Ideas for the Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide – Live 1

SHOULD the show be more than a discussion? Should I turn up in white face paint and Victorian costume in solidarity with a 100 student theatre companies? Should I have a flipchart with a tally of everything I’ve spent and earned? Should I start with a song from a Fringe band?

Maybe, maybe not.

Here’s an initial list of ideas for the daily discussions:

  • Actors
  • Administrators 
  • Comedians
  • Directors
  • Editors
  • Musicians
  • Playwrights
  • Producers
  • Publicists
  • Reviewers
  • Venue managers
  • More from the book

Questions about marketing 1

THE marketing for The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide could have a big overlap with the marketing for The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide – Live.

Every person I try to persuade to come to the show is also someone I can try to persuade to buy the book. If they buy the book and don’t come to the show, I’ll probably be happier than if they see the show and don’t buy the book.

Because of this overlap I need to talk to Methuen’s marketing department about working together on flyers, adverts and sales. 

Forgive me being self-referential but this blog is also part of the marketing.

Questions about money 1

WHEN it comes to budgeting I have certain advantages.

  • I live in Edinburgh, so don’t have to worry about rent (or no more than I do for the rest of the year). 
  • As a freelance journalist, I can continue to earn money from other sources, assuming I have the time (see Questions about me and my stamina). 
  • And, as I can buy copies of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide at trade price, I should be able to make some money selling books, in the same way that many Fringe companies make ends meet by selling CDs.

But I am also at a disadvantage in the nature of the show I have in mind. The only person I interviewed inThe Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guidewho claimed to make money on the Fringe was Martyn Jacques of the Tiger Lillies, but his band a) sell out, b) charge £15 a ticket and c) have merchandise to sell.

For The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide – Live, I’m not at all certain I can get away with charging any money and if I can, it will have to be a modest amount. I looked at prices for similar shows in Questions about the audience 1.

The advice of the experts in my book is to budget for 30% attendance – a long way from the Tiger Lillies’ 100% – and to aim to break even rather than make a profit. Any negotiation I have with venues will have to take this into account.

Questions about the venue 1

THE closer I am to my target market the better. This means choosing the right venue.

As a theatre critic, I spend a lot of time at the Traverse, watching shows or chatting at the bar. But this isn’t a place where potential readers of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide will hang out in great numbers. Performing on stage in this venue are the kind of established theatre companies which, by and large, won’t need professional advice from a book. In the audience, there will of course be theatre-makers and interested parties, but in the main, it will be people looking to be entertained. If the Scottish Society of Playwrights has its bookshop there, I’d hope it would stock the book, but as a venue, the Traverse doesn’t feel right.

My instinct is the same about other favourite venues such as St George’s West and the New Street Theatre: great if I can have some kind of presence, but not natural places for my readership.

What I need is somewhere that large numbers of actors, directors and comedians at the start of their careers hang out. At this stage,The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guiderecommends I keep my options open and consider a number of venues. In my mind, there are two front-runners (and I shouldn’t rule out the possibility of doing something at both):

Fringe Central: initially, I was thinking my plans were so similar to the service already provided by the Fringe Office that I would be better doing The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide – Live somewhere else. But then Kath Mainland, chief executive of the Fringe Society, gave me this lovely quote to use on the book:

“Every single page of this book is enhanced by Mark Fisher’s lifelong enthusiasm for, and commitment to, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe – the greatest arts festival in the world.”

and asked if I was thinking about doing the show at Fringe Central. Dear reader, if you are trying to do a show of your own, I know you wouldn’t dream of getting a personal approach from the Fringe’s top dog and I understand this puts me in a position of tremendous privilege, even if our discussions come to nothing. It’s a reminder, however, that the more suited your show is to a particular venue, the more keen that venue will be to have you.

The Pleasance: all the big venues are dedicated to nurturing a new generation of theatre-makers and comedians but, having presented a couple of Pleasance Bytes podcasts in 2011 (did I tell you I got four stars?), it strikes me that director Anthony Alderson and head of creative development Hannah Eidinow are encouraging exactly the same kind of people as I want to reach. I’m already in talks about doing more podcasts and I’ve mentioned the idea of doing a show based onThe Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide.

At a recent meeting, Hannah suggested I draw up a plan for the show I’d like to do and then we can talk further. The same will apply to Fringe Central, so that needs to be my next task.

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.