What a rollercoaster ride of a month August turned out to be... I've just got back from a break post Edinburgh (which I always book in each year otherwise you just don't stop when you get back) and in a position now to be able to look back at that month objectively, I have to say it was the hardest Fringe show I have ever produced. Why? Well, partly the ticket sales seemed down somewhat across the board. Apparently the Pleasance sales were good - possibly even up - but a news report I overheard said audience numbers across the festival were down, especially in the last week. Which isn't surprising really considering the current economic climate. But the main reason why this show was difficult is because it is right at the vanguard of change. And that's exciting of course, the whole point of theatre as far as I'm concerned, but it's lonely at the vanguard and bloody hard work, I'm the most broken I have ever been after a Fringe. And this time the vanguard was less lonely then it was when I was here last time with Backstage in Biscuit Land. Back in 2014 we were the only high profile show exploring disability, along with The Vacuum Cleaner, also at Pleasance, with his incredible production Mental, exploring invisible disability. This year there were at least five high profile shows exploring transgender narratives. This meant that sometimes we heard punters say things like "Oh we've already booked in to see a 'Trans' show." Competition is healthy and the other trans narrative shows at the Fringe this year were great. Together our voices are louder, but it was still competition for ticket sales.
But it isn't about ticket sales is it? It can't be or we would never do the Fringe. No, the reasons for doing the Fringe as far as I'm concerned are these...
Edinburgh success checklist;
• Tighten the production - The production significantly tightened and developed during our month long run. The actual show developed and meant it had settled in and we were ready to hit the floor running during the British Council Showcase week at the end of the month.
• Become clearer on how to market the production - Also the marketing settled in as well. The best market research a producer can do is go out and flyer for a few weeks at Edinburgh, you'll soon find out after a while if what you're saying to punters matches what is written on the flyer. You discover what the right thing to say is to hook in audiences. Every year I get back from Edinburgh and re-write the show's blurb.
• Have industry folks talk about the show and want to book us - We managed to get the industry talking about the show. There's one major way of doing this and that's to let everyone have a comp who asks for it. That does start coming out of your own pocket eventually, but I think it is an expense that's worth paying. Industry people talk and they will talk about the show. They are the go to people in their circles of friends who are visiting the festival for information on what shows to go and see. They will talk when they get home. They then will also turn into future bookings for tours. Our comps ended up costing us around £1000, but this will be covered if just one or two of these venues go onto book us, and they already have.
• Receive a positive buzz from audiences - We received a standing ovation nearly every day and people tweeted about the show afterwards. The buzz definitely got out there. This is thanks to a mixture of postering, flyering, press and the industry buzz I mentioned earlier. Industry people tend to tweet, so they definitely helped with our online presence. Another plus to flyering for a show as a producer is you bump into people who saw a performance in the days to come and you can ask them what they thought and how they would sell the show to other audiences? And obviously at the end of each performance we asked the audience to tell their friends about the show and to tweet about it.
• Get good reviews for future touring - For this you need a PR person. You can't do PR on your own. A good PR person knows the big journalists personally and understands how all the broadsheets, smaller publications and blogs work, so that they can tailor the way they pitch your show to attract as many of the right publications as possible. Reviews do and don't matter. At the actual Fringe they help with morale and depending on the publication can help a bit with ticket sales, but even a good review or even a whole article from Lyn Gardner does not a full house make. The main use for reviews is for use on your flyers and posters afterwards. With reviews, it is more about the quality of the publication then about the stars. A four star review from Lyn Gardner needs to be up on your poster before and above a five star review from a blogger no one has heard of. If you're not sure which of your review publications are the most prestigious, look at which ones other companies are using, especially companies you think of as a rung or two above you on the professional ladder.
• Earn a 'sold out' laurel - We sold out a good few shows, but we didn't actually achieve a 'sold out' laurel this year. The sell-out status of your show is determined a few weeks after your Fringe box office payout has been sent to you at the end of September. The show would have had to sell 95% of its capacity across the entire registered run (excluding previews) from both the Fringe box office allocation and the venue box office allocation in order to qualify. The copyrighted logo was introduced to combat a growing tendency for shows to advertise a "total sell-out in 2009" when, in fact, they had simply sold out for one night of the run, perhaps when they stuffed the auditorium full of their family and friends. It is a bit arbitrary still though as a 50 seater sell out run receives the same laurel as a 150 seater sell out run. But every little logo helps, especially when it comes to designing your flyers and posters.
• Win an award - We won the Indies award for Best Theatre, Family, Musical or Dance Show at the Pleasance, Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2017, which was great. Awards are like reviews, they help your morale during the Fringe and they are another selling point to promoters and audiences. Even an award nomination is worth talking about.
• Be part of the British Council Showcase and attract international theatre promoters - The showcase week went exceptionally well and was full of surprises. We had been expecting the show to be of interest to the English speaking delegates from places like Canada, the US, Australia and New Zealand, but to our surprise it was very much taken up by the South American delegates - from all over South America - and the South East Asian delegates too. These delegates saw the show and then expressed an interest in wanting to book us to bring our production to their countries, which is very exciting news.
Off the back of all this I will now be able to build a national and international tour. This means I am certainly chuffed. It was hard work, but we got what we needed. And the show feels in better shape now then it did when we headed up to Edinburgh at the start of August. Which is the main thing.