A while ago, I posted about the benefits of putting on a show at the Edinburgh Fringe (here). I was thinking about this over the weekend after I'd suggested doing Edinburgh to some fledgling funny folks on Friday. The Free Fringe, I said, since it really is what it says on the tin. Free for performers to put on shows. It was pointed out, however, that producers were reluctant to scout at these shows and venues.
This got me thinking. It is undoubtedly true that the Pleasances and Udderbellys get a lot of attention from press, wider media and talent scouts. The reasons for this are obvious. There is greater screening and filtering for these venues, and so the overall quality is higher. That is not to say that every show at these big venues is superb, crafted and hilarious. Far from it. But producers are lazy, just like writers - and don't work all that hard to unearth new talent. Unlike writers, producers are very busy and hard-working and when you only have three or four days to 'see stuff' and find new talent, it seems like a more promising pool to fish from.
So why do a show at a Free Fringe venue?
So why do a show at a Free Fringe venue? Or a very cheap, unrecognised one? Here's the thing. Producers are in town for a few days at a time. But fellow performers are in town for a month. Impressing your peers in Edinburgh is as important as impressing the industry. Let's be honest, you're first outing at Edinburgh is unlikely to be picked up a producer at Big Talk or Objective and thrust onto E4. The main reason for the show is unlikely to be all that good. It may be fresh, have flashes of brilliance, and be sporadically hilarious - or consistently amusing without ever quite taking off. But bear in mind that there are a few dozen comedians and writers who are a little less fresh, with a few more years experience who are about to generate more frequent flashes of brilliance which are more consistently hilarious.
But other performers at your venue might see your show - and like it. And tell other people about it and bring you some audience. Or tell someone who has a 'best of' show that you could do a spot at, at which a producer might be in attendance. Equally, you might see someone else's ramshackle show, and like bits of it and realise they are good at things that you're aren't so good at. And that you could help them. You might work well together either now or in the future. They might do well, get some interest but want some help and could pull you on board. You might join forces, pool resources and come back the following year with something better, leaner and stronger.
The Loneliness of a Long Distance Comedian
The reality of writing and performing is that it is a lonely business - especially if you're not a gigging stand-up comedian - but for one month in Edinburgh, you're surrounded by similar people to you and this can be rather a nice thing. You feel like you belong. Okay, after a fortnight, the novelty wears off and everyone's tired, broke and angry. But you'll have forgotten that by November and be back next year, invariably with something better. After doing that for a three or fours years, maybe you'll finally be that an overnight success we keep reading about. And when those opportunities come, you'll be able to handle them and make the most of them.