Selling my show (and possibly my soul) on the Edinburgh Fringe
I am now seven days into my first experience of having a show on the Edinburgh Fringe. The week has had the sweaty, hazy intensity of a vivid dream, sometimes dipping into dark, clammy anxiety with occasional, brief glimpses of a dappled sunlit meadow Â just out of reach.
Itâ€™s tough place, Edinburgh in August. Big beastsÂ – Steve Berkoff, David Baddiel, Gyles Brandreth Â – Â roam the Fringe, ruthlessly gobbling up the available publicity opportunities. Selling a show like My Village and Other Aliens that is not flashy, erotic, established or celebrity-based, and which is based around songs and stories of contemporary life, can be difficult.
Everything is loud. Over this first week, everyone has been out on the streets, hawking their shows, using every kind of gimmickÂ – costumes, sweets, clever chat-up lines, or just old-fashioned shouting and harrassment. Itâ€™s like an insane cultural souk.
Away from the market-place, allâ€™s going well. Iâ€™m at the perfect venue for a storytelling show, the cabaret bar at Zoo Southside. Every night (with one exception), audiences have seemed to have enjoyed the show â€“ often quite a lot. The first weekÂ – before reviews have established a brutal hierarchy and before many visitors have arrived â€“ is said to be the toughest time to get people through the door.
My brilliant, cheerful flyering team, students Sarah Barton and Alex Williams, brave the streets of central Edinburgh every day, talking about my show â€“ â€˜Itâ€™s by the famous Terence Blacker!â€™ was one of their more desperate opening gambits â€“ occasionally pursuing bewildered Independent readers down the street.
Theirs is the hardest job. Now and then I try it, sidling up to festival-goers, with a wheedling â€˜Can I pester you?â€™ which sounds creepy even as I say it. On one occasion, an exhausted-looking woman listened to my pitch and said wearily, â€˜No, I’ve seen enough depressing shows, thank you.’ â€˜Itâ€™s a comedy!â€™ I cried, as she drifted off. Something about my manner must have conveyed a profound gloom. Itâ€™s difficult cold-selling your own stuff.
In the cabaret bar, there have been great nights and fantastic audiences. Then, suddenly and inexplicably, an entire audience can seem weirdly out of reach, as if some poison gas of indifference has been released before the start of the show. It has happened once to me, and was like playing Madame Tussauds. Coming through those moments, telling oneself that it happens and not letting it haunt you the following night, feels like a useful life experience.
â€˜Thatâ€™s the Fringe for you,â€™ people say, in varying tones of resignation, despair or hope.
Itâ€™s exciting, frightening, frustrating and elating. And, after one week, I have absolutely no idea how it all going to turn outâ€¦