On Facebook over the last couple of days, there was a bit of a mini-ding-dong… between Harry Deansway (former editor of comedy magazine The Fix turned stand-up comic) and stand-up comic turned promoter Bob Slayer.
It started when Harry wrote an online piece giving his thoughts about this year’s Edinburgh Fringe which, he said, were written “to generate discussion about issues that will affect the future of the Fringe.” He added: “I’m not trying to piss anyone off, that is apart from Bob Slayer,” whom he called a “fanatic self publicist and cheap Fringe zealot.”
Below are edited highlights of the spat from Facebook. Who knows what the copyright is on such things? In my opinion, on Facebook, everything is either in the public domain or possibly owned either by Facebook or by the NSA and GCHQ.
To explain some background… At the Edinburgh Fringe, audiences pay to see some shows. Others come under the banner of either the PBH Free Fringe or the Free Festival and, this year, Bob Slayer added an extra ‘pay-what-you-want’ layer where, at his two Heroes of Fringe venues (which were included in the Free Festival), you could either turn up for shows and get in free if there were seats available OR pay £5 in advance to guarantee a seat.
Harry Deansway’s piece basically pushed the line that:
“Ultimately giving shows away ‘free’ is damaging the long term sustainability of the Fringe… First of all, it is not free either for the performer or the audience. For the performer, both Free Fringe and Free Festival have administration fees in some form or another. For the audience, it is not free, as a bucket is forced in your face at the end of the show for you to donate money to the performer. Maybe a better name, not in breach of the Trade Descriptions Act, would be the Cheap Fringe? As a result, Fringe acts on the paid Fringe can’t compete.”
Below is some of the to-and-fro on Facebook in reaction to Harry’s piece:
BOB SLAYER: You have got your facts wrong in the first sentence – Adrienne Truscott was not in the Free Fringe in either sense – i.e. the PBH Free Fringe – or the wider ‘Free shows at the Fringe’. She was of course part of Heroes’ pay what you want or buy a ticket in advance – the show was hot and so if you didn’t buy a ticket after the first couple of days you wouldn’t get in. I had several journalists interview me and ask if they could call it Free Fringe as it would suit their agenda – and I said No, call it what it is.
HARRY DEANSWAY: Yes Bob you are part of the “Cheap Fringe”. I state this quite clearly in the second paragraph. You and your journalist friends can call it the Free Fringe, Heroes or Pay What You Want, however you want to market it.
BOB SLAYER: It’s terribly written! I mean I agree with much of what you are saying Mr Harry but you have let the fact that I enjoy mocking you at every opportunity cloud your judgement – you have totally failed to understand that it is not a case of Paid Fringe v Free Fringe (or Cheap Fringe as you quite rightly call it) – we moved on from that debate 2 Fringe Festivals ago.
The important consideration (which you do discuss but miss where the change is coming from) is Good Deals v Bad deals. Pay-to-Play is a terrible basis for a deal. 60/40 is also a shitty deal – add them together and you have a really terrible shitty deal – all it does is push up ticket prices as shows have to charge more to even stand a chance of breaking even.
The Free Fringe is a symptom of the shitty Pay-to-Play not a cure – shows and punters demanding a cheaper, more creative alternative – the Pay-to-Play reaction to this has not been to offer better deals but to offer worse and worse deals – this has created a gaping void between both models and is increasingly driving the new and more innovative comedians towards the Free model. They know it is not ideal and so these independent thinking acts have explored other ways around the problem.
At this year’s Fringe, Heroes launched a new model that bridges the gap between paid and free. (The Edinburgh Fringe is a unique scenario where we needed to innovate to compete with the big venues and their bad deals)
We called it Pay What You Want – ‘Free’ shows that you can buy tickets for to guarantee entry.
This means ‘hot’ shows sell out and quickly become paid shows. But shows that are still finding their audience can let people in on a Pay What You Want on the way out basis so there are few empty shows.
Our Pay What You Want model is simply a more honest version of both models. Free shows are not really Free – and most paid shows have to give away tickets to find an audience – so why not admit this? Because once you do admit it then you get huge benefits: the risks associated with promoting a show reduce drastically, the amount of unnecessary marketing spend you need reduces drastically. In short, the economics of the Fringe change drastically in favour of the artist.
All our shows made money at the Fringe, (there are only two other promoters – both independent – who can claim this). Also some shows made significant money – something I am very proud of and will continue to develop… Now if the Pay-to-Play venues would adopt this model the Fringe would be full of spirit once more…
HARRY DEANSWAY: Bob. Have you thought about re-branding Heroes as Bob’s Discount Fringe? I think you would come across really well in one of those late night cheap infomercials. Happy to continue this discussion when you (a) stop misusing the term Pay to Play and (b) actually state the facts of what deals the big four operate not the deals you make up to promote your own agenda.
BOB SLAYER: Nice one Mr Harry – but again terribly written! It doesn’t matter how much the tickets cost – but how much the artist sees – We were selling tickets for £5 and our acts saw all of that if they were producing the shows themselves or 70% if we produced the shows. Shows in Pay-to-Play venues actually see 60% of fuck all because they never cover their costs. Oh one of our shows on Heroes was £500 per ticket – the most expensive on the Fringe – and sold out all 4 shows – they sold 100% of that.
OK so we all know you got a better deal than most at the Pleasance – super – acts should not accept shitty deals and so well done for setting a good example… But whatever deal you got it was because they needed to fill a slot created by an act dropping out after the registration deadline. They simply needed to fill the slot – fortunately they got the best man for the job…
But the fact remains that the basic deals at these venues are appalling – and demands that acts need to pay money before the Fringe starts… £3,000, £5,000, £8,000 depending on what size room that they go into. The details of how they work out guarantees are public on their websites.
Of course extras and marketing costs are extra and can vary greatly – There are many acts who have given the facts of their deals. Tiernan Douieb didn’t go up this year – but his deal last year meant if he sold out all his tickets he would only lose £4,500.
The big venues have sold these shitty deals by pedalling the myth that you have to be in one of the big venues to get noticed. This year proved that was completely wrong. In fact you were less likely to get noticed in a big venue this year. How many reviewers did you get Harry? How many awards? It’s hard isn’t it and now that reviewers and awards are no longer giving preference to the Pay-to-Play venues (because the quality in independent venues is so high) it is equally hard for everyone – unless you are really good – like what (award-winning) Adrienne Truscott and John Kearns both were.
You know this. But it seems that you enjoy preaching to the ignorant by telling them what they want to hear. You are still banging that out-of-tune drum promoting the emperors new clothes after most people have seen that he is naked. Which makes you like a hilariously coiffeured TV evangelist.
HARRY DEANSWAY: Bob. I’m not going to enter into a discussion when you keep making things up and misusing the phrase Pay to Play. It’s pointless.
BOB SLAYER: Would you like to debate what Pay to Play is then? Here is how I see it:
Pay to Play is when a venue or promoter takes money off an act prior to them performing – usually with some system where they might be able to make that money back through people through the door / ticket sales. Underbelly, Pleasance, Assembly, Gilded Balloon, Just The Tonic all charge acts various amounts (in the thousands) to play in their venues for the month of August – and then offer the acts a shitty deal (60/40 at best) on trying to cover those charges – which few of them do.
Anyway sorry that you had such a shitty Fringe Mr Harry – I hope you come around and see that there is a much more fun and interesting way to do the Fringe – come and join the spirit of the Fringe x
HARRY DEANSWAY: What do you think the “big four” spend the 40% they take on?
BOB SLAYER: You tell me what they spend it on? Building huge temporary bars that make them the real cash? Promoting mixed bill shows that also make them cash and suck tickets from their real shows? Sending their kids to Eton?
What I can tell you is that it is not necessary for them to charge such shitty deals – and what is more – as more and more acts find alternatives elsewhere and leave the Pay-to-Play venues – then they will be forced to change how they operate / what they offer.
They will either be forced to offer comedians and other low production acts better deals.
Or, as we have already seen them doing, they will move out of comedy into shows requiring larger production where these deals originated and have more justification. I suspect we will see both happening
It’s all very exciting watching the Fringe move towards a more interesting place – something that independent promoters such as the Free Fringe(s) and now Heroes have made happen.
HARRY DEANSWAY: You had a bar in Bob’s Bookshop. Did the acts you promoted get a cut of that or did you get it all on top of the 30% you were already taking from them as a promoter? Sounds like what you would call Pay to Play to me.
Also you are going on about your deal like it’s amazingly better, it’s 10% better and considering your venue was so tiny and were only charging £5, relative to your interpretation of the Big Four’s deal yours really is not that great. In fact relatively speaking it’s probably worse than the Big Four’s.
Also can I just clarify your ticketing policy. You charge if a show becomes successful ? But the unsuccessful ones are “free?” Why do you not charge for all shows, do you think some are lesser quality than others?
I don’t know what they spend the 40% on but at a guess I would say maintaining the infrastructure of the venues to make it the best it can be for performers and audience alike.
BOB SLAYER: As you know you are looking at the percentages all wrong in order to add confusion where it doesn’t need to be… We price our tickets so that they sell without huge inefficient marketing costs (This year we went with a fixed price of £5)
That means the acts that we produced on a 70/30 split saw 70% of their ticket income = £3.50 per ticket pretty much from the first ticket – We also offered acts the option to self produce their shows and take 100% of their ticket = £5 per ticket – the majority of our acts opted for self production
Whereas the costs are set so high on the pay-to-play venues that the 60/40 split hardly come into play and so acts in their venues see roughly the square root of fuck all from each ticket sold.
HARRY DEANSWAY: I think you’ve had quite enough airtime now Bob and as usual it’s all been spent promoting yourself. The article is about the Fringe in general not Bob Slayer or for that matter Harry Deansway. Your opinions are laid out in detail in these comments so anyone who can be bothered reading this thread can make their own mind up now.
BOB SLAYER: Hey Mr Harry – so you do want a discussion? And now you don’t want a discussion? If you weren’t so accidentally funny then it would really hurt my feelings x
SALLY WESTERN: I am confused as to why Bob has to justify himself to Harry Deansway.. ? I’m scared..
BOB SLAYER: Ha ha – it was a nice exercise – I am currently writing up a piece about the Fringe – and ‘justifying to Harry Deansway made me realise that I need to simplify the intro somewhat in order to explain it to those that are ignorant of Fringe ways… Or in case of Harry, those that just like to be contrary and blindly support the underdog.
Harry has quite rightly spotted that the independent is no longer the dog that is regularly kicked and so he has withdrawn his support of it in favour of the poor folks behind the beleaguered Pay-to-Play venues… He is a noble and charitable man.
HARRY DEANSWAY: Congratulations on learning to write Bob! If you could just add reading to the pantheon of your abilities which include getting your penis out on stage and getting dressed in the morning I might start to take what you say seriously.
I’m glad that something I wrote honed into perspective what it is you are doing, it reminds me of the time when I told you to drop alternative from your marketing materials. Best of luck with the Cheap Fringe. (You can have that name for free, £5 if it becomes popular)
BOB SLAYER: But Harry isn’t it lovely that we both are thinking similar things about “cheaper Fringe”… www.cheaperfringe.co.uk
OK your idea is cynical and negative and has come on the back of what seems to have been quite a tough and challenging experience for you at the Fringe. And my “cheaperfringe” experience has been something I have been involved in for a couple of years and is about getting the Fringe to give something back to local residents and making the Fringe a more positive and happy place – but it is uncanny how we think alike x
HARRY DEANSWAY: Not at all, I had a great Fringe. My show sold out, had some lovely audiences, made some money and I wrote and performed a show I was really proud of. I even got a five star review. My article is objective, you should try and write something objectively. All you do is talk about yourself.
BOB SLAYER: I also talk about you Harry – with everyone I meet – I know your comments about me are merely joshing and I love you with an intensity that knows no limits x