French Quarter - Chris Cook Charlatan - 1.30pm

French Quarter - Chris Cook Charlatan - 1.30pm

Postby chriscook » 12 Sep 2014, 16:01


I performed a one-man magic show in the voodoo rooms at 1.30pm, the second show in the room that day. The show was a comedy, story-telling show full of tricks and audience interactions. The show involved no big props and lots of the tricks were very close-up and intimate. Though I have been coming to the fringe for years and have performed brief slots, this was my first time bringing my own full solo show for the whole month.


I have long thought that the Voodoo Rooms is the best free fringe venue in Edinburgh. I have visited it for many years though this was my first time performing there. It's a classy cocktail bar that is well kept, attractive and stylish. It was really popular this year and lots of punters I spoke to said they returned time and time again, not only because of the quality of the bar (the food is excellent and they have a really comprehensive drinks menu) but also because the quality of shows in the voodoo rooms was always superb.


The French Quarter is an excellent room. The lighting is really basic (just two manually moveable spots) but lights the stage and room well. This can be controlled by the bar staff before the show begins but is hard to have altered during the show. The sound desk is at the front of stage so can be operated by the performer. There is a headphone jack to plug in a phone, iPod, laptop, etc and also two microphones with stands. The desk was more than adequate for adjusting the levels and the speakers gave a clear, crisp sound. I opted to not use a microphone myself as it made the show more intimate (as well as gave me more opportunity to move about and use my hands). This is easily achievable in the French Quarter if you are good at projecting. Audience members who came on stage didn't use mic's in my show but at the end when they needed to read out an important piece of information I always encouraged them to read it out into the mic just for clarity. The room has 65 individual seats in the room which are tied together so cannot easily be moved. Half of them are in front of the stage with great visibility, the other half are at the back of the room, separated by a fenced off stairwell and small wall. This rear section can have slightly limited view on the stage right hand side as there is a large pillar though this doesn't obstruct much of the view of the stage. The nice thing about this is that on quieter days, I saw shows that just filled the front section which made for a lovely, intimate performance. There is also a banquette that goes onto the stage and round the side of the venue. This will comfortably fit 15 people who would all have good visibility of the stage. There is plenty of standing room by the door and by the bar that can comfortably get about 25 people standing. On my busiest days I also had people sat in the aisles, sat on the front of the stage, stood at the back of the room, sat on the flyer tables at the back, sat in the windowsills and sat on each others knees on the banquette. This means that you could easily get 120+ people in the room but visibility is compromised. Finally, it is worth mentioning that it does get very hot in the room when it is full of people but that doesn't separate it from any venue I've been in at the fringe and it is certainly better than most. There is an air conditioning system that can be operated by the bar staff but it is too loud to be left on during a performance.


There is a small cupboard at the side of the bar that you can store props in. Although performers can't access it, bar staff were always great at finding my props and handing them to me. It is worth taking a box or suitcase to store everything in so it doesn't get mixed in with other performers props.


The staff were consistently brilliant throughout the whole month. They were very professional but also really friendly and welcoming. I spent many days after my show just drinking and chatting with the staff during their breaks. They sent out a detailed email before the fringe with information on what to expect from performers as well as customers. Bar staff were really helpful when it came to getting props out of the cupboards, sourcing the odd item that you might need in a rush (scissors, pens, gaffa tape, etc) and also dealing with the audience. I often had staff members dedicate time to helping organise and manage my queue before the show which was invaluable.


"In order to avoid poster chaos, the venue has a policy of taking 5 of each performer's posters and distributing them through the venue themselves. This meant that there were no problems of posters being 'postered over' during the run. There were two areas for flyers and Wee Blue Books to be distributed, and these were kept tidy by the venue staff." - Kieran Hodgson
I did very little advertising myself. I requested that audiences share the show by word of mouth and on social media if they enjoyed it and I exit-flyered other Free Fringe Shows that I thought had a similar theme (eg other magic/cabaret/storytelling shows). I also spent an hour before my show handing out flyers in the venue and on the street outside the Voodoo Rooms. I also performed a few open spots in cabaret and magic nights to promote my show.


I was really surprised by the audience numbers I received considering this was my first fringe. I managed to fill every seat on every single day of the run except for the Monday shows which tended to have between 5-20 seats that were available. I didn't flyer at all for the first weekend because I was so concerned about concentrating on the show quality and making sure all the tricks worked yet I still received full audiences on both days. Most days I also had people standing at the side or at the back and on the weekends I had people sat in the aisles too. I tried not to turn anyone away and always find a way to squeeze them in but inevitably on the busier shows people decided they didn't want to stay if they couldn't get a seat or a good view. I tried to encourage these people to come back on other days. Also, anyone who came to see Silky, the act before me, but wanted to stay for my show as well I allowed to come to the front of the queue as I valued their commitment and had they gone to the back of the queue they'd have struggled to get in. My time-slot seemed to work, word of mouth spread and the Voodoo Room's amazing reputation all helped with great audience numbers.


The hat at the end was excellent and always full. Lots of notes and gold coins. Even on the busiest days where I'd make close to £300, I still never got more than ten pence in copper coins per show. I think audiences came expecting to have to pay some at the end, most did and lots were very generous. I managed to cover my costs and make more than a months wage. This was a big gamble for me as August is a time of year I can often book lots of weddings and private parties in but in the end it was more profitable, challenging and fun to be at the fringe.


There isn't a lot of room between the French Quarter and the Speakeasy next door and at times both of these queues would overlap with the queue upstairs for the Ballroom if all three shows were busy at once. This could present problems and I did spend a lot of time simply making sure everyone was queuing for the right show in the right place. The staff were also really helpful in organising customers as well. I often found it easier to make people queue outside as then it was easier to tell who was there for which show. On the busier days I did employ a team of people to help manage the queue and set-up and take down at the end of the show. Unfortunately I did over-run a few times during the run. This was partly due to the show before me over-running some days which affected my start time as I needed roughly ten minutes to set-up before I could open the doors and also often due to the high audience numbers. It always takes a lot longer to get a hundred people in and out of the room than you think. The more people, the more time. I did eat into the set-up time of the show after me a few times in the run but never into the actual show-time. I had a few chats with the performer and also the venue captain and sorted this out. Everyone was really understanding and pleasant even when the problem persisted a couple of times in a row. Because my show involved audience interaction, sometimes it naturally over-ran and due to the nature of the ending of my show there is nothing I can cut in the final fifteen minutes otherwise the show won't work (it all tied together at the end). Therefore if I needed to cut anything I had to make that decision from the halfway point and a few times I got this wrong. All good learning points and I know I will be a lot better at this next year. I will also allow more time for people actually getting seated and putting money in the hat as this does take up a good amount of time.

I had an incredible experience at the Fringe this year. A huge part of this was down to having a brilliant venue for my show. My show was all about charm and intimacy, something that was instantly reflected in the venue. I will definitely be back at the fringe next year and would love to return to the Voodoo Rooms. I am considering bringing a larger stage show that would be more suitable to the Ballroom but I would also HAPPILY perform in either the French Quarter or Speakeasy again as all three venues at the Voodoo Rooms are brilliant and I would recommend them all.
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