The rule I have learnt with choosing a venue is: be decisive and get on with it quick by about February, as the good venues get booked up quick. Don’t go for an incredibly popular venue. They can afford to be too picky as to who they take, and some don’t let you know whether you’ve been accepted until it’s too late to find somewhere else. One year we were holding out for the Bedlam, (and not only because they’ve got a wacky caff with soup of the day and gooey chocolate brownies… ) but they kept us hanging on in uncertainty well into April and were not that forthcoming when contacted for news. I would have appreciated it more if they had just said straight out: ‘Find another venue.’ I think it’s better to go with people who like the idea of your show, trust you to put on a decent one, and send you out forms and contracts straight away in a professional manner.
This year we’re going with SPACE. We have gone with them before. The first time we did the Fringe, our show had only two people in it: it was Jason Robert Brown’s ‘The Last Five Years‘. We were advised to be ‘humble’ on our first attempt. We booked Jury’s Inn, a little theatre on the eighth floor of a hotel just off the Mile. We were assured that is better to pack out a smaller space, than be having a nightmare trying to put bums on seats. And we did meet other interesting folk doing it on a shoestring. The show after ours was set in WW2: sirens wailed as you were queuing outside the room. Reassuring ladies came out with blankets and lamps and led us into the ‘air-raid-shelter.’ It was immersive and completely convincing.
Even this time, third time round, we have booked a theatre with only fifty-five seats. It’s enough. The competition is intense. We’ll have to work hard to sell tickets. We’ll be out there on the Royal Mile singing snatches of ‘Lavender, Lavender, Sweet Lavender,’ and ‘One Nice Boot for Sale,’ accompanied by Alfie in his top hat on his oboe, and Old Ma Sivers floating benignly in Victorian garb, selling watercress. Mr Blood will be stomping about terrifying all the little children and Mrs Blood, in her best bonnet, will be pouring forth obscenely high arpeggios. Jem, Ned and Billy will be ‘argufying’ on their fiddle, flute and drums (we hope: more on casting later.) Now, if we were the only show in town, this would be a fool-proof way to grab an audience. People would come out of morbid curiosity and to see what Alfie was going to do with his oboe. However you have to remember, at the Fringe you are competing with thousands of other casts who have honed equally vibrant methods of seeking attention. If somebody decides to come to yours, that is an enormous compliment. So putting the hours into publicity is essential.
And fun. This is a picture of some of our crew from two years ago. Your need to be noticed forces you to evolve. You develop ruses to attract attention. Little Bash and Alfie taking turns lying under a double bass or a tuba moaning and groaning for ‘Help!’ did the trick.
Soon you can also book a couple of twenty-minute slots to perform on the Mile’s outdoor stages to give people a taster of your show and hand out leaflets.
Oh, shizz, I forgot all about blinking leaflets. We’ll have to have them done next. The to-do list becomes longer every time I think about the show. And posters! Not that there is ever much space for anyone’s posters. Let’s hope SPACE manage to find some for ours.
Two years ago we printed some beautiful big posters for The Melody Blog, and by mistake sent them to Zoo Southside instead of Zoo Roxy. They were all lost. We didn’t know this til we turned up and saw everybody’s posters but ours on the walls.
One way to get people to come to your show is to go to theirs. We will be doing a lot of this this year, as our show slot is from 1.30 – 2.30, so we’ll have the rest of the day to see other things. SPACE venues give you comps to see any other SPACE shows for free so long as there are seats free.
So, how else did SPACE fit the bill this time? Well, despite standing out in the pouring rain, Charles Pamment took my call and talked to me. I could hear hail smacking onto his phone and wind howling round his ears but he didn’t seem to mind. When I took a couple of days to think, he emailed me. He remembered us from three years ago. He immediately sent over clear, communicative documents with deadlines and prices, giving me several options of theatres that might suit. Also, he pointed out that every morning of the Fringe, his Surgeons Hall venues hold a children’s festival. This is brilliant, because it means that children will be going to the shows before and after ours and thus will be more likely to hear about ours. We can help each other with publicity. Surgeons Hall is also very central and easy to give directions to from the Royal Mile. (‘Go that way, then right, and it’s on your left,’ type thing.) And, as you can see, it looks well posh with its gleaming pillars which are floodlit at night. It also has a sizeable outside cafe/bar area.
I chose Theatre 1 out of three. The map of it just looked right somehow. The stage is kind of triangular, in the corner. It has a backstage area, very useful. How can we really tell what it’s like without seeing it? We can’t, so…. we just had to go for it.