Monday, February 02, 2009

Fringe Poetry

On Saturday afternoon, I went to a meeting in the Edinburgh International Conference Centre about how to put on a show at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I have been thinking about doing some kind of poetry cabaret at the festival, over a week or so – not a one-man show, I’d hasten to add. The idea would be that every evening would be different, with poetry, music, prose, film etc from a variety of performers. I’d want top quality stuff though, the kind of material people are going to swoon over. Otherwise there’s no point.

The meeting opened my eyes a bit. The venues are expensive to hire at that time of year and the panel reckoned that a show needs to sell about 40 percent of seats, at least, to break even. Exactly how to pitch a poetry cabaret so that it attracts an audience who have about 2000 other shows to choose from is obviously a key issue. Who do you pitch poetry to, and how do you best reach these people? What time should it be at? – that’s a key question. The peak time of 7.30pm is too expensive, apart from anything else, but is it best to do a morning show, or does that give the wrong impression, that poetry is only for a tea and buns crowd? Maybe a late-night session is better, or perhaps late afternoon before dinner time.

One panel member said that it was vital people knew why they wanted to do a show. Is it get noticed by promoters? Is it as a calling card so that people will remember you and pick up on your work later? Is it to make contact with other artists? Is it to strengthen your CV? He took it as read that everyone wanted to express themselves through their art and to have fun, but there had to be another central reason for doing it.

One guy asked how best to win a Fringe Award. A panellist told him that, if that was his attitude, he shouldn’t be in the arts in the first place. They didn’t pull punches…

I met quite a few venue promoters. Some venues, one in particular, looked great for the type of show I envisage. It was small (about 40 seats) and very atmospheric. I’ll have to decide soon whether I can actually pull it off and get people involved. The panellists warned that it was impossible to do everything yourself – venue negotiations, publicity, press and marketing, design, direction, tickets, money etc. A good organising team is invaluable.

Issues of dealing with the press, getting reviewed in good time (before your run is over!), working well with the fringe staff and box office were also dealt with. It’s a huge undertaking. Hmmmmm, I don’t know whether I can do this or not. Perhaps aiming for 2010 might be a better idea, but I’m planning a big event for around Easter 2010. So it’s either 2009 or 2011…

8 comments:

Ivy said...

Sex and death are usually good drawcards: an Evening of Erotica and Necrotica? :-) I've got a poem that'd fit in the erotica bit.

Good luck with it!

apprentice said...

Well if you ever want a hand with the organisation of anything I'd be happy to pitch in. I was a press officer for years and set up loads of events for Ministers etc.

Danish dog said...

If in doubt, leave it out, Rob. You're a poet yourself, so give yourself some time to practise your art. At least leave the organizing to others. You could be creative consultant or something.

Danish dog said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rob said...

I'll have to weigh things up, but you could be right, Danish dog.

Colin Will said...

Can't advise on that one Rob. I've acted in plays during the fringe, but never organised a gig.

Frances said...

It sounds a bit scary but tremendously rewarding. If you don't try, you'll never know. I think 5pm would be a good time, to aim to finish at 6 to give people time to eat (drink!) before the evening slots.

Claire A said...

Having been involved with a Fringe show or two...

Q. "Who do you pitch poetry to, and how do you best reach these people?"
A. Everybody, and in any way you can. Edinburgh is packed with 1 million people at the peak of the Fringe so you're better off not trying to pick out the ones who look poetically-inclined and going for a more blanket approach. Flyering, though absolutely soul destroying, is one of the best ways to get people's attention -- actually put something in their hand and they have to read it, unlike just getting an ad in a Fringe programme or putting up posters. Any poetry thing would have the advantage of not being terrible comedy... but it would also have the disadvantage of being poetry. One of the best things to do is try to keep the price as low as possible. People will come and see things if they're cheap because they have less to lose. Nowadays (ah, I remember Fringe 04 when almost everything was under a fiver!) most things are priced around the £10 mark. If you can undercut that people will come along.

Q: "What time should it be at? – that’s a key question. The peak time of 7.30pm is too expensive"
A: Bad time anyway. Any time between 6 and 9 is, as you say, peak time... so people will have other stuff they want to see. A lot of the people who come to the Fringe seem to sleep late, emerge at about noon and then hang around between 12 and 6 when the evening shows gear up. I reckon sometime around 3pm or 4pm would be pretty good -- it avoids being a tea-and-buns time somewhat and there will be a lot of people milling around with nothing to do.

Q: "Maybe a late-night session is better"
A: It would be really cool, but obviously some people would be put off by a later show. It depends what kind of demographic you want to get through the door!

It sounds dreadful, but one really good way to get people through the doors is to really, really play up the Scottish thing. Present it as an opportunity to see the best talent that all of bonnie Scotland has to offer, all in one place (with some maybe even reading in Scots!!), and tourists will come running. It's sad but true, people really do want the tartan and bagpipes experience!

I only have some modest experience, but if you want any help at all I'd be glad to leap on board :)