Join In: Lessons from Edinburgh

Claire Furner, marketing and press manager for Fellswoop Theatre, shares her experiences of taking a show to the Edinburgh Fringe and the lessons learnt from the festival.

‘Because everyone joins in, everyone is better off’. Or at least that’s what the Virgin Money sponsorship boards along the Mile and Mound promised to the masses partaking in the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2011. Personally, I was venturing to the Fringe with the intention of creating a final chapter to my three incredible years at Warwick University, and although there are numerous ways to join in at the Fringe, I chose the route that many would consider a right of passage for any keen theatre student: that of taking a show.

Before arriving in Edinburgh with Fellswoop Theatre and our production Belleville Rendez-vousI was prepared by many for a worthwhile but draining experience. I was told of the single figure audiences, the hours of flyering and the lengthy downtrodden drinking sessions undertaken prior to returning to the flat you are sharing with your entire cast and crew.  For some I realise this experience is very real, but for myself and the rest of Fellswoop our 2011 Fringe venture couldn’t have been more different.

Admittedly, it didn’t begin smoothly. Our seventeen strong cast and crew were crammed into a four bedroom flat with a one partially flushing toilet. Our previously agreed ten minute get in was cut to six minutes with the remaining four being used to get audience to their seats.  To add to this, our two 9ft flats had be stored at balcony level to be lifted down and drilled together within these 6 minutes. Needless to say, our first get in on Monday morning didn’t go exactly to plan. However, after a few more performances we had the routine down perfectly and our run at Bedlam Theatre began to shape itself into the dream Fringe experience.

Despite selling a number of tickets prior to arriving in Edinburgh, none of us were quite prepared for the show to sell out on the first night or every performance after that – by Wednesday evening of the second week, we had sold out the full run. The show also obtained some incredible reviews including six 4 star ratings. Cast members were regularly recognised around town and as I dropped the director off at the station on Friday one passer-by shouted in through the closing train doors to exclaim how much he loved the show.

However, the true cherry on the cake was the response from Sylvain Chomet,  creator of the original film, who not only loved the show but spent the evening before with us, drinking French wine, learning the accordion and sketching those of us who had survived to the early hours of  the morning. An evening I shan’t forget in a hurry! While I realise that this was a once in a lifetime experience, I have still been able to walk away from this year’s Fringe with lessons learnt for my next trip to the Fringe.

Firstly, I will remember to be imaginative with marketing. Many audience members claimed to have been enticed to see the show based on our performances along The Royal Mile. Although we may have annoyed some of the other Mile regulars, tourists and punters alike thoroughly enjoyed singing, accordion playing and performances with bicycle wheels.

Secondly, I intend to buy marketing accessories prior to arriving at Edinburgh. Tape was a nightmare and although I managed to purchase a staple gun, staplers has sold out within days.

Thirdly, I will aim to take a show with less props!

Lastly, were I to take a show to the Fringe again, I would want its content to be of equal joy and amusement to Belleville. Not only did it  make marketing more enjoyable an affair, it was also a genuine joy to see people laughing along with the show, leaving with smiles on their faces and exclaiming that our show was ‘one of their gems of the festival’.

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