Fringing on success: My first fringe festival

As I mentioned in my first post, this year I took part in my first ever fringe festival, The Bath Fringe 2016. I desperately wanted some more experience in my field, to move on from the safety of my university’s theatre studios and create my first piece of professional theatre (and my first ever paid job in theatre- eek!).

I heard about the opportunity to take part in The Bath Fringe through social media and realised this would be a great first step in the right direction. It would be minimal cost to take part as I was based in Bath at the time, and knew the theatre location well. I set about getting together a group of four writers, including myself, who had a passion for creating new theatre. The only problem was that we were up against the mark as the deadline to enter was vastly approaching.

The first thing to decide was what we all wanted to create, what were we all interested in saying? We met and discussed ideas and came to the conclusion that as we were all rarely in the same place at the same time, that a play may not be the best fit for us. Instead we opted to do a radio play. This allowed us to focus solely on the story and the characters, without worrying about visuals too much. What we eventually came up with was When Will It Be Me? A radio drama about family secrets and keeping up appearances.

The first thing on the agenda was to submit the application form, where you’re asked some information about your company, your show and your marketing plan. And it outlines part of the financial agreement between your company and venue box office. The application deadline was due in January and the fringe festival ran from late May to early June. Being organised is key here, the vast majority of fringe festivals I’ve researched get their applications in early. They like to be organised. This means being organised yourself, planning your time well and being as thorough and concise as possible in your application.

The Bath Fringe Festival is an open access fringe, like Edinburgh Fringe. Meaning anyone can apply and take part, as long as you think you can cover the basic box office cut. Some fringe festivals are programmed, meaning you have to be selected for programming, but I will go into this in further detail in another post.

The next thing was to decide with my group of writers how we were going to co-write a 45 minute radio play. My team were happy for me to lead, but I must admit this was mostly trial and error. I researched a few methods that are used in the industry for co-writing and decided to give each of us a character to develop and later developing scenes for the assigned characters. This seemed to be a good method for our group to use and we developed some good material.

I wrangled together some actors that I knew and cast the parts appropriately. The actors agreed to do it for free, which I hate to have to ask them to do, but alas there was no budget and they were lovely about it. With the promise of being fed for a day’s work, many things can be achieved. Although in hindsight, there should have been a lot more food. Sorry.

I organised rehearsals and we made some tweaks to the script along the way. The actors got the chance to get to know their characters and also highlight some plot holes to us that we hadn’t thought about before. Working collaboratively with actors, as a writer, is always beneficial. They are the people giving your script life. Listen to what they say, and make the final call on new ideas.

Something I had not considered, was marketing. Luckily one of my fellow writers could whip up a poster in a matter of minutes. We had to produce hundreds of these things, in sizes A5, A4 and A3. This was a cost I was not expecting, but split between the four writers it wasn’t very costly and we found a printing press that could offer us some discount because we were students. A marketing team affiliated with The Bath Fringe would distribute them for us, and it was rather magical walking past one of our posters one day.

They allotted us a time and a date for the festival, based on the availability we noted on the application form. It was really happening.

We chose to do a radio play as a rather naive ‘simpler option’. Having a theatre background, I hadn’t done a radio play before and thought to myself ‘Surely, it’ll be easier if we don’t have to get the actors off-script and move them around the space. We’ll save so much time in rehearsals!’. How wrong I was. I had completely overlooked the technical aspects of a radio play. We were required to find our own equipment, create a soundscape and rehearse it all with the actors so that the timings were right. This is where it is good to have friends who have different skill sets, or have friends who know someone who might be able to help. To those people, I say a very big thank you.

I got an update every day emailed to me with the amount of ticket sales that we had had for our show, and it made me panic. The space could fit about 50-60 people, and up until the day of the performance we had sold 9 tickets. Panic mode ensued. Nobody wants all of their hard work to not pay off, I just had to hope that all of my social media plugging and printed posters would help get those numbers up on the day.

On the day of the performance, we had a few rehearsals in the morning with the actors in a studio at my university. Later in the day we had the performance space available to us to rehearse in. The actors were starving, the writers were stressed and I had no idea if anyone other than my mum and my flat mates would show up. We set out the chairs to a modest number and awaited the audience.

To my surprise and everyone else’s excitement, we sold 46 tickets and had to quickly lay out some more chairs. The audience seemed to enjoy it, with laughs in the right places and a great response to the characters.

We nervously awaited the review, in which we were awarded four stars! As it was our first fringe performance we were aiming for three stars, but four surpassed our expectations. We received some lovely feedback from the audience and definitely went home with a spring in our steps.

This experience of getting involved with a fringe festival has been invaluable to my understanding and growth as a writer. I have now lead a team of writers, co-written a radio play, directed a professional piece of work, collaborated with a marketing team and technical team and produced a four star performance for a fringe festival. It has taught me so many lessons about taking an idea from inception to completion, which will inform my choices in the future, where I hope to do more fringe festivals.

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Get involved

A common saying is that ‘It’s not what you know it’s who you know’, which in my experience is largely true. However, for the aspiring writer this might seem like a rather daunting challenge. You may be thinking ‘But I don’t really know anyone’, and if you are then worry not, because I have another cliche to throw at you: ‘It’s not what you’ve got, it’s what you do with it’. You’ve gotta get involved, my friend.

The first phrase is not to say its-who-you-already-know, but actually, you-never-know who-you-might-know. Make sense? Probably not. Okay so, an acquaintance you met at your ex-boyfriend’s younger sister’s house party back in 2010 may indeed turn out to be a writer, a director or a producer. A friend of a friend might win an award for new writing. Wonderful. Ask them how they went about it, what do they do now etc. Don’t be shy, it could be the reverse situation, in which they might pop-up out of the blue and ask you for advice. Recognise the opportunity and be thankful if they help you. Then turn that information into action.

The second gem of a cliche I have offered up to you is simply going to increase the chances of this happening. Get involved. There are, of course, many ways in which to do this, but I have found getting involved with my local theatre to be a great help for me as a writer.

When I was studying my long distance degree in Drama, one of the assignments was to ‘attach’ myself to a theatre and write a report on how a theatre works. I emailed the theatre’s secretary and asked if i could conduct and interview with him and find out more about the theatre. I visited the theatre several times throughout my assignment period and finished the report. I became a member of the theatre and was invited to audition for a play that coincidently, the theatre’s secretary was directing. I got the part and did the full run of the play. I am still involved in the theatre to this day, four years later.

This is a great example of how things can work in the professional world. I admit that my need to complete my assignment gave me a kick in the right direction, but this could easily happen by getting in touch with a theatre and asking to shadow a director, interview some of the staff, working in the box office etc. It is about understanding the world you will be writing for and getting some experience.

Acting in a play may not be for everyone, and I happened to have a passion for acting at the time before I knew that I wanted to be a writer. But experiences like those have informed my writing, acting has helped me to write dialogue, knowing how a live audience reacts has influenced what I write for stage and knowing how a theatre works has taught me to respect plays as a craft.

This advice can be applied to any of the mediums you wish to write for, if you want to write for films then go and work on a film set or interview a Producer/Director. If you want to write for TV then ask an actor what is different about acting for TV, compared to theatre. Get out there, get involved and you’ll meet some wonderful people who will teach a lot about your craft, and if you’re lucky enough they might help you in the future, or vice versa.

that-face-single

My role as ‘Izzy’- That Face by Polly Stenham.