Many visitors to the Edinburgh Fringe consider being bombarded with flyers one of the most frustrating aspects of the festival, but imagine how it feels to be the one giving them out. Comedian Andy Barr talks of his experience last year…
I am sat in the disabled toilets of the Salvation Army base in Edinburgh. I am damp, aching and slightly drunk. It is 3.00 p.m. on Day 3 of the Edinburgh Fringe 2013…
Last year I took a job flyering with one of the big dogs of comedy management and promotion. It was, surely, the prime opportunity to experience the excitement, hedonism and backbreaking drudgery of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival; this was something I had wanted to do since beginning my love affair with stand-up comedy several years earlier. I am pleased to say that, at the other end of the festival, I felt well versed in all three (although perhaps with an unwelcome weighting towards the latter). This was accompanied by additional knowledge of the physical toll that traipsing, drunk or hungover, around the hard cobbled streets of Edinburgh for thirteen hours a day can have on someone who has not given ample consideration to appropriate footwear. If you’re flyering this year, get yourself some good shoes.
As an act swimming around the vast open mic pond, I saw the Fringe as an opportunity to see shows, get five-spots and network my youthful, optimistic little balls off. Of course the long days, endless walking and ill-advised noon-time drinking meant that when clocking off time rolled around I was too tired to really put my back into it. This led to my involuntarily falling asleep in a number of very good shows – most notably the punishingly scheduled, midnight outing of the ACMS, the brash absurdity of which was still not enough to arrest my head-nodding, drink-spilling descent into sleep.
In terms of spots, I managed a few. Particularly notable were those with the Cambridge Footlights who, upsettingly, seemed to manage to fill their room daily (to the point of turning people away) with minimal flyering whilst my team and I were struggling to fill venues half the size.
As for the networking, I spent many a night stood awkwardly near acts who I admired, nodding drunkenly along to their conversations about this night, that promoter, none of which I had any knowledge of.
“Hey, you’re Stephen Carlin, hi, I saw you on telly – you were good. I’ve not seen your show though. Oh you’re going home this way too, that’s cool…”
On the Royal Mile – the flyering Ground Zero – I found a curious mixture of camaraderie and competition. Most flyerers would adhere to a loose, uncodified etiquette, yet occasionally some young firebrand (presumably looking to put this experience on his CV as a deep-end, crash-course in the dynamics of coal-face ‘marketing’) would steal a punter from you mid-pitch and convince them that they would much prefer to see a colourful puppet show for free than pay ten pounds to see a debut-hour in a sweatbox. The Mile was also an opportunity to watch snippets of every possible combination of the ‘Shakespeare + grittiness’ formula imaginable, as student theatre companies fought to stand out so far that they merely formed a new line a few paces ahead of the old one. It’s Richard III in 90s Bosnia! It’s Measure for Measure in Moss Side!
“Claudius, you fuckin’ cunt – I know you killed my Dad when you was both locked up in Belmarsh.”
Day to day you would come to know the schedules of the other flyerers, whether they were working for another promotion company or promoting their own show, and this was a great way to study the mental toll of a full run at the Fringe. Mercenary flyerers, with no personal financial investment in the endeavour, tended to fare better – their spirits lifted by the fact that, if they were canny spenders, they may even come out of this ahead.
The same could not be said of the acts – many of whom had a great deal of cash and precious holiday hours invested in their show, only to see it shat on by punters and amateur reviewers. The brutal mental parabola of such acts could be fairly visible if you saw them every day, increasingly wearily beating the same stretches of road near their venue.
As for the actual rigours of the work itself, it was repetitive. I would ‘craft’ (read: ‘mash together’) a pitch for whatever show it was I was promoting from some facts given to us by the marketing team, and then cough this up robotically in the face of anyone who dared to come close to me. On a number of occasions I attempted to order drinks or food with my pitch, failing to realise that this human interaction required a different set of words and not my new found mantra – ‘Five Star sketch troupe’, ‘One of Broadway Baby’s Seventeen Shows About Boxing to Watch’, ‘The Queen of Puppet Erotica’. For what it’s worth I was a terrible flyerer – others’ experiences were likely different.
Discounting all of the above, it was an excellent month – the pain, exhaustion and expenditure (despite my efforts being paid I certainly came out of the month behind in a financial sense) all forming part of the unique and visceral experience of being at the world’s largest arts festival and the grinding drive to monetise it.
This year I am flyering for my own show and I am wondering how a personal investment will impact on my experience. Catch me loitering outside Cowgatehead 1 dressed as a robot, somehow still managing to convey despondency through my hardboard head.
Andy Barr will be appearing at the Edinburgh Fringe alongside Nathan Willcock in…
A Robot Presents Comedy – Free
Aug 3-14, 16-24