So yeah, I would say that 30 seconds where this incredibly ridiculous show felt like it was going to come together was my favourite memory.
Aside from that, as a punter I think my favourite memory was the first show that I ever saw in Edinburgh when I was 19, which was Adam Hills, in the Assembly Rooms. Just because it was the first full hour of stand-up that I'd seen – I'd never seen somebody do a narrative comedy show live before.
And, yeah I think in addition to that in 2011 I took 5 shows up for the first time and seeing all of those shows in their venues for the first time – that was really exciting too.
Jon: What do you see the Fringe as? Why do you think people come to the Fringe?
Beth: I think it's a different answer depending on what you want from it. As a punter, I went to the Fringe as a tourist for years before I started working up there and it was just the most incredible holiday. I used to see 6 shows a day, and soak up the atmosphere, and just feel this incredible cultural buzz, which you don't get anywhere else, at least certainly nowhere else I've ever been.
If you're a performer, particularly in comedy, it's the world's biggest trade fair – it's the only place you're going to get seen by so many people so quickly. For somebody like me, it's a way to make your name as a producer and an agent because if you do well, you can make a name for yourself in the industry quite quickly. And for the PRs it's a good way to make money! (laughs)
Jon: How would you describe your average Fringe day? Let's say middle of the Fringe, where things are a little more settled.
Beth: Well first off, not to sound too hack, but I don't really think there is an average Fringe day. The way I operate – as you know I run a small team of people, so it's very very hands on. But a day would start for me at probably 10am, when I would do 2-3 hours of press calls and emails, and discussing with the venues, booking in all the different industry comps, press comps tickets, and then – noon, we have a check-in with the street team, so either myself of my assistant – also called Beth – will meet with the street team and tell them what's needed for that day.
I mean they know, they have a plan, but depending on which shows are selling well and which aren't selling so well we'd move people around. At that point – usually about 5 minutes before I send them their tickets sales reports for the day, I'll get a text from every single one of my shows saying “how many tickets have I sold?! Have I got any press in?!” and I will tell them how many tickets they've sold and then, depending on what mood I think they're in, I'll will either tell or I won't tell them whether they've got any press or judges in!
So then, obviously for me the shows would start mid-afternoon, and then last year my last regular show would go down at 5-past midnight, so running around between the shows checking everyone's got what they need, chatting whoever industry-wise is in the show, making sure that everybody performing is as happy as they can possibly be on any given day.
Oh, at a certain point I'll try and eat something, and that something is normally Red Box Noodles. And then my Fringe day will finish at between 3 or 5am, depending on which industry is in town – the last week is the toughest week, because that's the week all the American execs want to come in and they want to go out drinking very very late in Edinburgh and by that point I just want to go home to bed!
A big part of my job and everyone's job in Edinburgh is getting drunk with each other and telling each other how wonderful we all are so that we can make shows together. So yeah, then fall into bed, having checked my emails again, between 4 and 5, and then up again at 9! And repeat, for 26 days. Apart from, I make all my shows have the same day off, so I get a day off and go for a massage that day – in the middle of the Fringe, or I think I would die! And repeat.
Jon: What advice would you have for getting press in?
Well firstly, have the best shows. It genuinely is really important – it'll be the answer to a lot of your questions, is that I really do try and I'm certain that everyone else does too: to curate the best roster of shows that you can get your hot little hands on. And then write an interesting press release. Various publications are very didactic about how they want you to put the listings, and that's fine; you can follow that for the smaller publications, but really - have something interesting and visually striking in your press release, and e-mail and call a journalist personally; don't just send around a blanket BCC e-mail. I mean obviously for some you'll have to, but if you have any sort of contact with the journalist, write them a nice note, send them the press release, and try to make it as personal as possible. Again, a lot of it is patience and persistence. The watchword my old editor gave me was “polite, patient and persistent”.
Jon: How do you go about selecting a venue?
Beth: There's a lot of factors at play – certain venues, particularly within the comedy world, certain venues have certain different sorts of cache for different sorts of shows. The best thing I would always say is find the venue – and I don't just mean whether it's Pleasance or Underbelly or Assembly, but the actual room within that venue that best serves the show you want to put on. Then do a realistic calculation of how many tickets you think you'll be able to sell, and try and go slightly under that...Estimate the number of tickets you think you can realistically sell, then go for a room slightly smaller than that, and try and sell the whole thing out if you can. But really - and other people will agree or disagree with this – I feel that finding the room that suits the show you want to put on is the most important thing, and other considerations come after.
Jon: What advice would you give for people putting on a Fringe show for the first time?
Beth: Do you mean acts?
Jon: From an acts' perspective, yeah.
Beth: Well if you're doing it yourself and you don't have any budget at all, and it's your first ever show, I would say Free Fringe – if it's comedy – is definitely the way to go. It's got a growing reputation and if you do your research, there are some good venues, and there are also some very bad venues, so ask around and get in touch with people that you like and respect that have done the Free Fringe before and try and secure one of those good rooms. And those venues start getting booked up in the preceeding December, so it really is something that you need to be thinking about for a while. And then if you're looking to take a show into a venue, then – and I'm bound to say this – but find a really good producer because the level of admin and work and just sheer work-levels that you'll have to do once you're dealing with a professional venue increases exponentially, and actually it's just good to have support and have someone else to fight your battles for you, because certainly my experience with acts is that they've got more than enough on their minds trying to create the best show they can without having to constantly think about ticket sales and press and industry marketing and all the rest of the stuff that comes along with doing a Fringe show. I guess I'd boil it down into: do your research, think of the free Fringe first, and if you're looking for something a bit more established, start talking to producers and promoters early – I mean October of the year before you want to go to Edinburgh – not September, because we'll hate you, because we've just come back from Edinburgh (laughs) – but October, because like the venues, they get booked up early.
Jon: Would you recommend going to the Fringe as a punter before you perform?
Beth: Definitely, yeah. If you can. I almost don't understand why you wouldn't, because if you want to put on a show there surely you're really interested in everything that goes on. So if you can and you can afford to - and it's very expensive to do that – then I would. And if you can't, something that a lot of comedians I know do, is they go up in compilation shows, so they're there, and they're not paying for the entire show themselves, and they're getting the experience, and just go and see as much stuff as you possibly can, and get inspired – is that lame?
Jon: No, absolutely not – the atmosphere up there is tremendously inspiring and electric, and I think that's part of the reason we go back; being surrounded by like-minded people for the month.
Beth: I think it's an addiction – a more powerful and dangerous addiction than most. (Laughs)
Jon: What would you recommend for dealing with reviews – both good and bad?
Beth: Everyone's different. I know several high-profile acts who never read their reviews, good and bad. I would certainly – to be honest, I would certainly advocate reading them as little as you possibly can during the Fringe, and it's hard – especially with the advent of Twitter – it's really hard to resist the temptation, because everything is absolutely instantaneous. But y'know, if you do read reviews and you do see reviews and almost inevitably you will start to know by week 2 how your show's doing by the stars that are going up or not going up on your poster as the case may be (laughs.) I mean, I used to review; before I produced, I reviewed for a couple of years at the Fringe, and it's really important to bear in mind that all the critics are seeing a tonne of shows, and it's just one person's opinion, and you should try not to take it completely to heart. I mean, if everybody is saying the exact same thing about your show then maybe that's something that you might want to address when you stage it in the future, but I certainly wouldn't advocate anything mad like mid-run rewrites based or anything on what critics say; you'll just drive yourself – and everyone that's working with you – round the bend.
Jon: Do you have any flyering advice?
Beth: Well I've never flyered myself, but I've hired teams to flyer for me. The thing that we say to the teams the most is that just handing out flyers or lying down on the Royal Mile and holding out flyers is not a good tactic. The most effective flyerers are like your Mum and Dad actually – they go up and they chat to people and you just know the show, engage with the show, have a lovely chat with somebody and try and sell them the show and give them a flyer. You will flyer far more effectively if you engage with a smaller group of people than if you hand out 100 flyers a day without saying a word to people while they've got no reason to believe in you or your show. Especially if you're doing it yourself; you've got that extra level of engagement with what you've written and what you hopefully want to sell and you love. But yeah, other than that, hire a really good team.
Jon: And I imagine you want your flyerers to know the show well so you have that passion to convey.
Beth: All my flyerers have to have see the shows they're working on by day 3. And in fact the bunch we had last year (2012) were great; they all went to see all of the shows, and some of them went to see them more than once, which was really nice.
Jon: I've just made a note to interview my mum and dad – they are dynamite flyerers.
Beth: My dad's pretty good as well – he wore a Ditto t-shirt last year; everyone thought he worked for me.
Jon: In a way he does.
Beth: In a way, doesn't everybody?
Jon: What is your best Fringe Flu remedy?
Beth: I'm the worst person to ask this because I've had pneumonia following the Fringe twice-
Jon: I'd say you're the best person to ask
Beth: Well, sleep. Last year if you recall I took a day off and worked from bed because I was very very ill, and that did actually help. Try and eat properly, y'know it's all the stuff your mum would tell you: take some vitamin C and some echinacea – chicken soup and hot toddies made with fresh ginger, orange and honey – and whiskey.
Jon: We should do a Fringe recipe book – that'd be great.
Beth: My Fringe recipe book consists of scrambled eggs on toast, Red Box Noodles -
Jon: We're not sponsored by Red Box Noodles, just to make that clear-
Beth: No, but they're really good! (Laughs) Those bacon sandwiches you can get in the Udderbelly Pasture at 3 o'clock in the morning, which has been my dinner before now. Mamma's Pizza, which is where we always have the Ditto company dinner.
Beth: Oh the other thing for Fringe flu is don't let any bloody thespians kiss you hello on the mouth, because they'll do it if they can.
Jon: Sage advice.
Beth: A friendly handshake and some anti-bacterial wipes is all that's needed during the Fringe.
Jon: As a brief overview, how does your yearly Fringe calendar work – what does it resemble?
Beth: It runs almost like an academic year, to be honest. I start – I will get my settlements from the previous year's Fringe in October, which is when the venues pay me, then the acts get paid, and then finally, after everyone else gets paid, I get paid. And depending on which venue you use, that's either October or early November, and you know who you are if you pay in November. (Laughs) So at that time, I – I mean, I run a slightly different production company than others, because, like some others, and not like some others, I'm an agent as well, so the first thing I establish is: do my clients want to go to Edinburgh, or do my clients need to go to Edinburgh? And then, once I know what they want to do, I start looking around in November for the other shows I want to take up. I mean, I start getting e-mails about people wanting to come up to Edinburgh in September, but to be honest in September I don't want to take any meetings about the following Edinburgh.
So yeah, I finalise my roster by January – mid-to-late January – at that point, applications have gone in to all of the venues for the appropriate time-slots and rooms that I want, and then when the offers from the various venues come back in in
March, we discuss which ones they want to take, and proceed from there. So March is Fringe registration time, so everyone's 40-word blurbs need to be ready, so there's that sort of applying for the Fringe, which if you're with the big venues, is done through a sort of portal system, so you only have to do it 3 or 4 times with each proofing round. So that all happens March/April. Around that time as well, all the acts need their publicity shoots done for their publicity shots and their promotional materials, so that all happens then. Around that time as well I also will start looking for my team to work for me, so hiring my assistant producer, and write an advert for street teams.
And then April/May, everything gets finalised for the venues, press releases need to be written in May and then go out at the end of May...ish, I mean it varies from PR to PR.
June is basically – I live in the land of the previews, because everybody's got about 2 previews at that point, so most of my June is spent going around all of my show's previews and depending on how they're going and how they react, giving them either support or notes or both. July...I don't remember what July is like because that is a lot of work in July!
And I travel up at the end of the July and set up my crew up there – I should say in June/July I've also interviewed 100-odd people for street-team jobs, because last year I think I had 250 applicants for 7 jobs, it's absolutely extraordinary; a lot of kids want to work at the Fringe, particularly at the moment, for a paid job at the Fringe. It's fairly paid, but it's not well paid.
Jon: Would you have any advice for people looking to work at the Fringe?
Beth: Yeah, I mean – flyering. It's not glamorous work, but the advantage of flyering is that you get venue passes, which means that you can go and see as many shows as you want for free. Once you've done your hours, you can do what you like. And hopefully, if you're working for – there's a tonne of really amazing production companies that look after their teams really well – I think it's a good way to get to know the Fringe, and see a lot of stuff, and if you don't mind getting rained on, then I think it's a good thing to do. I mean, I know a lot of people who started out as flyerers who now run production companies and things.
Jon: So it's a good entry point.
Beth: Yeah, assistant producer, stage managing, all that kind of stuff. Or you could just do like I do and just be like: “right, I'm just going to be a producer now” and just take shows up – and see how it goes!
Beth: August is obviously 20-hour work days for all concerned, and then September: post-Fringe meetings with whatever you've achieved during the Fringe, and then invoicing and settling up with your clients, so it really does run for an entire year, and there's never a month in the year where you don't – if you're taking shows to Edinburgh or if you're in a show in Edinburgh, if you're doing two Edinburghs in a row – where Edinburgh isn't something that you'll be doing that week; it's a completely all-consuming monster.
Jon: Do you have any tips for after the Fringe?
Beth: Take a holiday! (Laughs) I'm not kidding. Again, it depends – from my perspective, or -
Beth: Well I always write a list, before I go, of what I want to achieve that year, and then review it after the Fringe and see what we got off that and then – after the aforementioned holiday; I took a 3-day holiday this year, it was amazing.
Jon: Very hedonistic.
Beth: Follow up immediately with all of the contacts that you've made – if people have come to see your show, you should be e-mailing them in September to say: Hey, let's have the coffee we talked about” and seeing what you can get out of it, because people's memories are incredibly short and if you leave it for 2 or 3 months, then they'll have moved on.
Jon: Thank you, that's amazing. Something fun: what's your favourite place in Edinburgh?
Beth: Apart from Red Box Noodles?
Jon: Well yeah I think Red Box Noodles is up there; take that as a given. Where do you go to relax in Edinburgh?
Beth: I don't understand the question! (Laughs) I really love the Pleasance Courtyard. One of the nice things for me about having shows at Pleasance is that, because you know so many people in other companies – and actually Pleasance, they keep the same staff a lot – is that any time that I would wander in to either the Courtyard or The Dome, there's somebody that I could sit down and have a drink with. I also – I don't know really; I don't spend a lot of time away from the venues or my flat – I really like my flat, which I've had for 3 years in a row. I like Mamma's. One of the things that we try and do is we try and engender a bit of a family spirit amongst all the shows, and I really like the company dinner that we have – I really enjoy that, it's one of my favourite bits of the Fringe. Just getting everyone together, and everyone feeling excited. I've never been up Arthur's Seat, because of my gammy legs – I understand it's really pretty!
Beth: I actually really like the atmosphere down on the Grassmarket, as well. It's a slightly different vibe to the more venue-heavy areas of town.
Jon: Do you have any tips for – say if one had a particular venue in mind – do you have any advice for pursuing or courting that venue?
Beth: Again, write the best show you possibly can and do it as early as possible, because if you're going to a venue that hasn't seen you before, you really want them to be seeing you perform in, you know, December, if at all possible. And then do something to make your application stand out. We've always with The Beta Males worked really hard on making your applications in the early years really special – themeing them with the show, which really made them stand out. People send gifts; I'm not suggesting bribery, but kind of comedy gifts. I believe The Idiots Of Ants used to send in jelly beans with their venue applications, and I've sent in home-made cakes as well, just get somebody to-
Jon: To make it stand out-
Beth: Well yeah, I mean they're absolutely inundated and the applications start earlier and earlier every year and just something to make them smile and make your application stand out just a little bit – and healthy dose of luck.
Jon: Feel free to not answer this one if you wouldn't like, but: have you had any hilarious Fringe disasters, so that other people can learn from your mistakes.
Beth: Well, I mean it's not hilarious that Max broke his ankle at the apex of The Wrestling show-
Jon: It was ludicrously impressive.
Beth: Yeah. More hilarious was when one of the wrestlers...no, we won't talk about that--
Jon: For the X-rated edition, get in touch...
Beth: Maybe more of a disaster for you than for me, but on the last day of the Train Job (Beta Males show, 2011) when John Henry made out with you at every possible opportunity on stage.
Jon: I got kissed a lot. And that was after a month of getting kissed.
Beth: You got kissed, so much so that he ripped his mouth.
Jon: I had braces at the time to compound my humiliation. Well you've managed to very cleverly turn it back to me, so well done. I supposed I deserve that.
Beth: I can't think of anything particularly hilariously funny that I've done, I'm sorry about that. I leave the funny to others. (Laughs)
Jon: Final question. If there's one thing you have to really nail when sorting a Fringe run, what would it be.
Beth: The show. If you have an excellent show, chances are word of mouth will travel. I mean, it's not always the case, sometimes you see shows and it breaks your heart that just for some reason aren't getting what they deserve and sometimes it takes a while to build up – years – but actually there's been enough lovely success stories from the Free Fringe and small scale producers pulling off big shows in the last few years that, if your shows is outstanding, then everything else follows from that. If you've got a modicum of sense and organisation and your show is outstanding, you will probably do well. It's not magic from our side, it's from your side.
You can find Ditto production's website here. Follow her on Twitter, too. She's great.