Edinburgh Fringe Tips

The Editor: Caro Moses from ThreeWeeks

Published on Saturday 2 June 2018

We’re talking to people who perform or work at the Edinburgh Festival each year to get their perspectives on what performing or producing at the world’s biggest cultural event involves, as well as some top tips on how to get the most out of the experience. We start at TW HQ itself with the Editor of ThreeWeeks Edinburgh, Caro Moses.

With so many shows taking place in Edinburgh during August – and with many performers and producers using the Fringe to build their profile and promote their work to the wider world – the media continues to play an important role at the Festival.

Both year-round newspapers, magazines and websites – as well as a bunch of bespoke Edinburgh Festival titles like ThreeWeeks – preview, interview, review and report during Edinburgh’s festival month.

ThreeWeeks has been covering the Edinburgh Festival for over two decades and Editor Caro has been part of the team since the very first year in 1996. We ask her about what covering the Fringe involves and get some top tips on how shows can get more coverage.

TW: What is your role at ThreeWeeks?
CM: There are two editors at ThreeWeeks – I am one and Chris Cooke is the other – but we take up different responsibilities and workloads. In the months leading up to the Fringe, I recruit writers, induct them into the mysteries of becoming a TW reviewer, and start to decide what shows they will see once they are active.

At the same time, I will be in touch with producers, directors, promoters and PRs finding out about shows from all genres and venues, and beginning to formulate plans for our Festival coverage. Some of the content we create is commissioned ahead of August, some of it once the Festival is up and running.

Once the Festival has all kicked off, my primary concern is to ensure that the writers have shows to see, and that features and reviews are coming in. Oh, and I have to edit or proof everything that we publish. That bit takes up most of my time, to be honest.

TW: What kind of coverage does ThreeWeeks do at the Edinburgh Fringe?
CM: The bulk of our coverage falls into two categories: firstly, reviews of shows and events of every genre, from every festival happening as part of the over-all Edinburgh Festival during August; and secondly, lots and lots of interviews of people responsible for creating those shows and events.

It’s all published via several routes: our website, our informative e-bulletins, and through our print magazine, which you will find in venues throughout Edinburgh, or maybe pushed through your door if you’re living in the centre of town.

TW: How do you decide which shows to review?
CM: This just gets harder all the time because the Fringe will keep on growing and it’s really hard to choose which shows look the most promising! However, those decisions do have to be made.

I try to make sure that we have a fair number from each genre and each venue. I will also try to ensure that we see shows who don’t have dedicated PR staff, as well as those that do.

I tend to prefer my writers to spend their time checking out a new act rather than someone who got six five-star reviews at last year’s Fringe. And I am more likely to send a reviewer to a newly written show by an emerging playwright than to a revival of a play by Beckett or Shakespeare.

Basically, we try to be as fair as possible and get those who really need the reviews a review. But we also see some of the more mainstream, established stuff, because we want to give readers a fully rounded representation of the Festival.

TW: What is the background of your reviewers?
CM: When I recruit writers I am very much on the lookout for those who have seen loads of shows of the genre they want to review. Many of my writers are theatre practitioners or aspiring comedians who absorb lots of their chosen specialism, and so they can give a very informed and sympathetic viewpoint on the work they see in Edinburgh.

Others are freelancing journalists eager to immerse themselves in the Fringe, and we also frequently have recent media students and graduates who are taking first steps into their writing careers.

There’s a core team who return year after year, some of whom have been reviewing the Festival for us for more than a decade, and their knowledge of Fringe companies and their work is encyclopaedic!

TW: How can shows get themselves on your radar?
CM: Firstly, fill out our registration form. We do thumb through the programmes looking for shows if we have time, but it’s not generally the way we do it, so actively putting your show on our list will vastly increase your chances of being noticed my me and my staff.

Secondly, send a press release to TWedinburgh@unlimitedmedia.co.uk and Make It Short. Think lots of informative bullet points that we can read in a hurry. Don’t think we don’t want to read your well crafted paragraphs! We do, but we just don’t have time because we receive many thousands of them.

Thirdly, attend the Fringe Society’s Meet The Media event at the start of the Festival, and tell us about your show.

Fourthly, try tweeting at me. It’s worked for other people.

Finally: whether we review your show or not comes down to a lot of factors, but they are honestly mostly logistical. A show might make it on to my short-list, but if I don’t have a reviewer available at the right time of day to see it, then there’s not a great deal I can do. So, do all of the above, and then pray to the schedule-gods!

TW: Does having a publicist working on your show help you get reviewed?
CM: Difficult question. Certainly it’s probably the only way you’ll get reviewed in the more mainstream press, because PR people have spent years developing their relationships with arts-focused media people, and they already have an in, even before they’ve met you.

And, I can’t deny that – often – the shows that stick in my memory after several weeks of looking through releases and taking phone-calls are those a pro publicist has pitched to me. I try to be balanced, however, and make sure that we do give as much coverage as possible to shows without that kind of representation.

I do think paying for a good PR is worth it, if you have the funds, particularly at a time when coverage from the mainstream media is shrinking. But many won’t be able to afford that, so tweeting me until I cry is probably the second best option.

TW: Your reviews give shows ratings out of five. Why do you do that? What’s your general opinion on star ratings?
CM: They’re handy for avid fringe-goers who are looking for a quick answer to what to fill their daily show schedules with. And they’re good for the show producers to paste on their posters. But we’ve never really loved star ratings very much.

There are times when no number of stars seems quite right, and there are times when such a rating seems to devalue the point of good art. But if we don’t do them, folk will ask for them until we cave in and do them again.

TW: How do you pick who to interview?
CM: It’s not an exact science, but I am always looking to represent as many different areas of the Festival as possible. I always try to make sure each genre is proportionally represented, and each major venue. I interview some of the ‘top’ comedians or theatre companies, because people are interested in them, but I also try to feature newcomers, or those who I know are good but who have failed to generate much media buzz in the past.

I’m also always keen to have as diverse a line up of interviewees as possible. But I think the main deciding factor is in whether a potential candidate appears to have some interesting stuff to say! If you want to put yourself forward for this, tell me a good story! What’s your hook?

TW: What would your advice be to performers being interviewed – whether face to face, on the phone or by email?
CM: Well, initially, I’d refer you back to what I said in the last answer. You need to respond appropriately to your questioner, yes, but the most important thing is to have good stories to tell. If you’re talking face to face or over the phone, make sure you know what you want to say in advance. Know your story and make sure you tell it. And think before you speak. The interviewer won’t mind if you pause to gather your thoughts.

If you are typing your answers, make sure they are not ludicrously short monosyllabic ones. The only exception to that is if you are providing a short answer that is absolutely hilariously funny and therefore very good publicity for you. Even then, only do it once within one interview. The remaining answers should all be of a reasonable length and indicate that you’ve actually given the question some thought.

On the other hand, don’t go on and on about boring minutia. Readers will mostly want to hear about the themes of the play (or whatever it is), what’s exciting about it, not a detailed description of carpentry techniques used to create the set, etc.

And yes, if you can be funny, be funny, because people love to read funny things. Especially at a Festival where comedy is so prevalent.

TW: What tips would you have for someone reviewing at the Fringe for the first time?
CM: Please, please please be humble. Especially if you’re reviewing the arts for the first time. Please don’t behave like you are really important just because you are a critic.

Please be aware of who you are criticising – if a well-established theatre troupe turns up with a crappy show, fine, be critical, but if you end up seeing a show by an amateur group, be kindly critical. Please make sure you research what you are reviewing before you write about it. Please never leave a show part way through and then write a review about it.

Okay, now some tips rather than pleas:

First, always arrive at venues in good time, especially if you are picking your ticket up from there. You might have to wait in a long box office queue for it, or even walk to the press office six miles away for it.

Second, always make some notes about a show as soon as you’ve left the venue so that you don’t forget stuff.

And finally, wear layers, so that you can remove some in insufferably hot venues. In general, make sure that the top layer is waterproof. Because at the Edinburgh Fringe it will, at some point – or even many points – rain.

LINKS: threeweeksedinburgh.com



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