So last June we decided to do a 2 week run at the Edinburgh Fringe. Make lotsa new fans! Meet lotsa artists! Possibly make some money! The hopes. The dreams. Yeah.
"You'll do well" people said. "Musical comedy always does well, you'll be a novelty thing". We had been doing our nerdy+naughty comedy songs thing for 2 years and thought "why not give it a try?". Here's how it played out.
A day at the Fringe
Everybody will tell you the Fringe is a crazy affair and that they don't know why they bring it upon themselves, but no description can really prepare you. In our words: you basically LIVE AND BREATHE YOUR SHOW 24 hrs for 3 weeks (2 in our case):
1. you get up in the morning already worrying if people will or will not come to your show, fearing you might lose instead of make money
2. instead of making sweet morning love to your wife you shoot your stuff out over social media, hoping for those 1 or 2 people who might find your info on the web looking for certain hashtags (when in reality most of these posts and tweets are read by other artists. or people who already know you. and have seen your stuff. and are back home, not in Edinburgh)
3. you remember you made breakfast an hour ago which you haven't touched and which is now soggy
(shoutout to Amy Taylor!)
4. you make sandwiches for the whole day, cuz Edinburgh is expensive (especially coming from Berlin) and you don't want to lose your meager show income by fancy eating out
5. you pack your props and instruments and walk to your venue (we walked around 8 miles each day after deciding that we're #toopoorforthebus, thankfully the city is fucking beautiful and makes most of it worthwile ^_^ )
6. you pimp your show on the street handing flyers to complete strangers who've never heard about you and who may have been flyered 15 times already before (in possibly obnoxious ways - you will notice see that “ugh not another one of these just let me walk this street in peace” look on people from far away)
7. you enter your venue (happy it hasn't been closed down today by fire inspectors), walking by fellow flyer-handing artists, trying not to get disheartened by that familiar panic in their eyes, trying not to breathe through your nose (because the venue has a moisture problem and already smells strange after one festival week) and make your way to your room, unfocusing your vision to avoid getting a headache from too much visual information traversing hallways that are plastered top to bottom with a gazillion show posters
8. you spend 30min setting up your show, trying to turn a stark, dark room (in a building that's more or less derelict the rest of the year) into a show stage, gaffer tape fixing mic stands that are more and more broken every day, putting up your own lights cuz there is only desk lamps in the room, collecting empty or half full beer cups from the show before and emptying beer pitchers that have been collecting brown water dripping from the ceiling in some places. “there's no business like...”
10. you collect pennies and pounds from cheerful young and maybe a few 5ers and 10ers from respectfully chuckling older audience members at the door and endure the embarrassed faces of people who haven't brought any money cuz they (rightfully) assumed it's a free show (since it's called the Free Fringe)
11. not having time to bask in the feedback of (at best happy) audience members you immediately clean your room and rush to empty the stage for the next guy (who might be on only 10-15mins after your show ends) and hide your stuff in an unlocked messy backstage room under dusty construction materials, trusting in the good in mankind that it will still be there the next day
12. you exit flyer similar shows (shoutout to Jollyboat, we love you guys!) to hopefully get that audience to your show the next day
14. repeat, with less energy
15. repeat, with even less energy
… (some nights we did 4 guest spots)
16. you stumble home (in our case 30mins thru empty parks), about a 10th of your energy left, singing old 80s songs to each other (of which you didn't know you still knew the lyrics) to keep morale up
17. you fall into bed/sleep, dreaming about things like getting lost on the way to the next show, or fucking up during your show
18. you get up in the morning already worrying if...
Some (more or less hard) Numbers:
42 shows total (12 of those our own 1hr show)
1 pulled show (on a Tuesday)
625 £ made total (506 of those show intake, the rest cabaret show bucket shares/CD sales)
600 £ spent (estimated basics - flights, food, bus, drinks, gaffer tape, ...)
approx. 25£ earned
* we had a blast doing all kindsa different Cabaret shows and meeting MsAnnabelSings' lovely DIVE Cabaret crew and many other awesome and freaky artists
* looking down on the roofs of the city from any of the hills (tip: Blackford Hill!) and feeling like traveling to another time era
* getting invited to perform at the prestigious Malcolm Hardee Awards after someone suggested we barge in at the hosts' afternoon talk show and just "audition" - sometimes these things actually work...
* falling in love with real talk spoken word and storytelling shows - there is A LOT of comedy and general over-the-top-ness (is that a word?) at the Fringe, so story shows like Cameryn Moore's 'Smut Slam Cabaret' or 'Stand Up Tragedy' (also a podcast!) were blessings to be part of and listen to
* feeling lost and overshadowed by the bazillion shows going on at the same time. Walking by thousands of huge and small posters each day, all with 4 or 5 stars (cause nobody posts bad reviews), all supposedly amazing unmissable shows, at times it gets ugly. You think: "how can anyone decide for something here?? how can anyone stand out?"
* feeling soulcrushed after a completely empty show. No matter how good u do PR, this will happen (probably). I wanted to go home this afternoon, fearing we might have more of these experiences (which gladly did not happen).
* selling yourself and your show flyering on the streets to sometimes understandably unnerved pedestrians. If u have a hard time convincing strangers what you do is great, then the Fringe is NOT for you
Do's and Dont's / our Tips
/ things we'll do next time (should we bring this upon ourselves once more)
1. come a full day earlier to check your venue and spend the day putting posters/flyers in cafés/shops and on walls (we had a roll of posters with us figuring we'd do that walking from gig to gig, but in the end we were often in a rush and didn't get around to it)
2. have a poster/flyer that stands out. You'd think colorful and flashy is great, but when ur poster is surrounded by 100 other flashy color posters it just becomes a blur from a distance. Go with a simple design that leaves lots of empty space, as lil text as possible, that's our recommendation. Also: go big – most Free Fringe posters we saw were A3. The few bigger ones stood out (please don't blame us if 2016 everyone has big ass posters :/ )
3. save money where you can (see also 'A day at the Fringe'). Harangue friends to connect you with a friend living in the city who might give you a couch to sleep (or a storage room as in our case), at best in exchange for a bed in your town.
4. do as much guest spots as possible, especially in the first week(s). We got approx. 3/5 of our audience through guest spots, lotsa folks said "we saw you at..., wanted to see your full show" (the other 1/5 came through flyering and web PR, I'd say)
6. to make enough moolah, try to do several shows. If your a musician, do some busking additionally to your show. Grassmarket has spots to just turn up and do something, you'll make extra dough and possibly pass out flyers and get people to your show. It sounds like a lot, but 2 shows are doable, since your energy levels are on max anyway
7. take Tuesdays off. Tuesdays were the slowest days for us, and, from what we heard, beginning of the week is difficult for many. Also you NEED a day off, no matter how panicky you are that you won't make due. Do sth social that day. Go up Arthur seat or Blackford Hill, it'll make u fall in love with the city. Sit down in Forest Café and meet talented buskers from all over the world. Read a chapter of that book you brought which you didn't have the focus at home to read. Go on a Tinder date ;) Take your mind off that fucking show your trying to fill.
8. stay 'ealthy. Doing yer show everyday takes a toll on your immune system. Take it easy with smoking and boozing. We behaved the first week but gave in to beer invites beginning of the 2nd and – tadaaa – one of us got ill and had to do the last show days with 50% energy. Not fun. So be good to yerself ^_^
As others have noted, the business model of the Fringe is broken. Hotels, bars and shops make a shitload of money on Fringe guests and tourists, and many many artists – the ones who create the content of the Fringe, you know the stuff that people come to town to see – make zero money or even minus. Independent theatre companies put on intricate shows and noone gets paid. No matter if thousands of artists still do it each year, these conditions need to be improved. The city and the Fringe organisations have to fight for more funding for the festival, so f.e. Fringe artists don't have to pay heavy for their accommodation (hotels could provide a percentage of their beds to artists for free to give sth back) and have a proper venue that's being taken care of. Our hometown Berlin has a similar-if-not-that-crass conundrum: huge numbers of tourists and international guests but little / unevenly spread funding for the alternative culture. 2014 Berlin installed the city tax, which hotel guests have to pay, and some of that money goes into more arts funding. A similar model should be possible for Edinburgh and the Fringe.
Would we go back? Sure! You learn a lot of things and you meet a ton of awesome artists from all over the world. But if at the same time next year we have a few paid gigs with travel and accommodation costs covered, we know what we'll choose ;)
and a 'Prost' to distant Fringe friends