Guide to working at the Edinburgh festival and taking a show there
How to find a job and a room at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe
This article is from 2013.
If you think you were born for the stage, or would just like to soak up the famous Fringe atmosphere, you’ll need David Pollock’s guide to doing the Edinburgh Festival
Most student cities and towns wind down for the summer as holidays are taken or resits crammed for a bit more diligently than first time round. But for the duration of August, Edinburgh opens the doors of every theatre, student union and church hall in the city to the greatest arts festival in the world. What people commonly know as the Edinburgh Festival is actually several events: the high-end, 40-quid-a-ticket Edinburgh International Festival and the less exclusive Edinburgh Festival Fringe (as well as the Book Festival, Art Festival, and plenty more besides). If you’re a university drama group or even just a bunch of mates with an idea you’d like to put on stage (no prior experience or discernible talent necessary), it’s the Fringe you want to be looking at, because they want you.
‘The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is open access, which means that anyone who can find a venue to perform in can put on a show,’ says Neil Mackinnon, head of external affairs at the Edinburgh Fringe Society. ‘There’s no selection process and the festival isn’t programmed or curated.’ Anything goes, in other words. It isn’t just a case of turning up on the day and waiting for a slot, though. A degree of organisation is required for months in advance, not to mention the workshop and rehearsal time you’re hopefully dedicating to your show.
Going on previous years’ arrangements, if you’d like to stage a show during 2014’s Fringe you’ll be looking to register it with the Fringe Society at some point early in 2014. You’ll need to get information to them by the printed programme deadline (usually at some point in April, for the programme’s launch in May), so your show is included in the many thousands of Fringe catalogues distributed throughout Edinburgh before and during the month. To fail to do so is probably giving the kiss of death to a show which will already have to work very hard for an audience.
At this point it’s worth bearing in mind you’ll already have spent just shy of around £300 (for a full run of six or more daily performances based on 2013 prices. You can attend for five days or fewer for substantially less), so unless you have a cast-iron, surefire solo success story, you’re probably going to want to rope in as many mates as you can to help with the production. Your registration fee also buys you an online ticket sales listing, media and marketing assistance, professional development help and advice on choosing the venue you’ll be showing in.
‘Compiling a realistic budget is an important early step when preparing to perform at the Fringe,’ says Mackinnon. ‘Projected expenses vary greatly from company to company, depending on factors like the size and genre of your show, whether it’s an amateur or professional production and how far you’ll have to travel to get to the city. You’ll also have to deal with some unknowns: it’s difficult to predict ticket sales, for instance, although it’s likely that expenses will be greater than revenue.’ The blunt truth is, you probably won’t see much of your investment back unless you’re really talented and good at selling yourself, so be prepared to embrace the experience for its own sake.
Even if you’re not in your university’s drama society or you don’t think you can bear the ignominy of a one-star shoeing from one of The List’s reviewing team for your cack-handed efforts, it’s still possible to ‘do Edinburgh’ (as those not from or studying in Edinburgh like to call it) without crucifying your overdraft. The main way is by means of a festival job with one of the many companies who run venues in the city during August, doing everything from front of house and bar work to technical support and press office admin.
Obviously the more specialised the job, the hotter the competition will be, but there are literally hundreds of places going, particularly with the big names: Pleasance, Underbelly, The Stand, Gilded Balloon, C Venues, Assembly and Assembly Rooms (confusingly, the latter two are different companies). All of them post calls for staff on their websites as August grows near and offer at least minimum wage (some of them more), although applicants should really be aware that they’ll be expected to work more or less every day throughout the festival, often at unsociable hours. This will generally include enough time off to see a few shows or sleep off a couple of hangovers, though.
A festival job is also a good way to experience the Fringe while doing it on the cheap. Most venue staff will find that perks include free entry to any of the shows staged by the chain they’re working for, subject to availability (enquire about student discounts elsewhere or try out Free Fringe venues if you’re on a budget), as well as staff discounts on drinks at the bar. The vast majority of jobs won’t include accommodation, however, particularly those at the lower end of the chain, so you’ll either want to have a look on Gumtree or speak to one of Edinburgh’s letting agents to find a summer rent, or head to edinburghfirst.co.uk to find cheap student accommodation that’s out of use for the summer.
Beware, though: not only does accommodation fill up fast during the tourist-heavy summer months, but rental prices shoot up dramatically too. It’s best to get looking early and team up with friends in order to make sure you’re fully occupying your chosen space. Or you could try looking a little further out of town: Leith is rough, ready and largely unscathed by festival madness, but it’s also home to Edinburgh’s best bars and most bohemian natives.
Go to www.edfringe.com/participants for more information on how to register a show with the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.