also some factual errors: the Edinburgh International Festival and the Edinburgh Festival Fringe began in the same year – 1947; the population of Edinburgh doubles during August, it does not increase seven-fold; and it is not illegal to hand out flyers in places other than the High Street and your venue.
As I understand it, e-publishing allows Fox the chance to make corrections, so I imagine he’ll iron out these details, thus improving a valuable attempt to make sense of a multifarious festival he loves as much as anyone.
|Author Mark Fisher|
AS THOSE who follow me @markffisher will confirm, I’ve been using Twitter relentlessly since the start of the year as a way of promoting The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide. I’ve been doing this for a number of reasons:
So what have I learnt? Here are my top ten observations based on my own use of Twitter and on what I’ve seen of other people’s use of it.
These are some initial thoughts, reached by trial and error and still open to refinement. If you’re anything like me, you won’t always get it right, but sometimes you’ll strike a chord and, when that happens, you should learn from it and try to strike that chord again.
No doubt you’ll have ideas of your own. Please add your comments below.