Hello Friends, how are you?
I say Friends because I doubt that this will reach anyone outside my immediate network of friends, fellow creatives – people whose faces I actually know. But if I don’t know you and you don’t know me – hello!
This has been a very hard year on many levels but it has also been full of so many joyous moments and so much learning. One of the joyous moments was my seven day run of 40/40 at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was joyous for a few particular reasons for me – none of those relating to the capitalist notions of success and because of that I am able to reflect on some things I observed. This isn’t intended as a document for someone thinking of taking work to the Fringe in the coming year, but it might be useful if that’s your situation. I do not claim to know anything new or better or radical – this is purely my recent experience and my observations.
2022 was the fourth time we brought a show to the Edinburgh fringe (not counting design works with super loves such as Scottee’s Class and Selina Thompson’s salt. amongst others)
2014 – we took Near Gone to the fringe, for a full run, supported by East to Edinburgh – at the end of the run, we won a Total Theatre Award for Innovation, Experimentation and Playing with Form – yes, it was fucking phenomenal! This however meant that no other fringe after this one would be as good….the combination of being “discovered” by many, bringing a show with my native language and dancing my feet into oblivion and then winning a peer recognised award was – yes, I’ll say it again – fucking phenomenal! Thank you universe!
2015 – to align with the then British Council showcase (for which we applied four times and have never been selected), we thought: fuck this – we are gonna do a week and hope that some international promoters will see the work. Some international promoters did see Near Gone and booked it. The show sold out the Old Lab in Summerhall all five nights (capacity of 80 I think). It didn’t pay us but it covered costs and we were coming for one specific reason – to expose the work to international promoters. Tick.
2018 – we took Fallen Fruit – to book a tour of the show for Autumn 2019 to coincide with the 30th year anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall in November 2019. We were planning ahead like proper pros. We played the whole fringe in the Tech Cube in Summerhall (capacity 120) which we sold out many days. We booked a tour – like 40 venues across the UK which was mega because it’s a political work led by an eastern european woman soon after brexit. Tick.
2022 – we were supposed to bring Fault Lines, part of made in scotland showcase. We withdrew the work – a very hard decision but the best one in the circumstances. It cost lots of money, it cost friendships, it cost relationships, it cost profile….. It was dead difficult.
Because we had a time slot with a super venue we proposed to bring a totally new thing, a thing I was tinkering with; encouraged by some mega people who listened to us, this new opportunity propelled me to focus and propelled us to pour the little energy we had into a thing which was clearly giving me joy. I guess that’s the first part of my learning: concentrate on what gives you joy.
Some of my other learning from that seven day run, with 40/40 in 2022 are, in no particular order:
- ZOO Southside and James Mackenzie were really superb. James went for the entirely insane idea that we are swapping shows in the middle of June, with 40 days to go – a recipe for disaster we all embraced. A venue tech called JD saved our skin on a few occasions. Thanks pal, you are great!
- Venues could be dog friendly and credit to Dance Base – their Horizon Hub became a place to hang out with our dog who was also our main carer!
- The lack of app from the fringe society was unforgivable. I am all for abolishing the paper book and making the app the way to book tickets. If paper is desired for access – then make a small number truly accessible. Or make a website that ‘s functionality is easy, accessible and quick.
- Not once did I visit the fringe society hub – it didn’t feel useful to me – I didn’t know where it was, I didn’t visit it.
- When we asked the fringe society for the arts industry list – something available to all fringe participating artists we received a short list of around 50 people – this was not right as we later found out there were over 500 accredited industry people from the UK and about another 150 international. It was not clear to me (beyond the obvious comedy promoters to whom 40/40 was never gonna be a thing) how they decided the other accredited industry folk weren’t relevant to 40/40.
- Accommodation costs are already starting to break the fringe. In February 2022 we booked two airbnb’s as we were then looking to take a company of seven to the fringe. The cost was okay-ish. In mid April those airbnbs operated by estate agents pulled out and by this point there was very little accommodation left and the prices were already stratospheric. We managed to book a five bed (single beds) student flat for £3500 for 8 nights. We ended up needing one room (just for me) Alister commuted every day. We were insanely lucky to manage to offload 3 of the rooms at the same cost as we paid. In the accommodation – I had many conversations with punters – many from abroad and some from the UK – most of them said that they used to come for the whole month, now had come for a week and those who used to come for a week were in Edinburgh for the weekend. I dared flyering one of them who kindly said to me – Oh, this looks weird, I am here for the comedy. Fair enough I said, I did also say – mine is quite funny actually – they ended up coming and loved it – We had such a laugh they said. So, what does that tell you – well, it told me everything I need to know- audiences, like artists, are really struggling with the stratospheric cost of accommodation. So, the Edinburgh Fringe, can simply become for Edinburgh based artists and Edinburgh based audiences – nothing wrong in any of that…but do we then need the fringe society?
- Here are some numbers – I am not ashamed to share these because I truly believe that these numbers are not a reflection of the quality of the work we presented. They are a reflection of the context. While in 2018, Fallen Fruit made something like £12k in box office sales, 40/40 in 2022 made £1980. This is £20 less than our venue guarantee but minus the VAT and various taxes, just on the venue guarantee we were £600 under.
- So, any money spent for accommodation, travel, subsistence, marketing, pr, dog treats, self care, seeing other shows, oooooooh, and paying ourselves for performing and producing……ammmmm, yeah. Let’s just re-iterate – didn’t do it for the money but……
- Awards! – my mum, bless her, was very disappointed with the fact that 40/40 didn’t win an award – she was properly disappointed despite me explaining to her that there was simply no award that recognised anything like 40/40. With the lack of the Total Theatre Awards there is little hope for acknowledgment for physical, visual, movement led work, little hope for peer led discourse, little hope for artists making innovative and experimental work. All credit due to the text led work- a well established priority in the UK propelled by many development schemes so it’s good there are awards to go with it. The absence of Total Theatre Awards – Network as it is now known is a real issue for the profile and longevity for much exciting work that simply does not get seen by the other major awards – Fringe First, Three Weeks, The Stage etc. This is in no way a criticism of the absence of the Total Theatre Network – it must be seen as an endorsement – an incredible little machine run by two women volunteering their time and brains for the greater good of progressive experimental work and co-powered by the independent artists and producers who assess for the TTN awards. Anybody with any money from any regularly funded organisations and npo’s stashed nuts (I know you have stashed nuts behind leaking warehouses storing sets you will never again use – give some of your nuts to the Total Theatre Network! Awards are profile. They are gigs, booked tours, they are interviews in papers, they are ticket sales – they are recognition – they are work – we all know this!
- Seven day run will hardly get you any press …even when you are a lucky girl like me to somehow be seen by the top critic for innovative work at your first show, it doesn’t result in audience. But can you afford a full run if you are not Edinburgh based?
- Let it be known – I love the Edinburgh festivals in August – I love performing there and I love being able to see so much incredible work. I say this as someone coming from a post soviet country and had I stayed I probably would have never had the privilege to witness so much work I have loved and loathed. Also, it’s special – it’s really special and if you come to me tomorrow and say – I have this slot on two days, I am likely to be metamorphosing into a labrador puppy drooling for a biscuit….I will sit and lie down and give you a paw for the smallest of crumbs…….or is that just being a freelance artist?
- Preparation – I didn’t know some of the above until the very beginning of August. The fringe announced no half price huts and no app very late and it kept reassuring artists and venues that bookings are coming but it’s all very late, so hold your nerve. My show opened on the 14 august and around the 10th I began to see the pattern of little sales and so I had a few days to prepare for this. I rehearsed runs for two audience members – I needed to know what to do with my gaze if there were very few eyes meeting mine. This was insanely good to do: every audience member felt like a win.
- I completely stuck to my care plan. 100% percent – religiously so. No alcohol, no late nights, protein, yoga every morning, managing who I saw and how – regular journal writing about how it was all feeling and lots and lots of dog time. No review-reading (there were very few and mostly came after the run anyway so that was easy) and most importantly together with the utterly amazing Louise Charity, we devised a signal which should I need to use – she was ready to do a show stop. We never needed to use it but having it felt like a game changer. I felt I had some control of who meets my gaze and how.
- I only saw work in the venue I performed and one other because I had a pass. Comparatively, in the 2019 fringe I spent shy of £300 to see pals work and work I was interested in – in 2022 I spent £90 for tickets to my own show to enable a few first generation migrants to see the work at no cost. I am sorry I missed many shows I wanted to see. I did not make it to pals’ work and for that I am sorry. I had limited energy and limited resources.
- Was 10am a good slot? I honestly have no idea – perhaps it wasn’t, perhaps it was? I liked getting up, doing my stretches, doing a show and having a coffee with a pal between 11:30-1pm. At 1pm, I had lunch and then napped to wake up around 4pm and see at best two shows that eve and be in bed and asleep by 10am. I tell you, being 40 is super sexy!
- I think this year I observed the buzz creators in a way I had not seen before. It came about in an unexpected way. I was queuing for a thing everyone was raving about. Just in front of me -one VIP was talking to another VIP about two playwrights who both had shows on, supported by the major funder and made in scotland. The two VIPs’ conversation revealed that while neither of them had seen the show we were all about to watch, they had been telling their international colleagues to see it. It was really interesting to watch – it was like a sitcom – very tragic, very funny, really sad and ultimately for me – playing out before me – just how it works – the work secondary to the mega investment already poured into getting these two people to this moment in time – like two proud mums outside the school gates shouting at each other “Our two kids are better than the rest”. A harsh, but useful reminder.
- There is a great deal of fantastic people invested in the arts working for the best interests of the artists – they are the box office staff, the techs, the pr people, they are the independent producers – they are trying to make it all feel fairer – to them I say – I see you and I salute you.
- Nothing and no one is equal to another, each artist, each venue, every person’s circumstances are different- this can mean – great inequality at play and knowing this and if you can – accepting it, can be mega useful. If it annoys you – it’s a real headfuck – I have been there and know how that feels. In my humble opinion – pour your energy in creating the environments that give you joy rather than trying to change those that are seeped in “it’s just the way it is”
- Knowing why you are doing the fringe – is super important – it might be to book a tour or to get a particular critic to see the work or because you want to get laid every night with a different person – whatever the reason – what matters is that you are clear with yourself so at the end of it all – you can reflect on all of it – what you liked and what you didn’t. This will hopefully inform your decision next time you are facing the empty page of your notebook and a vast spreadsheet with the title – To Do The Fringe or Not To Do The Fringe.
I honestly don’t have an answer, there are a plethora of options because it’s really complex. All of this is very complex or we say in my household – it’s vemplex. My circumstances this year gave me the opportunity to observe some things objectively with far less emotion than before. Recognising them has been useful.
Keep well, with love and warmth, Kat x