Is putting on a performance or producing a show at an arts festival or series of events really worth all the trouble? Here’s authentic advice from Scottish artists, venues, event organizers and planners.
We want to share wisdom they’ve gained through trial and error. They all believe it is only worth the considerable expense if you are realistic, organized and do it for fun, not money or fame.
1. Take advantage of the wealth of resources from the Edinburgh Fringe Society
Ed Fringe has everything from budget spreadsheet templates to marketing tips to how to prepare your production for Fringe audiences. There’s a lot of relevant advice for putting on any type of arts event, whether you participate in the Fringe or not.
2. Participate in an arts festival for fun, not money (because you won’t make any money)
“Have fun. Don’t expect to make any money. It’s much, much harder than you think to get the numbers that you need. Jane and I have a separate events company and almost always we just break even or lose money. It’s hard. So do it for fun. And make sure you can afford to do it. In the first couple of years make sure you’ve got sufficient backing in case you get into trouble,” says Eric Wells, director of Fringe by the Sea.
“Every year something crops up that we hadn’t foreseen. Pay attention to detail. If you book someone and they say they want the green jelly babies, get the green jelly babies. They just do it to test you, those complicated backstage requests. Just do that thing for them and everything else will fall into place.”
Last bit of advice? “Pray for good weather.”
3. Pick a good venue, the most important decision you’ll make
“Preparation is everything. Make sure you have a good venue. Do all the practical things as quickly as possible and then concentrate on the creative side as well,” says Bruce Downie, artistic director of Govanhill Theatre.
Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the biggest open arts festival in the world and for decades allows any artists to perform, as long as they find a venue willing to host them. That puts power directly in the venue’s hands. Choose a venue that matches your show theme, audience preference. Research venue sizes and marketing benefits to match your needs with the venue’s offerings. If you can’t realistically pack a 100-person-capacity venue, go with a smaller venue. Selling out your show where 50 people can watch will be more satisfying than performing to a half-empty room.
The same goes for any arts performance in general. Choosing a good venue, based on location, size, style, seating capacity and arrangement all matters for your ultimate production.
4. Energy, spirit, attitude matter
“The atmosphere of your team and partners expresses itself through your performance to your audience,” says David Martin, founder of Hidden Door Festival.
“Look after everyone who you’re working with. Make sure that everyone who’s involved with your project has a really great experience. If you work well together as a team and a group, I think that atmosphere that you create amongst yourselves filters down throughout the rest of the event.
“If you’re already stressed, the event will feel a bit stressed. As long as you’re all enjoying it, and you’re buying each other drinks, and taking each other out for dinner, that will filter through. You can work that even further into your contributors and people who are involved in your event. That builds up partnerships and friendships with people across the city.”
Edinburgh is a competitive city when it comes to the arts, advises Martin. But he recommends you make friends rather than think of peers as competitors.
5. Budget and financing 101
Acoustic Music Festival’s program director, John Barrow, offers money tips. “If you must come [to Edinburgh Festival Fringe] without doing any research, you really have to be very careful to budget so you know what you’re getting into. People come from America to play in a fifty seater. If the tickets are ten pounds each and you sell out, it’s not even half of your airfare. You’re going to need some independent finance to help you sustain.”
Setting the right ticket price is an art and science. Barrow says, “There’s no point in saying our expenses are X so, therefore, our ticket prices need to be twenty pounds in a fifty seater. It will not work. There are very few shows in the Fringe that would rise above about fifteen or sixteen pounds. It would just not be a sensible plan.”
6. Multi-faceted marketing
Nigel Duncan, publicist for Acoustic Music Festival, says, “Don’t just think about your production budget. Think about your marketing budget. Your promotional budget. How many leaflets do you want? How are you going to distribute them? Do you want to use social media? The whole PR exercise now is multifaceted so think very hard about that.”
Have a plan. Assign one person or certain people to take on various aspects of your marketing such as flyers, posters, social media, PR, etc. Create a budget and stick to it.
“You can’t just walk around town and hand out leaflets. You can’t just go around town and expect to meet a journalist who’s covering the Fringe,” says Duncan. “You have to be smooth, you have to be sophisticated and you have to be structured. Simple as that.”