Ethos and Obligations 2018

All participants must read, understand and comply with these rules as a condition of running an event

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Ethos and Obligations 2018

Postby PBH » 22 Nov 2017, 17:28

The Free Fringe: Our Ethos and Your Obligations 2018

Our Ethos in one sentence is:
We are a movement for the emancipation of performers at the Edinburgh Fringe.

When you join us, you become part of a collective, so please read carefully before you apply.

As such, the Conditions of this agreement are also Your Obligations to your fellow performers within The Free Fringe.

Once you accept an offer, we expect you to adhere to the ethos and conditions below and in return the rest of the Free Fringe will do the same for you. If at any time you break these conditions, we reserve the right to terminate any agreement. We reserve the right to amend, rewrite and improve these as appropriate. These conditions do not constitute a contract; the relationship between us is non-contractual and relies on you and us keeping our word to each other. Our legal adviser asks us to add: if this were a contract, which it is not, English Law would govern it.

In layman’s terms, we have rules and a particular way of working that benefits the whole collective. If at any time you break them, you may be be asked to leave that collective.

To quote a Free Fringer:
“If you expect the public to sit through 50 minutes of your show, you can spend 20 minutes reading this”.

Basic Principles

It’s free. We don’t charge the performers (unlike some other free admission organisations).We don’t pay the venues. The shows are free to the public to attend and the venues benefit from the money spent at their bars and counters. Most performers make a ‘bucket speech’ at the end of the show to accept donations from the audience. Performers are asked to make voluntary contributions to the cost of running The Free Fringe (the main cost is printing The Free Fringe’s programme – called the Wee Blue Book). More on our finances here

We’re a collective. Everyone shares the workload – before, during and after the Fringe. There isn’t a paid team of people who work for you. We all work for the collective, and somehow between us we have to do everything.If for any reason you can’t cover one of your responsibilities you must find someone to do it for you. And make sure they know what they’re doing. Remember you’re not applying to be a customer, you’re applying to join a collective!

If you’re just looking for a free theatre space with flashing lights and sound technicians; or to turn up, do your show and check out: this isn’t for you.

Things do not always run smoothly. We can be let down by venues, by others we are working with in myriad ways, and by each other. When that happens we work together to solve the problem – finding new venues, talking to people, etc.

We believe that performers’ voices should be at the heart of the whole fringe. In that sense our ethos is also political. We expect our members to participate in Fringe Society elections.

So if you still feel you’re a PBH free fringe kind of person read our rules below and how to apply.

The Free Fringe rules:

Accepting your offer

Once you have accepted an offer with us, that’s a firm commitment. Please do not accept an offer from us if you are still talking to other venues or not sure if you will have other commitments (including potential job offers), etc. In the event of serious illness contact us immediately and we will work with you to find a suitable solution. You may not pass your offer to somebody else nor change your show substantially from your initial application. In the event of a problem with the venue we will keep you informed at all times and do our utmost to find a suitable alternative. Do make sure our emails aren’t going to your spam folder too please (check this early on – people have missed venue offers this way before!) Add our email address to your safe list to be extra sure.

If you are having an official day off you must tell us in advance and agree it in advance with your artistic director at the time that you accept your slot. If you haven’t done that then the show must run.

Do your show. Every day. Even if there’s only one audience member. And if there’s none – sit and wait for latecomers. When shows don’t happen it damages our reputation because people think “why bother going, it might not even go ahead”. If you are too ill to perform use the Free Fringe contact list to find a suitable replacement. Never leave your slot dark. Each year we have over 500 shows; one of them will be able to step in for you. Speak to your Venue Captain or Artistic Director if that is going to be a problem.

Flyering. You MUST at all times that you are flyering, visibly carry and offer the Wee Blue Book to everyone you engage with. If you pay others to flyer your show or have friends and family helping, they must also do this. This actually makes flyering easier because the Wee Blue Book is widely recognised and people will often ask you for it. It also means at any given moment during the Fringe as many as 100 people may effectively be marketing your show by handing the book out. It’s so easy, we made a video showing you how! Click here. Since there are Free Fringers all over Edinburgh we’ll soon know if you’re not doing it. If you run out of Wee Blue Books at your venue – go to one of our other venues and get some. Simple.

Door duty.

Someone from your show (if it’s a solo show, that’ll probably be you) must start your duty 15 minutes before the previous show finishes (normally 30 minutes before your show starts, possibly more).

    They should be visibly and obviously on duty. In some venues they will be asked to wear a hi-vis vest to indicate this (as required by the City Fire Department).
    Their first job is to stop audience members from walking into the performance space during the last 15 minutes of the previous show.
    When their show finishes hold the bucket and offer the Wee Blue Book to the departing audience (depending on the needs of the show, they may prefer to do this themselves).
    Ensure the space is clear and any litter or empty glasses are cleared.
    Set up and do your show.
    Finish your show on time. Even if the show before you over-ran. Otherwise the whole schedule slips and chaos ensues. If someone consistently over-runs, talk to (1) them, (2) the venue captain (3) the artistic director.
    When your show finishes, help with clearing and tidying the venue, straightening chairs, etc.
    Show the new audience in. Make sure you don’t let in more people than the fire capacity of the room. If you have to turn people away suggest other Free Fringe shows they might like.
    When the next show starts, remain on duty for 15 minutes and make sure latecomers are ushered in quietly (or turned away politely depending on space and on the wishes of the show in question).
More advice on door duty in our F.A.Q. here

Obviously before the first and after the last shows of the day the door duty is slightly different and you will need to make sure the space is set up or cleared and tidied, and electrical equipment switched on/off.

Be polite and respectful to venue staff. Wherever possible encourage your audience to buy drinks and food, etc. Do not allow your audiences to bring in their own food and drink (aside from water bottles). Do not hand out free snacks or drinks to your audience (within reason, if you’re a magician who does a trick with a chocolate bar, fair enough, but handing out cans of lager to your audience etc is not ok. If you drink a pint or a coke during your show, buy it at the bar.) Don’t damage anything at the venue, don’t deface walls, don’t assume you can use anything there without asking first. Don’t leave equipment where it can be stolen. If you leave props at your venue, label them. If not, they may be thrown away unintentionally.

Do not apply for any other free-admission show, including the pay-for-priority-or-guaranteed-seat shows, e.g. Laughing Horse, Heroes of Comedy, Freestival, Just The Tonic shows, etc. Why? We explain in our F.A.Q here. It’s not a problem if you have done shows with other organisations in the past and it is also ok to do shows that are fully ticketed at paid venues in the same year as doing a Free Fringe show. If in doubt just check with us.

Do not make regular “billed” appearances at any other free-admission show, including the pay-for-priority-or-guaranteed-seat shows, e.g. Laughing Horse, Heroes of Comedy, Freestival, Just The Tonic shows, etc.
This one seems to cause the most confusion. So you CAN’T do one show (a solo show or a compilation show which you are in regularly and are listed in the brochure as being a part of) with us and another with another such “Free” organisation. BUT you can be a one-off guest at such shows should you wish to be and you can have acts from such shows on as one-off guests on your mixed bill show. Again, we have our reasons, all explained in our F.A.Q here.

Be honest; keep your word. If you’re not willing to stick to the ethos and conditions, please don’t apply. They all exist to strengthen the many, which is why we have occasionally had to remove shows from their venue midway through a run when they break these conditions. If you just send an email saying “due to unforeseen circumstances, I can no longer perform…” you will never be considered again. Talk to us, rather than give us an ultimatum. If there’s a genuine problem, you should help us resolve any issues it has caused us (remembering that “us” includes every one of your fellow performers). We repeat: no exceptions.

If you choose to be listed in the big Fringe Programme produced by the Fringe Society then add “/PBH’s Free Fringe” to your performer name (so i.e. “Vijay Patel/PBH’s Free Fringe” or “Terrible Theatre Company/PBH’s Free Fringe”) and list your show as free and non-ticketed. Please remember that most of our venues are 18+ and if your venue does have an age limit you must include it on all listings and promotional material. When the Fringe Office asks for the age suitability of your show, you need to put 18+ if it is an 18+ venue. Ask if you’re unsure and see our F.A.Q here

Help the Free Fringe in whatever of the following ways you can:
    Lend us any PA equipment you own
    Run benefits to help us cover our costs (note: saying “I’m happy to perform at a benefit” isn’t much help unless you’re really famous)
    Sell advertising in the Wee Blue Book
    Volunteer as a Venue Captain
    Be on hand to help move chairs and set up/take down venues, even if it’s not your venue.
    Offer us whatever other specialist skills you have: IT? PR? Do you own a van? There’s lots of stuff we need done and nobody but us will do it so get involved. Even if you are certain you have no useful skills at all let us know and we’ll find you something easy to do!
Join the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society (this applies to everyone who is regularly part of your show – on stage or behind the scenes). This costs £10 each and is the only money you are obliged to pay by the Free Fringe (and it doesn’t go to us). You can do it at any time throughout the year at Join as soon as you accept an offer with us and forward your receipt, and those of your regular cast and crew, to And then VOTE in the elections to the Board of the Fringe Society. For our reasons, see F.A.Q here. If you are interested in running for the Board itself, let us know.

Put the Free Fringe logo, including the QR code for our Free Fringe App, in its original colours, on both sides of your flyers and on your posters.
Write a blurb of 350 characters for the Wee Blue Book and send it to us together with a square show image when we ask and in the format we ask for them (it will be via an online form). Please remember the WBB only gives images, titles and blurbs so if your name isn’t in the title, put it in the blurb if you want audiences to know who you are.

If your show runs the first day your venue opens (usually the first Saturday), be at your venue at 1pm the day before (usually the Friday) to set up. Similarly, if your show runs on the last day (usually the last Saturday or Sunday) be there at 1pm the day after (usually the Sunday or the Monday) to help pack away and tidy up. Bear this in mind when you make your travel arrangements.

Write a show report for the Free Fringe Forums after the fringe so that any problems can be addressed for future years, and so that future performers can be informed about the venue. You can find previous years’ reports here.

Don’t be a dick. There is undoubtedly some way to be an arsehole without technically breaking any of the rules we’ve listed. When you figure out what it is – don’t do it. Examples from recent history would include: head butting an audience member, stealing wine from a venue, spraying graffiti around a venue and sleeping overnight in a venue despite it being a nightclub. Also, don’t break the law!

Lastly – Make sure everyone else involved with your show has seen and read this document and understands that it also applies to them.

How to apply:
OK I have definitely read and absorbed 100% of the above information. Now I’m ready to apply:

Great. Now you know the deal, here’s the application link to become part of our awesome collective. We hope the Fringe goes brilliantly for you and you wear your Free Fringe badge with pride.

Our Advice:
We’ve been doing this a long time, if you’re new to Edinburgh or to the Free Fringe please at least give our advice some consideration…

When you apply – just be honest and straightforward. We don’t need to read your marketing spin. Just tell us who you are and what you do and what sort of space you want to perform in. We’re all performers too so we won’t be fooled by unnecessary guff.

Make sure you pick the genre that best suits your show. If in doubt have a look at the notes from the ADs below. Some short tips: if it has a script and characters, it’s probably a play, and even comedy plays are still Theatre. If it’s a series of loosely connected or unconnected funny sketches, it’s a sketch show which is Comedy. If it’s primarily aimed at children, then it’s Children’s regardless of what sort of show it is. If you’re speaking directly to the audience and the primary intention is to make them laugh, it’s probably Comedy. If you’re speaking directly to the audience and the primary intention isn’t necessarily to make them laugh, it’s probably Spoken Word. If it’s an hour of songs, it could be Comedy or Cabaret, the lines get a bit blurry here. If they’re not funny songs and you’re just looking for one off gigs, it’s probably Music. If your show is burlesque, variety or includes several different genres it’s probably Cabaret. Comedy magic is still Magic. If you’re a band it’s Music. If you’re still confused talk to us.

When you get an offer, be realistic about it. All venues are imperfect. But shows have been incredibly successful in slots that others have turned down. The success will come down to your hard work. Of course if there’s a real practical reason why your venue may not work for you, speak to your artistic director.
Don’t flypost around the fringe. It’s illegal. Go to shops and venues and ask if you can put up posters.

Be realistic about the Fringe. You won’t become famous. You won’t meet The Man With The Cigar. You won’t be discovered. Come to the Fringe to learn, and to become a better performer, not to become an overnight star as if by magic. The press, agents, industry people are less important than you think. Your job is to entertain audiences; focus on that.

Audiences won’t come to your shows unless you go out and get them. Unless you’re incredibly famous or have some alternative masterplan, you’re going to need to print flyers (with our logo on) and distribute them (and the Wee Blue Book at the same time). The best person to flyer your show is likely to be you. If you do hire others, hiring directly (other Free Fringers is a good place to look) is a better idea than going through an agency who are working for lots of shows. Whoever does it, make sure they distribute the Wee Blue Book too.

We discourage hiring armies of leafleters. It’s unfair to other performers who can’t afford that. And the more you spend on publicity, the more you force other shows to spend. The result is that everybody spends more and nobody gets any more audience. We didn’t start The Free Fringe, thus saving you thousands of pounds, for you to spend those savings on publicity. The Free Fringe stands for reducing costs for all performers and eliminating massive losses at the Edinburgh Fringe.

The best way to do the Fringe is to do the full 22-day run (unless you’re a music act which is different). We usually allocate full runs first. If you must do a part run don’t pick the week in the middle. We might be able to squeeze you in for the first week or the last week. But because of shows that do the first two weeks or the last two weeks there is hardly ever a middle-week gap.

Doing a solo show is hard. If in doubt, don’t. Put together a mixed bill show with a few other performers. These are easier to sell to audiences, means the workload is split and means you have the moral support of some fellow performers when things get tough (and at some point they will).

You will probably need a “bucket speech”. This is a short pitch to the audience asking them to donate as they leave your show to your “bucket”. It’s up to you whether or not you ask audiences to donate as they leave your show. Most people do. If you’re trying to cover your costs (1) do a great show and (2) ask nicely for donations. It is totally against the ethos of the Free Fringe to be rude to people who do not donate. There are people who just can’t afford to and there are people who didn’t like the show and don’t want to. Thank them for coming. Smile.

Have a look at the forums to see how previous shows made the most of the Fringe. Ask other Free Fringers for advice at the many meetings and get togethers – official and unofficial – that happen year round.

If you’ve previously been at a paid venue you can expect things to be a little different. We don’t have door staff or technicians or wardrobe assistants. If you need those things you’ll have to bring your own. The venue staff work for the venue, not for you, so don’t expect them to help when you have a problem with the sound desk or something. Although many do help us, it’s not their job, it’s ours.

No level of fame excuses people from door duty or sticking to the rules. If you’re too busy to do these things, get one of your entourage to do it and make sure they have read this ethos and understand how important it is.

The Free Fringe supplies only a PA system, a backdrop, some signs and, in some cases, extra chairs. If your venue would benefit from extra lighting, a projector screen or a fold-out sign in the street, that’s great that you spotted that. Contact the other shows at your venue and suggest clubbing together to buy or borrow or make the thing you have in mind. Make sure the venue will be ok with what you’re planning and then go for it! Whatever it costs it’ll be a lot less than the thousands you could be spending on a paid venue. And if you’re sensible you’ll hang on to the equipment so it can be used again next year.

If your show is super popular please make sure to clear the space for the next act before chatting to audience or friends who have come. But do take the time to chat to audiences if you can, make sure they have a Wee Blue Book and recommend some other Free Fringe shows to them.

If there’s a problem speak to (1) Venue Captain, (2) Artistic Director and (3) Free Fringe Committee. Please don’t make significant decisions without first checking that you’re doing the right thing and consulting us. Keep us in the loop.

Keep your show simple. If you need more than ten minutes to set up your show – that’s not going to work.

Almost all Free Fringe shows are 50-55 minutes long. If you want to do an irregular length show we need to know by December at the latest. After that slots will have been fixed.

Write something honest in your blurb about who you are and what the show offers. If we think you’re misleading the public we reserve the right to change it. The Wee Blue Book has a reputation for offering trusted information.

Here’s how the Free Fringe’s money works: It costs about £28,000 to run the Free Fringe. Most of that is the Wee Blue Book printing costs. It’s worth it though; the book is in huge demand at the Fringe and brings in loads of of audience for us all. The rest is buying chairs, trips to Edinburgh to negotiate venues, printing signs and backdrops, extra PA equipment. No Free Fringer is paid to work for the Free Fringe.

We have three sources of income:
    Benefit gigs
    Sale of adverts in the Wee Blue Book (and we don’t sell adverts to shows because we don’t think that’s fair)
    Voluntary contributions.
Ideally we’d like to raise so much from (1) and (2) that we don’t even have to ask for (3). Please help us by volunteering to run benefits and sell advertising. In recent years we’ve asked for £3-5 per performance, depending on room size, £2 per Music section shows booked by the gig. It’s totally voluntary. No-one is chased or put at a disadvantage if they don’t pay it. It’s quite common for people who’ve had a great Fringe to share the love and chip in a bit extra.

It is always best to apply for shows on your own behalf. Obviously you may have an agent or manager who will be organising parts of your show but we would urge all agents and managers to ask their acts to read this ethos themselves before applying. Ultimately they will be the ones responsible for sticking to it.

Timings: The first round of offers will arrive in January. We usually allow a fortnight for people to reply before making another round of offers for the slots that haven’t been taken up. Sometimes it takes longer than that. We don’t make offers for venues until we are sure that we have the right to do so. Typically many bars and clubs don’t start to think about the summer until well after Hogmanay.

That may not be convenient for other deadlines around the Fringe – especially the Edinburgh Fringe big programme. We consider that to be the fault of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society who should be able to assemble and print a brochure on a time scale of less than four months. Feel free to express this to them! And please try to be patient with us finding you a slot. It is very common for a great venue to contact us in May/June/July wanting to be involved. It’s always better to contact us to check the state of play rather than panicking and paying a lot of money for a venue two days before we send you an offer!

At some point before/during/after the fringe you will hear someone say that the Free Fringe is free because it’s not as good as other organisations. This is not true. We’re free because we believe performers should not have to pay to perform and audiences should be able to see shows regardless of their financial circumstances. The Edinburgh Comedy Awards winners for 2014 and 2016 were Free Fringe shows. The Edinburgh Comedy Awards best newcomers for 2013 and 2015 were Free Fringe shows. Our acts have won dozens of other awards and accolades and hundreds of Free Fringers have racked up four and five star reviews and glowing praise. Numerical analysis of reviews suggests the quality of shows at the Free Fringe is at least as good as at most paid venue organisations and considerably better than some. Keep telling people this.
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