James Ross - volunteer with PBH's Free Fringe, comedian and improviser gave us the low-down on all things PBH - how to apply, what to expect from a venue, how the Free Fringe differs from the Free Festival and from the paid Fringe. Marxist rants are definitely going to ensue. Transcript is below.
JG: So first question, James: What advice would you have for people thinking about doing a Free Fringe show?
A.) Do it, but B.) only do it when you know you're ready, because Edinburgh stages and applications processes are littered with the corpses of people who thought they were ready, and were sort of: “I've been doing comedy for 20 minutes, and I'm ready to do a full hour, solo hour, and it's going to be great, and everyone will love me”. It's like, that's not it. There's an awful lot of hard work, and you need to be ready for it – the Fringe is somewhere you come when you're already good, not somewhere where you go to get good; that's what the open mic circuit is for, (laughs) he said slightly scathingly. That would be my first bit of advice.
JG: Sure. Would you advise people to go and visit the Fringe before performing there?
James: It will certainly help you get a flavour of it, if that's an option. I mean if you're based outside the UK then obviously that'd be a bit tricky. But it's a good idea – go along, get a sense of what the atmosphere's like. If you can, I'd recommend this, because we've had some lovely people come along with us in previous years doing this – if you can, wangle your way onto a crew doing a show – if that's the sort of thing you're interested in, then totally do that. For the last few years we've had people come up and share our flat, and they've had peppercorn rent in exchange for doing a few hours of flyering a day. It's the best way to do the Fringe, you get loads of word-of-mouth recommendations from people who know what they're doing, who know the scene and know the circuit, and are around and about. You get a flavour for the behind-the-scenes, the underside of the swan – you know, you see the graceful bird progressing through the serene lake, but on the underside you've got the frantic paddling, and it's the frantic paddling you'll need to know how to do adequately in order to run a vaguely acceptable show, so do that sort of thing, and help out another group who're doing a show. It's like doing 'work experience' in inverted commas, and you know, you wouldn't necessarily have to commit to a full run or anything, just pop up, give them a hand for a few days, they'll appreciate the help, and it'll be lovely.
JG: Cool. What's the process for applying to PBH?
James: Applying for PBH, there is an online applications form – best to apply as early as possible; you know, September, October the year before. The earlier you get in, the better your chances, because places fill up quite quickly. What else? There are a few bits of T & Cs – terms and conditions – that you should read before you do it. There's a document on the website that lists these in full. Most of them are basically common-sense things, where it's sort of like: “Don't do this obviously stupid thing”, “Don't do this massively counter-productive thing”, “Don't hurt yourself actively while doing this thing”, and that sort of stuff, and the other bits that aren't necessarily immediately obvious why you'd do them are quite important for the organisation in terms of just sorting out the faff, 'cos there's an awful lot of paper work and spreadsheets and moving things around, so in order to keep things moving as efficiently as possible, we need to have as streamlined a process as possible, so it's trying to keep with the process as much as possible, and that's what some of the T & Cs are about. So if you are applying to somewhere else, then we need to be informed of that, because it might that we need to reallocate your space. The other thing is if you are applying to PBH, you can't be applying to Laughing Horse in the same year – you can apply to PBH if you've applied to Laughing Horse in the previous year, you can applying to PBH if you've applied unsuccessfully to Laughing Horse, I believe, but I would have to check that and that sort of thing, but not at the same time.
JG: Cool. Any advice on venues.
James: Venues. With PBH, unless you've had a particular venue in a previous year, you can't request a specific venue – that's partly because there are 2 or 3 venues that absolutely everybody would love to love to love to have. PBH venues are vetted for quality quite rigorously; you get a certain guarantee of quality of space if you're going with PBH – we won't take venues that are in the arse-end of beyond, we are not going to post you into this shoebox next to, like a dockyard in Leith, and if there are venues that acts have had trouble with, then we just don't take them next year.
So in terms of venue stuff, I would suggest if you can give a bit of a steer for the applications committee in terms of the kind of the tone of your show, so whether it's the kind of thing that's more suited to a kind of a pub, a boozy old-man kind of pub, kind of thing, or whether it's more of a sort of a cabaret, y'know - whether you should be wearing a little top hat, feather, fascinator with it. Y'know, what sort of a show it is in that respect, that's kind of a good steer – whether it's more suitable as an early afternoon show, whether it's something that's a bit lighter, or whether it explores dark themes, and is perhaps more suitable to a late-night thing, that's a handy steer. Don't be too specific, but just a general: “This is the sort of thing that would be suitable”, that'd be great, but be prepared to accept what you've been given, particularly if you're relatively new to the circuit. It's also very important, it saves us an enormous amount of time, if you can give us some video footage of you doing – give us your best stuff, obviously, best foot forward – just give us a couple of quick clips of you doing something good, so we can have a look at your act, and again, that helps give us a bit of a steer as to your tone, because you know, you have an idea of what the tone of your act is like, but we as an audience might have a different tone as well. Yeah, that's about it really.
JG: What are the costs for doing a Free Fringe?
James: Cost of the free fringe. Costs of doing PBH Free Fringe: nil. Essentially. That's the purpose of the organisation, is to reduce costs to the absolute bare minimum for acts – it's to avoid the gouging, frankly, that some of the big venues go for. I can understand why some acts go for the big venues – there are pros and cons, but y'know, when the con is like 6-9 grand, it's like: “Yeah, I need quite a lot of pro to balance that out” and for a lot of acts, that's just not happening. Maybe they've got – maybe they're into luxuries like food and shelter that they just want to fritter money away on. So yeah, in terms of the actual costs for a PBH show, you will still need to pay for your fixed costs: you will still need to pay for your accommodation, you'll still need to pay for your food, transport, your printing for any flyers you're doing, so all of that sort of thing. The optional cost is a listing in the main guide – now, opinion is very much divided as to whether this is necessary. I would suggest that it is, because – by the main guide, I mean the main Edinburgh Fringe guide – there are no upfront costs with PBH specific guide – we run a variety of fundraisers throughout the year, we try and sell ads to support that. Occasionally there's a shortfall in the advertising costs, the print run for that sort of thing, and that's kind of met by a voluntary – and I stress the word voluntary – levy for that sort of thing.
The PBH guide's a really, really handy thing to be handing around. We have a print run last year of I think it was about 100,000, and the number of them you see people leafing through is phenomenal - it's the best publicity you can have for your show, for so little time and effort, 'cos it's a handy booklet full of shows that are free, listed by time, and if people don't know what they want to see - and when they're presented by the main guide, that's a firehose aimed at a teacup, there is so much in there, and they just can't grasp it all – but if you give somebody a refined digest, of like: “These are things, they are free, they are sorted by time, so if you've got a spare hour, look at the little map on the back” - I'm gonna go and see this, I like the sound of this, I'll go and see it. If you're a punter and you go and see it and you don't like it, your opportunity cost is one hour of your time – that's it, you're not wasting like 15 quid going to see someone who is in inverted commas, 'controversial', close inverted commas, or somebody who's doing something ludicrously unchallenging in one of the big venues, that will remain nameless, but we all know who they are. Yeah, so it's a wonderful kind of index of new, fun things.
JG: Yeah, and you are put in, as a PBH act, into the programme for free.
James: Into the PBH guide-
James: Yes. Into the main Fringe guide, no – that's an additional charge, that's levied by the central Edinburgh Fringe organisation.
JG: Yeah. And do people largely do a whole run, or is it more partially run?
James: I'd strongly suggest to anyone who's applying that they apply for a full run if they possibly can. This is partly because full runs are a hell of a lot easier to allocate, than if you're mixing together bits and pieces of show runs. What else can I say about that? We do have part runs, but they are allocated afterwards; we allocate full runs first, because, I'll be honest – I'm not sure what the formal logic is behind that – if I had to guess, I'd say it was because a.) It's administratively easier, and b.) because that shows people are sort of really, properly committed to it. If you are – make sure that you're only committed to do things that you know you can do, 'cos if you drop out part way through, unless you've got an extremely good reason – and we're talking like, death in the family, loss of two limbs – then that's a problem, and it's kind of your responsibility to sort out shows to fill up any slots you might leave. If you are planning on doing a part run, it's often a good idea, if you've got an act of comparable quality, that's likely to fill the same size of space you will, that's a similar sort of tone, buddy up with them. Say, ok, well I want to do a week and a half with my show, this is my show proposal – the second week and a half is this show proposal, can we apply on this basis as one common proposal? That's what we've done in previous years, and that's worked out quite nicely, and that's the sort of thing that finds favour with the committee, 'cos it shows you're taking on board the ethos, trying to make our lives easier – big thumbs up for that! - and just generally playing along, and have got that extra bit of commitment, I suppose.
JG: Yeah. What would say is the ethos of the Free Fringe?
James: Um...you'd have to ask PBH for full chapter and verse about this. In my view, it's about avoiding gouging the big 4 venues, which has turned into this massive pay-to-play circus. I mean, it's not just the big 4 venues – they come in for a lot of stick, but at least with them you get a certain amount of paid promo stuff and some sort of industry cachet, but it's the other - there's the whole mid-range of venues that just gouge and gouge and gouge – it is paying large amounts of money to have your dreams broken; it's not a good business model for the acts, it's a wonderful business model for the surplus extracting leechy parasites that run the venues – it's a wonderful cash-cow for them, but it's built on the sucked-out blood of the performers. It's a fairly standard Marxist argument, as far as I'm concerned – they've taken our productive surplus, it's time to take it back, and the way to do this is with the win-win for venues and performers and audience members – performers get the spaces for free, venues get footfall, they sell drinks, and audiences get to see things they would not otherwise see for very sensible prices, ie free / donations. Everybody wins, apart from the bloated capitalist pig-dog lackeys.
JG: Do you have any advice for collecting after the show?
James: Uh, yeah, guilt them. Bring up pictures of your starving children. Yeah, don't make your ask too long, and I'd also recommend, I've found, having done this for a few years, is you get a much better response if you do your ask, then you do one more quick bit of thing, as a bit of a finale, and then rattle your bucket on the way out, 'cos that way you're not ending on a “give me money, please”, you're saying “give me money, please”, you give people a moment or two to dig in their pockets while you do your final big thing, and they'll go “Ah, that's why we should give them money, because they're impressive and fun and funny and I like them, good!” So that sort of thing. So, we've had a sort of a finale game when we've been doing versus improv shows in the past, when we were doing the improv speed-dating show, we brought back 2 characters that the audience really liked, so we have a best-of, favourites thing, and then we staged their wedding – giving the audience something to latch on to as a good, compelling reason to give you some cash.
JG: Much less awkward, as well – to have that chance for them to think about it.
James: Definitely. Yeah, also it's reciprocity. There's the standard, y'know – is it a game theory thing? Possibly. If you give somebody a thing, they feel obliged to give you something back, so you're just giving them that extra bit, it's like: “Well you've had this bit for free, this is the bit you're paying for” - like I say, reciprocity.
JG: How does the free fringe compare to the paid Fringe?
James: I've only done the paid Fringe once as part of a university-based group, which sort of doesn't really count. I mean, are you talking about – in what sort of sphere?
JG: In terms of the advantages of performing on the paid Fringe, vs. the advantage of the Free?
James: Advantages of paid Fringe I s'pose – from what I can tell from having spoken to acts, mates of mine who're doing that sort of thing, the main advantages are you have a good, solid press office that's directly behind your show – if you're lucky – and I know that there's kind of variations of quality behind doing that. Now with those, I'm thinking that's principally that's the big 4 venues, [Just the] Tonic might do something like that as well – no idea. But like I say, I know that the quality varies with that sort of thing – I know people who sing the praises of press offices, I know some people who are sort of: “Why have I done this?!” so I s'pose the question you have to ask yourself is: “Is that level of service and the cache it brings of 'ok, I'm at a big 4 venue, I've paid x pounds – I've basically burnt x pounds in order to be noticed' – is that worth the x pounds that you've burnt?” and I think, unless you're properly going for it, and “this is my big breakthrough year”, and job #1 this year is industry, industry, industry, industry, industry, industry, industry, then it's just not worth it. And even if you are going for industry, industry, industry, industry, industry, industry, industry then you kind of want – I'd um and ah about whether you're actually better off still doing a free show, and maybe pumping that money into PR. It can be done, if the quality of your stuff is good enough, and you push it in the right way, to the right people. Other advantages of the paid venues I s'pose would be if you have too much money? And if you need to make a really major tax loss quickly.
JG: That's useful.
James: Yeah. Oh, cadency and economic stimulus...granted that probably won't work on the level of the household, or the individual consumer, but that can be your contribution to the, y'know – we're all in this together, getting the economy moving. Um, that's probably about it.
JG: Cool. How long has the Free Fringe been going?
James: Uh, you'd have to ask Peter for an exact figure. I think it's about 15 years – somewhere between 15 and 20.
JG: And it's really gone from strength to strength in recent years, hasn't it?
James: Yeah yeah. The curve runs like this – it's almost but not quite exponential in terms of the number of applications we get. Like, competition for venues gets stiffer every year, because the number of applications goes up exponentially, and the number of venues goes up, but that goes up in a much more linear fashion, so although it's grown very substantially from – I think in the early days it was just the Canon's Gate, possibly one or two others – again, check that with Peter, I don't know the full history, I was 8 at the time...um, was I 8? Probably 12. Anyway, venues increase in a linear fashion, and applications increase exponentially, so that's potentially problematic. But yeah, like I say, it grows and grows every year, and it's just a sign that if you do get a show, it's a wonderful – particularly with – I can't really speak of the situation with Laughing Horse, but PBH, because it's essentially run as a co-op, there's a really good team atmosphere – you're not in competition with other acts that you see around your venue; it's in your interests to help them out, try and get people into their show, 'cos they might stick around for yours, and vice-versa.
Nobody in their right mind minds you exit-flyering other people's shows, it's a very supportive thing, in a way that it's perhaps a little bit more competitive in paid venues, because if somebody's spending £10 on a show, that's £10 they can spend on your show, or that's £10 they can spend on that dickhead's show – that one that you hate, y'know – that one. The massive bell-end. So that's direct competition. Whereas with other ones, it's like: “Y'know what, you're not gonna be spending any money, you might chuck us a couple of quid, that'd be great, that'd be lovely, but if you can't make it today, come and see us tomorrow” - you can be a lot more relaxed about that sort of thing. Yeah, it's a lovely, cuddly, team thing. You make friends for life! It's a lot like joining the army in that respect, except you don't have kill foreign people.
JG: (Laughs) Is there anything you want to say on PBH vs Laughing Horse? It's not something I want to get into hugely, but is there things people should be aware of? You mentioned before about not applying in the same year.
James: Yeah, if you're applying for Laughing Horse, don't apply for PBH. I mean, a couple of things, I spose, in terms of the differences...now I do say this as a PBH partisan – I am with PBH for a reason – I think it's a better-run organisation, I think the programme in particular is a major plus point for PBH. After 5, 6 years of doing the Fringe, I finally saw a Laughing Horse programme last year, and it was a single, printed sheet with just a list of show names and times on it, and it was so unhelpful – unless you know exactly what you're going to see already, there's no point. It's also, I believe Laughing Horse is pay-to-play, as in there is a registration fee and it's run as a business. PBH is run as a co-op; with PBH you get out of it what you put into. With Laughing Horse, it is, to some extent, a paid service.
There is quality control with PBH shows – my understanding there is either not or there is less of with Laughing Horse. Don't get me wrong: I've seen some amazing shows on Laughing Horse – there is some really great people doing it and some really great acts doing it. But the best Laughing Horse shows you see will be the equal of the best PBH shows you will see; the worst PBH shows you will see will be significantly than the worst Laughing Horse shows you see. I've seen some awful, shocking shit at the Fringe over 5,6,7 years of going – the very worst things I have seen have been arse end of beyond, free Laughing Horse shows, and I really felt for people doing them, because they weren't ready to do a show, and they were being allowed to fail in the most awful and heartbreaking way possible, and they were doing so in awful, unsuitable venues, and it was just dreadful. And that's the other thing as well – PBH vets for quality, and having seen some of the Laughing Horse ones, I'm not convinced that that's the case with Laughing Horse. Again, Laughing Horse have got some great venues, but again – the best Laughing Horse venues I'd argue aren't quite as good as the best PBH ones. I'd certainly say that the 'worst' PBH ones – worst in inverted commas – are significantly better – like, orders of magnitude better – than the lower end of the Laughing Horse venue spectrum.
JG: What can people expect from the tech in PBH venues?
James: Varies from venue to venue. If you've got high tech demands, like properly: “We need this thing, this thing, there needs to be flashbangs and dry ice and a full lighting rig”, you will almost certainly need a paid venue for that, if only because of the clear-up afterwards; you need to be in and out in 15 minutes for the next slot – you need to do that in paid venues as well, but you're also kind of dragging on people you might actually like. If you've got unbelievably high tech specs, I would gently suggest that you maybe explore what's available in terms of paid venues instead. Tech specs – we have a number of venues that have a capacity for a projector – that's certainly the sort of thing that you should specify on your application: “This is a thing that we definitely, definitely, definitely need”. In terms of sound rigs, it kind of varies; if you were doing a music-heavy show, again put that in your application, 'cos there are some venues that are more suited to that sort of thing...like I say it varies from venue to venue. At the absolute minimum, there is a basic PA rig with mic and often an amp. It's my understanding – like I say I'm not up on the tech side of things, again this is something I would probably check with PBH if I were you – I think a lot of that is kind of volunteer supplied and pooled. A lot of it is from the venues directly, particularly the more expensive kit, but most of it is pooled.
JG: Ok. How do the capacities vary in PBH venues, in terms of size?
James: In terms of the medium range, there are some that are tiny and cosy and bijou and lovely – places like Dragonfly which is maybe 20-30, which can be a really good size, and I know a lot of acts who are really happy with that, partly because it's a lot easier to fill a smaller venue. Going up to places like Cabaret Voltaire – the large downstairs place down there is about 100, 110-odd. Voodoo Rooms ballroom is 120. So yeah, it ranges the full spectrum from 20-30 odd, to 100s, 120s. I'd say a medium figure is probably something in the 40-60 range, but like I say, it really depends on the space. And we've got more venues coming in and out every year, so that can be subject to massive change.
JG: Any other big Free Fringe success stories? You mentioned Cariad Lloyd, who was nominated for Best Newcomer, 2011.
James: Yeah, well an awful lot of people do that as a way of building up their experience, and polishing their act – Delete The Banjax were PBH. They did an absolutely storming show which I loved to bits, a few years ago, and then broke the year after... But y'know, there's quite a lot of the really good, mid-to-upper-range sketch acts that have started out that way. And this is demonstrated by the goodwill that people have shown the Free Fringe, in terms of like, “We're willing to do this benefit for you, or that benefit for you, 'cos you gave us a start”, and we've got some really good contacts with people who are quite high-end who will come and do the benefits – people like Robin Ince, Norman Lovett...Phil Jupitus, Mark Thomas, people like that. So y'know, even if they're not necessarily doing shows with us, they got big soft spots in their heart for the organisation, which is really sweet.
JG: And a lot of people do a paid show and a free show, these days.
JG: Thom Tuck.
James: Exactly, like Thom Tuck. Um, and various others – again, names, specific examples escape me at this point, but if you're an act that is sufficiently prominent to fill the space on the basis of your name alone and limited additional publicity effort, then that's potentially well worth doing. Again, I'd say with that, apply early – for all of this really, apply early – as soon as applications go live, which is usually September / October time.
JG: Yeah. So it's as useful for big acts as it is for up and coming.
James: Oh definitely, yeah. I mean, this is the thing – I've spoken to some acts, and they're really struggling to get people into their paid shows, but free shows? “Come and see our free show”. Great. Also there's also a hell of a lot less stress about it, because it's very hard to make a loss on something that you've got very few fixed costs on. Whereas, the “Argh, have we made the 80% occupancy that we need to break even tonight” thing. And you know, even if you're doing a full paid run, if you want to just do a couple of nights, then put an application in saying you we'd like to do a couple of nights, 'cos there's going to be plenty of people who'd like a day off, even people who are doing the really big, prominent venues – they do not want to be working for 3 weeks solid. If you want to take say one night to do a special one-off show, like a best-of, or a guesting thing, drop us a line – we will fit you in somehow.
JG: I may well take you up on that; that is a great idea.
James: Yeah, good plan. Granted, a lot of those will be like Mondays and Tuesdays, but if it's a one-off thing, I think The Wrestling proves that you can – with enough effort – you can easily get people in to a one-off show on a day like that.
JG: And finally, would you say free shows feed paid shows, and vice-versa?
James: Yeah. If you're thinking of doing both, then yeah, definitely. Because you're doing different material, people get like an hour, and if they liked your hour, they'll come and see your paid show. “This is how good we were a year ago – see how good we are now!” if it's a previous year's thing. Yeah, the growing number of people who are doing both paid and free strongly suggests that people are benefitting from doing that – if they didn't, I strongly suspect they wouldn't do it. And also, who wouldn't want to play a nice, full room, full of lovely people, who you've been able to cross-promote with your paid/free show – y'know, PBH audiences are really nice. The worst heckles we've ever had have been like: “Oh, you”. There's the odd pisshead, but then you get the odd pisshead literally everywhere, so if you can't deal with that, then maybe you should stay at home and practise your knitting, and that sort of thing. So yeah, again I would strongly advocate that.
JG: 'Cos ideally I should remain impartial in these interviews, 'cos it's about you talking, but I want to strongly state my opinion here, which is that: the free fringe is not a mark of low quality, as I think, it is often perceived, and I want to put that to you – it's not really a question, it's a statement, but I assume you agree with it.
James: I absolutely agree with that, and in fact – all the paid – I mean, there is a quality control process in terms of the applications for some of the big paid venues, because there's an application process and you can be turned down and allocated appropriately, but the thing it principally tests, is your ability to pay for it. It is like a private school model; there's an entrance exam, but the principal determinant of whether you can play one of these big venues, is can you afford the fees – most people cannot. There is, for PBH certainly, there is a quality control process, and arguably the quality control process is substantially stricter than it is for any old paid venue where they're like: “Oh fine, give us your money. Unload it, unload the dumptruck in our front yard, and I'll just sit here, laying on my gold ingots, waiting for them to hatch.” Because there actually is a quality control process, and that's to protect everybody – when I say this, it sounds from listening to myself that I'm overhyping that a little bit, but it's the kind of thing that helps everybody – it does nobody any favours if they're onstage before they're ready, and we get quite a lot of applications where we're like: “We think you're good enough, but we don't think you're perhaps ready at your current level of experience to do a full hour, perhaps go away and partner up with 1 or 2, 3 other acts, do a split hour, do something like that, build up to that sort of thing”. 'Cos you end up with a lot of acts who start off by doing a 3-way split hour, the next year they'll do half, the year after they'll do 40 and a guest seems to be an increasingly popular option, before pushing to do a full hour – 'cos a full hour's a proper milestone, that's a big thing, somebody who's doing their first hour-long show, that's like: “I've arrived, showbiz!” That's the debutante's ball of comedy – so don't rush it. It'll be more special if you wait, I think is the take-home lesson.
JG: (laughs) The Twilight model.
James: Grrrrr. I'd like to point out that advice predates Twilight, quite substantially.
JG: So you do offer advice for people who apply – there is a feedback process, it's not just: “Oh you've applied, here's a venue.”
James: Yes. I mean – if someone's applied and we're just giving them a venue on the basis of their application, then there'll be no feedback – the feedback will be: “Here's a venue, this is your offer, you're within your rights to turn it down if you want to”. Generally speaking we strongly advocate that people don't turn it down. Probably should chat about that – rejection and stuff?
James: Yeah, as far as the PBH process works, you will be made an offer – assuming that your application is accepted, you will be made an offer – that offer will be made on the basis of what we've seen of your act, what we know about you, on the basis of your references, potentially, certainly on any video content you've sent in – and I'd strongly recommend sending video content in, even for established acts, because if you're an established act that none of us have seen, then we'll need that information for the very least for the tone of your act, to work out whether you're a pub act, or whether you're a club act, or whether you're a cabaret-style, like a very tilted act, that sort of thing. So you've been made an offer, and if you have extremely good reasons for turning it down, then we can try and reallocate you – extremely good reasons include things like: “Oh, I have childcare responsibilities, I can't do that” - it's probably a good idea to present evidence that you have a child, that sort of thing – or if you're like a really quite a filthy 'controversial' in inverted commas, quite a dark act, or you're very much a late-night act, then that's also something that you might want to consider saying something about, if you're kind of a lunch-time thing, or if you're perhaps a more sort of family-orientated, lunch-time-ish, light-hearted sort of a show, and you've been given 10-to-midnight – have a chat with us, and we'll see what we can do.
There are a variety of spurious and diletantte-ish reasons for turning down a venue, and a show offer. I'd try and steer clear of those – if you are demanding bowls full of only the blue M&Ms, or like a massive off-stage changing area, or your own drive-in limo: like, don't. Bear in mind this is a volunteer-run organisation, this is run entirely out of people's voluntary efforts, run by the power of goodwill, so any throwing toys out of the pram – and we've had some very ungrateful people over the years! - this is nothing something that will find favour with us. If you've got good reasons, then state your case as nicely as you can, but be prepared for us to say: “Well, we still think this offer is a reasonable one on the basis of what you've said” If you turn it down, then we'll just pop you in the general reallocations queue. You'll go to the back of that queue, so any applications that came before that will come before that will come before you in terms of how we process them, but if we have space then we will reallocate you, if that is possible and viable.
JG: You mentioned references before – any advice for what kind of references people should be looking for?
James: Make sure it's somebody that will actually vouch for the quality of your act, not somebody who is just: “Oh this person, we know this person, they'll say we're ok”. It doesn't matter that you're nice – well, it does matter that you're nice, but you need to be nice and good, not just nice. We've had a few references for people who're sort of: “They're a sound guy, they're really lovely.” And then we say to them: “Well, in our position, would you give them a show?” And they're sort of [awkward noise] So yeah, make sure you have references for people who will actually vouch for how good you are as a performer. Anyone who's particularly prominent, anyone who's particularly notable, if you happen to know anybody who's – this is going to sound nepotistic, it is genuinely just about having a shortcut to knowing how good you are as an act – if you happen to know somebody who's on the PBH committee, or tangentially related to it, that you can use as a reference, who's seen you perform, then it's not a bad idea to reference them. Yeah. That's about it, really. How we doing for time?
JG: Yeah, we need to – well, you need to head off if a couple of minutes [he had work to get back to, I wasn't bullying him away] – so, any final things you want to say about people applying? Any further advice – I'm sure you've covered almost all of it.
James: Ah, I've covered most of the things, I think. Um, it's a wonderful organisation, PBH – you will get out of it everything you put into it. Go at it, once you get there, don't give up – everything is sad and heartbreaking, but you will triumph, through sheer force of will. Yeah, what else? There must be other inspirational words I have. Oh yeah, always be polite and be lovely, and remember that it's a volunteer run organisation; none of us are making any money out of it at all - the PBH Free Fringe. The Fringe in general, is just this massive club for people who want to trade money for the opportunity to show off and have their dreams broken, so have some sympathy that we're quite like you in that respect, too, and we're always doing our best, and if you want to get a better organisation, then help us out, volunteer, do your bit, and we'll be happy to have you.