How to make your Edinburgh Fringe show a success
Author of The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide Mark Fisher dispenses good advice
This article is from 2012.
A couple of years ago, I was commissioned by Methuen Drama to write The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide, a 280-page manual published earlier this year and described by Lyn Gardner of the Guardian as "a wonderfully practical but also inspirational book full of good advice". I like to think so too.
Inevitably, when I was writing the book, I had to deal with a vast amount of material. I knew I had to cover everything from how to run a marketing campaign to how to negotiate with landlords, from coping with bad reviews to capitalising on a runaway hit, from overdoing it at the Traverse bar to finding the best way to hand out flyers.
Part of the task was to give it all some shape. That became a lot easier when I realised that whatever subject I dealt with, I always returned to one simple idea.
It's the one dealt with in the chapter called The Motivation. It's a short chapter that discusses your reasons for wanting to perform in the world's biggest arts festival in the first place. But if you read it hoping to find out what those reasons should be, you'll be disappointed. I'm afraid I can't tell you. That's because everyone has their own reason. What's important as a performer is that you know what yours is.
If you get that clear in your mind, all the decisions you have to make – and there are many – become so much easier. Put crudely, the student improviser who wants to enjoy a summer vacation in Edinburgh getting drunk every night has a very different motivation to the up-and-coming stand-up comedian who's aiming for an autumn tour and a guest slot on 8 Out of 10 Cats.
Both performers have valid reasons to be in Edinburgh, but they will achieve their goals in different ways. If Fringe success to you is 21 nights of partying, there's little point in spending money on a publicist. If, by contrast, your goal is a West End transfer, then you'll need all the marketing, press and networking support you can afford.
Once the idea of success is clear in your head, then you'll know what your goal is. "You've got to decide what you want in order to get it," says Nica Burns, director of the Foster's Edinburgh Comedy Award. It'll affect the venue you choose, the kind of accommodation you hire and the way you attract your audience.
It'll also help you on a day by day basis. When you're feeling tired and demoralised, when your fellow cast members are falling out, when your audiences are in the single figures and the money isn't adding up, you have a reason for ploughing ahead in spite of it all.
It also means when success arrives, you're ready for it and you know how to deal with it. After the highs and the lows, the round-the-clock frenzy of networking, socialising, hard graft and entertainment, that's the way to make the most of the whole delirious experience.