TW:DIY Guides

It’s the TW:DIY guide to doing the Edinburgh Fringe

Published on Monday 16 July 2018

This year we are talking to lots of people who work and perform at the Edinburgh Fringe about the ins and outs of presenting shows at the world’s biggest cultural festival. We’ll then pick the top tips out of those interviews and collect them here to create a guide to doing at show at the Edinburgh Fringe. Look out for more top tips appearing throughout the summer.


 

THE RATIONALE OF PERFORMING AT THE FRINGE

“Producers and artists have all sorts of different reasons for bringing work to Edinburgh, and I think the important thing for everyone is to understand the best and worst-case scenarios and to be at peace with the possibility that either could transpire. If you do lose all the money, would it still be worth doing? If the answer is no, then you probably shouldn’t come in the first place. I think that there are probably too many cases of people bringing shows because they feel they should. There was one year recently where it only made sense for me to bring up a couple of shows and there was another Fringe when I was involved with producing 22 different productions. And I’ve done pretty much everything in between!”
producer James Seabright


 

DOING A FULL FRINGE RUN V A SHORT RUN

“I often hear various Fringe commentators declaring that everyone should do a full three week run or not bother at all. That’s a short sighted view. A huge percentage of performers have financial or availability constraints that make full three week runs impossible. We’ve had as much award success with short run shows as with those doing the full three weeks, if that is a way that success can be measured. Beyond that, the Fringe is really about the experience. It’s a platform to learn and evolve. So anytime here is definitely valuable as part of that learning process”.
Charles Pamment – Venue Director at theSpaceUK


 

THE RATIONALE OF PERFORMING ON THE FREE FRINGE

“If you’re not filling rooms of over about 125 every night, you likely lose money on the – what shall we call it? – the ‘paid Fringe’. My first solo hour on the Expensive Fringe sold out every night and we put on an extra show in a larger room, yet I still owed money at the end of it. That’s hard to swallow, both financially and morale-wise. If you only made £1 every show [on the Free Fringe], that would still be far, far more profitable overall than doing a 60-seater at the Pleasance! It all depends on scale, though. Once you are in profit at a big paid-for venue, it can really add up. So if you’re selling out the big purple cow for the whole festival, you’re raking it in on a scale the Free Fringe probably couldn’t compete with. But the names who can do that are few”.
comedian Nick Doody


 

DO YOUR RESEARCH FIRST

“I think it is impossible to understand how the Fringe works unless you’ve experienced it first-hand. I’d advise complete newcomers to just spend their first Fringe observing rather than producing. You’ll learn so much that way and be much better placed to give your first production its best possible chance. And the other key thing to remember is to ask lots of questions. If you don’t know the answer to something, then find someone who does and ask them. The Fringe is a hugely supportive community and, whilst it is also competitive, it is also cooperative in spirit”
producer James Seabright


 

CHOOSING A VENUE

“On a logistical level, it’s crucial that a venue can really offer the services and facilities a show needs. Given the very competitive nature of the Festival, I’d say that that includes strong branding, a focused press office and a known awards pedigree, as well as a reputation for presenting work similar to that which the company has planned. And finally, I’d say that – whatever anyone tells you – location is crucial. That might sound obvious, but I’m always amazed by how many producers don’t ask about position and footfall. Oh, and do compare prices too. They seem to range vastly these days”.
Charles Pamment – Venue Director at theSpaceUK

“The saying goes ‘location location location’ and it’s hard to argue with that, but from my point of view performers should always consider whether the venue is a good fit for the show. With so many venues across Edinburgh there is plenty of choice. Don’t try to squeeze a rock musical into a small studio theatre, but at the same time a new writing piece running for only a week is unlikely to need a 160-seat amphitheatre”.
Giles Moss – Production Manager at theSpaceUK


 

APPROACHING A VENUE

“If I had one tip for performers making applications, it would be to always consider how you make that first approach. Never underestimate the power of that good feeling you get from a great meeting or phone call, or a well-written and genuine email”.
JD Henshaw – Venue Director at Sweet Venues


 

PREPARING YOUR SHOW

“Set realistic goals. Do you want to make money? Break even? Build up reviews? Experiment with new material?”
Katrina Woolley – Head Of Programming at the Bedlam Theatre

“Know why you want to be at Edinburgh Fringe with this specific show. Are you bringing the work to Edinburgh to really hone it for the future? Or are you already set to take the next step and so what your show needs is for a bit of industry to view it alongside new audiences? Or is this simply a bucket-list moment and performing at the Fringe is entirely for you? All are good reasons. But if you say ‘I want everything’, you are going to struggle. Once you know what it is you want to achieve, you’ll be well on your way to having not just a great show, but a great Fringe”.
JD Henshaw – Venue Director at Sweet Venues

“First and foremost, above all else, make sure your show is the very best it can be. It might sound obvious to say that, but it’s so easy to get carried away making sure your marketing is great, or arranging your accommodation and travel, or whatever, that the show itself can suffer. Those other things are important and will help you have a brilliant time at the Festival, but if the show isn’t great then all those things will be in vain”.
James Mackenzie – Venue Director at ZOO Venues

“My best advice would be to carefully read the emails from the venue’s team. Everything you need to know to stage your show successfully is detailed in the emails, publications and website links our team sends to every company. There is a lot to take in, that’s for sure, so we send a number of emails during the run up to direct your attention towards the things you should be considering next”.
Giles Moss – Production Manager at theSpaceUK


 

DESIGNING YOUR SHOW

“Especially when you work on theatre shows, it’s important to be realistic about what is possible in terms of production values at the Fringe. One of my early shows had a ridiculously cumbersome set, to the extent that I spent all of the contingency budget on gifts for the poor venue crew who had to carry it upstairs and back down again every day for a month. Audiences and critics alike understand the practicalities of the Fringe model, and if you have a good show on your hands you can always build the scale of its design as you move forward to the next stage of its development”.
producer James Seabright

“Be ambitious, but please be realistic. It doesn’t matter how big your budget is or how elaborate your ideas are, there is a limit to what can be achieved with a three hour tech before opening and ten minute changeovers before every performance. Your audiences are willing to use their imaginations, so they’ll believe that an actor is in a cafe if they’re holding a cup and saucer – they don’t always need to see the rest”.
stage manager Gemma Scott

“We see a lot of companies coming with grand ideas that are unfortunately too complicated or impractical for a Fringe environment. The clever ideas generally involve using things in multiple ways, for example a table that’s also a boat that also becomes a box to hold your props and costumes while stored”.
Giles Moss – Production Manager at theSpaceUK


 

RUNNING YOUR SHOW

“Changeovers between shows can be as little as five minutes, so they can be quite intense. Within a few days you’ll have a system that runs smoothly, but it can be pretty chaotic to start with! I find that, like with almost every aspect of stage management, lists can make the whole thing run much smoother. Sometimes I think 90% of this job is writing lists!”
stage manager Gemma Scott

“Most importantly, and this is absolutely essential – make friends with your venue tech. They are working harder than you and they’re dealing with grumpy people far more often than they should. So buy them cake, smile, say thank you, and they’ll be much more willing to help you when something goes wrong – and it will!”
stage manager Gemma Scott


 

SELLING YOUR SHOW

“At the Fringe, with so many shows to choose from, an eye-catching title is essential. Whilst a strong image and marketing design is also important, that can’t counteract a weak title. If in doubt, ask around amongst fellow performers, producers and audience members before you commit to a title”.
producer James Seabright

“Ensure you a have a great image, with this you can draw your audience in. Make sure you use this image across everything. Marketing at the Fringe is all about layers, seeing that image in the programme, on flyers and posters will fix your show in people’s minds. Take time to test your ideas out on friends and colleagues, things that may appear obvious to you working on a show may actually confuse an audience”.
James Mackenzie – Venue Director at ZOO Venues

“Be specific about who your audience is and aim to target those people as much as possible, rather than just throwing flyers at every person that walks past you. Make sure that you and your cast know and understand your show inside out and practice snappy soundbites that sell it”
Darren Neale and Tara Stapleton – Venue Directors at Greenside

“When you’re planning how to talk to people about the show, figure out two things. First, the one line hook. Tell me something that makes me want to know more about the show. Though remember, that does actually have to be about the show itself, and not just some non-sequitur that may make someone look for a moment, but then they’ll wander off less impressed than they should have been. Second, have the next two sentences ready so you can tell someone who liked the hook more about the show. Being able to have a quick and friendly conversation with potential audience members or industry people which really nails the core ides of the show will always win out against long rambling attempts to explain every single idea the production may seek to explore”.
JD Henshaw – Venue Director at Sweet Venues


 

PICKING WHICH MEDIA TO TARGET

“Whilst of course there are certain top targets – national coverage, for example, will always carry a certain amount of weight – the days when Edinburgh performers, even high profile ones, would dismiss coverage on a blog as not useful enough are pretty much over. So whilst we target different press for different shows depending on their specialisms and interests, outside of that we value all press coverage. Recognised media brands help lend credibility if they endorse a show, and we have to make sure we get that kind of press into the mix. But equally, you shouldn’t underestimate a well written and intelligent rave review in a blog you’ve never heard of. It can still make a real difference – especially for flyers, posters and online sharing”.
Madelaine Bennett – publicist at Premier


 

APPROACHING MEDIA

“Write a good press release. Lay it up nicely on one page. Add a picture. Make sure all the listing info is correct and is clear. Fringe Central has a press list you can download – it won’t have as many contacts as a PR will, but it’s very useful if you don’t have PR.Also go online and see which blogs cover the Fringe each year, they’re not all listed on the media list and they often have their contact details on their site. Email them as early as you can. If you’ve not started your press outreach yet, it’s not too late but it is definitely time to start. Don’t bombard them – 30 emails to the same journalist begging for attention won’t win you many friends – but equally don’t be afraid to follow up your initial outreach. Press can sometimes get literally 1000 emails in a day at peak Fringe time so there’s no harm in a couple of follow up notes to maximise your chances of being noticed”.
Madelaine Bennett – publicist at Premier


 

GETTING ON THE THREEWEEKS RADAR

“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!”
Caro Moses – Editor at ThreeWeeks


 

WHAT TO DO WITH POSITIVE COVERAGE

“Whack it on every flyer, every poster and share it online lots. If it’s a particularly amazing review it’s also with considering spending the price of a couple of tickets on some sponsored social posts. This can be tricky to decide when to do, as it all adds to the cashflow nightmare that is the Edinburgh Fringe, but it can really help sales”.
Madelaine Bennett – publicist at Premier


 

WHAT TO DO WITH NEGATIVE COVERAGE

“You really do have to take it on the chin, sadly. Unless something is published that is blatantly untrue and therefore potentially libelous. In which case, call your PR if you have one, or speak to the EdFringe media office if you don’t, as those kinds of write ups – which are thankfully relatively rare – can usually be taken down. Write ups where the journalist just didn’t like your show are sadly not something your PR has any power to take down, and really, nor should they be able to, or the entire system would become pointless. I have had the odd client demanding that I have a review taken down simply because it wasn’t positive, but it’s hugely unlikely to be possible”.
Madelaine Bennett – publicist at Premier


 

GETTING THE INDUSTRY INTO YOUR SHOW

“With so many things to see, it is often hard to get the right industry people into your show early on: it is often better to wait until you have some good reviews behind you, which will reassure people that their time will not be wasted if they do come to your show. Of course, you should also be realistic about where to pitch your show: is someone booking a 1000-seat theatre really going to be interested in a show playing a studio in Edinburgh?”
producer James Seabright


 

THINK AHEAD ABOUT NEXT YEAR’S FESTIVAL

“We receive a lot of written applications, but it is very hard to judge a show without seeing it live, so most of our programming tends to be based on shows and performers we’ve been able to see the previous Fringe. So, I would recommend that companies think about where they want to be performing next year and if it’s a venue with a curated programme like ours, then maybe get in touch during this Festival and ask them to come and see your show”.
Katrina Woolley – Head Of Programming at the Bedlam Theatre


 

MAKE USE OF FRINGE CENTRAL

“Attend everything you possibly can from the Fringe Central programme of events – it is a fabulous resource”.
Darren Neale and Tara Stapleton – Venue Directors at Greenside

“The Fringe Office run a brilliant arts industry service which is there to help artists and industry to liaise with each other: think of it like a high-end dating service for shows. It’s really worth going to have a chat with them so your show is on their radar and they can give some advice on who you might want to invite”.
producer James Seabright


 

PERFORMING ON THE ROYAL MILE

“You start on the Fringe’s own website where you will find all the instructions and the link to a website called Eventotron, where you can sign up for slots at both the Edinburgh Fringe and several other festivals as well. The programme is divided into a few categories, mainly because different types of performance have different requirements. Living statues, balloons, caricaturists and portrait artists get longer time slots and are placed in areas that are appropriate for their needs. Buskers and circle shows do 30 or 45 minute performances and pass the hat at the end. Musicians have their own programme which accommodates for time, place and volume”.
magician Paul Nathan


 

BUILDING AN AUDIENCE FOR STREET SHOWS

“The great grandfather of San Francisco street theatre, Ray Jason, once told me, “pretend you are standing in front of the fire place in your living room about to tell a joke to a room full of friends – everyone wants it to be a good story, everyone wants you to succeed”. It’s the best advice for performing I have ever received and particularly so for gathering a crowd. Be confident and they will come. Be comfortable! It’s your space, it’s your time, it’s your show. Don’t be afraid to start small and build. You have time. Write material for the build. The first five or ten minutes of your show can be interaction with the audience that teaches them how to be an audience, puts them where you want them, and creates a space, a stage, a scene that is yours and theirs. Finally – include them in the process and let them be a part of the show from the beginning. I don’t just mean as volunteers, I mean as participants in the process of creating a show”.
magician Paul Nathan


 

ASKING FOR MONEY AT THE END OF A FREE SHOW

“Some people murmur something inaudible, gesturing awkwardly towards a bucket, and some people have a big speech prepared. I might do it as a song this year. It’s not something you look forward to at first, but those reservations disappear pretty quickly. It’s actually incredibly honest and straightforward: they’re paying you directly for an hour’s entertainment. That kind of direct transaction is pretty rare these days. There’s no middle man and they know that their money won’t go to propping up Third World dictators (unless that is how you choose to spend it)”.
comedian Nick Doody


 

SETTING UP A VENUE

“Think carefully about why you want to do it. If your reasoning is sound and you’ve done your research, then absolutely go for it. The wonder of Edinburgh is its variety, and new venues coming onto the scene adds to the unique and vibrant environment that makes the Edinburgh Festival so special”.
Darren Neale and Tara Stapleton – Venue Directors at Greenside

“Be genuine with your intentions and clear about what you offer. Understand what it costs a company to bring a show to the Fringe and invest in giving them a strong and positive platform”.
Charles Pamment – Venue Director at theSpaceUK