Convinced of our importance as a “center of culture,” Christabel Anderson flew nearly 4,000 miles to invite Minnesotans to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. That’s a big compliment coming from a valuable resource.
Anderson, who spoke at the Minneapolis Theatre Garage on June 14, is the head of participant services in the Festival Fringe Society (FFS), which provides support to the largest performance arts festival in the world. Edinburgh Fringe, in its 66th year, will include 2,695 events this August during its three-and-a-half-week run.
She met Minnesota’s Fringe director, Robin Gillette, in Washington, D.C. during a showcase of experimental UK theater, and decided to visit in an effort of international Fringe networking. There are nearly 15 fringe festivals in the United States Association of Fringe Festivals, and dozens more around the world. Our Fringe Festival is in its 19th year and, in case you aren’t familiar with it, Gillette described the tone this way: “Ours is known as being smart, literate, sci-fi-heavy, zombie-like, with lots of geeky pop culture and comic book mash-ups.”
Like Edinburgh’s, our Fringe is neither juried nor curated—but not everyone who applies gets picked in the lottery system. Edinburgh goes a step further in its “open access policy“ meaning, since 1947, anybody who can find a venue and the money to register can put on a show.
While Edinburgh’s FFS does not control the incoming participants, the “registered charity” (something like a 501[c]3) does provide support for artists—everything from finding a venue to marketing the show. Anderson and her colleagues collect and distribute details of the shows and produce the physical program. They also handle concerns and inquiries from groups that have a hard time maneuvering the chaos inherent in a basically anarchic festival.
Anderson says it’s an instant boost to an artist’s reputation to be able to claim “I played Edinburgh Festival Fringe.” There are also influential scouts and bookers and journalists from all over the world to impress, so a potential exists for an artist to gain rapid acclaim. That is, if you can stand out from the mass of other performances, which air from 9 a.m. to 4 a.m. daily all over the city. Anderson adds that bars are also open until 5 a.m., and “there’s a lot of drinking. Do pace yourself.”
Of course, with great opportunity comes a great challenge. “It can be quite soul-destroying. Things may not go the way you thought they would,” Anderson concedes. Budgeting, planning, selling the show, and performing can be part of a grueling learning experience. Gillette advises artists to reflect on their own elasticity. She says you must be flexible in attitude and in spirit, and your show—the set, the cast, the size and shape of it—must be flexible too. And, “Nobody makes any money,” Anderson says. “It’s an investment.”
To make that investment, follow Christabel Anderson’s directions to participate in Edinburgh Festival Fringe:
- Find a venue: Start a dialogue with five or six to see which fits the best. Anderson said most importantly, you must find a venue that “believes in your work.”
- Register with FFS: Supply all the details of your performance for publication in the official program, and for press distribution. FFS also collects a registration fee, which is at maximum about $700.
- Secure your accommodations: The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is just one of several giant festivals in late summer so you’re competing with other foreigners for space. So rent an apartment and squeeze as many people in as possible.
- Make travel arrangements: As a US citizen, entry into UK is made simple by Edinburgh Festival Fringe’s “permit-free” status. No visa is required and the FFS will supply the proof you must present to customs.
- Be ready: Turnovers between shows can be as quick as 15 minutes, so know the venue’s space and technological specifics ahead of time, and prepare for a ten minute set up/tear down.
- Sell your show: “Paper is still king,” Anderson says, and the best way to get people to your show is to pass out fliers and talk to strangers. Introduce yourself and your piece to people in line for other events and audiences at like-minded programs.
- Plan ahead to see other performances: It might be easy to put the blinders on with such focus on your own gig, but make a point of checking out creative feats of others (it’s a long way to travel not to).
Photo by Kay Williams (Creative Commons)
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