I’m off to London for WorldCon on Thursday, and to Dublin for Shamrokon next week. This sadly means I’ve had to condense my Fringe action into the bits in between shameless self-promotion. This doesn’t, however, mean that I can’t impart the wisdom of a veteran Fringe-goer with nearly two decades of navigating its rocky shores under my belt.
1) Don’t have a plan. You can take that highlighter to the programme as often as you like, but it won’t help. You’ll get Fringe Fatigue quicker than you can whip that credit card out and throw yourself on the mercies of the (probably broken) Fringe site. Just wander around, look at the flyers, go into a random venue…hell, half the pubs in town are Free Fringe venues. Or just sit at one of the bigger venues and wait for inspiration while you celeb-spot. I’ve spotted Mark Watson and Shappi Khorsandi around the Pleasance, and Phill Jupitus is a regular at the Underbelly. (He’s drawing paintings at the National Gallery this year!)
2) You don’t need deep pockets. Late July/early August is 2-for-1 season. This year, they introduced a scheme for Edinburgh residents to get cheap tickets, to encourage locals to do the Fringe. If shows are desperate for bums on seats, the flyerers will be holding a secret trove of free tickets. And there’s the Free Fringe, which will cost you a pint of beer and whatever amount you want to fling in a bucket at the end.
(We’ve seen some great things on the Free Fringe that graduated to bigger things, like Lazy Susan and Helen Keen. Even Robin Ince does the FF to hone new material! Although when we saw Live at the Apollo star Imran Yusuf in the Jekyll and Hyde basement, he sank like a lead balloon before the pursed lips of some West Coast old dears. They didn’t like the ‘They love that down the mosque!’ schtick. Neither, er, did the rest of the audience.)
3) Don’t be that asshole. Don’t want a flyer? Politely decline. Interpretive dance not your thing? Don’t go on a massive rant saying so. In fact, I exhort you to play the Flyer Game. Stand at one end of the Royal Mile, and try to get to the end of the gauntlet. I’ll let you decide whether it’s ‘most flyers wins’ or ‘person who managed to politely decline them all’.
Speaking of assholes. While I was scribbling in my notebook at the Pleasance Dome, a flyerer for a show that shall remain anonymous came up and tried his pitch. Here’s how it went:
Him: You look like you don’t like dicks!
Him: Because THIS GUY is trying not to be one!
Later, I was scribbling again after a show, and the guy came up and did the EXACT SAME THING. He got a glare worthy of my second-favourite Peruvian immigrant and scarpered pronto before shit kicked off.
4) Carry a notebook. This is a fun one. I always carry a notebook anyway, for jotting down writing ideas. When you do this at a Fringe venue, some might think you’re a journalist or other worthy reviewer. It’s a statistically-proven fact that you get more chatter and more flyers from acts this way*. I’m fairly sure I got a free ticket to Andy Bell’s show because I was busy writing up the show I’d just come out of, and my brow was sufficiently furrowed in concentration. Of course, I’d always be happy to actually do a professional gig writing up your show. It would stop me from doodling characters in my notebook.
* OK, I have no stats, but it’s basically true because I said so. Nyah.
5) Pace yourself. If you do what we did one year and plan five shows for one day, you’ll spend your day zooming around Edinburgh. Which is inconvenient when it’s full of hilly bits like the Mound. You can’t see everything, and lots of acts come every year. If you get Fringe Fatigue, don’t come running to me.
6) Break out of your comfort zone. Many years ago, I took my parents to see some spoken word show themed around Scotland, because we’d got free tickets. My dad’s really not into poetry, but he enjoyed it immensely. I’ve also seen a martial arts-themed Antigone, a German ‘comedian’ sticking a balloon up his nose while humming his national anthem (he’s now moderately famous) and an audience participation interactive theatre thing based on the French Revolution, where the venue was a slimy basement of what’s now the site of SoCo. Variety, it’s good.
7) Fringe celebs are always worth seeing. Fringe celebs are the acts that come back every year, always sell well and yet somehow take ages to break through into mainstream success. Ones I can wholeheartedly recommend include Axis of Awesome, Shirley and Shirley, Frisky and Mannish, Lady Carol, Abigoliah Schamaun, Brydie Lee-Kennedy (who did the excellent, trope-busting Princess Cabaret), and Showstoppers.
Alright, troops, move out! I’m off with my Norwegian freelance chum to catch some free shows (the Beta Males are really quite excellent). Should you see me around town, or at the conventions, take my goddamn business card. And give me free tickets. I like free tickets. I’ll write you a Thing.