Tag Archives: 2014

The Things an EdFringe PR Cannot Do and Other Observations by an Absent Critic

27 Aug
Image by Anne, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Image by Anne, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe finished yesterday, on Bank Holiday Monday, which meant, as Edinburgh regulars like John Fleming know, that all the shops in the city were open, but all the banks were closed. Welcome to Edinburgh, we do things differently in August.

This year, I also decided to do things differently by taking a year out from the Fringe after five consecutive years of reviewing at the festival. I popped a quick “I won’t be at the Fringe, sorry” notice on my Contact Me page, and cleared my diary for the entire month of August for the first time since 2009. It felt good.

Despite the much-needed break, my absence gave me a mild case of the fear of missing out, and so, I often sauntered through Bristo Square, Fringe Central, North Bridge et al, to see what was going on. On one of these trips, I met my friend Beryl for coffee. There are two things that you need to know about my dear Beryl: Beryl is not their real name but they are A Very Good Theatre PR.

“The thing is, ” began Beryl, after inhaling her colourful cardboard cup of frothy, overpriced coffee, “that a lot of the national critics have stayed away from the Fringe this year, which some clients are finding very hard to accept.”

“I have this one client; they have a great show, they’ve had consistently good reviews, but they want the national press in, and I can’t contact journalists who aren’t at the Fringe and have no intention of coming to the Fringe.”

The lack of well-established broadsheet publications at this year’s festival has not gone unnoticed, and some of the biggest names in theatre criticism, such as Ian Shuttleworth and Mark Shenton have chosen to stay at home.

“But, they just won’t listen.” Continued Beryl. “I’ve sent them emails carefully explaining why the National press aren’t coming to review them. If they hadn’t had any reviews then I would understands, but they’ve had over 10 reviewers so far, and that’s still not good enough. In fact, they’ve started demanding that I do things that I just can’t do, it’s not my job and it’s not how PR works.”

“What kind of things?” I asked, cradling my own freakishly expensive cup of joe, “I’m impressed that you’ve managed to get 10 separate publications to review their show, that’s incredible! There are people at this festival that dream of getting just one review!”

Beryl gazed miserably into her spent cup of corporate pick-me-up and explained: “Most of our contact has been via email, but the other day the producer phoned me, he’d just finished reading The Scotsman‘s review of the show and he didn’t like that they’d given it 3 stars.”

“You need to phone The Scotsman,” he said, “and get them to change it to 4 stars.”

“That isn’t how it works!” I cried.

“I know,” sighed Beryl, “I tried to explain How It Works, but he was having none of it. He also didn’t like it when he ‘discovered’ that the reviewer was – shock horror – a freelance journalist – not a staff writer and that they were – gasp – only 24.”

“I explained that the writer, despite the mortal sin of being younger than 25, was, in fact, a well-respected critic and an award-winning reviewer who writes for several national publications, but he still wasn’t happy.”

“And they haven’t paid me.”

I slammed my coffee down. “So, in a festival of 3,193 shows, performed in 299 venues, in a year when critics seem to be abandoning the Fringe, you and you alone, have managed to convince 10 critics to review this one show, and they haven’t paid you?”

Beryl nodded. “They paid a deposit but they were meant to pay the first instalment on the 1st of August, which they haven’t. I’ve been emailing the producer about it, and he’s ignored me.”

A few days later, I sent Beryl a text message to ask if the producer had coughed up the money.

“Nope.” She replied, “But I did get a phone call saying the lighting designer hadn’t been paid and the producer had given them my number…go figure.”

Beryl, like I said earlier, is A Very Good Theatre PR. But even Very Good Theatre PRs can’t control reviewers because reviewers have free will whether we like it or not.

You can control the show, you can control advertising and you can control yourself, but you cannot control the reviews.

There will always be things that your PR cannot do, so don’t demand the impossible and pay your staff, for God’s sake, because bad press travels fast before, during and after the Fringe.

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Trash Gets Shortlisted For a UK Blog Award!

7 Feb
THAT UK Blog Awards Shortlist Announcement

THAT UK Blog Awards Shortlist Announcement

I’ve never been one for self-promotion; I find it awkward, and I tend to assume that people aren’t really that interested in what I have to say.

However, in the spirit of raising my profile and facing my fears, last year I decided to nominate The Taylor Trash for the UK Blog Awards 2014, which are designed to cater for all types of blogging in the UK, rather than focusing on a select discipline, such as fashion or lifestyle or parenting. So, after writing a guest blog for their website, I entered the awards, after all, I had nothing to lose.

Once my nomination was official, I had to put aside my fears and ask people to vote for me. I asked them on Facebook, Twitter and, as some eagle-eyed readers may have noticed, by using a badge on this blog, knowing that, after voting closed on the 26th of January, there was little I could do until the shortlist announcement at midnight on the 3rd of February.

When the day of the shortlist announcement arrived, I expected nothing more than a with: “Thanks, but no thanks, Trash” or, an apologetic, “Unfortunately, due to the high volume of applicants…” email. However, after midnight, I got an email informing me that, despite all my doubts, The Taylor Trash had been shortlisted in the Individual/Freelance Arts and Culture category in the UK Blog Awards.

After I picked myself off the floor, and more or less inhaled a cup of tea to calm myself down, I learned that my blog would now be appraised by the judging panel, with the winners due to be announced at the official awards ceremony in Central London on Friday, the 25th of April.

I’ve bought my ticket to the awards ceremony, so, all I can do until the night of the awards is work on my blog, book my accommodation for the big day, and thank everyone who voted for me over the past few weeks.

So, to everyone who voted for me, thank you, so much, you’ve made a tired, jaded arts hack very happy! I’ll be tweeting from the awards, I’ll do a write-up of the evening, and I’m really looking forward to meeting all my fellow nominees – see you in April!

Look, a badge and everything!

Look, a badge and everything!

My Failed New Year’s Resolutions

8 Jan

Image by elycefeliz, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

I love New Year. I love the fireworks, the celebrations and the sense of optimism that comes with the dawning of each new calendar year.

But I absolutely suck at sticking to my New Year’s resolutions.

That’s not to say I haven’t tried; for a while my only resolution was to not make a resolution, and I stuck to that for a while. I’m also lucky in that I don’t fall into the usual resolutions of stopping smoking or drinking, because I don’t smoke and I very rarely drink.

But when I look back at the resolutions I’ve neglected to achieve over the last few years, I’ve come to the conclusion that they failed, not because I didn’t try, but because they weren’t the right resolutions for me at the time.

Resolution One: Lose Some Weight, Fatty

I was quite skinny when I was younger. In fact, I was so skinny that I never realised just how skinny I was until I wasn’t that skinny any more. Your body, like your personality, changes over time, and while I’m not a size 8, I’m still a healthy weight for my size.

In fact, I’m happier now in my body than I ever was before, and while some bits could do with firming up, and I fantasise about having Linda Hamilton Terminator 2-esque biceps, it won’t happen overnight, and that’s ok. I’ll continue eating healthily and working at my physical day job, that’ll do for now.

Resolution Two: Stop Procrastinating…Tomorrow….No, Today

“Procrastination,” my mother once declared, “’tis the thief of time!” and she was right. I procrastinate too much, I live in my head too much, I think about doing something for too long when I should just do it. Case in point: I thought about blogging for four years before I actually did anything about it.

I know I’m not alone in procrastinating, which is reassuring, but whilst I have looked at other ways of working, such as the Pomodoro Technique and blocking access to Facebook and Twitter while working, my mind needs to wander.

While I may not be able to stop procrastinating altogether, I can deal with it in better ways; such as allowing myself breaks, getting into a better work at home routine and changing my attitude towards tasks that have to be done. As someone once said to me, “You have to stop thinking that you should do something, and instead start thinking that you need, want or wish to do something.” This advice has made a big difference to just about every aspect of my life.

Resolution Three: Go Back to University

Around this time last year, I blogged about my quest to get back into higher education after graduating nearly four years previously. This year marks five years since that fateful day when I put on a big, silly gown, got all nervous, shook Sir Tom Farmer’s hand and got my degree, and I’m still no closer to going back to university.

In fact, if anything, I’m a little more conflicted about the whole thing; it’s expensive, you’re not guaranteed a job, and there are lots of journalists that say that postgraduate degrees aren’t worth the paper they’re printed on. All the advice I’ve had about getting into the media has been pretty contradictory, and while some still insist that experience, not qualifications, matter, I’ve noticed that an alarming number of media job adverts begin with the terrifying statement: “You will have a journalism qualification.”

So, what next? In the next few months, I aim to find out more about funding and bursaries and see if there’s anything that I would be suitable for. I can also do a much less expensive, but very respected NCTJ Course in my own time, which would give me that elusive journalism qualification without the £6,000+ price tag.

Resolution Four: Learn to Drive

I’ve been meaning to learn to drive since I was 17. I’m now 28, and although I have a provisional driving license and I once owned a car with my former partner (it was a purple VW Golf MK3, affectionately referred to as Reggie, I loved that car) I’ve never had a driving lesson.

There are many reasons for this; procrastination, sheer laziness, expense and the fact that Edinburgh’s bus service is really very good, so, logically, when would I actually drive? Still, I need to learn to drive because it’s an important skill to have on my CV, it would allow me greater freedom to travel around the country and beyond, and at nearly 30, sitting behind the wheel of a parked car going “Vroom! Vroom!” Just doesn’t do it for me any more.

Resolution Five: Read More

I used to love reading. I’d read into the early hours of the morning and then read again the next day. My parents would buy me a small pile of books every Christmas, thinking they would last me until March and then despair when they realised that I’d read them all by New Year.

But then, I went to university, and I wasn’t allowed to read for fun. My degree, while a drama course, was more academic than practical, and we had to read at least three plays a week, combined with several dull critical theory texts. Have you ever read Roland Barthes’ Death of the Author? It makes an interesting point, but it’s turgid; it’s worse than Sunset Song and Highland River, both of which I had to read in High School, and both of which keep popping up on Scotland’s greatest books lists, much to my utter disgust.

And if you think about it, reading a play is a very different experience to watching a play. Just as reading a book because someone in authority says you must read it takes all the fun out of the experience.

So, I got bored with reading, and all these years later, I still struggle to finish a book, because I get distracted. I have got better; last year, I read the entire Stieg Larsson Millennium Trilogy, and I’m halfway through Mark Kermode’s latest, and really very good tome, Hatchet Job. After that, I’m going to read all the A Song of Ice and Fire books by George R.R. Martin, so I’m getting there.

Resolution Six: Go to the Theatre/Cinema For Fun!

For years, going to the theatre and the cinema has been work for me – I’m there to review after all – and so, I go there in full critic mode, complete with notebook and eagerness to ‘read’ the work.

Sometimes it’s hard to get out of this mindset, and I have to re-learn how to enjoy going to the theatre or the cinema as a regular audience member, not some poor arts hack with a bashed notebook. The experience needs be an escape again for me, as it should be for everyone else, and I need to stop getting so annoyed by badly behaved audiences.

Resolution Seven: Stop Getting Annoyed by Badly Behaved Audiences

Hey, I’ll stop getting annoyed when they learn how to behave.

2013 – There and Back Again

30 Dec
Image by dickdavid shared under a Creative Commons License

Image by dickdavid shared under a Creative Commons License

If you, like me, have emerged bleary eyed but largely unscathed from the annual festive fuckwittery that descends during the seemingly never-ending Christmas season, you’ll probably be reflecting on the events of the last year. (I’m not much of a Christmas person.)

2013 was a mixed year for lots of reasons. A divisive political figure died and had a big funeral that a much-hated politician cried at. Another divisive political figure died, and a bunch of world leaders took a selfie during his memorial service. A woman gave birth to a baby boy, and everyone had an opinion on it. A woman twerked on American television, and everyone had an opinion on it. Far too many of the UK’s most vulnerable continue to suffer because of benefit sanctions, welfare cuts and increasingly inhumane policies brought in by an increasingly inhumane government has continued their mission to punish the poor with nonsensical expenses and create tax breaks for the rich.

And I still can’t twerk or take a decent selfie. But, I digress.

This time last year, I worked full-time for an online marketing company. I’d taken the job because it was better paid than the one I’d had before, and, as I’d reasoned at the time, working 9-5 during the week gave me ample time to write, review and do everything else that I wanted to do.

However, I had a dream, a few dreams, in fact; I wanted to write, and I wanted to write on a freelance basis on my own terms. I longed to be my own boss and work on projects that I could see to fruition. I wanted to get out there, network and meet more people, not be stuck at a desk everyday, working on projects that might never reach a satisfactory conclusion.

Yet, the logical part of me (there is a sensible voice somewhere in my head) told me to stop dreaming; that my job was more than enough, that it was paying the bills and for a while, my dreams were pushed aside. It wasn’t long before they resurfaced, bobbing up and down in my subconscious, like the remnants of magnificent and mighty shipwreck. There they remained, always on the horizon, always waiting, and always just out of reach.

My day job kept me busy – too busy – and before long I realised that my writing had taken second place next to a job that I didn’t enjoy, that I didn’t want to do, and was taking up more and more of my time. I felt constantly tired, I was taking work home with me, getting stressed, not sleeping, and always worrying, worrying, worrying about what I hadn’t done, and what I needed to be doing.

I knew life as a freelance writer would be difficult, and that money wouldn’t be guaranteed, but I knew I had to do it. I couldn’t let the fear of failure hold me back, and as far as I was concerned, I’d already lost enough time working in an office when I wanted to be anywhere else but there. So, in August, I made the proverbial leap of faith; I gave my employer five weeks notice, and set about applying for jobs.

It was tough, a lot harder than I thought it would be; over a month after I left the relative safety of the 9-5 world, and after many, many rejections, unanswered applications and ignored speculative emails, all I managed to get was seasonal work delivering flyers for a well-known venue. There were days that I would go around town with my CV, handing it in to any business that was advertising for staff: shops, bars, coffeehouses – anywhere. I never heard back from any of them.

I’ve wanted to write for as long as I remember, and I knew I had to give it my best shot. Eventually, and through a dear friend, I managed to get some regular writing work, working on articles and blog posts for, you’ve guessed it, an online marketing company. I also work part-time in a restaurant, thanks to another old friend who was looking for staff, and so, I have days off during the week, where I can balance my personal writing with my work writing. It’s not the most comfortable way of living; I’ve made sacrifices in order to pay the bills (gone are the days of Spotify Premium, LoveFilm and buying brand new clothes whenever and wherever) but it’s a much better way to live.

I may have made a few mistakes along the way, and leaving the comfort of a stable job to follow your dreams without a back up plan isn’t the most logical thing I’ve ever done (whatever happened to that sensible voice in my head?), but sod logical. I’ve made the first step on a long journey of happiness, and I’m really enjoying this new beginning. In fact. I’m proud of what I’ve done, what I’ve achieved and I’m looking forward to what I will do in 2014.

Happy New Year!

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