TW Backstage

From The Fringe: You’ve done Edinburgh, what next?

By | Published on Monday 12 September 2022

In this second edition recorded at this year’s Edinburgh Festival, we look at what Edinburgh Fringe performers and producers should do next.

If your aim in performing and producing at the Fringe this year was to find an audience, make industry connections and unlock future opportunities, what should you be doing in September to build on the momentum you generated during August?

When should you start planning your next Edinburgh project? And what other fringe festivals are worth checking out?

We surveyed Fringe performers, producers and promoters to put together a five-point plan for what you should do next.

Plus we get some additional insights from…
Charles Pamment, Artistic Director of theSpace
Ines Wurth, producer with Ines Wurth Presents
Richard Stamp, co-founder of Fringe Guru and reviewer with The Wee Review

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So two weeks have now passed since the end of the 2022 Edinburgh Festival – and the latest edition of the magnificent Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Anyone can perform as part of the Fringe of course, providing they can find a place in Edinburgh where they can legally stage a show during August. That’s what makes Edinburgh’s Fringe festival so big, so vibrant and so exciting.

But, it’s no secret staging at show at the Edinburgh Fringe can be expensive and risky. And it’s often the performers themselves who are taking that financial risk. So why do they do it?

As we noted on the last edition of TW Backstage, there are various reasons why performers and producers and promoters and theatre companies choose to do the Fringe.

For some people, it’s basically a holiday doing what they love every day for three weeks – ie performing or being involved in the staging of the show – while hanging out with a community of very creative people and seeing lots of other performances.

For those people, the cost of taking part in the Fringe is simply the cost of the holiday – the cost of the experience.

For some people, the Fringe is actually a place to make money. Depending on the kind of show you present and the way you present it, it is possible to walk away from the Fringe with a profit.

For all the reasons we discussed on the last edition of the podcast, that is arguably getting harder, because of things like surging accommodation costs. But it’s not impossible.

But for many people, the Fringe is basically an investment, in their creative careers, and in their own creative businesses. The Fringe is a place to learn your craft, develop your shows and get better as a creator and a performer. It’s a place to build a profile, to find an audience, and to make connections with key decision makers within the cultural industries. Basically, to grow those creative businesses and progress those creative careers.

It’s the latter group of Fringe people that we are interested in this time. If you were doing the Fringe this year to grow your creative business and progress your creative career, what should you be doing next? Having had a couple of weeks to recover, rest and readjust after the frenzy of Edinburgh’s festival month, what should you be doing now to capitalise on any momentum you built during August?

As the Fringe community was leaving Edinburgh at the end of last month, we surveyed a number of producers and performers and other Fringe people to get their thoughts on that very question. And based on their input we identified a number of tasks that anyone seeking to build on the momentum of their Fringe production should be getting on with this month.

A lot of this is common sense of course, but we thought it would still be useful to organise all those many tasks into a simple five-point plan. And those five points are as follows: reflect, document, reach out, network and plan ahead.

So, let’s get going with our five-point plan. Starting with number one: reflect.

How did Fringe 2022 go? Was the show itself everything you hoped it would be? Maybe it was, but maybe it wasn’t. And it’s fine either way. We all know staging a show at Edinburgh is a major task, and the final phase in late July and early August is always frantic. It’s inevitable that sometimes the show you performed wasn’t quite what you originally envisaged. Maybe you were able to evolve it during August, maybe you weren’t.

A good starting point here is any reviews you got for the show, whether those were reviews published by the festival media, or audience reviews on the website. If the reviews were wholly positive, then great, hold on to them for stage two. But if they have some criticisms about the show, it’s worth giving those criticisms some thought.

Of course, a review is just one person’s opinion. And while most festival media do try to ensure that the right kind of reviewer sees each show, it’s not an exact science. Just because you’re a comedy fan and a comedy reviewer, doesn’t mean every kind of comedy is right up your street. And the same can be said for reviewers of every other genre.

So sometimes the negative review is just confirmation that the show wasn’t right for that specific reviewer, but for the right kind of audience it’s still a great show.

But all that said, it is worth thinking about any criticisms in the reviews, because sometimes they may be valid, and are worth thinking about if you are planning on taking the show elsewhere – or even if you’re planning on developing something new.

A good example of this is where a reviewer hasn’t quite got something or understood a point you were trying to make. Is that because the reviewer just missed something obvious? Or is it because you could do a better job of communicating whatever you wanted to communicate? Maybe that negative review that was annoying initially could actually be pretty valuable in helping you to evolve your show and make it better.

Beyond what happened on stage, it’s obviously also worth reflecting on everything else that went into your Edinburgh Fringe 2022 project. Production, budgeting, marketing and so on. What worked, what didn’t work, what would you do differently next time?

With Fringe projects, I always find most of the things that didn’t go as well as planned were mainly due to lack of time – if only we’d started this or that earlier!

I think it’s probably inevitable that most people working at the Fringe will never have quite as much time as they’d like, but it’s still worth noting the things that could have gone better or caused less stress had you been able to start earlier.

OK, let’s get onto point number two: document.

You should document the show and the wider Fringe experience, most probably on your website. This is particularly important if you are planning on performing your 2022 Fringe show elsewhere in the future, but you should document your Fringe either way, to show the kinds of things you do as a performer, producer or company.

So, we are probably talking about a page on your website where you include any reviews you got at this year’s Festival, plus any photos and marketing materials, and other useful information you have about your production. And, of course, if you are planning on performing the show again, information on how people can book you.

In terms of the reviews, obviously if you got glowing five star critiques then lead with those and make sure the ratings stand out. But other reviews can be valuable too – including three star reviews, which – remember – are not bad reviews.

And I reckon it’s OK to be a little selective when putting your reviews on your website – so if a reviewer had both positive and negative things to say, you hone in on the positive. Especially if you are planning on addressing the negative points as your show evolves.

Of course, we all know that there is no guarantee you’ll get a media review at the Fringe, because there are so many shows and a limited number of reviewers.

But if you do have them, I think reviews from known publications – whether those are year-round newspapers, magazines or websites, or seasonal media with a decent profile at the Festival – will always have more kudos than audience reviews. Although there are some bloggers who have a decent reputation beyond the Festival as well, and their reviews can also be really valuable tools for promoting your shows in the future.

However, that’s not to say you can’t make use of any positive audience feedback that was posted on the website during August. I’d definitely consider including a ‘what the audience had to say’ section on your web page with a selection of the best audience responses.

Also – if other Fringe people who weren’t actually involved in your show, including other performers, were super positive about it during August – and providing you’re confident they weren’t just being polite! – it might be worth asking if they’d give you a few sentences summarising their positive feedback to publish on your website.

Indeed, you might find other performers have given you some positive feedback already on the site, and – if so – I’d separate those out from other audience feedback. Because the people you might approach next in the industry may know or be fans of that performer, and their positive critique could prove valuable.

Which brings us to point number three in our plan, reaching out.

If you are looking to stage your show elsewhere, then you need to identify possible opportunities and get in touch with the right people.

That’s going to require some research. Are there venues or producers or promoters or other festivals who might simply book you to perform your show? Or will you have to continue to produce yourself? And if so, are their venues or festivals where you can do that in an affordable way, and be confident about finding an audience?

There are of course lots of other fringe festivals around the UK and beyond which operate like Edinburgh, but which are generally smaller and which might offer some opportunities for further performances of your 2022 show.

It’s interesting with those other fringe festivals – some people use them to develop new shows that they then plan to then take to Edinburgh. But other people use them as a place to perform shows they previously debuted at the Edinburgh Fringe, on the basis they can use their Edinburgh run to help with marketing, and find a bigger audience at a smaller festival where there is less competition.

So, there are lots of places where you could take your Edinburgh show next – and there are lots of resources out there to help with this stage of the process. We’ll also be focusing more on how to pitch shows in future editions of TW Backstage.

However, one thing I would say at this point is that it’s definitely worth thinking if there is anyone you met during August who could offer you some advice on what specific opportunities might be out there. Which neatly brings us to stage four – network.

We all know that succeeding in the creative industries involves a lot of networking – ie getting to know the right people in the right places to unlock opportunities. We also know that most people working in the creative industries hate networking!

Or at least they hate formal networking. Of course, every time you were chatting or socialising with other performers and producers and Fringe people during August, in a way, that was networking too. Even though that might make something wonderful sound depressingly cynical!

But here’s the key thing: successful networking is all about following up with the people you meet. So if there was anyone you met during August – whether because you were formally networking or you just met them informally – it is worth sending a follow up email, saying it was nice to chat, that it would be great to stay in touch, and maybe then linking to your web page documenting your Fringe experience.

And remember, when it comes to building your professional network, we’re not just talking about any established producers or promoters you met during August. I mean, maybe you didn’t even meet any of those people.

But it’s worth dropping a quick thank you email to all the people at your venue, the other performers you met, the technical staff and so on. All those people are involved in the arts in some way and you may get the opportunity to work again in the future.

And, as I said, some of the people you met during August can probably offer you some really useful advice for what you should be doing next.

This doesn’t apply to everyone – but there might be some producers or promoters or venue people – or other performers – who could help you decide where future opportunities might lie. And you’ll probably find a lot of those people are more than willing to offer some advice.

If you email a producer, promoter or venue and ask them “will you book me or produce me or promote me”, the answer is almost certainly “no”. But if you ask if that person “could you give you fifteen minutes on Zoom to help me identify future opportunities” – well, everyone’s super busy, but a lot of those people would probably say “yes” to that.

And finally, point number five, plan ahead. To what? To Edinburgh 2023 of course!

For many people, Edinburgh provides a fixed point in the year around which they grow their creative businesses and progress your creative careers, the aim being to step up a gear each August, putting on a bigger show, or reach of a bigger audience, or whatever.

And while there was a time in the past when everyone in the Edinburgh Fringe community could take a couple of months off before planning the next August, unfortunately that’s not the case anymore.

If you are planning on returning for the next Fringe, it is worth making initial plans straight away. Set a timeline. Think about budget. Think about what venues you might want to approach. And think about possible people or companies you might partner with next time. Especially if you were completely DIY this year.