Monday, 27 August 2018

The Fringe Run 2018

2018 was my third fringe and the first officially as a double act with Anna J in First World Problems. We changed promoter (from PBH to Laughing Horse), found ourselves in a prestigious central location (Espionage) and delivered 25 shows of First World Problems in 25 days - the first (and probably last) time with no days off. 

Add to that 22 days MCing Clash of the Tight Tens (thanks to Sonia Aste for taking on Wednesdays and giving me a lie-in) and 25 guests spots (thanks to Simon Caine, Woodstock Taylor, Dave Nattris, Paul Richards and "Trevor Feelgood" for those) and it was certainly a busy month.

So how did we do and how did we achieve it? As is now becoming something of a tradition, here's the breakdown...

First World Problems
Where: Espionage (Kasbar Room)
When: 2:45pm every day, Aug 2-26
Total attendance: 628 
Total donations: £1,217

A musical comedy of fist pumping therapy for modern living where the audience join in as part of the crew. The big change from last year was the introduction of a proper narrative and a much bigger role for Anna J, who now sings parts of the songs, carries much of the narrative and mixes it up with the audience to keep them constantly engaged. The show is now very much a double act.

We had modest expectations for this but these were blown to bits within days of the run starting. In a room that seated 30 (+ some space for standing) we had between 25 and 45 crew members in on 17 of these days. For the remainder, numbers were still decent for midweek and the donations were solid throughout - with a big bonus on the final day.

Early on in the run Mumble Comedy came and reviewed the show and awarded us four stars. We added this to our posters in the venue to entice people in. Mid-run this was joined by a very positive review in Fringepig, who recommended us as a show "to be first in the queue for." How much these reviews actually contributed to our numbers will forever remain a mystery but I look into this further at the end of this post.

Clash of the Tight Tens
Where: Espionage (Kasbar Room)
When: 12:15pm every day, Aug 2-26
Total attendance: 749
Total donations: £1,476

A variety show of stand-up, sketch and musical comedy. Every day five acts performed ten minute tasters of their full run shows at this lunchtime showcase. I MC'd every day except Wednesdays when Sonia Aste stepped in to give me a lie-in. Pretty much unchanged from last year, the lunchtime slot worked in its favour with many people making it the first thing to see and there were more than a few people who came several days in a row as the bill rotated. I expected the show to do well thanks to the quality of acts I had on board but it exceeded those expectations much in the same way as FWP.

Of the 25 shows, 18 had 25 or more people in the room. The remainder always provided solid audiences for the acts involved with just two shows under 15 and none under 10.

Fringe Economics
With a total income of £2,693 you'd be forgiven for thinking we were rolling in cash after the run. However, once accommodation (£2,138), registration for the official programme (£295 x 2), print and online marketing (£185), payment to Laughing Horse (a very reasonable £100 x 2) and flyers/posters (£112) are taken into account we actually returned a loss of £661 - not including at least £1000 spent during the fringe itself on food, drink and tickets (very modest when you consider there are two of us.) 

Next year we'll book accommodation earlier with a view to halving this whacking cost. Elsewhere there aren't any easy savings to make. Therefore, our priorities for 2019 will be to ensure more bums on seats and more donations per bum. £2 per person is generally recognised to be the average donation at a free fringe show and given we hit this the challenge is not inconsiderable.

So what can I share with you that may be of some use should you be considering taking your own show up there in 2019. Well, this seems like a good idea:

What Got People In: The Top 7 Reasons

1. The Show Itself
It doesn't matter how much marketing you do, if the shows don't work then you are doomed from the off. Being pay-what-you-like shows people were free to up and leave if they didn't like what they saw and throughout the run handfuls did - usually people who'd got lost looking for Pottervision on the floor below. Given that FWP and CotTT retained the vast majority of their audiences from start to finish I'm happy to conclude that the shows met the audiences expectations. We certainly had a great time!

2. Location and Time
Twice as many people watched FWP and CotTT as they did the previous year when we were at Black Market with PBH. The shows are both slicker beasts than they were in 2017 but location clearly played a role. Espionage is at the centre of universe as far as "free" shows go, straddling both Grassmarket and Cowgate. It's also a dedicated nightclub with good lights and proper sound insulation, unlike 2017's pop-up with thin walls and the appearance of a condemned squat.

Time played a crucial factor too. Both shows were marketed as 12+ so families with older children could come. Families and older adults appreciated FWP for being completely free of swearing. CotTT was on at lunchtime, making it an ideal starting point for many fringe-goers, particularly the type most likely heading back to their hotels before the more in-your-face post-10pm entertainment kicked in.

3. The Free Festival Blue Book
Not to be confused with the PBH Blue Book - Espionage, The Three Sisters and Cabaret Voltaire shared a booklet with all their shows in that their staff distributed on the street every day. Huge numbers of people found out about our show through this very handy guide.

4. The Edfringe Guide and App
Those people who planned their day in advance largely used the official guide to the festival or its related app. There is no substitute for being in this publication if you intend to fill your show with people who are there because they planned to be - not randoms hooked off the street who may walk off shortly after the show starts because it's not their thing.

5. Exit Flyering Guest Spots
Giving people your flyer after you've performed a ten minute spot at someone else's compilation show does work to a limited degree. This was more effective last year when we did spots in the afternoon though. This year all our spots were in the evening and so it was less effective as we were flyering people who often had no intention of going to fringe shows before 7pm.

6. Street Flyering
This was useful for about 20 minutes before CotTT to grab lunchtimers looking for something to do before the shows they planned to go and see. It was less effective for FWP as the music aspect of the show made it less appealing to a general audience - though this was more than made up for by the numbers of people who specifically came having seen it in one of the guides. 

If your show has a strong identity or angle that sets it apart from the sea of general stand-up shows then street flyering isn't as important as it might otherwise be.

7. Reviews
It was great to be able to put stars and quotes on our posters but these reviews will probably contribute most in our applications to other festivals and shows in the coming year.

In Conclusion
We had a great time this year. Great venue, great organisation and great people from start to finish. Next year we'll be back with an even stronger show - though we may take Wednesdays off because doing 25 days without a break is a serious killer!

Wednesday, 22 August 2018

Saturday to Tuesday

Having not updated for four days you can assume things have been busy with things here in Edinburgh. The shows on Saturday, Sunday and Monday were full as usual and we were particular impressed with our third week starting crowd who really threw themselves into it. They also helped us buck the trend of the third week slump when numbers dwindle and the bucket follows suit. One we should have video'd but didn't. Footage will be up in the next week or so.

Tuesday was a good deal quieter with 9 crew members taking part but giving it their all. It looks like we'll finally have to start flyering for more than ten minutes to turn this around - though its only a few days from the final weekend, which is handily another bank holiday!

Friday, 17 August 2018

Friday and we're back in the game

After a relatively quiet Wednesday and Thursday we looked forward to the weekend and it didn't disappoint.

Tight Tens was rammed and all the acts involved turned in superb sets with Ali Woods and Rosie Holt gaining the biggest laughs. The average age of the assembled was notably higher than midweek with most 40+ and in large groups. This was bonus bucket time and we recorded the best donation total yet.

Following this it was time for some lunch before flyering for twenty minutes before First World Problems. Me determined not to see the drop-off in numbers that reduced us to half a (wonderful enthusiastic) room the previous day to continue. Between this, the listings and the glorious Fringepig feature the room was standing room only when we came on and we had the best hiphop-come-therapy-session yet. Post show we got our second lovely tweet of the run spreading the FWP word, more of these would be very much welcome.

Back at the flat it was time for recuperation and home cooking before venturing out to the 3 Broomsticks for Trevor Feelgood's Alternative Showcase. In typical PBH style this centre of town pop-up resembled a derelict squat once you got to the performance spaces but there were stage lights, a working PA and an audience of five. What more could you ask for? All the acts put in good spots, "Mad Ron" going down particularly well and a good deal more developed from the days when I saw him starting out at Famous First Words. Look out for him. Our two songs were well received and some minimal flyering ensued. 

The night ended with drinks at Tollbooth Market after we were unable to get into Lew Fitz's show at Just the Tonic as it was completely full. Another night for sure though.

16 days down, 9 more to go. Bums on seats for Clash of the Tight Tens: 509. First World Problems: 389. Total money in the bucket: £1,628. Chances of breaking even: Good. If everyone from now on puts £20 notes in the pot.

Thursday, 16 August 2018

Timely Review

As if by magic, following my post yesterday I found the latest copy of Fringepig in Espionage today and it was carrying this rather nice review/recommendation. With any luck this should direct a few more audience our way with a flair for writing.

Show-wise it was my day off for Clash of the Tight Tens. Sonia Aste was on MC duties and reported back that the audience had been smaller than usual but more generous in the bucket department. With this in mind we braced ourselves for a few empty seats at FWP and headed into the city.

Edinburgh was quieter than usual and with 15 minutes until showtime we had just 2 audience members. However, when it was time to press play on the iPad we had 15 in, almost all aged under 21. This demographic has been patchy for us in the past but it wasn't the case on this sleepy Wednesday afternoon. Halfway through the first track it was clear they were all up for a good time and we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves for the next 45 minutes. The bucket may have been light (as you would expect with students) but it had been a good show and that's what really mattered.

Later on we were back in derelict Bar Bados for Simon Caine's Single Comedians show. The diminutive crowd enjoyed what we did and we particularly enjoyed the final act. With friends and family up for the next few days we'll be getting out to more shows.

Wednesday, 15 August 2018

Monday and Tuesday

The start of the week has been surprising in every positive way. On both days Tight Tens and FWP have been without a single vacant seat and we've had some fun at the guests spots too (sharing a bill with Arthur Smith - pictured - and Dan Attfield at the Musical Comedy Guide Showcase.) 

It's at this point attention turns to reviews and feedback from the audience, or rather lack of it. It's certainly the case that there's always more to do when you're at the fringe and now we're repeatedly filling our rooms we're now looking at how to get it documented beyond the lone review we've had from Mumble. 

In an era dominated by social media it's curious that as yet we've had just one post-show tweet and one post to Facebook. The money in the hat and the great comments from the audience suggests it isn't the show that's the problem so the question is how to encourage more audience reviews. The Edfringe site itself allows the public to comment on the shows they've seen but this is frustratingly empty too. Any ideas on how to improve this scenario would be greatly appreciated!

Sunday, 12 August 2018

Weekend Two

This weekend has been a busy one. On Saturday both Tight Tens and First World Problems were packed with vast numbers of people standing at the back. In both cases this did lead to some people drifting in and out of the shows but overall they went well. It's not that often we perform to numbers topping seventy but we'd happily do it again.

Sunday hasn't been quite as busy but all seats have been taken once again (the empty seat in this photo was taken soon after I promise) and the easier going nature of those in attendance was in many ways easier to deal with. 

We have pretty much stopped flyering for the while as the room fills regardless and with FWP in particular we find it fills with the right kind of people who've done their research and know what they're letting themselves in for. Flyering certainly has a place and I'm sure I'll be eating my words by Wednesday but what seems to matter most is the copy in the brochure (and free fringe books) and location. CotTT is an ideal early show with a family friendly vibe whilst FWP is music based unlike 99% of the other comedy on offer. We've now made back over £1,000 via the donations bucket - though this sounds less impressive when it has to be acknowledged we started our run £3k in debt and have spent most of the bucket on food and drink....

Saturday, 11 August 2018


The weekend started with a whirl as I made my way to Tight Tens somewhat later than planned. Less than five minutes of flyering outside later I was in the room setting up the disco light and the Greek music. The room filled quickly and by the time the first act took to the stage the place was full once again. 

It's a good crowd that immediately not only joins in with the handclaps on Tales of the Unexpected but actually start singing the chorus by the end. Overall, the show was great with Rosie Holt and Yuriko Kotani (pictured) doing particularly well. 

With a bucket significantly better than the day before I dropped into Grass Market for a sandwich and coffee before some light flyering for First World Problems for fifteen minutes. Once again back in the room Anna and I set things up and asked the handful people outside the door waiting for us to stay there. Re-emerging from Kasbar five minutes later the handful had turned into a queue snaking all the way along the corridor and up into the bar above. A quick chat revealed various reasons for people coming - ranging from reading about us in the Grass Market gig booklet to researching our videos on the train up. Doors now open we filled the room and jumped into the set with both feet.

Every day the set gets that little bit tighter and today most everything clicked into place. The crowd joined in with enthusiasm (a sign they knew what was coming and much better than rows of slightly scared random people wondering what they've let themselves in for) whilst  Anna J stalked them for conversation. Come the end we'd lost a couple of people but the pile of fivers in the hat said it all.

We took the evening off from guest spots to watch JB Carter's band at Tolbooth Market but arrived early enough to see Tom Little perform in a tiny box room nearby. Compared to a cat chasing a laser pointer he was energetic, enthusiastic and very funny.