The Seven Stages of Making Fringe Theatre

Posted on Posted in Theatremaking

Those of you who have taken a show to the fringe will know that it is a brilliant, stressful experience fraught with people, problems and pubs. And whether your show is a one-man circus, a Shakespearean musical, or an immersive stand-up comedy drama, there are certain steps on the journey that you’re sure to follow…

1. The Panic Rehearsals

You’ve booked a venue, arranged your travel, and found some accommodation. Everything is ready – EXCEPT FOR THE SHOW.

The show isn’t ready! THE SHOW ISN’T READY! This scene sucks! This scene is sloppy! This scene doesn’t even exist! Oh my God is our play even good? I don’t know what we’re making anymore. Can everybody stay until ten tonight? That will give us time for another five runthroughs. We need more rehearsals! More scenes! More runthroughs! More!

Your final rehearsals will take you through the full spectrum of grief. Power through them, however, and you will find yourself in a state of zen only reachable by one who knows that they can do no more. Ready or not, your show is hitting the road.

2. An Uncomfortable Journey

Getting your company, props and costume across the country on a budget is no small feat. If you didn’t design your show with transportation in mind and you’ve got no cash to splash on specialised transport then you’re going to have to find an imperfect solution.

“Next stop, Edinburgh!”

During Broken Chair’s visit to Edinburgh 2016, we crammed the set and all nine company members into a minibus borrowed from Connor’s mum’s place of work. It’s a long drive to Scotland from Hendon, and with service stops few and far between we spent hours locked in our seats, breathing down each other’s necks. People get aggy. People get restless. I, personally, was kept in the most ludicrous upright position and spent the whole journey in sleepless discomfort.

3. Checking Out Your Accommodation

Thousands upon thousands of people flood to the fringe each year. To monopolise on this, hotels, homeowners and property tycoons charge a fortune to cram actors into every nook and cranny. It doesn’t matter if it’s a garden shed – somebody will be desperate enough to rent it.

We slept in the minibus on night one of our Edinburgh trip, then at a charitable friend’s house on night two, then at a local university’s halls of residence for the rest of the run. The last one would actually have been pretty cosy, were we not three-people to a bed.

But you’ve made it to the fringe and you have a place to stay! Now it’s time for…

4. The Bad Tech Rehearsal

This is cheating a little bit, because, as anyone who works in the theatre can tell you, there is no such thing as a good tech rehearsal. The experience of a bad tech is not exclusive to fringe theatre.

I would like to apologise for this terrible meme. Luke and I share an in-joke and I wanted to shoehorn it into the blog somehow…

Maybe the venue is too small for your set. Perhaps your sound files are corrupted and your QLab is useless. Or what if the in-house technicians won’t sign off on part of your show due to health & safety concerns? Whatever the problem is, it will be there, and you will work tirelessly to fix it despite running on three hours’ sleep and wanting to cry. And then on to the next problem.

Broken Chair fondly remembers our Brighton 2016 tech, during which the LX plot was deleted instead of saved at the end of our timeslot.

5. Flyering

Your show is ready (or not, here it comes) and you want time to settle before the first performance. But can you? Of course not! It’s time for some flyering!

It’s the busywork of the Fringe that everybody does but nobody wants to. Take a stroll through any Fringe city and look at all the theatre companies desperately trying to stand out amongst the rabble. Costume, puppets, megaphones, interpretive dance in the street… Anything to turn heads.

People be dodging your flyers like

If your company is small and poor like us, you’ll have all hands on deck to flyer during the day – actors, designers, technicians, everyone. We’re pretty militant about people doing their bit to help out, and like to split into smaller groups to cover more ground.

Of course, all of us are guilty of sneaking away in these groups to get a coffee or to see a show instead of flyering (don’t lie guys I’m on to you) but you’ve got to enjoy the fringe while you can!

6. The Bad Review

It’s pretty much inevitable that you’ll get one. If people are seeing your show then people are going to form opinions about it and some of them will be less-than-flattering. This is a good thing!

It’s tough getting a bad review, but try to see it as feedback. Sit down with your company after the fringe, discuss how audiences responded to your work, what negatives were highlighted and how you might be mindful of this in the future. However, bear in mind that you do not have to agree with a journalist’s assessment of your work; it could be they just didn’t get it, and you should never compromise when somebody is telling you to change the fundamentals of your art.

7. The Good Review

Finally, and with some luck, somebody might write about your show who really enjoyed it. The appropriate course of action upon receiving a good review is to find a good pub and celebrate! I mean, if you’re at the Fringe then there’s a high chance that you’re drinking anyway, but at least now you have a reason to.

And maybe, just maybe, while you’re sitting and drinking with the same people who you’ve been unable to escape for the past few days, you’ll look around at their smiling faces and realise that all of the stress, discomfort and bloody hard work has been worthwhile.

Or maybe you’ll swear off theatre forever.

Thanks for reading our blog. Did this ring true? How was your last trip to the Fringe, and would you go back? Leave a reply; we want to know!

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