The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is nearly upon us! Posters are already appearing all over the city, venues are creaking into life, and performers from far and wide are descending on Auld Reekie at an almost unnerving speed.
I often read guides to the Fringe that were written for and by performers, audience members and marketing types. However, I feel that it would be remiss not to not give first-time EdFringe Critics, and critics who aren’t familiar with the city, a bit of guidance for their Festival debut, since it can be a very busy, very strange, but very fun time.
So, without any further introduction, here is my guide on how to survive the Fringe as a new critic.
1. Paper and Pen Are Your Friend
Yes, before we had computers, we had pen and paper, and things were a lot simpler if you ask me.
Anyway, always take a notebook and pen with you wherever you go – if your iPad/laptop/smartphone freezes or runs out of battery, they will be useful. A notebook will allow you to make inconspicuous notes in the auditorium – have you ever seen someone making notes on a phone or an iPad during a performance? I have, and not only is it extremely rude, it’s also pretty idiotic. Don’t be that person.
2. D.K.Y = Don’t Kill Yourself
I’m not saying the Fringe will drive you to suicide, all I’m saying is, don’t book too many shows on one day. Remember, the downside to seeing several shows in one day is that you will have to write a review for each of them. When it gets to 5am, and you still have reviews to write, but you can’t for the life of you remember what that piece you saw at 2pm was about, then you’re in trouble.
Know your limits, don’t burnout.
3. Be Nice
During the Fringe you will meet lots of different people; but it’s a very busy period, and so these people will be stressed, just like you. As a journalist, you are viewed as a representative of your publication, so, it’s a good idea to be nice.
Be nice to other journalists. Be nice to bar staff. Be nice to venue staff. Be nice to press staff. If you’re rude to people, you will get a bad reputation and people will not want to work with you. I worked for years in retail, and as anyone who has worked in retail will tell you, it’s really not very nice to be shouted at.
So, if something goes wrong, if a ticket isn’t where it should be, or phone calls are not being answered, be polite, but firm. People are more likely to help a critic that says “I really need to see this show, is there any way that you can fit me into this performance?” rather than the “What do you mean my ticket isn’t there? DON’T YOU KNOW WHO I AM?”
You are a critic, you are not a god.
4. The Royal Mile
Unless you want to move at a pace that would make the average snail blush, and get weighed down by an insane amount of flyers, avoid The Royal Mile.
It’s a lovely street, and if you must visit it, go early in the morning, for after around 10am, it fills with performers, more performers, flyerers and by passers who have no sense of space, time or an idea of what walking in a straight line entails.
5. Princes Street
Ok, so this isn’t probably the most important piece of information I can give you about the Fringe, but there is a big street in Edinburgh City Centre, it’s full of shops, it’s very famous, and it’s called Princes Street.
I’ll say it again, Princes Street. It’s masculine, there is no extra ‘s’. However, far too many people call it “Princess Street”, this is incorrect. If you ask for directions to “Princess Street” I am not going to give you any, because no such street exists in the city. Please, call it Princes Street.
6. Give Yourself Extra Travelling Time
During any other Month in Edinburgh, getting from somewhere like the Grassmarket to North Bridge takes around 5-10 minutes, depending on your route.
However, during August, this will take double that, because of the sheer amount of people trying to do the same thing. In fact, I once missed getting to a show at the Underbelly in the Grassmarket – by a minute, no exaggeration – because it had taken me so long to get from The Spaces @ Surgeons’ Hall to the Underbelly (a trip that takes literally no time at all) because of all the people in my way.
The staff were really very apologetic; they’d just closed the doors, and they led onto the stage, so I really would be interrupting the performance, and so, with a heavy heart, I had to phone my editor, and let them know that I couldn’t see the show. They were surprisingly ok about it, but it was embarrassing for me, it was unprofessional, and as the show went on to get great reviews, I missed out on a really strong show.
7. Sit Near the Door
I’ve been reviewing the Fringe since 2009 and if you can take away one piece of advice from me, please, sit near the door when you’re at a Fringe show.
Why? This means you can slip out of the show quicker – be that when it finishes, or earlier. There is no shame in leaving a bad Fringe show early, just do it quietly and without drawing any attention to yourself.
There have been more than a few occasions when, during a particularly bad show, I have lamented my choice of seat, as leaving the venue would involve having to cross the stage, and do some kind of walk of shame out the door. I don’t have the balls to do that yet. I have sat through a lot of bad theatre.
I have only ever walked out of one Fringe show, and that was because it was running over by half an hour and showed no signs of stopping. It was also the worst show I’d ever seen in 5 years of reviewing, so that had something to do with it.
Have I missed anything out? Is there anything else you would like to know? Get in touch and let me know!