Cowgatehead Up2S - How I Became Myself

Cowgatehead Up2S - How I Became Myself

Postby Paula Varjack » 03 Sep 2015, 15:38

I came this year to get tour bookings and press. For this reason I went in the big programme. For anyone who is coming to fringe for the same reason, I can’t recommend going in the big programme enough, It is much more than a listing in a brochure, if you are proactive about asking for the other services they offer, you get advice and contacts that are invaluable. It is a big part of why I got press and tour bookings this year.

I sent my press release mid July which turned out to be a bit late. I wish I had sent out end of June. I also wish I had sent reminders late july and probably another one early august. I learned that even those who said they will come, should be reminded that they said they would.

I paid flyerers for the first time this year. I will always do this in future. This will pay for itself, and as a performer it is always better to have a full house, even if you lose a tenner to pay for the flyerer. Choose people on recommendation, get them to see the show and offer an incentive for a full room so they have something to work for.

Free Fringe / Freestival
After years of being part of the Free fringe, I applied this year initially to Freestival, specifically because I wanted to be in Cowgatehead; because it was central and aesthetically neutral, in a way that many bar spaces weren’t. When the venue changed hands back to Free Fringe I reapplied, and thought it was kind that Free fringe took on all acts that chose to go with them in good faith. However, I feel that many acts who moved over, did so with no interest in how the Free Fringe operates. I think that this impacted negatively on the use of the venue, as shows/acts that did not take on board the Free Fringe ethos (and there were many) treated the venue as if it was being run for them rather than by them.

Role as Venue captain. & room up 2 s
I knew there could be problems with the freestival/free fringe transition, so I volunteered to be a venue captain of my room as soon as I had an accepted slot from the free fringe. I did everything I could to make the transition smoother, getting in contact early with the other vc’s , with Harv about tech, and setting up a facebook group for everyone in cowgatehead to communicate. I came with as much technical kit as I could carry in terms of cables and extension leads, and encouraged the rest of my room to do the same. A video light that I brought “in case of emergency”, was our sole light for the first six days.

The majority of the acts were helpful, cooperative and communicative. The biggest issue I had was with the late shows. I know the problem was only with the last slot, as when I saw other shows in the room earlier in the day the room was always tidy. With the exception of “president obonjo has stolen my identity” all shows after 11 repeatedly left the room in a state, with cups and rubbish everywhere, bin bags left behind overflowing, windows open (which meant flyers would scatter everywhere) and rarely turned off equipment at the end of the night, despite repeated requests for them to do so. This meant that every morning in addition to setting up for my show I would have to turn up 30-45 minutes earlier to clean up after them. This also meant equipment that I had lent would sometimes be left on overnight, or broken. When equipment was broken (we went through two mic stands and several lamps) There would be no note to the other acts that it had happened, causing problems for new shows on arrival.

This made me feel incredibly powerless, as regardless of being a VC, if another act chooses not to cooperate, there is not a lot one can do. It only takes one show to make things more difficult for all the others. I wonder if there is any way in future something can be done about this? If a show makes work for other shows, can there be a threat of their show being pulled? I also noted that with two of the shows in the later slot, their main contact was an agent, and I wonder if it can be stipulated that we must have contact info of the act directly for matters like these.

I am still in two minds about the venue. It was great to be so central. It was great to be able to tell people “across from underbelly on cowgate” as a simple set of directions. People who wanted to find me, were able to. A number of people took initiative to make the space better, some who didn’t’ even arrive until the second half of the run. But there were also many people who complained but did nothing to make the space better, and in some cases exacerbated problems. I liked the room we had, but wish that the staging had not been drilled into the floor, so that acts who did not want to use it could move it aside, as it significantly cut down playing space, and wasn't high enough to make much of a difference to sight lines.

Frank and Elise did everything they could to sort out issues as and when they happened. Frank seemed to almost live at the venue, and was incredibly helpful and patient. James and Lloyd were also great VC’s. but I think in a venue of this size, in future it would make more sense for each room, or at least each floor to have a couple VC’s as there were many times people couldn’t access James when they wanted to, because it was slightly too big a task for one person.

We had no proper signage for nearly a week, then the entrance changed to a bar connected with a different name. The venue was so confusing for most punters that many would walk in, give up on finding their space and leave. This led to several of us ushering for one another, picking people up from the street there to see a show and taking them directly to the room. This made a vast difference to audience numbers. Any show in the space in future should consider this.

The store room was another sore point for many. We were told that we would have access to one and that it would be secure. We then had access to a room with a door that did not lock. Fire inspectors seeing the room and finding it unsafe (it undoubtedly was) demanded it was locked. A lock was fitted and we were able to use it. Then a number of acts kept jamming and breaking the lock because they couldn’t remember the combination? Or know how to use a lock? So the door was left open, the fire inspectors returned and told us we could not access it anymore. A store room at the free fringe for sure is a luxury, but what frustrates me most is it is our own misuses made us lose it. For future acts I would say, never depend on or expect use of storage, and even if you are told you will have storage, plan to not be able to access it, have a back up plan, bring as little valuable kit as you can, especially if heavy.


My show was at 12:30. The benefits being low noise bleed, being first in the venue, which meant as much time as I wanted for set up. It was a great time for inviting press and industry, not competing against many shows. But having this early slot made getting audiences really hard. Flyering an hour before was tricky as many people would not be out to see shows this early, doing guest spots the night before did not translate into filling seats as the evening crowd would not get up early. . I ended up paying two peole to flyer and I still rarely had over 20 people. Seeing other shows later in the day in the same room it was definitely much much easier later in the day. Speaking to other acts in similar slots confirmed this.


My bucket averaged between 50-70 every day. I learned I got a better bucket by not apologising for asking for money, or talking about how hard it was to be on the fringe, or making jokes about free entrances but expensive entrances. I simply said that the a ticket in the paid fringe was 5-10 pounds and my suggested donation was 5-10 pounds. I was friendly and confident about it. This meant that those who could afford it gave me at least a fiver, those that couldn’t apologised for giving me less but usually gave a few quid, and those that didn’t have any money that were motivated to make up for it by tweeting about the show.

When I held the bucket I also urged people to take a flyer to pass on to other friends to see the show. Many people did. This made a big difference to word of mouth and was at times even more effective than my own flyering. Some people seem resistant to handing out the blue book. I don’t understand why. It is so much easier to flyer with it. Its also easier to flyer when people are carrying it, because you can easily spot those that they are looking for free shows.

A note on Guest Spots
Last time I came to fringe I was sure that guest spots were a better way of getting people in than flyering. This year I learned that not all guest spots are effective, the best guest spots are within a couple hours before your show. Guest spots before your show are the most effective. Guest spots the night before (in my case with an early slot) didn’t translate into people coming at all. Exit flyering in the afternoon for me was the most effective. Exit flyering after 8pm also didn’t seem very useful.
Paula Varjack
Posts: 4
Joined: June 2010

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