Tag Archives: Mark Fisher

An Edinburgh Fringe Performer’s Guide to Staying Solvent and Sane – maybe

Paul Eccentric signing a boom last night

Strawberry Statement: Paul inscribes a book

Last night, Paul Eccentric was back in London for his book launch, having performed at the Glastonbury Festival, where he fell off the stage for a second time – I think the first time was three years ago, but the people in the medical tent still recognised him and, as someone said last night:

“It is not good when the people in the medical tent recognise you.”

Paul is a man of many festivals. He even has a catchy performance poem about it.

Last night, he was launching his new book The Edinburgh Fringe in a Nutshell which is somewhat optimistically subtitled A Performer’s Guide to Staying Solvent and Sane at the World’s Biggest Arts Festival.

The first part – staying solvent – might be possible after reading this book. The second – staying sane – might be a fantastical step too far.

Julie Mullen

Julie Mullen looked normal last night

Last night’s book launch also included performances from, among others, Rob Auton (who, at one Edinburgh Fringe, managed the impressive feat of getting a 5-star AND a 2-star review of the same performance of the same show), multi-award-winning poet Paul Lyalls (who one year tried to sell the exhaust from his car at his Fringe performances) and Julie Mullen (who looks sane and ‘normal’ but looks can be deceptive).

I should point out other Fringe books are available:

Critic Mark Fisher’s The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: How to Make Your Show A Success (2012) which includes theatre as well as comedy shows… And performer Ian Fox’s How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show (2014, now in its second edition).

“So why did you write your book?” I asked Paul Eccentric last night.

“I have no idea, really,” he told me, “but someone during the Fringe said to me You seem to be very angry and I said I’m just a bit pissed-off with myself.”

“Why?” I asked

“For badly managing my day, for taking too many bookings in too short a time and forgetting to eat and drink. The guy said: You should write this down to stop other people making these mistakes. So I did.”

Paul with fan from Siberia (true) who bought 2 books

Paul with fan from Siberia (true) who bought 2 books

“Someone,” I said, “ told me they thought the book was fascinating to read even if you’re not a performer and not thinking of going up there.”

“Well, people have sai…” Paul started to reply.

I added: “…although it was your father who told me that.”

“He wants to know where his money went,” laughed Paul.

The book’s sections include:

  • How To Do It
  • The Show Itself
  • Travel and Accommodation
  • Publicising Your Show
  • Adventures on The Fringe

with advice from producers, performers, venue runners, publicists, reviewers and even me (I seem to have turned into a ‘Fringe commentator’ according to this book).

If nothing else, it is worth reading to see that even a wise participant like Paul Eccentric who has excellent and highly practical advice to give can be conned into thinking I know what I am talking about.

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“How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show”

How many editions do books come in?

I must have coughed myself awake last night, because I remember I had a dream… I only remember my dreams if I wake up during one.

Yesterday evening, I had a meal at an Italian restaurant owned by Iranians in Esher with Fred Finn, the Guinness record-holder as the world’s most travelled person. He told me that his author father was called Fred Finn too and he came from a line of 17 Fred Finns. He also told me the President of Turkmenistan recently visited the Ukraine.  I went to Turkmenistan in 1995. An interesting place.

Last night, in my dream, comedian Ian Fox told me that he, too, had visited Turkmenistan. That was in my dream. In reality, I do not think Ian Fox has visited Turkmenistan, but he knows a lot about Edinburgh.

I am obsessed with places like Turkmenistan. Comedians are currently starting their annual obsession with the Edinburgh Fringe, because the ‘cheap’ entry deadline for the festival is in two days time.

Ian Fox is more than just a comedian – he is a comedian, author, blogger, professional photographer and even, last year, a successful last-minute, thrown-in-at-the-deep-end sound supervisor for the Malcolm Hardee Awards at the Fringe.

Ian has produced and performed in fourteen Fringe shows over the last nine years –  which is why he can justifiably title his book How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show. In our new, more complicated publishing world, it comes as a paperback, in a Kindle edition and as an eBook.

So, I asked him yesterday afternoon, why a book in any form? And why by him?

“In addition to my own shows,” Ian told me, “I always make a point of asking how others people’s show are going and I end up learning stuff from others. The book wasn’t my idea – a couple of people suggested that I should write it. I usually get comics asking me Fringe questions in gigs the rest of the year. Writing it down – all my advice and what I’ve learned myself – seemed like a good idea.”

The things which he himself surprisingly first learnt by going up to the Fringe were “from a business point of view VAT and the surprise of discovering you have to pay it on your ticket money. And, from a personal viewpoint, how different people react to the stress and pressure of doing a show each day for almost four weeks. I’ve seen some super egos appearing from people who’ve started to believe their own press.”

But, I asked him, isn’t the Fringe so full of competition and rip-off venues, so chaotic and such a bottomless money pit that it’s not worth performing there at all?

“Competition is not really a problem,” was his surprising answer, “Rip-off venues are an issue but incompetence is usually a much bigger issue, both in the people managing the venue and the temporary staff doing the day-to-day running of the place. But I personally think things of beauty arise from chaos.”

The alternative, I suggested, is losing less money doing a show as part of the PBH Free Fringe or the Laughing Horse Free Festival.

“Well, some of the free shows are surprisingly lucrative,” Ian says, “and, if you’re sensible with the money you put up-front  then I think you can turn a profit. I reckon there’s advice in my book to save a new performer at least £300.”

But why should people need to buy a book? Isn’t it obvious what to do even if you are going to the Fringe for the first time?

“Some of it is,” says Ian, “But some of it you only learn by doing it. In March, you’re usually too exited or confused by the small print to know what it all means. In October, when you get your final figures, you discover what it all means and wish you’d had a better understanding of how it worked before you invested your money. Plus the official stuff from the Fringe Office, is – How can I explain this? – ‘official’. There is more of a street-wise approach to my way of doing things.”

Also recently published was Mark Fisher’s book The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide: How to Make Your Show A Success (which I blogged about here).

How are the two books different?

“Mark’s a theatre critic, I’m a comedian,” Ian explains. “We both have different experiences of the Fringe. His version probably doesn’t include his flatmates going mental and committing assault with a deadly weapon or fist fights with drama students. My book has my own stories in it, aside from one or two anecdotes I included just because they were funny – so it’s unique to me. It’s got a behind-the-scenes element to it that the people who aren’t performers enjoy reading as well.”

Comedian Ashley Frieze is credited as co-author of Ian’s book.

“He edited it,” explains Ian, “and he was a good sounding board for ideas. Plus he added a couple of sections here and there and reminded me of stuff I’d forgotten. The thing he did most was leave comments in the margins saying: Yeah, you probably should NOT mention that! in the true story sections of the book. I’m at that point now where I’ve pretty much got to work with someone or I just don’t do anything other than watch old films I’ve seen loads of time before.”

Ian’s own show at the Edinburgh Fringe this August is going to be “about photos and stories. Similar to last time… in fact, if I don’t get some writing done soon, it might be really similar to last year’s show.”

And is there another Ian Fox book on the horizon?

“I’m hoping the next one is going to be ‘real’ book,” Ian says. “I have a super secret project I’m shopping around, but if that doesn’t pan out I’ll probably do some more erotic fiction written under the pen name Panther Stevens. Starbucks have started asking for your name when you order a drink… I think people should tell them their name is Anus Sandwich.”


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The man with advice on how to make an Edinburgh Fringe show successful

Mark Fisher: the man who knows about Edinburgh pitfalls

(This piece was also later published in the Huffington Post)

I have occasionally blogged advice on the perils and pitfalls of staging a show at the Edinburgh Fringe. But it really requires a whole book – which is what Mark Fisher has now done with The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide – How to Make Your Show a Success – published today.

In 1983, Mark appeared in a Fringe show called Shubinkin, which The Scotsman described as weaving “a Coronation Street idiom on a Miltonian frame”. He took part in the Fringe as part of a student production in each of the three years of his undergraduate life. In 1986, he returned to Edinburgh to work at the Fringe Office and he is now Scottish Theatre Critic for the Guardian and Variety, a judge for the annual Scotsman Fringe First Awards and much else.

There are many ways to get a book published. In 2002, I approached Random House with an idea for a book to be written by comedian Malcolm Hardee and me. They turned it down but suggested we instead write a book called Sit-Down Comedywhich a new Random House editor had been thinking about. It was published in 2003 and was recently brought out in Kindle and iBook editions.

Rule One of writing books: never stop publicising them.

Mark Fisher’s book came about in much the same way. It was not his idea. He got an email from Anna Brewer at Methuen Drama. She did not know him, but she had come across his theatreSCOTLAND website and she asked him if he would like to comment on a book idea she was developing: how to put on a show on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

“She had lots of good ideas,” Mark tells me, “but she couldn’t decide how it should be written – whether it should be a Fringe Office insider or lots of people writing different bits or someone else entirely. My reply was: Not only do I think there should be a single author, but I think it should be me. That got me the gig. Brass neck. If you don’t ask, you don’t get.”

And, pursuing the importance of publicising your book, Mark is now thinking about staging his own Fringe shows this August: “I’d like to do a series of chat shows that cover the same territory as the book, so I’d have different sessions with producers, publicists, critics, actors, stand-ups and so on. I’m in discussion with one of the big venues about it.”

Chat shows seem to have multiplied at the Fringe in the last few years – I even did four evenings myself last year, but surely only comedy really sells at the Fringe nowadays?

“Well,” says Mark, “you see some extremely inventive examples of comedy at the Fringe, so I’m not inclined to complain that it’s doing well. Even though I earn a good chunk of my income as a theatre critic, I find it hard to despair about the rise of comedy as some people do. However big comedy is, there are still 80 pages of Theatre listed in the Fringe Programme – and that doesn’t include categories such as Dance and Physical Theatre. Does anyone really think 80 pages of Theatre is too little?

“One reason comedy has proliferated on the Fringe, however, is that it’s the cheapest type of performance you can do: one comic, one microphone, one spotlight and you’re away. For the same reason, you see a large number of one-person plays on the Fringe. Many of these are very good, but often you feel artists are limiting their imaginations because of the budget. Comedy is not to blame for this, but its proliferation is a symptom of the same financial pressure that affects theatre.”

But, I suggest to him, surely the Free Fringe(s) are now the true spirit of the Fringe and the paid-venue Fringe tends to rip-off performers? It is a point I’ve made in several blogs. Mark disagrees.

“It is hard to argue that paid venues are ripping artists off,” he tells me. “On the whole, the venue managers are in it because they like the art and what they charge for are the professional facilities that you don’t necessarily get in the free festivals. Most of them tell you that they’re lucky to break even themselves.

“I love the way the Fringe always seems to balance itself,” he continues. “So just as one end of the market appeared to be getting ever-more commercial, with major TV names playing to big audiences… up popped the PBH Free Fringe, the Laughing Horse Free Festival and the Forest Fringe to make more room for artists at the other end of the scale. So, yes, in one sense it does feel like that is the true spirit of the Fringe. But, in reality, the Fringe has always been a mix of the amateur and the professional, the new and the established, and you could argue that the spirit of the Fringe is actually in its diversity. Anything that keeps that diversity as broad as possible is good.”

So who, I ask him, was the best act he ever saw who never got famous by performing at the Fringe?

“I suppose the Doug Anthony Allstars did get famous,” he says, “but nobody seems to remember them now and I had some of my best Fringe experiences in their company. I remember following them out of the theatre into the women’s toilets of Teviot Row House (now the Gilded Balloon) where they crawled over the cubicles and sang Christian songs. Then there was the time we ended up round a bonfire at the back of the Pleasance and the audience started voluntarily throwing their credit cards into the flames – I think even the Doug Anthony Allstars were surprised by that one.”

Mark Fisher knows his Fringe from the inside out and the outside in. And, with quoted advice from comic Phil Nichol, actress Siobhan Redmond, actor/director Guy Masterson et al, his Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide may even tell you, as claimed, How To Make Your Show a Success.

Yesterday evening, I was having a drink with Italian-born stand-up comic Giacinto Palmieri. By bizarre coincidence, this book came up in conversation. He had a copy of it in his bag; he had bought it from Amazon; it had arrived the day before – two days before publication – and he was already well into reading it.

“There is so much love about Edinburgh in the book,” he enthused. “It really tries to convey the idea of how mad and intense and crazy the Fringe is. So much good advice and full of interviews with people who brought shows there. One of the very first sentences is from somebody (playwright and director John Clancy) who says of the Edinburgh Fringe It’s like sex, it’s like having children; there’s no way to explain it to anybody.

So Mark Fisher had a bit of a challenge writing the book, then.

But he seems to have succeeded.

Where the Edinburgh Fringe is involved, anything is possible.

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