6 Tips for A Successful First Fringe Show with Unpolished Theatre

This year's Charlie Hartill Special Reserve recipients Unpolished Theatre share their insider tips on getting the most out of a debut Edinburgh Fringe show

Unpolished Theatre are Elliot Warren and Olivia Brady, graduates of the Arts University College of Bournemouth, whose new show Flesh & Bone has already won a Fringe First award and came to the 2017 Fringe with the help of the Pleasance Theatre’s Charlie Hartill Special Reserve award. We sat down with Elliot and Olivia to talk more about the process.

You just have to stick to your guns with how much you love your show because there are so many people, and so many fantastic shows… just love your show and be so confident with it, because people can smell if you’re not!
Elliot Warren

How did Unpolished Theatre start?

OB: Unpolished is me and [Elliot]. We met at the Arts University College of Bournemouth. We used to always work together when we were at school, and when we left. We’ve always been amazing friends and work really well together. We’re a bit telepathic, we’re on the same wavelength. It was just kind of inevitable that we would make a theatre company. So, the play and the theatre company kind of came together at the same time, at the end of last year in November.

EW: Yeah, we did an amateur dramatics performance of Berkoff’s ‘East’ together, at the start of 2016. We wanted to get the rights to do East again, direct it ourselves and kind of put our own spin on it, but turns out the rights are quite expensive! So, we thought sod it, we’ll write our own play in a similar style. It ended up finding its own style but it definitely hints to Berkoff.

OB: And I’ve always wanted to direct but never thought I could do it. After just throwing myself into amateur dramatics and the director giving us a lot of say in what we wanted to do, we kind of thought we could do this ourselves.

How did the show come about?

EW: The show in a nut shell is about 5 gritty characters in the east of London, that live in a tower block due for demolition. They speak in a kind of eloquent Shakespearean language. It came about basically from a shared love between me and Olivia for characters from the East end of London. The richness and the culture, and the charismatic behaviours they have. Most my family – my granddad especially - was a muse for the whole piece. He’s a proper East end geezer, and he sings jazz, has gold all over him, but he’s brilliant. He kind of sparked an interest in writing about those people, and then after loads of discussions, we put people in a certain situation and the story kind of… I don’t want to say it “wrote itself” but it kind of came out of that.

OB: We started with these really in-depth characters, got to know them really well, just from talking so much about them – [thinking about] where would they work, what would their relationships be? The story line kind of came out from that really.

Was it always your intention to take this show to the Fringe?

EW: It actually came about more slowly. We performed a kind of version of this play in December. It has been rehashed and rewritten, and it’s completely different now, but it was a version and we put it on in Camden. A casting director saw it and mentioned the Pleasance and Charlie Hartill fund, and that’s how Edinburgh came about. Weirdly, I thought Edinburgh was a sort of unreachable thing because of the money, the production things you have to consider.

So how did the Charlie Hartill award impact the way you worked on the show?

OB: We had this version, a sort of skeleton of the show that we have now. For the audition process, you do a ten-minute piece of your show and we did a mash up –we got all the best bits so it was like a long trailer rather than just a scene.

EW: Yeah, then we went home and just had to wait. We were shortlisted and eventually [won the award].

OB: Developing with the Pleasance was more on the producing side – Heather [Rose, from Pleasance] would come in and we’d have meetings to make sure we were filling out applications on time…

EW: Which we would have been really stuck on otherwise.

OB: Yeah, there’s so much to do. To have Heather’s help was amazing. None of the stuff is hard! It’s just about organising yourself and knowing what to do – we didn’t know what to do before. It’s all easily done.

Have you any survival tips you’d tell other performers, so far?

EW: Drink lots of honey and lemon! It’s been a blast so far. We’ve also watched our drinking and stuff like that.  

OB: We originally said that we weren’t going to drink at all – just get home, have an early night, we’re here for the show. We don’t have a day off because we want it to be all about the show. We’ll do a couple of drinks after the show and stuff but the show itself is just so important, we wouldn’t want to jeopardise anything.

What would you like to do next, as Unpolished Theatre and with Flesh & Bone?

EW: We’d love to tour it. It would be nice to get a producer on side to lead us down the right pathways.

OB: We’d love to take it to London – there’s so many great theatres in London that we’d love to perform in.

EW: It would be really interesting to try and upscale it. Right now, we’ve for the 50-seater at the Pleasance and that works well because it’s a lot of direct address, we can really talk to people. But I’d really like to upscale it a bit more, use more of the space, fly around bit more.

OB: If we had a producer on side we’d have more time for the creative side as well. Because we’re directors who also perform, we’d sort everybody else out and go, “Oh wait, we’re in this as well!”

EW: We’ve already spoken about new scenes – we’re doing a run in October at the Pleasance in Islington. I’d love to publish the play but I’m scared – what if I write a better scene?!

OB: When you’ve got great characters, there are endless scenes!

We always think in steps. So, from this moment right here, what is the step I can take to get to the Fringe?
Olivia Brady

6 top tips for making your Fringe run a success

1. Get great marketing material together before you arrive. Have a cohesive ‘look’ for your promotional material.

EW: Before we arrived, we had a promo shoot, which gave us loads of great photos. So that’s really done us a favour – they look really nice and people have been really interested in them.

OB: Elliot’s done all the marketing himself. The illustration was designed by a friend – but it was all from Elliot’s brain, he had a look in mind, and he’s got a really good eye for those things. That’s really helped, I think. So many people have said to us, “Oh, I’ve seen that poster! It looks really good.” 

EW: How do you make an impact in the endless sea of social media? We’ve just been blasting the colour orange [from the poster] everywhere. Always keeping it a similar brand. I think a lot of shows can get carried away with almost a ‘pretty’ flyer, but it’s more about sticking to your brand, I think.

2. Use your resources wisely, and draw on others with the right skills.

OB: We went to an Arts university where there’s not just an acting course, there’s also a film course, costume course, photography course… because we had that, when we left we had a network of all these creative people. When it came to making that trailer, we could call up friends – we had resources. Networking and getting people that aren’t just doing what you’re doing is really important.

3. Have a clear tagline or description. Use relevant and evocative references to convey what your show is about.

EW: We have been saying we’ll buy you a pint if you don’t like it! But [also always] just that tagline: 5 gritty characters from the East end of London living in a tower block. I think the “Shakespeare vs Quentin Tarantino” has been a good description…

OB: Yeah - a lot of people here are not necessarily here for the theatre. They might be here for the comedy, or for whatever other reason. A lot of people like film, so if you can’t get them on the theatre side, you can get them by saying, “It’s like Guy Ritchie, it’s like Quentin Tarantino…”

EW: We appeal to that market.

OB: Yeah, no one’s expecting it to be literally Tarantino, it’s just if you like Tarantino chances are you will like Flesh & Bone.  

4. Give yourself deadlines to get everything done in time!

OB: It’s such a huge thing to plan and it’s something that we both really wanted to do, but it was kind of like, “Ok, well maybe next year.” Because you [can easily] miss the deadlines. By just booking the space, etc., you give yourself time lines. At university, we’d leave everything to the very last minute. I’m sure everyone’s like that. Giving yourself deadlines and saying, “We have to do it because we’ve got that space.” Or: “We have to do it because the application deadline is coming up.” You put pressure on yourself and that’s a good thing.

5. Stick to your guns and don’t doubt your show.

EW: You just have to stick to your guns with how much you love your show – because there are so many people, and so many fantastic shows and there are 3 million flyers going about. How do you stand out? I think the way you stand out is with good marketing and PR but just love your show and be so confident with it, because people can smell if you’re not!

6. Break it down into achievable parts.

OB: It’s very easy to look at the massive picture of the Fringe and think, “Oh god, I could never do that.” But we always think in steps. So, from this moment right here, what is the step I can take to get to the Fringe?

EW: And it might be as simple as making a coffee…

OB: Yeah, I’m going to make a coffee, go online, type in “What are the requirements for the Fringe?” Then the next thing, and the next thing. If you take tiny steps it won’t feel so overwhelming. The Fringe is massive and there’s loads to do, but just break it right down. And then… you’re here! We’re being interviewed by you and just won a Fringe First - oh my god!

Thanks to Olivia and Elliot for their time! Their show Flesh & Bone is excellent and on at the Pleasance Dome every day until the end of the month. Find out more about tickets online, or catch them at the Pleasance in Islington in October!