How to Put on Your First Fringe Show: Part 1 with Fledgling Theatre

Part 1 of the insider guide to a successful fringe production.

In late 2015, Fledgling Theatre decided it was time for their small theatre company to perform at the Edinburgh Fringe: they devised ‘They Built It. No One Came’, a charmingly funny production about two men who create a utopian commune – years later, they’re still waiting for their first member to join them. Receiving rave reviews at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, the trio are now taking the production on tour across the UK. 

Fledgling Theatre UK are Christopher Neels, Callum Cameron and Patrick Holt, and have a Sydney-based team, run by Chris Huntly-Turner and Penny Lemon. Spotlight spoke to Christopher, Patrick and Callum to find out more about how to put on a successful show at (and survive!) the Edinburgh Fringe. 

Towards the end of drama school I felt a kind of panic that I was never going to work. So, before we even finished, we wanted to make sure we put a show on – for better or for worse!
Christopher Neels

Take us back to the beginning of Fledgling: how did you all meet?

CC: Drama school. We all went to Central together. We all finished and did our first show about 6 months after that.

CN: I went to drama school in New Zealand first, then came over. Towards the end of drama school I felt a kind of panic that I was never going to work. So, before we even finished, we wanted to make sure we put a show on – for better or for worse! 

How did you guys stumble upon this particular story – and what inspired you to turn it into a show?

CC: At the time I was working a job at the New York Times. My job involved reading articles and seeing if they were alright for copyright, and then people could redistribute them. So, I came across this one story and I just thought it was really quite sad and funny. 

It is – the pictures are heartbreaking!

CC: Yeah – and initially I thought that because Chris is tall and Paddy is… shorter…

PH: Shorter!

CC: …that they would make a funny comedic representation of those two guys.  It was just going to be those two. But then for Pleasance – which is how we got to Fringe anyway – we hadn’t written anything. You just had to write a sentence explaining the idea. It was the Charlie Hartill competition. I hadn’t written anything – we had a week to put on 20 minutes of it, and you had to have four characters. Because of that we had to get another character, and we thought it would be good to have a musician there as well. And I think I thought it looked quite fun, so I’d act in it too. The whole thing was born out of the fact that for that one-off performance there had to be four characters in it. Then after that they offered us a slot. 

You put on a few shows before deciding to try to get to the Edinburgh Fringe. What was different about the Fringe, and what was the timeline from idea to realisation?

CC: I remember we had a conversation about it in December [2015] when nothing was written. At the end of February we did the [Charlie Hartill] competition. Then the beginning of March they offered us a slot. We did a first reading of it in mid-May.

CN: I think what Callum did that was good was that he himself through scratches and developments – we knew that those readings were coming up and it had to be done by then. He was constantly giving himself deadlines. It’s a weird balance because with Jericho Creek [Fledgling’s previous show], we had all this time with no deadlines and we were still cramming it all in towards the end – it wasn’t a complete show that we put up, ultimately. We came out of it thinking there was so much more we could have done. That’s what I think was so good about the development of this one.  It is much tighter than what we’ve had in the past because of these deadlines. It’s worked out really well, and for me it’s definitely been a massive learning curve.

What were the initial stages of development like?

PH: Our first reading was at the Cockpit, and we invited everyone who turned up to give feedback. I think it was fair to say we had a mountain of stuff for poor Callum to wade into afterwards. Obviously if you read enough of it, it’s conflicting. You have to decide what to listen to.

CN: That’s been the same since we did the one night at the New Diorama, then we tinkered again at the Fringe, then at Greenwich – it has constantly evolved. That’s the privilege of being able to do so many different dates: it’s allowed us to evolve. It’s only for the benefit of the production and the script.

Financing must be tricky though. Do you have any tips on how to fund going to the Fringe?

PH: We had some profit left over from Jericho Creek…

CC: …Which was enough to pay our deposit. We did do a Fringe Funder campaign and made £3.5k - the artistic community are always very generous. We’ve got to a stage though where we all agree we don’t want to have to rely on that any more – we’ve done two in consecutive years and we want to start being self-sustaining. Or just getting funding bodies interested, so we don’t have to rely on that.

CN: In many ways it’s kind of a pride thing. I don’t want to have to ask my mum for money. I don’t want to go onto the internet and beg for money any more. We’ve felt like we’ve developed and we’re more intelligent about what we spend. The way you prove that to yourself is to stop needing the Kickstarter... though having said that, Kickstarter has been very useful for us.

PH: The one we used was actually called “Fringe Funder” and if anyone is trying to go up to the Fringe, they should use that one because there’s no commission.

CC: Yeah, we did that and New Diorama gave us a preview where we got 100% of the box office. And they’re doing that again for the tour – we’re very grateful.

CN: They’ve been incredibly supportive. We also have one annual sponsor, who have given us a little bit of seed money every year. It’s not a huge amount but it’s enough to do some travel or put down a deposit, or seed another project…

PH: We’ve always been getting it from here and there really, there’s never been one scheme or anything that’s sorted us out.

Makes sense! And what are you hoping to get out of the next phase – the tour? What was the thinking behind taking the production on the road?

PH: My main hope for the tour starting at Brighton is just seeing how it goes down in the different places. Obviously, every audience is different, especially at the Edinburgh festival, but after doing it 26 times at the Fringe you start to get a feel for what’s going to go down well. I have no idea what’s going to go down well in Dumfries. I can’t wait! Same in Sheffield. I don’t know a soul in Sheffield! 

Once you finish this tour, what happens next for Fledgling Theatre?

PH: Starting something else.

CN: We’ve got a few ideas, Paddy’s chipping away – it’s really nice to be able to feel like you’re constantly working on something. 

What is out there right now that is inspiring?

CN: The best thing we saw in Edinburgh was We Are Ian by In Bed With My Brother. They’re just smashing it at the moment. It was one of the most powerful and affectionate performances – you’re dancing by the end of it.

 

See Part Two for more tips on putting on your own Edinburgh Fringe show.

The tour begins at the Brighton Fringe Festival from the 5th May – learn more about Fledgling and get tickets to their upcoming performances here.