A Journey to Edinburgh Fringe: The Best First Impressions and Final Push

Ollie Norton-Smith on making it through to the finish line by setting yourself up for success from Day 1 at the Fringe!

You are unlikely to find yourself surrounded by people with more in common with you anywhere else on the planet at any other time of the year than you are during the festival, so recognise, and take advantage of that!
Ollie Norton-Smith

Copy deadlines were met months ago, press releases are long sent, scripts have been written, and then hastily rewritten – it feels like years have passed since that first decision to take a show to Edinburgh, and somehow, we’re just over halfway through July.  I write this late at night almost a week into intensive rehearsals, before we head up to what seems destined to be a sunny Scotland (considering this summer so far). I’m tired, as are the rest of the team, and really want to get into bed with a cup of tea, but there’s work to do!

On the day I write, it is two weeks until our first preview in Edinburgh (aargh!) and through the mountains of paper and post-it notes I’m surrounded with, I’m trying to find some kind of clarity; in this instance to write this blog. It’s surprisingly easy to suddenly realise that you’re halfway through August and you haven’t stopped moving for two weeks. As part of the largest arts festival in the world you’d be mad not to savour every moment and throwing yourself into the Fringe-fuelled melee of Edinburgh’s cobbled streets is half the fun. But remember to breathe - make sure you are enjoying yourself! Find some downtime. Take an afternoon off – have a cup of tea and catch your breath as you read some reviews, plan a day of show-hopping and allow yourself some calm – you won’t regret it. Having said all that…

Hit the ground running

You'll step off a bus or a train and arrive surrounded by countless colourful flyers, smiling faces and overpriced (but oh-so tempting) pints - it's easy to get swept up in it all. If you want to get something tangible out of your time at the festival, though, these early days are vital. Don't waste them! Once they're officially opened, your first port of call should be your venue's press office and industry desk. Tell them about yourself, your show, what makes it special, say thank you for all their hard work (they will likely have been setting up and getting ready for days already before the festival opens its doors to the show-offs like you and me). Offer them a comp to your show, bring them something to keep them going - in Edinburgh, never underestimate the power of biscuits!

These wonderful and dedicated people are incredibly useful allies, but they don't owe you anything. They're also some of the busiest people on the planet for the month of August, so respect their hard work, treat them with kindness and courtesy, and if they tell you to bugger off and leave them alone, do it!

Check the Fringe website for the events they put on about flyering, getting press in, staying happy and healthy, etc. and make the most of them! You'll be sure to meet people you wouldn't have met otherwise and if nothing else, you'll hear about some amazing shows you HAVE to check out. The press office at Fringe Central is also incredible, talk to them at the earliest opportunity and they'll be able to help you target specific reviewers and individuals who have detailed interests that could be perfect for your show.
Your first few days are vital then, especially if you're arriving a few days before the festival kicks off, with previews on the 1st and the first proper shows on Saturday 4th. Don’t waste your time and get the jump on everyone else by getting your posters up and around the city. Chat to cafes, bars, friendly faces and anyone who’ll listen – if you can’t talk to strangers about your show, you’ll get nowhere over the next few weeks.

Have the right people around you

These last few weeks we have been reaching out to find confident, enthusiastic and passionate individuals to join our Street Team. With seven of us involved in the show, we have plenty of bodies on the ground flyering in an attempt to sell our show to the public, but in that vital last hour before we go up we will be getting into the venue and preparing for the show, with no chance of enticing any potential last-minute audience members. Recruiting the right people is vital, and it is worth taking the time to get it right. It’s not about simply handing over a flyer and expecting a sale there and then. Personality and passion are the two Ps of publicity (oh, there’s another one…).

Be flexible

Adaptability is key. Stage measurements that you are given are consistently (at least in my experience) smaller than the stage’s actual size. This is for obvious reason, given the intense turnaround times and limited amount of storage space, but don’t be wedded to the dinner table-sized space you have been rehearsing in. Adapt, evolve and make it better! This applies for your lighting rig as well: go into your tech knowing broadly what you want and how you’re going to achieve it. If a bit of kit is in the wrong place, get it where it’s meant to be and don’t be intimidated by the lingo your amazing venue crew will use - they won’t expect you to know everything, and honesty is invariably the best policy.

As a separate point, the best piece of advice I can give as a director is to be nervous. If you’re not, then it’s a sign you don’t care enough. Be scared and be willing to keep evolving and reshaping your piece, responding to the feedback and advice of others. In my (admittedly limited) experience the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is no place for pride, and if you come thinking you know it all and chart a course for sure-fire success, you’re courting failure before you’ve even really got going.

Do unto others…

One of the things that has consistently reaped obvious rewards (and makes you a better person) is being honest, polite and kind to people. In Edinburgh everyone is working to a deadline of one kind or another, whether it’s handing out X many fliers by 5pm, working front of house until 1 in the morning in the rain or having to put in a high-intensity, high-stress performance. With so many people with their fingers in so many pies the kinder you are to someone, the more likely they are to help you out when you’re in a bind: treat your venue managers and crew (and everyone really) well, they are the people who make you look good when you’re onstage and are incredibly good at what they do – make them feel valued, you won’t regret it!

I’ve banged on and on in my previous blogs about jumping at opportunities when they come your way, but seizing every last scrap of available opportunity is a sure-fire way to make contact with people you wouldn’t otherwise have met. You are unlikely to find yourself surrounded by people with more in common with you anywhere else on the planet at any other time of the year than you are during the festival, so recognise, and take advantage of that!

And finally...

Over the last few months you’ve only heard my side of the story. With a plethora of Edinburgh appearances between them, I thought I’d ask the rest of the company for a piece of advice each, and this is what they came back with:

If you see a show you like, find the people responsible and speak to them – there’s nowhere like Edinburgh for making connections!
As a performer, try to eat as healthily as you can and take care of yourself. It’s easy to underestimate how much doing a show everyday takes out of you when combined with seeing shows and enjoying the festival.
Be open to seeing shows you might not normally find appealing… and eat your greens!
You can make a show out of anything – be brave!
Make sure that you’re enjoying yourself, there’s no point being there and feeling miserable and pressured, it’s an incredible festival with so much to offer, so get out and see shows, have a boogie and make the most of it!

As a closing comment from me: love it, love every moment. For a month, Edinburgh becomes indisputably the greatest city in the world, and I hope you have the most amazing time. You’ll meet people you’d have never met otherwise, and chances are you’ll be in contact for a long time, if not the rest of your life – advice from my 53-year-old mum! Good luck with your show, your job or your visit, whatever it might be that takes you to the best festival there is. If you’re at a loose end at 3pm (and 11am in the last week) we’d love to see you at Woyzeck and Our Man in Havana, and if you fancy a chat then stick around afterwards!

We’d love to hear about your shows too, so if you’re going to be part of this month of madness and mirth then tweet a picture of your poster to @SpiesLikeUs_ and we’ll add you to our list of shows to see and give you a retweet!

Good luck, and see you on the other side!

Ollie Norton-Smith is a 20-year old Writer/Director and is the Artistic Director of Spies Like Us Theatre. He is currently studying English Literature and Drama at the University of Manchester. He directed and co-wrote Spies Like Us' debut production Our Man in Havana, and is currently working on their new project, Woyzeck. Having won Theatre Weekly's 'Best Fringe Debut' award last summer, they hope to go on to more success at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2018.

Get tickets for Our Man in Havana and Woyzeck online. Say hello, ask questions or keep up to date with Spies Like Us on Facebook and Twitter

Image Credits: Ollie Norton-Smith and Heather Pasfield