An Introduction To …. Showcasing & Edinburgh

We’re all busy people, we know that. Programmers are also really busy people, but they’re also people who love what they do and are committed to finding the best shows to fit with the style and ethos of their venue (or festival) to present to their audiences. There are only so many late night trains that they can be on, only so many places they can get to in a night from their home, and only so much travel budget. But they do want to see new theatre. So festivals are really good for programmers (so by default for artists): someone with an informed opinion has usually curated the programme, there’s lots of work on in the same place, you can see lots back to back, meet other programmers and artists, and they’re quite good fun. So festivals are really good places to show off your work. But then how do you get into a festival in the first place? You’ve still got to be seen to get in! So maybe it seems like a vicious circle... It shouldn’t – there are ways in.

Lots of festivals have ‘entry-level’ strands or days, particularly for regional artists and these are often selected from open calls, or artists the programmer is starting to form a relationship with. Examples in the East & South East are the Pulse Fringe Festival in Ipswich, SICK! Festival in Brighton (& Manchester), Watch Out at the Cambridge Junction, SPILL Festival in Ipswich. So just keep writing to promoters and inviting them to see your work, and applying for callouts. (Sign up for mailing lists so you hear about opportunities). If you can corner the person you email in the bar, even better. If you’re getting knocked back every time, ask why – maybe it’s the wrong style of work or maybe you’re communicating it wrong.

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe seems like The Big One doesn’t it. Everyone goes, everyone gets reviewed (by something!) and everyone’s looking to see shows. And it’s a fringe, so it’s open access (not curated), so you can go, bring your great new show for the first time and someone will stumble across it and give it rave reviews, all the programmers will hear and you’ll tour internationally and make loads of money. Yeah?

The increasing reality of Edinburgh is because it is the behemoth that it is, because it’s not curated, because it’s so expensive to take your work there, everyone now needs a guide – to know what to see, what to spend their money and more importantly (for programmers at least), their time, on. That increasingly means that you’ve got to be making your own little waves already; that even if you’ve not been seen that you have been heard of. Maybe you’ve emailed loads of programmers who keep replying and saying they want to come, but they just can’t make it? They’ll probably go to Edinburgh. Maybe there are programmers who monitor the regional festivals they never made it to, and saw your name. Maybe your work fits with a theme they’re looking at with programming. But if you are beginning to see some interest, if a few professionals you trust are praising your work, then go. There are all kinds of reasons for going, but it’s when this is happening that I would say Edinburgh is worth it as a professional launch pad or showcase.

Someone said to me that he loved Edinburgh because there was something heartening about so many people doing something that’s completely financially unsustainable for the love it, as if it’s a last bastion of anti-capitalism. But actually it’s a huge microcosm of the free market with all the winners and losers that entails. Really the only winners are the BIG venues and the bars. It is subsidised by the artists themselves – know that. See it as an investment in your future, so if the time is right, it could just pay off with a load of new contacts and gigs. But you will almost certainly lose money.

If you have read this and think that Edinburgh is the right place to bring your work, make sure you’ve got a plan. Make sure your show is in the right venue for the kind of work that it is, that you know who to invite and do it, that you know how to market it, that you have as much of a team around you as possible and give it your best shot. And then don’t worry too much if it doesn’t work: it doesn’t have to be your breakout piece, and the experience will have been a learning curve in itself, and your work will be stronger for being performed every days for up to three weeks. There’s no experience like it: it’s gruelling, it’s exhilarating, it’s risky, it’s the best feeling of theatre community you could want, it’s alcoholic, it’s sleepless, it’s rainy, it’s hilarious, it’s fun, it’s educational, it’s DIY...

I love Edinburgh. I’ve been as a student as a director and producer, and professionally as a programmer and a director. Love it, love it. I wouldn’t be working in theatre if it wasn’t for Edinburgh – I first went just before going to off to university, fell in love, and knew I had to come back the next year with a show. My shows have been given every number of star ratings possible, made the national press for the best and worst reasons or sunk without a trace, and there have been numerous shows that Cambridge Junction has supported that go independently with the same outcomes. It’s a beast: you won’t tame it, you might love it, just decide if it’s a beast you want to get to know.


Daniel Pitt, Arts Producer, Cambridge Junction

Further Info:

Handy guide to the practicalities of taking a show to Edinburgh:

Edinburgh Fringe participants’ webpages – full info on how to register your show

Troop News goes out every month to Troop members. Send your ideas for articles and opportunities, and your production photos for inclusion, to Catherine Willmore by the third Wednesday of the month. (No issue Jan 2016)