Royal Mile Memories
Here's some marketing do's and don'ts (mostly don'ts) for people going up to the Fringe with a show this year, in my opinion. Make of it what you will.
We were having a chat the other day about how we will make our presence felt on the Mile throughout August. For those who are unawares, the Royal Mile is basically a stretch of road through Edinburgh from Edinburgh Castle down to Holyrood Palace. It's about a mile long, hence the name, though I remember someone last year trying to convince me it's actually only a few hundred yards, but the amount of time it takes to get through the crowds and flyerers during Fringe-time, it might as well be a mile - but like I told them there and then, that's stupid, shut your face. Day in, day out, performers and production teams use the space to the extent that it's almost as if Edinburgh City Council were planning to tear it all up to build a block of non-public thoroughfare the next day (ie. lots). As well as handing out flyers to vacationers and locals alike and chatting about why they should come see their show, there are lots of free-to-book stages set up by the Fringe Society for performers to do a 10-minute set to reel the punters in. There's also these big obelisks (?) that you can staple your posters to, but if you're planning to do that I really wouldn't bother. You'll find it's been covered by another poster within about 15 minutes. Essentially what I'm getting at is that it's really busy and lots is going on and it's a great experience and I can't wait to get back out there again this year.
There are a few things about it though that do make me think, "you know, it wouldn't be the end of the world if that stopped forever and ever".
1: Space Invaders.
Impromptu is great, don't get me wrong, and it's probably a word I would use to sum up a lot of the Fringe, but when 150 people are crowded around a school production of Oliver Twist set in Nazi Germany with young girls playing Holocaust victims in skimpy tops, I feel like someone should tell them to stop whatever it is that they're trying to do there. It's just unfair. Fine, you've put together something so controversial that people really want to see it just... 'cos, and you need to show people what they might be "missing". So book a stage, or perform a small part of it out of the way, and for God's sake don't bring all your set. The thing that annoys me is that it really kills the whole joy of the Mile. The council has a roster of street performers that perform there year-round, and Fringe-time must be an absolute dream for them regards getting a crowd, and it's really beautiful that all these tourist performers like us get to sell our shows amongst locals doing what they do for realsies. I'd be livid if I were one of them and all the attention (and money) was drawn away from me towards some un-sanctioned "theatre".
If I had a penny for every person I saw doing a bit on the Mile about their 'hard-hitting' play based around a torture or interrogation scene of some sort, I'd have a few pennies. But I'd get them every day so I'd be close to whole pound by the end of August! Srsly though, sitting tied to a chair covered in fake blood is annoying, not because so many people do it, but because you're in everybody's bloody way. Every company finds their 'spot' - somewhere they go to every day because it works best for them - it might be surrounded by similar shows or mates (last year we tended to drift towards our buddies The Leeds Tealights every day, which was nice, because they're nice), but if needs be we will happily get out of somebody's way so that they can walk past us, regardless of whether they're interested in seeing our show or not. You can't do that when you're tied to a chair (also, you can't tell people about your show with tape over your mouth, dumbass). For the same reasons, no lying down on the Mile (also because that's really rancile) and no doing a 'Hungry Bitches' - the whole cast picking positions across the width of the Mile and staying still and pouting (though I am willing to forgive them because their show 'Americana' last year was so amazingly enjoyable).
3: 'Tis Pity'.
This is naughty of me, but I'm naming and shaming this specific show. I didn't see it, so I can't judge it artistically, and in fact by the looks of it and from speaking to some of the team behind it, it actually seemed like a really interesting piece of theatre. My issue though is that their Royal Mile publicity consisted of one of the cast members walking around sobbing into a bloody and quite accurate prop Heart. It was disgusting. I can deal with it, especially as I had to see it every day, and at least he was moving around so he wasn't getting in people's way as per examples 1 & 2, but the Fringe is not just for adults. Edinburgh is generally a nice place to have a family holiday, it's not just dead for 11 months of the year, and the Fringe caters very well to children. A lot of venues will mostly put on kids' shows from 10am through lunchtime. So bearing in mind that there are children present, maybe we shouldn't be scarring them. I'll hazard a guess that the show itself wasn't suitable for children, so it's really not suitable for public space.
Coincidentally, though I'm slagging them off, we do appear in this picture from their Facebook page. That's our banner in the background. Thanks for the unintentional shoutout, guys!
In recent years as printing has gotten cheaper (I can only presume), companies have increasingly had banners designed and made up to promote their shows on the Mile. I agree and disagree with them (with a bias towards agreeing given we used them last year and intend to again this year). The air space above head-height is valuable territory, and a banner is the perfect way to capitalise on potential audiences that fancy looking up every once in a while.
An Aside: My first day on the Mile I wondered why the Fringe Society didn't provide giant screens that people could buy advertising on, but as time progressed I realised why actually that would be really annoying - people would be more inclined to pay more attention to those shows (the ones with lots of money) than the ones putting in the legwork on the ground, which is a problem enough with the sign advertising along the streets of Ed. Plus it would block all the lovely architecture - remember Edinburgh in August isn't just about the Fringe, people want to see the city they came to see.
Back to the banners though. There is the ever-present issue of getting in people's way again. I like to think we were quite responsible with it - at times when it got very busy, we were fine to admit defeat, roll it up and let everyone get on with their lives. Lots of shows get banners, and why not? They add even more colour to the Mile, and I'm not averse to people in costume either as they're a nice way to strike up conversations with the punters. If your costume is an eight-foot long dinosaur though, maybe leave it backstage. Just generally be sensible I'm saying here.
I suppose that's kind of what I'm getting at with all the bitching really. Whatever you do, be responsible. Think 'Is this making people want to see my show, or is it making people think I'm a tosser?' It's a surprisingly fine line. I get that everyone is competing with each other for audiences, but that's not all the Fringe is about. It's also about networking, especially for comedy maybe probably, and most importantly enjoying yourself. We all use the Mile for hours and hours every day, so let's all just be nice, yeah?
I'll leave you with these pictures I took on the Mile just before dawn one day. Sorry they're a bit pants. Either my camera was rubbish or I was drunk. Or both. It was both. I personally think it's much nicer when it's chock-a-block with all us creative peoples 'avin a laugh.
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