Tag Archives: Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Seven Tips for the First-Time EdFringe Critic

25 Jul
EdFringe 2010

EdFringe Photo by DaveMcKFlit, used under a Creative Commons Licence

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!

Why Your EdFringe PR Campaign Sucks

3 Jun
Fringe Posters image by Daveybot, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

Fringe Posters image by Daveybot, shared under a Creative Commons Licence

If you’re a performer or part of a theatre company that’s handling your own PR campaign at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, perhaps for the first time, there are three things that form the basis of any Edinburgh Festival Fringe PR campaign; discipline, research and hard work. I know, that’s pretty obvious, but while the Edinburgh Fringe is presented as a fun and unmissable festival (it is) it’s also a bit like a sewer; what you get out of it depends on what you put into it.

But I’m Only at the Fringe for Three Days

Three days? That’s brilliant! Shorter runs at the Fringe are becoming quite popular for various reasons, and the length of your run doesn’t limit your PR campaign. Get in there early, contact journalists; send them an exclusive invite to your first show and promote the Hell out of it.

But I Want to Party Hard

While it may look like the Fringe is one big party, the reality is that the festival is hard work for everyone involved in the Fringe. For performers handling their own PR, the Fringe presents an almost unique experience in terms of promotion.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is one of the biggest, if not the biggest arts festival in the world; this year a record 2,871 shows will be performed by 24,107 artists in 273 venues across Edinburgh. The number of shows at this year’s Fringe has increased by 6.5% compared to last year. So, if you want to party, do it in moderation, you have a job to do.

But The Fringe is Too Big

As the Fringe grows, so do the opportunities for marketing a show and producing a strong and unforgettable Fringe PR campaign. A bigger Fringe means more journalists, more publications, more blogs, more audience members, more venues. It means more work to publicise a show successfully.

It means that your Fringe PR campaign must be as important as all other Fringe preparation. Think about all the work you have put into your show so far: the planning, the auditions, the creating of sets, costumes, the booking of a venue, the organisation of Fringe accommodation. Why should PR take a back seat?

So, I Just Shout Loud Enough and I’ll Get Reviewed?

It’s often said that the person who shouts the loudest has the most influential voice in the room, but for the Fringe, and for wider PR, I would argue that having the right voice, rather than the loudest voice is more desirable to journalists.

There is so much ‘noise’ generated by PRs and performers during the Fringe; journalists will be getting promotional messages fired at them daily, so, you have to find a way to make your voice more noticeable and most of all, more inviting to them.

How Do I Make My Voice Heard?

You need to target the right journalists, the right publications, and promote what it is about your show, your piece that will appeal to them. If your show is a political piece, are there journalists who specialise in reviewing and previewing political theatre? Is there a specific publication that tailors to your target audience?

Make a list of your Unique Selling Points (USPs) such as, if this is your first year at the Fringe,  are you performing the world première of your show? What is it that you can offer journalists the competition can’t offer them? Why should they choose you over the thousands of other artists at the festival? Why do you want a journalist to review your show? Once you are clear about this, then you will find it easier to put together your PR campaign.

How Should I Submit My PR?

Once the PR is written and the right journalists have been identified, how will you submit your PR? Will you post it if you have the publication’s address? It’s not as immediate as email, but some journalists prefer it. If you’re unsure, contact the journalist or publication and ask.

If you email it, do you attach it as a separate document, or copy and paste it into the body of the email? Personally, I prefer the copy and paste method, which means I’m not constantly downloading documents. Remember that it needs to be easy for a journalist to find your PR during the busy festival period, so use the show name, venue and company name in the subject line of your email.

Many journalists, especially me and Thom Didbin from Annuals of Edinburgh Stage will thank you for doing this.

How will you begin your communication? A “Hello” is always nice. Seriously, say “Hi”, try to engage with the journalist – good PR is about building lasting relationships, if you get along with a journalist one year, they will remember you the next and might be more likely to see your shows in the future.

What About Social Media?

Social media now forms a pretty big part of any Fringe campaign, and so contacting journalists through this medium, in my opinion, is fine, you just to get your approach right. Start talking to the journalist before the start of the Fringe, build up a rapport; don’t be all promotional all the time.

Simply tweeting a journalist you’ve never spoken to before and asking them to “Please RT” a promotional tweet about your show is lazy – talk to them, don’t just use them as a mouthpiece for your work.

Do Not Do Any Of These Things in Your PR Campaign

Below is a list of suggestions for things not to do when you’re handling your own PR campaign during the Fringe, outside of the Fringe and in general. Personalising your email goes a long, long way.

  1. Email a press release with the subject line ‘Press Release’
  2. Send out a mass email beginning with: ‘Dear EdFringe Reviewer/Promoter/Press Officer/VIP/Broadcaster/Supporter
  3. Send out an email that begins with “Dear Chesney” when the editor’s name is Bella
  4. Constantly email and phone the office of a magazine/newspaper demanding that they review your show
  5. Tweet the same invite verbatim to at least 25 reviewers or publications in a row
  6. Email the same PR multiple times
  7. Email an ‘extended’ PR which gives no new information
  8. Email a PR that gives the wrong start time/the wrong date/the wrong director/the wrong actor/the wrong venue
  9. Write a PR that starts with your star ratings and reviews
  10. Write a PR that uses lots and lots of different colours, fonts, sizes and is not clearly formatted
  11. Write a PR that doesn’t begin with a greeting, but ends with an email signature
  12. Not using bcc in marketing emails
  13. Get the publication name wrong
  14. Issue a demand, not an invitation
  15. Not say thank you to a reviewer or publication for a good review
  16. Send more than one press release per email
  17. Threaten to sue over a bad review – this will not work out well for anybody

Whether this is your first Fringe or your tenth, PR is an important part of your preparation and so, it’s important to keep on top of it, and don’t leave it to chance.

Have you got any advice for companies doing their own EdFringe PR? Get in touch and let me know.

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