At the end of the run I've found myself with no personality left and no sense of humour. Which is about the same position I've been in at the end of every other Edinburgh run.
I'm sure this should be a blog about what I've learnt etc and some kind of optimistic what comes next plan, but unfortunately I've also run out of optimism and the ability to learn anything new. But here it goes, things I've learnt from this Edinburgh....
1. How to produce a show on the paid fringe. I hadn't done that before, now I have, so that's a good thing and I'm sure I've learnt some skills along the way although I can't currently remember what they are. We were sold out most days, which is really rare, so I must have done something right.
2. Flyering works. When we flyered lots, we were full up. When we didn't flyer lots, we weren't full up. Flyering lots in the morning helped lots as there was less competition but lots of potential audience looking to plan their day. Splitting up and flyering as individuals worked better than staying in a group, as it allowed more coverage. The flyering hot spots were the fringe box office queue, each entrance to the main section of the Royal Mile, and outside C Venues. Rather than being whacky or using stunts we found just having normal conversations with people worked best. In the future I'd pay even more attention to what's on the flyer, as it's the most important sales tool.
3. The audience is different from what most performers think it is. I learnt this when I came without a show last year and spent a couple of days walking around looking at people and eavesdropping on them planning shows. I think the Edinburgh Fringe, the press and many performers would like to think it's an audience of comedy savvy, cutting edge, experimental young theatre goers looking for a new language for theatre. In my experience though the audience is actually mainly made up of:
- Families with a couple of kids, usually up to the age of 14, usually from Edinburgh or Scotland.
- Middle aged couples from Scotland visitng for a couple of days.
- Middle aged couples from American visiting for a couple of days as part of a wider Europe tour.
- Larger groups of Italian/Spanish/Japanese tourists.
- Various English people, similarly grouped to above.
- Local teenagers doing the fringe for a weekend.
- Other performers.
- Comedy 'in crowd'.
Largely I think these people are looking to do the following:
- See something they already know about, have heard about, and really want to see.
- See something new and fun, if it fits into the rest of their day.
- See the tourist sites.
- Maybe see a free show, if they think it will be good, and fits in with their day.
I'm really thankful that we deliberately targetted a set audience (families and middle aged couples) right from the start as this was really effective. Basically we offered 'something fun to see in the afternoon'. Making it family friendly, although difficult for us as performer, made it much easier to sell.
4. Word of mouth might be invisible but it's there. This is the weirdest feeling of all. That for everybody who has seen your show they have a feeling and opinion and tell others about it. Visting tourists can tell their B & B owner who may then tell new tourists arriving. I've felt this the other way round, when people ask me if I can recommend anything I don't tell them everything I've seen - maybe just the top three. I think getting in this top 3 word of mouth is an excellent aim.
5. Good graphic design is essential. We were lucky enough to have a talented cast member (Jon Monkhouse) who is excellent at design, and made some fantastic flyers and posters. It's not just that good graphic design attracts people, but that bad graphic design puts people off. If a group has produced an amateur looking flyer, it doesn't bode well for the bigger creative process of their show.
6. Press only makes a difference to a few people. We had some awful press (2 star), some mediocre press (3 star) and some outstanding press (5 stars). Overall I don't think this made the blindest bit of difference to our show. Our rate of sale was the same per day throughout the entire fringe. The Fringe seems saturated with reviews, with stars popping up on posters like pimples on teenagers. These days even a four star review makes an audience think 'whatever' as they seem to be everywhere. The only thing that seems to make any difference anymore is five star reviews, and even then there have to be loads of them before anyone takes any notice. The only person I saw have press affect their show was Cariad Lloyd, who after a string of five star reviews had audiece queuing up round the building. My biggest fringe regret was getting so bothered about press, I wish I'd just forgotten about it until the end. Although we do have some awesome quotes and things now to use for selling future shows.
7. Marketing. I learnt a lot about this. Edinburgh is a crash course in marketing in minature, and you can see lots of marketing principles in action. Have a look at the audience journey to see what I mean:
- I've always wanted to go to Edinburgh, I might go.
- How do I do that?
- Google Edinburgh Fringe. Go to edfringe.com. Advert of Show X pops up. Ohhh, Show X looks mildly interesting.
- Order programme.
- Programme arrives. Thumb through programme. Advert of Show X. Oh look, they got some stars once. Programme entry of Show X, looks alright, maybe, maybe a circle, won't book yet though.
- Facebook/twitter message from buddy already there 'went to see Show X last night, awesome stuff'.
- Get train to Edinburgh. Read newspapers. Positive review about Show X.
- Arrive in Edinburgh. Wheel suitcase to B & B. Go past poster for Show X. In B & B show X flyers sat on mantlepiece. Mrs. Miggins says 'oh yes, our last guests so Show X, or was it Show Y, did it have table tennis puppets in it, or was it that bloke, you know?'
- Go out on town, walk past Show X posters, get drunk, meet someone who says they had a good time at Show X.
- Wake up, go to Royal Mile. Show X posters at entrace to Royal Mile. Walk past someone in Show X sandwich board.
- Queue up in Fringe Box Office queue. Nice person gives you Show X flyer and points out it's on this afternoon.
- Read flyer while waiting in queue, check it fits in with rest of day. Book Show X ticket.
- Go and see show X. Tell people about it.
So some stuff helps to spread the message, some serves as a reminder, some is a direct opportunity to buy, some raises awareness and some raises desire to see the show. This also supports my view that Edinburgh is actually a massive capitalist comedy/theatre trade fair, not a fringe festival at all. I actually don't have a problem with that, I just think performers should know what they're walking in to.
8. You will go mad. Whatever you do, you'll get a cold and feel rubbish at some point.
9. You have to come quite a few years in succession to make any real difference to Edinburgh or the comedy world.
So what next?
At the moment I feel like never doing improvised comedy ever again. In reality I probably just need a break from it for a bit, so I'll probably re-evaluate that feeling after a week off in London.
I also feel like I've learnt how to produce a show in Edinburgh now, although at the moment I'm not sure if I want to ever do that again. As before though, I probably just need a break.
For some reason I'm really drawn into doing more stand up, which I'd done a couple of times before leaving for Edinburgh. I think after managing a huge amount of people for so long there's something attractive about going solo for a bit.
My inner intravert is also crying out now, and will probably take over for a bit. I think a week of seeing nobody, watching submarine films on Film 4 at lunchtime, and eating cheese toasties with my girlfriend is just what the doctor ordered.
Bye Edinburgh! You nutter.