Asking Nicely, 6:15-7:15PM

Asking Nicely, 6:15-7:15PM

Postby HannahChutzpah » 22 Feb 2015, 20:17

The Stafford Centre is a sizeable space with good acoustics, but it’s way off the beaten track. It also only had 2 shows there (and by the end of the run I was the only show there) so footfall was poor. My average audience number was 10, but this varied between 5 & 20.

Being way off the beaten track definitely kept audience numbers down, but also probably contributed to audience commitment: everyone who came had decided it seemed worth the walk and no one ever left halfway through. All audiences were really enthused about the show and the subject and often wanted to talk with me about issues the show had raised. I got some absolutely lovely feedback about the show - it really seemed to touch people - and two reviews: one four star, one five star.

I did a quick "who knows about this show from a flyer, a listing, word of mouth, etc?" at the beginning of each show. Despite flyering my arse off (and having another flyerer for part of the run) I'd say 75% or more of my audience was from either a listing or because they'd seen me do a slot somewhere else.

Bucket take: pretty slim. Best day was about £75. Worst day was about £6. It was hugely variable - not just in audience numbers, but in terms of if there were more people, they were on average more generous per capita. This makes sense when you realise smaller audiences are also quieter. The day I had only 5 people I got almost no laughs, but they were all nodding enthusiastically. Bigger than, say, 10 audience members and they'd clap and laugh loudly. Smaller than that and they were guaranteed to be quite quiet. Given the location, I wouldn't recommend this venue for comedy.

The space had seats out for about 20, but more chairs could have been put out if needed. The acoustics were great (and no sound bleed from other shows… because there weren’t any) so I never needed the PA. The venue staff/volunteers were very helpful about welcoming people into the café below and then bringing them up to the show. They let me use their office laminator and put a sandwich board outside with my laminated poster on it. They also told me that their volunteers had been flyering for my show, which was lovely and completely unasked for.

The venue is a community-run mental health service. They said in as many words that this first year – and the two shows they hosted – was an experiment for them to see if they wanted to participate in the fringe again. However, their service and café would normally have been closed by the hours my show was on: so keeping the venue open was a headache for them. This also meant the café was closed by the time my show ended, so they only got half the trade they would have in punters buying drinks/food. (The café also didn’t sell anything alcoholic – which I know put a few people off.) In addition, I think they were hoping to highlight their service to the rest of Edinburgh, but the penny started to drop that a lot of people at the Fringe came to Edinburgh specially, and so this wasn’t a great tool for letting locals know about their mental health service.

About halfway through my 10 day run things went a little awkward. For personal reasons the other show (on before mine) had to drop out, so I became the only show at the venue. Also, apparently a service user turned up drunk halfway through one of my shows and wanted to disrupt it. I never heard or saw any of this – they dealt with the disruptive person downstairs – but from then on they insisted on locking the venue door and only opening it when someone rang the doorbell. I asked if we could perhaps put up a sign on the door letting people know the show was still on and we just needed to ring the bell, but the staff/volunteer person I suggested this to insisted that we didn’t need to - and then she locked the door and stared at me. It was extremely awkward. I did wonder if some audience came, couldn’t get in, and assumed the show was off. I’ve heard from one friend and one reviewer that they nearly turned away when they realised the door was locked.

It was after this incident/door locking that a couple of the staff/volunteers became very brusque with me as I was packing up. Pack-up took less than 5 minutes, but they became very short with me if I wasn’t exiting the venue the moment my show was over. Speaking to audience members to as I collected money in a hat/sold pamphlets was a useful part of the audience/performer relationship, so this was difficult. I made a point of packing up as quickly as possible, but the incident with the drunk man seemed to have irrevocably switched the mood with some venue staff.

I was always very pleasant and thanked them lots. I left the venue staff a box of chocolates on my last day, which they seemed very happy with.

In terms of a space: it’s very nice. In terms of location: it’s about 15 minutes off the beaten track, and from the outside it doesn't look like a Fringe venue. Without the sandwich board outside it’s completely invisible, so any shows there are likely to have pretty small audience numbers. In terms of time slot/participation on the fringe: the venue didn’t seem very familiar with how the Fringe operates, and so didn’t get as much out of it as they could have in terms of café sales, etc. Also – I suspect the timeslot was chosen to not disrupt any existing services they ran – but this also meant that by definition the show was always a pain for them because it meant keeping the venue open later than they would usually.

I’d say – if it suits them – this venue would be better for daytime shows. Also: anyone with this venue needs to make a point of doing their flyering around the roundabout leading to Broughton Street as they’re halfway there already. From the Royal Mile etc: it's just too far away for anyone but the most dedicated audiences.
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