A Survivalist's Guide to Edinburgh Festival Fringe: Top Tips

I'm in Edinburgh for the Fringe Festival with Dirty Protest's "Sugar Baby" by Alan Harris. It's the end of week one of the largest arts festival in the world. I'm in our hired accommodation; which I'm sure is student digs for the rest of the year but festival hire allows the landlord to pay off his mortgage in the 31 days of August. I'm listening to the Five Stairsteps "O-o-h Child" on Spotify. 

This is my 17th year at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and my spicy sausage-soaked mind decided it might be useful to share my Edinburgh Fringe survival tips for first time Edinburgh Fringers.

I'd love to hear yours. 

1. Pack well.

Essential clothing includes:

- comfortable, ideally waterproof shoes. Consider bringing other, nicer shoes - but you won't wear them. Alan and I each packed our slippers. No regrets. 

- a pack-a-mac or other waterproof jacket that you stick in a rucksack and will wear most days

- said rucksack, big enough for all the things you need for the day, as you won't go home once you have left in the morning

- a big wooly jumper

- clothes that make you feel good about yourself and those around you

It sounds like I'm advising you on what to take to an Italian mini-break, but the weather is as changeable. It rained every day this year for the first 9 days we were here. Then on the 10th day, it was sunscreen time. And you do want to look and feel good. This is our annual conference, you will be tired and hungry and energised and satiated, and you want to feel like you can take on anything, at any time. A great T-shirt can do that, to help you on those days when you feel like you might just stop. 

Also bring:

- ear plugs (our digs are on what might be the noisiest route through Edinburgh. I am woken every morning at 5.30am when the Sainsbury's delivery trucks arrive. I am also woken at 3am by the bottle bins and at 1am by the man who walks down the street trying to catch his echo).

- hot water bottle (it's cold at night, especially in the very old, high-ceilinged Edinburgh houses but also you want something warm to hold at night.....)

- something to make your room more like your bedroom at home, so our assistant producer bought fairy lights, I brought my USB speaker so I can better listen to Radio 2, maybe consider bringing your spouse or spousal replacement)

- garlic crusher. I can't leave home without mine (serious). 

2. When in doubt, watch bird videos on YouTube

They will perk you up and allow you to keep on keeping on.

Here's some classics to start you off:



3. Have realistic expectations - especially when it comes to reviews

Everyone wants great reviews. Everyone wants great reviews from Lyn Gardner. However, she is a human woman being, and can't be in 3,000 shows at once (that's apparently how many productions there are across the whole festival). Work hard to get reviewers in, attend the media meets and send out your press release. But don't place the whole success of your Edinburgh Fringe experience on getting 4 or 5 stars from a high-profile media outlet. You can only make the best show you can, and you can't (A). account for the reviewers' tastes or (B). force the reviewers you want to see your show to come. This year, capacity for reviews has been greatly reduced, so the numbers of bloggers is up and the numbers of national critics is down. It reflects a trend across national arts critical culture.

Word of mouth is still the most important marketing tool for theatre on the Edinburgh Fringe. Get to know other artists in your venue. Go and see theirs, and they will see yours. When you get any 4/5 star reviews, or any comments that can help tell people how good your show is, stick these "flashes" on your flyers. Even if the audience comments are "he made me kiss my sister!" then get those comments out there - you will find an audience for it. I know lots of comedians who put their 1 star Fringe Biscuit reviews on their flyers, because people love that stuff (Jordan Brookes "self-pitying": Fringe Biscuit).

4. Make friends

I know some people call this "networking".

In the short term, meet other artists and they will see your show and build an audience for you. More than that, you will build a support network for those 4 weeks when it seems like you can't lift your head outside your show bubble. They will help you when you feel tired and down. And you will stay friends and see these people year after year, even seeing each other's work 17 years later. Some of these friends will see your work year-on-year and you will see each other's companies grow. You will decide to collaborate in the future and work together on some kick ass new idea, that later takes Edinburgh by storm and that you couldn't have even conceived of those years ago when you first met over tears and gin. 

5. Notice

Does someone else need help - and can you give them that help? Is someone having a really miserable time? Maybe all they need is for you to have a drink together, you listen and can tell them that packing that awesome T-shirt really was a great idea.

Notice that Edinburgh is a city. It isn't only an annual arts festival. Enjoy the city's offerings: Arthur's Seat, the government building and the national museum (with that lush view from the roof) are fantastic. Edinburgh Zoo has a pretty terrifying Visayan Warty Pig. Check out the Port O'Leith, a proper old pub with loyal regulars and if you can't quite quit the festival vibe - it's around the corner from the Leith Volcano.

6. Learn

Learn for your practice, to exercise your taste and to widen your vision.

See young companies who wow with enthusiasm and ideas. See internationally renowned artists you'd never normally get to see in your hometown. See something in a new art form. Become a fan girl. Rediscover what drives you and also what you don't like. 

Make mistakes, notice others' mistakes, and learn that you won't do the same the next year.

A big Fringe learning curve happened to me in 2004. I had directed an American play for its UK premiere and Kate Copstick came to review for The Scotsman. She asked me for the press release. I didn't know what one was, so had to hand-write what I thought was a press release, then and there. Yes, I learned about how important a good press release is, but I was still learning from that experience years later. And that's because at the time, Kate Copstick's review of our show said, "The performances don't, in general, quite match up to the piece, but it is a little like giving a promising violin student a technically ferocious piece of Paganini to play." The actors were devastated and I was sad with them. Of course, we were 22 and wanted 5 stars in The Scotsman! But now, I understand what she was saying. I know now who Paganini is! With experience and hindsight, I know she was being generous and that was a great review for us, at that time, for that piece. I remember that when I keep my (un)realistic expectations in check. 

Dirty Protest have produced a new play, SUGAR BABY by Alan Harris which is on as part of Paines Plough's ROUNDABOUT programme at the Summerhall venue for the whole of August. We are part of the Wales in Edinburgh programme: 8 Welsh companies have received funding through Arts Council of Wales, Wales Arts International and the British Council Wales to bring work to Edinburgh Fringe. 

The Garlic Crusher I just couldn't leave home without...

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Comment by Catrin Rogers on August 10, 2017 at 22:33

BRILLIANT. And not a single mention of alcohol.

Seriously though, I would add that it's v important to take care of yourself (and very hard to do when you're in the bubble). Plenty of sleep, good, nourishing food and lots of water are essential if you can!

Comment by Guy O'Donnell on August 10, 2017 at 19:29

Great blog post Catherine!

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