|By Matthew Bellwood|
Date: 24 August 2011
No more flyers. That is my mantra. No more bloody flyers! I have been starting to feel it creeping up on me for several days now, a terrible stirring that started deep in the pit of my stomach and has since been slithering relentlessly towards my brain like a ... a brain slug. I actually cannot do it anymore. I can't hand out another bloody flyer.
There is a box in my bedroom - and I don't mean a small box - in which I have gathered together all the flyers that I have been given over the past few weeks. It's hard to say how many are in there but, at a rough guess, I would say that there must be well over a thousand of the horrible things. The box is full to overflowing already and there's still another four days of festival to go.
I am starting to have nightmares in which this monstrous pile of advertising comes to life in the night and threatens to overwhelm me - in which my lovely host Andy finds me suffocated in the morning with a flyer for Hitler the Musical in one nostril, a leaflet for Les Miserables (schools edition) in the other and a brochure for Peter Buckley Hill's Free Fringe jammed down my throat.
Perhaps if I was here for just a couple of days, I would find all this hideous excess a bit more palatable but I have reached the point where it has actually started to make me feel unwell. After all, I'm never going to see most of these shows. The only ones I've been to see so far are ones that sounded good in the brochure, ones that have been personally recommended, or ones whose casts I wanted to support.
Last week, I actively started to avoid shows whose flyers intruded on my life - at least the ones where they were simply thrust at me, without so much as a by-your-leave. There were several occasions on which I was actually chased down the Royal Mile by people who wouldn't take no for an answer and having seen some shows over the last few days at some of the bigger venues, the problem is even worse there, as half the time the people doing the thrusting aren't even involved in the performance.
I'm also determined not to see anything that has a poster larger than A3. Now don't get me wrong, I'm sure that Sarah Millican is a charming woman, but seeing her grinning at me everywhere I turn, whilst apparently dressed as Gracie Fields is getting a little bit much.
And the really, truly awful thing is that I am a part of the problem. I too have spent a fair old part of the last few weeks, whoring myself around Edinburgh, with a cute child in tow and an eagle on my arm and a mask made of my own flyers on my head. Admittedly, my flyering technique is pretty gentle compared to some I have seen, but even so I am still complicit in this terrible (and slightly desperate) example of Thatcherite free-market economics.
I think the truth is that the festival is so big now that there simply isn't enough audience to go round. As Lyn Gardner pointed out in a tweet the other week, there have been Fringe First shows that are only half full and I know that there are several very well-reviewed productions at my venue, which have struggled to even half-fill their seats. As for my little show - well, my smallest audience so far has been five and tomorrow, the only ticket I have booked is a Press Comp. So I guess I should be out on the street with everyone else, trying to claw in an audience.
But the thing is, I just can't bear to. I decided at the weekend that life was too short to waste it pestering people on the street and that I just wasn't going to take part. And if that meant I had no audience, then so be it. Slightly suicidal I guess, but the upshot of dropping out of the market-place like this is that my Edinburgh experience has become about a billion times more pleasant. I've spent the last few days seeing the sights of the city, caught a couple of shows, hung out with my mates and the people from the venue and pitched up and performed for whoever happened to be there. As it was, I had fifteen people in on Monday and that, quite frankly, is more than enough for me in these straightened times.
I appreciate that if I come next year, I'm going to have to find some alternative solutions to the advertising conundrum. It's not really economically viable to bring a show here if you don't have an audience. But I'm still convinced that there must be a way of doing Edinburgh as a small concern without selling your soul. I'm not sure what it is yet, but if I figure it out I'll let you know.
- by Matthew Bellwood
Any opinions expressed above do not represent the view of Whatsonstage.com nor any of its staff or contributors beyond the bylined author.
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