ED2011 Columns ED2011 Festival People ED2011 Week0 Edition

Alister O’Loughlin: Getting the most from the Fringe

By | Published on Sunday 19 June 2011

Alister O'Loughlin

Fringe Society feedback shows that the number one reason for performing at the Fringe is professional development.

Every year thousands of young and new performers and creators hope to reach new audiences and, crucially, the promoters or producers or bookers or programmers or commissioners or collaborators who can help them take their projects, and careers, to the next level. If that’s you, how can you get the most out of your probably costly Fringe experience? Alas, just performing a great show isn’t necessarily enough.

Prodigal Theatre Co-Director Alister O’Loughlin has been visiting the Fringe since 1997, and started performing at the Festival in 2000. As the owner of a theatre company, he has been performer, director and producer at the Fringe. Since 2005 he has been a trustee of the Fringe Society, and is now heading up said Society’s recently created Participants’ Council. This year he is actually appearing in someone else’s show, and alongside Steven Berkoff at that, in the Festival Highlights production of ‘Oedipus’ at The Pleasance. But what advice does he have for those newer to the Festival, producing or performing in their first or second show, and looking for the Fringe to provide a spingboard? Read on to find out…

“One of the best pieces of advice I ever received was from the late comedian Larry Grayson, who in turn had received it from his manager on the eve of a big London gig. Larry had plenty of fancy clothes to wear but the manager insisted on a new tailored suit. “If you’re going to be a success, Larry, you must look like one”. And the rest, as they say, is history.

Personal hygiene often seems to take a tumble by the end of week one of the Edinburgh Fringe, but speaking as someone who has met a host of young companies desperate to sell their shows at promoter breakfasts; it’s difficult to believe the hype from a director who hasn’t shaved or ironed their shirt… Being the clear-eyed well presented one whose voice is still functioning despite the hour can set you apart from the crowd and will help you to be heard.

Do your research. Yes, it is an arts festival, but it is also the biggest open-market place you’re ever going to encounter and it pays to remind yourself of that. We all know it costs to get here, and it costs to stay here, and it costs to come back here, so you need to be clear what your investment is for!

The feedback the Fringe Society receives tells us that professional development is the number one reason performers attend this festival. That clearly means there are lots of opportunities, but it also means there is lots of competition. If you are here to progress your career in the arts, you need to plan. Find the networking sessions, plan your attendance and push yourself forward. Few artists enjoy selling their own work, but it needs to be done and you need to have clearly articulated in advance what your work is, why you make it and why you believe it should travel.

Promoters understand that very few companies in Edinburgh are performing in the conditions they’d choose to be seen in, and they take that in to account. But when it comes to sitting down and talking about taking a performance on, promoters will expect you to know how much you cost, how your cast and set travels, what technical requirements you have and what you have done/will do to promote the piece yourself. And be prepared to haggle…but not to compromise yourself. If you don’t believe in its value no one else will.

Eat well. It’s too easy to forget, ignore or suppress with alcohol your hunger but the Fringe is an ultra-marathon of performance and you need to look after yourself. Berocca will only get you so far, and Edinburgh is a great place to get good food cheap. Especially recommended is the veggie jacket spud shop just off the High Street. Likewise, sleep is your friend and it pays to do it in a bed, rather than someone else’s show.

Talk to people. Everyone who has worked the Fringe has advice. The best of course is available from the Fringe Society, and anyone who is really interested in using the Fringe to develop professionally should join to take advantage of all that is on offer, AND to contribute to the direction the Fringe festival takes. But other performers, promoters, and venue staff will know good tactics to employ to get the best out of your time here, and they may well be venue specific.

See work that is on the same scale or deals with the same themes as your own. Know what other people are doing in the same field as you and also follow which shows are getting a buzz. People will expect you to be clued in to what’s happening as the Fringe develops, so keep reading ThreeWeeks and the other Fringe press and keep an ear to the ground.

Usually here’s where we say “and enjoy it!”. But actually, WORK IT, and if you do, the enjoyment will follow. No sane person would pay out the money and put in the effort it takes to perform at the Fringe for a month purely for their own enjoyment. The enjoyment is in the work, and the people who get the most from attending the Fringe are the ones who are prepared to earn it. Good luck!”

Alister O’Loughlin appeared in ‘Oedipus By Steven Berkoff (After Sophocles)’ at the Pleasance Courtyard during Fringe 2011. 

LINKS: www.prodigaltheatre.co.uk | www.edfringe.com | www.festivalhighlights.com