5:55pm President Obonjo and his tour guide Struan Logan

5:55pm President Obonjo and his tour guide Struan Logan

Postby StruanLogan » 02 Sep 2015, 21:28

I have been at the fringe for three years with the PBH Free Fringe and have been in (as Frank called them) ‘the experimental venues.’ The first year I was in Cowgatehead, the second I was in Capital Bar and Nightclub and this year I was in Silk (Lower Level). This is the first venue I have been in that unless a lot more work is done to highlight the venue's location I would recommend it doesn’t continue as a one.

The main reason why it is such a difficult venue is because Silk is in a quiet location, Great King Stables Road has very little passing traffic and those that are passing are locals who are using it as a shortcut to Grassmarket or Lothian Road. Every other fringe show I have done has had potential revenue of 20% - 60% of audience members being people I flyered on the street outside the venue shortly before the show starts. Silk not only made that tactic impossible but made actual flyering more difficult because you had to tell punters in the grassmarket to go down a dead street that had no atmosphere and dirty bras thrown on the ground.

I say this even though we didn’t have a terrible run. The average audience that attended was around 20 with a lowest of 4 and a highest of 50, this is lower than my previous average in Capital on Cowgate of mid-20s with higher disparages of 11 to 60. This was the case even though last year was just me flyering alone whereas this year Benjamin (aka President Obonjo) and I flyered together with a much better show than last year. The amount of work put in and the superior quality of the show would have resulted in a lot more people in if we were in a location like Capital.

Stand-Up Philosophy, Space Carrots and the Kenny Newman Show also had excellent runs due to either having a unique selling point, strong flyering or good word of mouth. However all of these shows would have had a much better run if they were in a more central location. This is the venue I have seen by far get the lowest number of audiences and highest number of cancelled shows.

It is a shame because Silk does have some good points going for it. Benjamin in fact preferred performing in Silk to Cowgatehead. The rooms for Silk Upper and Silk Lower are very good. The members of the clowning troupe Space Carrots bought flood lights to create stage lights for the show and made it feel like a good performance space, with the side chairs fenced off using a mic cable the venue would feel relatively full with around 20 people in. There was also air conditioning so the venue was comfortable to perform in and to watch as an audience member, the bar upstairs in Silk Middle was of very good quality and would have made a good lobby if there weren’t shows being performed in it.

I got on well with the staff and ended up being the point of contact between staff and performers. Karen the general manager would let me know of any problems or concerns about the shows, Mhari the Assistant Manager and Cat the supervisor were also communicative in their concerns whilst being friendly. The bar was busy with staff in the first few days but once it was realised Silk was not going to be as busy as they thought it was put on to a skeleton staff. This was frustrating since the skeleton staff included days like Saturdays where most shows were bringing in a lot of customers to the bar. This resulted in long queues before shows and audience members coming to the show late. Often staff were not able to clear up glasses on silk lower, resulting in it looking messy and being a safety hazard. Glasses got so piled up one day that some broke in the previous show, staff were too busy to clear up in the interval meaning a few of our audience members sat next to broken glass for a show. I also got several complaints from audience members and performers that there was no one at the main bar when they wanted served. When I mentioned this complaint to a member of staff I was suggested they “go upstairs” to the bar where a show was currently going on.

The venues that are successful have been so because there is a sense of cooperation between staff and performers. This was a flaw on both sides; Silk did not seem interested in helping advertise that it had become a venue for the month, staff were not properly briefed on some jobs including a member of staff throwing out all my flyers in the venue (thankfully I kept spares at home) and cutting staff even though there was a clear pattern that Silk would be very busy on Saturdays. On the other side some performers did not treat the venue with much respect. Silk hosted an act called Harry Boorman who was banned from the venue for sleeping on the couches during the day, not promoting his show and getting drunk to the point of vomiting. There was a massive row between one show and the staff which I do not know the full story about therefore shall remain nameless. The final disrespect from performers was several shows did not even clear their boxes of flyers and posters once their shows were finished, leaving them for the staff to throw out.

This is not to say that everyone in this venue was unhelpful, far from it. This venue actually had the strongest sense of community amongst the performers I have experienced. Show members who were particularly helpful included:

Space Carrots (who were especially helpful as they bought tech and equipment for silk lower)
The Kenny Newman Show
Ian Lane of AI
Pig in Gin
Operation Perfect Teaset
Andy Bennett
Fresh Faces of the Fringe

I will be surprised if Karen does want Silk to continue as a venue and if she does I will happily contribute what I believe it needs to become better hub for comedy but the best thing I learned from Silk is the importance of having an angle to your show.
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