This morning’s Scotsman newspaper carries an article saying that the pay-to-enter venues at the Edinburgh Fringe are having a bad time with ticket sales down anything from 7% to 30%. This is rather odd as, at the start of the Fringe, I seem to remember the same venues were saying sales were 70% up – a figure that always smelled of bullshit to me.
Interestingly, part of the blame for lower ticket sales is being put onto the BBC which, this year, has been staging a veritable cornucopia of free shows.
Coincidentally – remembering that self publicity is what keeps the Fringe going – the new issue of Three Weeks hits the streets today. That means I can publish on this here blog the column which I wrote in last week’s issue of Three Weeks, which was headlined Is Auntie Stealing Your Bums on Seats?
In it Mervyn Stutter, who has been staging his Pick of the Fringe shows for 21 years, criticised the BBC for putting on so many free Fringe shows this year. Remember, dear reader, that you get the news and views first by reading my columns and blogs! Among Mervyn’s comments last week were:
“Their (the BBC’s) shows are free. They have stars in. And you don’t have to pay. Why is the BBC doing so many shows here? It spreads the audience energy too wide. In the past, there have been only one or two BBC shows and there have been queues round the block. Performers think: ‘Oh, that would have been nice for an audience at my show’. But it’s free and it’s famous and it’s the BBC. It’s an attractive deal. I would go. Brilliant… if there were only a couple of shows. But this year there are acres of BBC shows. I’m sorry. It’s irritating. It’s the Fringe… It’s hard enough already. It’s a legitimate complaint. I’ve nothing against the BBC, but why are they here putting on so many shows?”
You can read what Mervyn said to me in full here.
I bumped into Paul B Edwards flyering in the street for his show Songs in the Key of Death outside the Banshee Labyrinth venue. He said he had not bothered to put a listing in the main Edinburgh Fringe Programme this year because it was not worth forking out almost £400 to list a free show.
Not listing a show in the main Programme has the upside that you save almost £400 but the downside that you cannot expect to get reviewed. Paul does not care about that. But he shared with me an interesting idea about reviewers.
With Fringe shows often being reviewed by unpaid 20-year-olds, he suggested that starting-out reviewers should only, at first, be allowed to review 5 or 10 minute open spot acts. Then, like the acts themselves, reviewers with a bit of experience under their belts could progress to 20-minute acts. Then they could start to get paid to review longer acts or whole club shows and, after 5 or 6 years, once they knew what the were doing, they would be allowed to review 60-minute performances at the Fringe.
It is, indeed, odd that one publication this year is actually printing blurbs like: Cynthia Smyth-McTavish has written 4 reviews since joining our team in 2012.
Well, at least they are being honest that she has no experience!
After the show, I told him (I saw his show last year too): “It was a bloody amazing show, Doug. Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful audience manipulation. Really jaw-droppingly impressive.”
So far, it has garnered two 5-star reviews and six 4-star reviews. I would have given it a 5-star last night.
Doug told me in all seriousness: “You came to the worst show of the run. I’m really sorry.”
What can you do with performers?
As I went in to see Doug’s show, I bumped into my chum Laura Lexx rushing between her two shows. She had just strutted her energetic stuff in the excellent comedy sketch show Maff Brown’s Parade of This at the Gilded Balloon – a very funny show in which she is oddly and erroneously teased for being a boy, something visibly untrue… She was rushing to get over to TheSpace @Surgeon’s Hall to appear in a serious drama show which shall remain nameless as the production company turned down my request for a free ticket. Petty? What’s the point of having a blog if you can’t be petty?
On the other hand, their show is inspired by Chekhov and I am getting free tickets under the banner of the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards. Perhaps they thought I wasn’t serious.
“I’ve only got 40 minutes between shows,” Laura told me, “and I just fell off my stool in a moth suit.”
“I might mention it in my blog,” I told her – my now automatic reaction to anything anyone tells me. But then I stopped and thought. “What?” I asked. “A moth suit? Why we’re you dressed as a moth? I don’t remember a moth sketch when I came to see the show.”
“A MORPH suit,” she said.
“A moth suit is funnier,” I said.
“Then say that,” she told me. “You can say I have a slightly broken leg if it helps!” and then she disappeared into the crowds.
Breaking a literal leg is the sort of thing Bob Slayer would do on a whim to get a single line of publicity. I have told him I am going to charge him rent for appearing in this blog.
In his latest attempt to get a plug, he told me:
“I have now come up with this new Fringe show concept mid-Fringe… My show Bob Slayer – He’s A Very Naughty Boy - at The Hive – has become a Trilogy! Each part is self-contained and can be seen in any order or in isolation…
“When I did some previews for my show, they ended up about two hours long, but I figured, if I removed the distractions and tangents, it would boil down to under an hour. Unfortunately, after my first week up here, I realised that I love a good tangent and distraction and I am simply unable to remove them! So, each night, I was failing to get beyond the first third of my story of getting banned and my other problems in Australia and beyond…
“And then the answer came to me when stepping out on stage and seeing a bunch of people return from the day before. Why not just start off where I left off yesterday? I did this the following night and it went a cracker! People bought tickets for the next part of the show on the way out of the venue, which is always a good sign! Mervyn Stutter’s scout signed me up for his Pick of the Fringe show and Bernard, the comedy editor of The Skinny who, earlier in the Fringe, had given me a generous one star review… took me out on the piss for the night…”
Still trying to assimilate all thus, I rushed across to the Pleasance Courtyard to see Jon Bennett’s Pretending Things Are a Cock which does what it says on the label but has an interesting amount of story depth to it. As I rushed past three men drinking outside a bar, I heard one say to the others (and I am not making this up):
I then proceeded to Pretending Things Are a Cock.
Edinburgh is an interesting city.
My latest Three Weeks column is on the streets today. It is about publicity stunts. If you are not in Edinburgh – and why would you not be? – you can read it online here or download the whole Three Weeks issue as a PDF by clicking here.
I will be posting my column on this blog in a week’s time, once it has disappeared from the streets of Edinburgh like a used, discarded and doused fire-eating busker.