By Various authors

31 July 2017 - 20:46

'Edinburgh is a beautiful city so take some time out to experience its glories.' Image (c) Omar Yassen, used under licence and adapted from the original.
'Edinburgh is a beautiful city so take some time out to experience its glories.' Image ©

Omar Yassen, used under licence and adapted from the original.

This year is the 70th anniversary of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Four Fringe experts give tips on surviving the world's biggest arts festival.

Brian Logan is The Guardian's comedy critic and artistic director of Camden People's theatre.

How long have you been going to the Fringe?

I’ve been going since I was a teenager in north-east Fife, Scotland in the late 1980s. Professionally (sometimes as a performer; usually as a reviewer), I haven’t missed a year since the late 1990s.

What advice would you give someone who has never been?

The Fringe is one of the wonders of the world, so expect to be overwhelmed, and submit cheerfully to the overwhelming. Go off-piste, gamble on work you know nothing about, and mix and match the 'Free Fringe' shows with the Fringe and international festivals (if you can afford to do so). Don't forget to eat (well). And take time to enjoy just being in one of the most beautiful cities in Europe, too.

How do you decide what to spend your time and money on?

I make a long list – several hundred shows long, based on my hunches, knowledge of a lot of the acts, and on press releases and buzz – at the start of the festival. And I plan each day fairly spontaneously based on that list, adjusted according to what seems to be newsy or talked-about, then adjusted again according to what my editors are requesting me to cover for the newspaper. Sometimes, I’ll select something because certain shows fit a theme that I have to write about. I try and leave room to be impetuous and go with the flow. I also reluctantly accept that I’ll leave after three weeks without having seen all (or even most) of the shows I really wanted to see.

Is it worth reading reviews, or just seeing what you want to see?

A bit of both. Obviously I think it’s worth reading reviews – I’m a reviewer. I’d recommend my colleague Lyn Gardner, theatre critic at The Guardian: sound of judgment, adventurous of spirit, knows her stuff inside out and loves the best of it. Steve Bennett at Chortle is a good go-to voice for comedy, as is my colleague Dominic Maxwell at The Times. I always enjoy reading reviews in Fest magazine.

But one shouldn’t be bound by reviews. Sometimes, critics are wrong; often, they simply don’t cover some shows. The Fringe is partly about the pleasure of making great discoveries, and, by definition, you shouldn’t wait to be told which discoveries to make.

Where do you go when you want to get away from the crowds? 

I go to the book festival in Charlotte Square. It’s my oasis, and I love it.

Lyn Gardner is theatre writer for The Guardian and The Stage.

What advice would you give to someone who has never been before?

Take a stout pair of comfortable walking shoes, an umbrella (it can be sunny one minute and raining cats and dogs the next), wear layers (it may be cold outside, but venues are likely to be stifling) and keep a sense of adventure. Remember to both eat and sleep, both of which can fall by the wayside when you are caught up in the excitement of the Fringe. Most of the time it is easier and cheaper to walk from venue to venue rather than taking taxis or using public transport. But allow plenty of time between shows in different venues to get there without stressing. Many shows have a no-late-comers policy. 

Edinburgh is a beautiful city, so take some time out to experience its glories – maybe a hike up Arthur’s Seat to recharge the batteries. Oh, and keep asking people in queues what they’ve seen and liked. Word of mouth in Edinburgh is as important as reviews.

Can you see too much?

There is so much to see that there is a temptation to try and cram in as many shows as possible. But although you can see eight shows a day, I wouldn’t advise it for either your physical or mental health. You need a chance to recharge and also process what you see. I reckon that I must misjudge more shows in Edinburgh – perhaps over- or under-praising – than at any time of the year, just because I see so much. I have to because it's my job, but I do it so you don’t have to. Four shows a day is a really comfortable number. One of those four should be a risk: a show you like the sound of, but know nothing about.

Has the Fringe changed?

I’ve been going for over 30 years, and it changes all the time. It’s not a fixed thing, but an organic beast that shifts shape. For many years, the epicentre of the Fringe was in the New Town, but now it’s over in the Old Town. Venues come and go, and so do performance trends. At one point, it looked as if comedy might swamp the theatre programme, but that hasn’t happened.

For as long as I’ve been going to Edinburgh, people have predicted that the continued growth of the Fringe would eventually destroy it when it burst like a balloon. The Cassandras have all been wrong.  I reckon the Fringe will continue to thrive, because there is an magic about it that makes people return year after year. They come as punters and return as performers or vice versa. It’s addictive.

Orla O’Loughlin is artistic director of The Traverse Theatre.

How long have you been going to the Fringe?

I first came when I was 18 years old with my youth theatre. We stayed in a hostel on the Meadows and it was one of the best summers of my life.

What advice would you give to someone who has never been?

Pace yourself. Hydrate. Bring a waterproof jacket and footwear that can take some miles.

Is it worth reading reviews, or just seeing what you want to see?

Word of mouth is your best bet. Seek recommendations from those whose taste you respect. Or commit to a critic you trust, though be mindful that increasingly, reviews can have their own agenda.

What are the best things that you can remember seeing, how did you hear about them?

An amateur production of the musical Godspell in 1991. We just stumbled on it next to the pub we'd been drinking in. We went for a lark and it broke us. Festival fever had clearly left us tired and emotional.

Has something been widely tipped as brilliant, but left you thinking what the fuss was all about?

There's always a few of those each year, shows that can't possibly live up to the level of expectation placed on them by the festival hype. That's just part of the deal.

How do you avoid getting worn out? 

I try and stick to a five-show-a-day limit. And I try to mix genre, often seeing comedy, music and dance in the evening. Leave enough travel time between shows and always walk if you can. Taxis can be expensive, and the traffic is often brutal.

How has the Fringe changed in the time you have been visiting?

Greater and greater weight of expectation on the work. The critical pressure on the shows we present is off the scale.

What advice would you give to those thinking of taking a production to the Fringe?

Do it. But be prepared. It's expensive, and competition for audiences is fierce.

Do you have a favourite venue?

The Traverse! It's like Vegas. No windows, no clocks. We operate almost 24 hours during the festival, offering world-class theatre, tasty bites and good beer and wine. We have no stage door, so the artists mix with our audience, which is an important part of the experience. Expect good conversation, to bump into someone you know, and to make a new friend.

Where do you go when you want to get away from the crowds?

I go home. Luckily, I live in the city centre so can pop back, see my family and recharge.

Robyn Jancovich-Brown is Participant and Industry Development Manager of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society. 

What advice would you give a new performer?

Bring some comfortable shoes, as you’ll be walking for most of your day. Explore, take risks, and talk to people in the box office, show queues and in the bars. It’s amazing who you’ll meet, and it’s a great way of getting show recommendations too:

If you’re a promoter, programmer, presenter or agent, then accredit with the Fringe Society’s Arts Industry Office. We can help you make the most of your time at the Fringe with lots of resources, a series of networking events, and a team who can help and advise you.

Make use of Fringe Central, a space for Fringe participants where you can work, learn and relax. There is free Wi-Fi, a café, discounted rehearsal room space, and a programme of over 100 professional development and networking events, which are free to anyone taking part in a Fringe show. 

How do you decide what to see?

One of the perks of my job is that I’m constantly talking to artists and producers, which is a great way to hear about new shows. We keep all of this information on file for arts industry professionals, which is another way we can help promoters scout for new work, and help those presenting work make the right connections. 

What advice would you give to new performers?

Do your research. Talk to others who have been before, find out which venues your audiences visit, and learn about the different venues that exist to find the best fit for you. Make sure your budget is realistic and that you have all the technical and admin support you need to present your show. Read the guides online and talk to the Fringe Society who can give you impartial advice and information.

Start thinking about your marketing strategy as soon as possible. The Fringe Society’s media team can help you put together a press release, provide a list of media contacts, and offer other guidance on promoting your show. Make your initial approaches to journalists well in advance of the festival, before their schedules are finalised. Bring your press release and a clear pitch for your show to our 'Meet the Media' event in Fringe Central on Saturday 5 August 2017. This is a chance to tell various media outlets about your show.

Finally, get out there and talk to people about it, whether that’s in your venue, through social media or flyering on the Royal Mile. Find work out there with similar themes to yours and form an alliance. Don’t forget to use your current networks to spread the word about your show as far and wide as possible.

Above all, have fun. The Fringe can be an exhausting but exhilarating experience, so don’t get caught up in your own bubble. See shows, meet your peers and experience the festival in all its glory. Just remember to sleep and eat some greens occasionally, too!

The Edinburgh Showcase is the biggest opportunity for UK theatre and dance companies to introduce their work to international promoters. 

Join us on Facebook Live on 21 August, 14.00-16.00 (BST) to hear more from the experts about the latest trends in UK theatre and dance and for what to see at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe – with Lyn Gardner (The Guardian), Laura Cameron-Lewis (Creative Scotland) and Andrew Jones (British Council).

You might also be interested in