In honour of the Edinburgh Fringe, Casting Networks Australia’s Theatre Angel brings you a three-part, jam-packed bumper special in celebration of independent theatre!
A brief history of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Plus, UK comedy-writer and actress Beth Granville shares her 5 Top Tips to Win and at the Edinburgh Fringe: featuring Foiled at the Edinburgh Fringe (Duckspeak)
“Have a great product you are at the very least passionate about and at the most, would die for … If you don’t care this much about it, then no one else is going to.” – Beth Granville
In 1947, a group of theatre companies who hadn’t been invited to appear in the prestigious Edinburgh International Festival decided to . . . well, show up and perform anyway. The Edinburgh Festival Fringe was born!
Since that time, the Fringe, a celebration of diverse theatre and performance, has grown to become the world’s largest arts festival, and inspired multiple other similar festivals worldwide, among them the Adelaide, Melbourne, and Sydney Fringe Festivals. Running from the 5th to the 29th of August in the Scottish capital, the Fringe is colourful mix of over 30,000 international acts, combining comedy celebrities and theatre royalty with start-up performance companies, street performers, and millions of theatre punters from across the globe. It is, in short, an explosive, dynamic, spectacular, and at times manic carnival of theatrical highs, lows, and above all— opportunities.
A great Edinburgh Fringe reception can catapult a show from unknown to a West End Run, or even an international tour. It has retained its original egalitarian spirit, affording any actor the opportunity to write, produce, and stage his or her own show (provided that they can raise the necessary capital). Casting directors, agents, directors, and producers are offered a veritable smorgasbord of talent, and though it can be a mixed bag, that’s all part of the Fringe’s beauty.
Extending from the Fringe and its sister festivals worldwide is what has come to be known as “fringe theatre” itself. Also referred to as ‘off-West End’ (in the UK), or ‘off-Broadway’ (in New York), this abstract space between “professional theatre” (i.e. fully paid and funded work) and “community theatre” (i.e. amateur theatre, where the actors aren’t paid and engage in the work purely for recreational or artistic purposes), often “profit-share” productions enable both rising and established artists to showcase their work. Fringe theatre, therefore, affords a more generous level of artistic experimentation, showcasing both original work and new twists on classics.
Live from the UK, Casting Networks Australia’s #theatreangel is delighted to chat to acclaimed comedy-writer and actress Beth Granville about her upcoming Edinburgh Fringe production Foiled, as well as feature London professional fringe show Mumburger. Both original works, both written by female playwrights, and both unique in content, they are a beautiful example of what can be achieved with a creative vision and a generous dose of talent and nouse.
Foiled at the Edinburgh Fringe
Written and Produced by Beth Granville and David Charles, Directed by Tom O’Brian, Duckspeak. Designer: Libby Todd. Cast – Sabrina: Beth Granville, Tanisha: Stephanie Siadatan, Ritchie: Dominic Morgan.
Aug 5-10, 12-17, 19-24, 26-29 Venue: Ruby Rouge (Venue 184)
Synopsis: “’Bleach for the Stars’ specialises in celebrity dip dyes and off-kilter karaoke, but today the salon is closed (again), so that manageress and chief style engineer, Sabrina, can get busy nominating herself for the prestigious Clipadvisor Salon of the Year award. When bald, out-of-work actor Richie arrives for a career-saving hair-do, talented assistant stylist, Tanisha, must convince Sabrina that you simply can’t buy success. Except when you can.”
“After successful rehearsed readings in London and south Wales, Duckspeak’s first production ‘Foiled,’ a comedy set in a hair salon, has a strong undercurrent of politics as it plays out in the everyday lives of ordinary people and the everyday trials of life under austerity to dramatic attention. The marriage of hair salon and theatre is no coincidence either— both are places of informal community, where taboos and anxieties can be discussed in a safe environment.”
Theatre Angel: Beth, congratulations on a fabulous London preview and impending Edinburgh run! What does staging a show at the Edinburgh Fringe offer performers?
Beth Granville: The Edinburgh Fringe really is incredible—with equal amounts of comedy and theatre, and everything from children’s shows to dance, music, cabaret, stand up, drama, and sketch shows. The city is just completely given up to the arts for a month; it’s really quite an experience.
If you’re coming in without an established reputation, it’s essential to make sure that you have a really good product you believe in and that audiences would benefit seeing. You’ve got to feel passionate enough that you can say “right, this is going to blow people away, it has to be seen.” Once you’ve got a great product, then get a good PR team (ours, Chloé Nelkin Consulting, has been absolutely amazing). You need the experts to get the exposure. Once you have a great product, word of mouth will follow, but with over 3,000 shows, it’s very easy to get lost.
TA: What advice would you give to Australian performers wanting to take a show to Edinburgh?
BG: Although it’s the “free fringe,” you definitely need to raise some cash. Edinburgh is a stunningly beautiful, fun, wonderful city, and last year I had some of the best months of my life,. So yes, absolutely do it, but be aware that it’s not going to be a money maker. Come to Edinburgh for the experience and the exposure, and it is definitely worth doing it for that alone.
TA: Would you say that Australian theatre and comedy festivals such The Adelaide Fringe or Melbourne International Comedy Festival are also gaining exposure in the UK?
BG: It’s the place to be! All the big comedians over here seem to be going over there. The Australian fringe festivals are getting such a great reputation in the UK and are increasing in exposure and getting more talked about, and there’s great crossover between the festivals and fantastic industry networking opportunities.
TA: Foiled is staged in a working hairdressing salon. How was this unique concept born?
BG: I was invited to to be a guest writer for Dirty Protest Theatre and write a short, site-specific play. Each writer was given a different venue, among which were a kebab shop, a bus stop, even a yurt! I was given a hairdresser’s salon. I brought my writing partner David Charles on board and we have been working together on various versions ever since!
TA: What made you think this was the year to bring the show to the Edinburgh Fringe?
BG: After doing my first year at the Fringe last year with my sketch show Pop-Up Penny Pinchers, I had such an amazing experience that I wanted to go up again, and thought Foiled could be the perfect show. The number of amazing shows that you are able to see. And ultimately, just doing a show a day means that you are really able to hone your skills. Doing what you love every day is a luxury not often afforded to performers. The reality is that it’s getting more and more difficult to produce theatre, with Arts Council funding being very limited (and funding so difficult to access in general). The main challenge for us has been getting an excellent team together on a shoe-string budget, with incredible people coming on board for little money, based just on the quality of the script and the work. It’s both very humbling and quite scary to rely on donations for a month.
TA: Given the interest and media coverage that Foiled has already attracted, why did you choose a “pay-what-you-can” donation model rather than profit-based ticket sales?
BG: I love the donation model and actually feel it should be a model for everything in society. Those who can afford it pay and those who can’t can still have access to theatre and entertainment. People are generally very generous. I remember when Radiohead, though a massively established band, released their album In Rainbows as a “pay-what-you-want” download, they made more money digitally than all of their previous albums put together (source: Thom Yorke, Wired Magazine, 2007). Two pounds to one person is twenty pounds to another—it’s all relative. People can pay what they think the show is worth and what is within their means. It doesn’t exclude anybody and nobody feels cheated if they hate it, because, ultimately, they are taking a chance on an unknown. I’d like to think everything can work this way; supermarkets, cinema—“what do you think this shopping is worth? What can you afford this week, Miss Granville?” “Ooo, I think I’ll have this entire trolley for £5.50!”
TA: How do you view the relationship between activism and the arts?
BG: Foiled co-writer Dave and I (and most of our team) actually met through activism and The People’s Assembly Against Austerity. It’s becoming increasingly difficult under the current government for people (particularly those from working class backgrounds) to make any headway in the arts. There are already so many difficulties (such as having to often work for free) and the more cuts that are made, tuition fees raised, rent raised sky-high while wages stagnate – all means that many talented people just aren’t able to pursue their dreams. Professions such as music, theatre, comedy, or art lack guarantees, stable income, or career, and are very difficult to pursue without a solid financial background. Without any financial support, it’s nigh on impossible to survive on day jobs, especially in London. For me, fighting against austerity cuts to the arts is a really important part of pursuing a career in the arts.
TA: Other than the financial challenges, what are some of the other pitfalls to avoid when bringing a show to the Fringe?
BG: Getting press is essential, as well as reviews. Choosing a timeslot wisely is very important. Make sure that you consider all the details, from marketing to theatre licensing (we have a brand new venue and hence a whole new lot of considerations), and flyering. Last year, we paid a lovely flyerer, Jade. Remember that it’s completely your responsibility to get your audience in, and unless you’re very privileged few to be selling out, you will need to spend a couple of hours a day of handing out flyers. Always keep a few in your back pocket in case you need to do some stealth flyering! Most importantly, try to make the most of your time at the Fringe because, ultimately, you are investing so money and so much of yourself that you need to stay focused in the moment and make sure you are enjoying the experience that you have worked so hard towards.
Beth’s 5 Top Tips to win at the Edinburgh Fringe!
- Have a great product you are at the very least passionate about and, at the most, would die for. It sounds dramatic, but though the Fringe is great fun, it’s really tough. If you don’t care this much about it, then no one else is going to.
- Bring something different. Why the Edinburgh Fringe? If you want to put on Macbeth, ask yourself “why the Fringe?” It’s a great opportunity to showcase new writing and new concepts. Shitfaced Shakespeare is a really interesting take for example, where the actors get drunk while doing Shakespeare. Because the Fringe is so competitive, and you are literally dragging people off the street (which brings it’s own dangers), so you really do need to think about the why.
- Make sure you find the right PR company for your show. Good PR pays for itself and great PR is essential.
- Make sure you have a really supportive team around you and that you’re going up with the right people.
- Stay close to the centre so you can really get the most out seeing as many shows as possible and networking.
And lastly, abandon any ideas of living a healthy lifestyle for a month, because it’s not going to happen!
Beth Granville is a writer and actress, working primarily in comedy. Her writing credits include BBC development of Welsh sitcom The Sicilians, co-written with Francois Pandolfo, Ben Tyreman and Tim Price; a site-specific short comedy play produced by Dirty Protest Theatre Company; and co-writer on Flick and Julie: Pop Up Penny Pinchers. Beth has also contributed material to BBC Radio Wales comedy shows and London Comedy Writers live shows Sketchageddon.