6:30pm - Ian Lane: ALOOF!

6:30pm - Ian Lane: ALOOF!

Postby Ian_Lane » 06 Sep 2016, 16:35

The Venue
Sabor is a Mexican and Latin bar on Cowgate, next to South Bridge and opposite Blair Street. It's pretty quiet during the day until around 7pm, when it regularly pays host to salsa classes. Later in the evening, it turns into a nightclub.

Performance Area
The performance room is in the upstairs bar, which is in a particularly odd shape. There are doors to the toilets on the east side of the room, a bar on the south side, the back doors to the venue (which lead onto the steps up to the Ibis hotel) on the west side, and what is effectively a corridor to the north from which the entrance to the upstairs room is based.

To achieve a 40 capacity audience configuration, the stage area was set up in front of the bar and the back doors. These doors were kept locked and covered with a long black curtain, over which the Free Fringe backdrop was affixed.

The chairs were laid out to the north and east of the stage area, so that the performance space was effectively an 'L' shape. As one half of the audience won't be able to see much of the other half due to the walls, it can effectively feel like playing to two audiences. For this reason, and also due to the fact that stage space is limited - probably about 3m squared at the absolute most - it should be stated that shows with more elaborate technical set-ups (e.g. projection screens) may experience problems in being visible to the entire audience.

In addition to the men/women's toilets in the upstairs bar, there is one unisex disabled toilet downstairs in the venue. This was usually enough to cater for Sabor's visitors, but on a few occasions, when the downstairs toilet was out of order or the bar was very busy, people would come through the performance room either between or during performances to use the upstairs toilets. This wasn't a huge problem, but worth bearing in mind for prospective performers.

The most significant issue to be aware of with this venue is noise bleed. Sabor provided some support in this area by having a door built the day before the first performance. This did partially alleviate the issue for daytime/early evening shows such as my own, provided that people remembered to close the door behind them when entering/exiting the room (a sign was added to the door to try and remind people of this), but for late shows the nightclub music was too loud for the door to make much difference.

Technical Set-up
There are only two power points in the entire performance room, both of which are behind the fridge behind the bar. An extension lead of at least 5 meters in length is required to set the PA system up on the bar.

A decent lighting wash to cover all directions was achieved easily by purchasing a few extra bulbs and adding these to the venue's existing ceiling rigging. This temporarily failed on the second day, but the venue were able to get an electrician to resolve this within a few days. We used a couple of desk lamps as substitutes in the interim. On the last Friday of the run, the lights were switched off midway through my show from downstairs. I learnt latterly that this had been occurring frequently during shows later in the evening, as a (apparently accidental) side-effect of the downstairs lighting being altered to set up the club night.

Sabor was one of the last Free Fringe venues to receive a PA system this year, and as a result we ended up with only one speaker rather than the recommended two. We were advised that a second one would be delivered to the venue at a later point, but this never materialised. For my show, this did not cause any real problems, but it was agreed that the later shows might have benefited from additional amplification from the north end of the room to counteract the noise bleed from the club night. As we did not get to test this, however, it's impossible to ascertain whether this would have been enough or not.

Like many venues, it was very warm and there was no air conditioning upstairs, so a couple of fans were purchased to keep the room cool, with moderate success. For a while, unlocking and opening the back door to the venue between performances appeared to be a viable option, until this was no longer allowed by management. The venue also has its own high-powered fan that can be borrowed, but depending on events happening downstairs this is not always available. As one audience member pointed out, it's also a bit too loud to keep on during the performances, even on its lowest setting.

Staff
The bar staff, Yolanda especially, were generally lovely to deal with and helpful to the Free Fringe performers. The upstairs bar was staffed on the first day, but this quickly fell by the wayside when it became apparent that the room layout made it largely inaccessible to prospective customers. Sadly, the downstairs bar subsequently ended up being understaffed for the busier shows in the day, with one bartender being charged with singlehandedly serving audiences of up to 80 people within the half hour before a show. This led to some shows starting late, which occasionally resulted in knock-on effects for shows later in the schedule.

As has been mentioned in other reports, it must be said that certain members of the management didn't seem terribly pleased that the Fringe was in their venue, and made this fact apparent quite quickly. One of the first major gripes they expressed was regarding the floor of the performance room. It clearly wasn't designed to withstand the legs of 40 chairs, as much wear and tear was caused to the floor as the run went on, and the management repeatedly made it clear that they expected either us or the Free Fringe to pay for the damage.

There was also contention over usage of the staff room for props and flyers. Around halfway through the run, one member of the management interrupted another performer's show to announce that we were no longer allowed to use the staff room for storage. He then took the key home with him overnight, meaning that one performer the following day had to pull their show due to not having access to their costumes and props. I was fortunate in that the key was returned to the venue later that day, but had it not been I would've had to have performed at least a vastly truncated version of mine, as my show also featured significant usage of props that I had stored in the staff room.

Advertisement / Marketing
There is minimal space for posters at the venue - the only real surfaces that can be used are the front and back doors - so I would recommend that all shows collaborate to ensure that everyone gets fair usage of the space and can advertise their show. As there's only one room's worth of shows in the venue, it's perfectly possible for everyone to put their up posters provided that no-one gets too greedy.

Flyers and WBBs were kept in the Staff Room, although a more readily accessible place to put them is under the stairs at the neighbouring T-Bar, which proved a useful source of WBBs at times when our own stock was a little undernourished.

As this was my debut hour, I pushed the advertising a bit harder than I have done with any previous show at the Fringe, and invested in a few additional things. I paid to go in the BFFP, as well as for an advert on Chortle. On the one occasion that I did a straw poll of the audience, at least half of them revealed they'd found out about the show via the Fringe app, so despite the cost and the frustratingly early bird deadline it certainly helps. I'm less certain about the impact of the Chortle advert, although it did mean that Steve Bennett came to review the show and was generally favourable about it. A couple of audience members did say they came to the show off the back of the review, so it at least had a little impact.

I experimented with branding by flyering in a mask made from the show title, which excluded all my facial features apart from the eyes. This meant my vocal presence was decreased, but my visual presence was substantially increased, and it definitely gave a more immediate flavour of what my show was like and whether people would like it than me verbally trying to pitch it to them would have. It's a double-edged sword, in that for everyone intrigued by it, there were also many who I'm sure were put off by it, but it did mean that the majority of audiences who came to watch were more likely to enjoy the show, which made most of them fun to play.

I also experimented by flyering just by myself for the first week and hiring an additional flyerer (without mask) for the second and third weeks. The difference was definitely tangible. I only hired someone for an hour a day, but having them to shepherd audience towards the venue for the last half hour whilst I focused on getting ready for the show made a discernible difference to the numbers. Often the best decision-making time for prospective punters seems to be the last 30 mins before the show starts, so if you're a solo show then it definitely helps to have someone flyering on your behalf during this time.

Audience / Bucket
First week (without flyerer)
Smallest audience = 6, largest audience = 25

Second and third weeks (with flyerer)
Smallest audience = 11, largest audience = full house (40 + more standing)

Not a single show was pulled, although like last year there did seem to be a noticeable drop in audience numbers in the last week of the Fringe. I was initially uncertain as to what the 6:30pm timeslot would yield, given that it sits on the cusp between tea time and when the bigger shows of the Fringe start, but audiences were generally nice even at the weekend, and there was a pleasing lack of drunken troublemakers in attendance.

Bucket takings were wildly variable: lowest was just under £4, highest was just over £70.

The Show Itself
A full run of my debut stand-up hour. The show was mostly well-suited to the performance environment, though as a number of my gags involved holding up A3 cards with pictures on them, it proved a little difficult at times to ensure that the entire audience was able to see them.

The show was a mixture of various ideas tied together with the rather loose theme of "detachment, deterioration and the art of confident failure", which I only developed as a theme throughout the previewing process. Because of this, it was difficult to describe the show to many people for a good long while, so I have decided from now on to start the show-writing process with more of a coherent theme, so that it's easier to market in future.

Communication
Of all the Free Fringe venues I've performed at thus far, Sabor had the strongest sense of community spirit between the different shows in it of any that I've witnessed. A WhatsApp group was set up for all the performers to chat with each other (which, not previously being a WhatsApp user, I was a little tardy to latch onto. Sorry guys!), and this proved invaluable for discussing issues as and when they came up.

A rota was also established for all performers to provide assistance to the first and last shows of the day in setting up/packing up the chairs, PA, et al. Any rota periods that were missed were generally made up elsewhere in the week by covering the relevant performer's shift. This was a good system, and I'd recommend it for any venue in which a solo show at the beginning/end of the day is charged with chair duty.

Special credit must be given to both venue captain Maxine and to Cassie Atkinson for their efforts in co-ordinating everything and their persistent lobbying to get the most out of the venue for everyone.

Summary
This was my second year performing at a previously untested Free Fringe venue, having last year performed as part of a two-hander at Silk. Whilst I would say that the layout and facilities in Sabor were in some regards not as ideal, the fact that it was considerably easier to get audience into this venue did make for a significantly more enjoyable Fringe overall. The Cowgate/Blair St location makes it great for footfall, and although it's not exactly the most flexible performance space, for stand-up and character comedy shows with relatively simple set-up requirements that can be performed easily to an audience within a 90 degree radius, it could easily be a serviceable room for future years.

There are a few recommendations I would make if this was going to continue as a Free Fringe venue. It's clear that the club nights are an important aspect of the venue's day-to-day trade, so in lieu of sufficient sound-proofing being applied to the venue in future, I would strongly recommend that shows are not programmed to run here much later than 9pm. There is simply too much noisebleed for later shows to have to contend with after this time, and the management did not seem open to much negotiation on this matter.

Also, the management would be encouraged to embrace the fact that the Fringe is in their venue, rather than at best merely co-existing with it and at worst actively working against it (a similar problem that I experienced at Silk last year). Part of this did seem to stem from disappointment that not all of the shows were packing the venue out every day - one member of the management as much as said this to me about a third of the way through the run, when he complained that the venue's trade had been disappointing in relation to the other venues he was involved with, like La Belle Angele and The Mash House. Other than the obvious fact that these are both much larger venues, he may wish to note that said venues both make a noticeable effort in getting behind the Fringe, by flagging up their location and in enthusiastically promoting the fact that they're hosting shows on social media.

By contrast, Sabor only made a few rather coy references to the Fringe on their Facebook page at the beginning and about halfway through, and left any further flagging up of the Fringe's presence within the venue to us. For the record, I do not contest for a moment that it's ultimately the job of the performers to bring audience in, but it's clear that when a venue really gets behind the Free Fringe, as the likes of The Banshee Labyrinth or The Voodoo Rooms do, that it gives prospective audience much more faith in the operation and consequently benefits everyone involved.

Overall, I enjoyed my run, but there were a number of unnecessary stresses for all shows at this venue this year that could so easily be avoided in future.

Ian
Ian_Lane
 
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