Monday, 29 August 2011

Edinburgh Blog 11: Bye Bye Edinburgh

This is the last Music Box blog from Edinburgh. We've got our last show today, but I'm not in it as I've got a day off to sort things out at the venue and pack various bits and bobs.

At the end of the run I've found myself with no personality left and no sense of humour. Which is about the same position I've been in at the end of every other Edinburgh run.

I'm sure this should be a blog about what I've learnt etc and some kind of optimistic what comes next plan, but unfortunately I've also run out of optimism and the ability to learn anything new. But here it goes, things I've learnt from this Edinburgh....

1. How to produce a show on the paid fringe. I hadn't done that before, now I have, so that's a good thing and I'm sure I've learnt some skills along the way although I can't currently remember what they are. We were sold out most days, which is really rare, so I must have done something right.

2. Flyering works. When we flyered lots, we were full up. When we didn't flyer lots, we weren't full up. Flyering lots in the morning helped lots as there was less competition but lots of potential audience looking to plan their day. Splitting up and flyering as individuals worked better than staying in a group, as it allowed more coverage. The flyering hot spots were the fringe box office queue, each entrance to the main section of the Royal Mile, and outside C Venues. Rather than being whacky or using stunts we found just having normal conversations with people worked best. In the future I'd pay even more attention to what's on the flyer, as it's the most important sales tool.

3. The audience is different from what most performers think it is. I learnt this when I came without a show last year and spent a couple of days walking around looking at people and eavesdropping on them planning shows. I think the Edinburgh Fringe, the press and many performers would like to think it's an audience of comedy savvy, cutting edge, experimental young theatre goers looking for a new language for theatre. In my experience though the audience is actually mainly made up of:

- Families with a couple of kids, usually up to the age of 14, usually from Edinburgh or Scotland.
- Middle aged couples from Scotland visitng for a couple of days.
- Middle aged couples from American visiting for a couple of days as part of a wider Europe tour.
- Larger groups of Italian/Spanish/Japanese tourists.
- Various English people, similarly grouped to above.
- Local teenagers doing the fringe for a weekend.
- Other performers.
- Comedy 'in crowd'.

Largely I think these people are looking to do the following:

- See something they already know about, have heard about, and really want to see.
- See something new and fun, if it fits into the rest of their day.
- See the tourist sites.
- Maybe see a free show, if they think it will be good, and fits in with their day.

I'm really thankful that we deliberately targetted a set audience (families and middle aged couples) right from the start as this was really effective. Basically we offered 'something fun to see in the afternoon'. Making it family friendly, although difficult for us as performer, made it much easier to sell.

4. Word of mouth might be invisible but it's there. This is the weirdest feeling of all. That for everybody who has seen your show they have a feeling and opinion and tell others about it. Visting tourists can tell their B & B owner who may then tell new tourists arriving. I've felt this the other way round, when people ask me if I can recommend anything I don't tell them everything I've seen - maybe just the top three. I think getting in this top 3 word of mouth is an excellent aim.

5. Good graphic design is essential. We were lucky enough to have a talented cast member (Jon Monkhouse) who is excellent at design, and made some fantastic flyers and posters. It's not just that good graphic design attracts people, but that bad graphic design puts people off. If a group has produced an amateur looking flyer, it doesn't bode well for the bigger creative process of their show.

6. Press only makes a difference to a few people. We had some awful press (2 star), some mediocre press (3 star) and some outstanding press (5 stars). Overall I don't think this made the blindest bit of difference to our show. Our rate of sale was the same per day throughout the entire fringe. The Fringe seems saturated with reviews, with stars popping up on posters like pimples on teenagers. These days even a four star review makes an audience think 'whatever' as they seem to be everywhere. The only thing that seems to make any difference anymore is five star reviews, and even then there have to be loads of them before anyone takes any notice. The only person I saw have press affect their show was Cariad Lloyd, who after a string of five star reviews had audiece queuing up round the building. My biggest fringe regret was getting so bothered about press, I wish I'd just forgotten about it until the end. Although we do have some awesome quotes and things now to use for selling future shows.

7. Marketing. I learnt a lot about this. Edinburgh is a crash course in marketing in minature, and you can see lots of marketing principles in action. Have a look at the audience journey to see what I mean:

- I've always wanted to go to Edinburgh, I might go.
- How do I do that?
- Google Edinburgh Fringe. Go to Advert of Show X pops up. Ohhh, Show X looks mildly interesting.
- Order programme.
- Programme arrives. Thumb through programme. Advert of Show X. Oh look, they got some stars once. Programme entry of Show X, looks alright, maybe, maybe a circle, won't book yet though.
- Facebook/twitter message from buddy already there 'went to see Show X last night, awesome stuff'.
- Get train to Edinburgh. Read newspapers. Positive review about Show X.
- Arrive in Edinburgh. Wheel suitcase to B & B. Go past poster for Show X. In B & B show X flyers sat on mantlepiece. Mrs. Miggins says 'oh yes, our last guests so Show X, or was it Show Y, did it have table tennis puppets in it, or was it that bloke, you know?'
- Go out on town, walk past Show X posters, get drunk, meet someone who says they had a good time at Show X.
- Wake up, go to Royal Mile. Show X posters at entrace to Royal Mile. Walk past someone in Show X sandwich board.
- Queue up in Fringe Box Office queue. Nice person gives you Show X flyer and points out it's on this afternoon.
- Read flyer while waiting in queue, check it fits in with rest of day. Book Show X ticket.
- Go and see show X. Tell people about it.

So some stuff helps to spread the message, some serves as a reminder, some is a direct opportunity to buy, some raises awareness and some raises desire to see the show. This also supports my view that Edinburgh is actually a massive capitalist comedy/theatre trade fair, not a fringe festival at all. I actually don't have a problem with that, I just think performers should know what they're walking in to.

8. You will go mad. Whatever you do, you'll get a cold and feel rubbish at some point.

9. You have to come quite a few years in succession to make any real difference to Edinburgh or the comedy world.

So what next?

At the moment I feel like never doing improvised comedy ever again. In reality I probably just need a break from it for a bit, so I'll probably re-evaluate that feeling after a week off in London.

I also feel like I've learnt how to produce a show in Edinburgh now, although at the moment I'm not sure if I want to ever do that again. As before though, I probably just need a break.

For some reason I'm really drawn into doing more stand up, which I'd done a couple of times before leaving for Edinburgh. I think after managing a huge amount of people for so long there's something attractive about going solo for a bit.

My inner intravert is also crying out now, and will probably take over for a bit. I think a week of seeing nobody, watching submarine films on Film 4 at lunchtime, and eating cheese toasties with my girlfriend is just what the doctor ordered.

Bye Edinburgh! You nutter.

Edinburgh Blog 10: Why are most comedy groups white, middle class twenty/early thirty-somethings?

First off, are most comedy groups white, middle class twenty/early thirty-somethings? I haven’t done a formal scientific investigation, so this blog could be based entirely on something that isn’t true. But from my random observations and general feelings based on four years at the Edinburgh Fringe, it does seem to be the case.

What’s more worrying though is that nobody seems to be asking the question here or discussing the topic at all. Maybe it is being discussed behind the scenes in various organizations, but at the front line of performance and venues it doesn’t seem to be covered at all and there seems to be more of an every man for himself attitude and no real discussion on where performers actually come from.

Added to this it still appears in many TV circles that TV comedy is largely produced by Oxbridge graduates. Do you have to be educated in classics to be funny? Not in my opinion, especially when compared to the hilarity I’ve seen when running improvisation workshops in Balham secondary schools.

I believe there are other factors that influence the demographic of people performing at the Edinburgh Fringe, and most of them accidentally come out from the presumed open access nature of the Fringe. The Fringe is structured on being open access, so that anyone can take a show to the fringe – but can everyone really take a show to the fringe?

These are the basic requirements in taking a show to the fringe in a standard paid venue, and this is for quite a small group (us) with a small budget (ours):

£3000 guarantee to secure venue
£400 programme entry
£400 printing costs
£1500 accommodation
£400 equipment
£300 costumes

So that’s a bare minimum of £6000, and that doesn’t include living expenses. Most groups in paid venues probably spend more than this too. On the Free Fringe the guarantee payment is removed, but then again so is the chance of making any major money back.

For comedy groups to start making a proper impact and get noticed in Edinburgh they usually have to come back at least three years in a row, for example Pappy’s Fun Club, Delete The Banjax and The Penny Dreadfuls. But behind the scenes you’ll usually find that the performers had already been performing at the festival with other groups for a few years before their better known group took off.

So that’s probably about five years of sourcing £6000 to make a serious impact on Edinburgh and the comedy industry. But in reality the costs each year actually go up, as groups tend to rise up to higher profile venues and bigger rooms.

Also remember the Edinburgh Fringe takes place over the whole month of August, so you need that time off any work and family commitments. If you’re doing a proper job you’re probably also going to need a few weeks off before, and most people are pretty dead to the world for a week after.

So to summarise the following is needed to launch a successful comedy group on the Fringe:
1. At least £6000 a year.
2. At least a month off from work and other major commitments.
3. Repeat for at least five years with no other ‘life things’ getting in the way.

I believe these requirements already cancel out huge sections of the population from doing the fringe. People who have £6000 outright to spend might tend to also be in ‘proper jobs’ that don’t allow the time off required, whereas those with easy time off might be in a life situations where it’s harder or riskier to find the money. Older people may have families that makes it harder to justify the repeated time away. Younger people just don’t yet have the money or organization skills to get a group there.

So it’s already self-selected a small fraction of the population. When you then multiply this over the repeat years needed you can see why a tiny percentage of “fringe types” remain.

In addition to this is the peer group effect. When I went the first time I came back home and reported to all my friends about it, and low and behold four years later they are all here with shows. This seems to be repeated for most people here, as they originally heard about it and were inspired to do it when someone from within their peer group took a show here.

There may be Edinburgh Fringe outreach programmes going on, I really hope there are as I think they are really needed. Otherwise it’s just like one internal slap on the back fest.

Also there seem to be large comedy organizations (BBC, Avalon, Comedy Central, Channel 4 etc etc) that have huge amounts of money and could make a massive difference to grass routes comedy but don’t. They seem to support the fringe by showcasing the best new talent, or supporting competitions, or swiping off the annual award winners into fame and fortune. But they seem to target people who have already gone through the five year cycle, so the self-selection process has already taken place.

Why aren’t the BBC sponsoring the Free Fringe? That’s the real grass routes here, that’s where the help is really needed. Why aren’t Channel 4 covering the fringe programme costs of new acts?

I was at the Edinburgh International Television Festival last year, which occurs over the last weekend of the Edinburgh Fringe. The general attitude of many producers I met there seemed to be looking at who had won awards at the end, going to see them, and then maybe arranging a meeting. This is so lazy it makes me feel physically sick. Again the self-selection process of who can afford the time and money to do the fringe for five years has already happened, and they can swoop in like vultures at the end of this process claiming they ‘discovered new talent’. Idiots.

So the closest we’ve got to any kind of open access point to the Edinburgh Fringe is the fantastic Free Fringe, with Peter Buckley-Hill genuinely caring about new performers and doing an amazing job of keeping the fringe alive. Without him the cycle would break down.

How does the fringe as a whole treat this amazing gift of a Free Fringe? Terribly.

Last week there was a horrendous mail out from Three Weeks, one of the largest reviewers at the fringe. They seemed to have taken it upon themselves to spend an entire issue slating off the Free Fringe, with one star reviews for multiple acts. Furthermore the writing was far from objective, with idiotic reviewers gleefully insulting acts personally just to prove how jolly clever their writing was. Even worse was that simultaneously some of the higher profile groups seem to have such great press people that their reviews now read like a verbatim copy of their press release.

The message to new acts was clear: DON’T BOTHER, WE DON’T WANT YOU.

But we do want you, and more than that, we need you. Without these new acts trying new things the fringe will freeze up and die and just become a massive orgy of men who have been on Live at the Apollo or Mock the Week.

Why are the reviewers even marking new acts on the same scale as groups who are professionally managed with over a decade of experience? By all means point out the great things on the Free Fringe (Cariad Lloyd, Phil Kaye, Four Screws Loose etc) but why on Earth bother to kill off everything else from this amazing melting pot?

Reviewers don’t do that for TV.  They should. “X factor. Shit bog standard talent show of people that can’t sing. 1 star.” Three Weeks. I don’t understand why hours of awful TV manages to avoid being reviewed at all while a group of sixth formers missing a beat in sketch show on the free fringe results in such a barrage of poison pen reviews.

The Free Fringe is more creative than the entire Edinburgh Television Festival. In the Free Fringe there is no money and yet every year there is a never ending world of imaginative new ideas and life. At the Edinburgh Television Festival there was loads of money flying around, men in suits drinking free champagne in the museum, and multiple lectures on creative strategy. Over the same year the entire multi-million television industry seemed to spawn Geordie Shore, Made in Essex, and Made in Chelsea. Well done TV.

On top of all this in The Scotsman recently there was an article that seemed to suggest that The Free Fringe would be the death of the Edinburgh Fringe. What??? It’s the only thing that’s keeping it alive long term. This is because the Free Fringe’s Peter Buckley-Hill suggests a sliding scale for the programme entry, which I think is a fantastic idea.

At the moment all groups/shows pay the same amount to be in the Edinburgh Fringe programme. So if you are a multi-millionaire Mock the Week comedian, with a full production team behind you, performing to 500 people every night at 20 quid a pop OR a new to the fringe performer with a free show in a small room behind the pub – you pay the same to be in the programme. Seems fair? No!

So many Free Fringe people, and others, are suggesting that maybe the people performing in bigger venues with more money should pay more to the infrastructure of the fringe than the people playing in smaller venues with no money.

This is such an obviously good idea to me that I can’t believe it’s not the case already.

Yet it appears to be blocked by everyone. One of the major arguments seems to be “It’s only 400 quid or whatever, it’s such a small amount and it’s good value.” Which is quite frankly pathetic. Of course it’s a small amount to the huge acts, that’s the whole point. But to the 17 year old doing comedy for the first time in drafty church hall in Balham, it could be the deciding factor between going to the fringe or not, and unfortunately at the moment the answer is “not”.

So all in all, yes the Fringe is open access, but hidden rules and patterns pop up that make it anything but. When we have a chance to attack these factors head on, we should be open to change. Listen to Peter Buckley-Hill.

Edinburgh Blog 9: Edinburgh Advice 308: You will get ill anyway, so you might as well drink

So we've now passed over the half way point. And bang on the half way point I got the Edinburgh Flu, and spent a couple of days in bed curled up under a duvet reading sci-fi, hence the lack of blog recently.

This was after one of my earlier blogs that actually listed my methods for avoiding Edinburgh Lurgy. I was actually going out of my way to stay healthy, and had such mantras as "if you look after yourself, the show looks after itself". And I STILL GOT ILL AT EXACTLY THE SAME POINT!

The morale of this tale is:

1. Drink lots.

2. Stay up late.

3. Eat dodgy late night takeaway food.

4. Be as sociable as you possibly can.

Because you're going to become ill half way through the festival, so you might as well have fun doing it.

Also I did one of the shows when I was ill and actually I played one of my favourite characters (a crab with a dodgy claw and dreams of dancing). It was probably because I cared less about it. Comedy is like that, when it really matters and feels important it can freeze up, but when you just don't care anymore it actually becomes more fun.

In other news we had some reviews out including one from Three Weeks, which now means I can use the quote "Joyfully Silly" on our posters. I like that. In fact I might even ask for that to be put on my gravestone. I'm not dead yet though, Edinburgh flu isn't that bad.

Edinburgh Blog 8: Music Box have become superstitious

After being here almost two weeks it's strange that out of the madness of Edinburgh a routine has developed. Even The Royal Mile itself has become normal, with patterns developing out the chaos. Jules from our group will always be stood at the upper end, looking dapper and chatting in a charming manner to tourists. Behind him will be The Lord of the Flies gang, standing in the rain wearing ripped shorts and t-shirts. In front of him will be a solo Free Fringe comedian keeping cheerful while announcing 'Free Comedy at The Espionage into a megaphone.

At the other end of the mile Chasing Dragons will be holding up banners and standing protectively over their posters. At random points a chap dressed in full costume will be shouting out Shakespearian Black Comedy, No Pun Intended'.

In the middle of the mile Rock and Soul will be holding banners and playing guitar. Various improv groups will be standing on pillars. The Korean clowns dressed as babies from Babbling Comedy 2 will be dancing relentlessly. The Gaga Men will be announcing "Japanese Comedy, very funny comedy show".

And my role appears to have become walking up and down the length of the mile wearing my beloved sandwich board.

Even in the torrential rain of a couple of days ago this routine was still going on. There weren't even any potential audience members on the mile, and at one point it was just the people with shows stood in the pouring rain holding a flyer into thin air. This prompted us all into fits of giggles at the ridiculousness of the situation.

Why where we still there, doing the same thing, when there was nothing but rain?

In my opinion it was superstition. Once something is working for the show we don't want to change any of it, just in case. I have to keep my sandwich board in the same place, wear the same shows, walk the same route, put posters in the same place at the same time or EVERYTHING WILL GO WRONG!

I'm not like this at home. Edinburgh has turned me into this ridiculous character.

I'm also now catching myself believing in Karma. I can't say anything bad about someone else's show, as I feel it will come back 10x stronger on my show. I was shopping in Tesco and someone had left their credit card in the self serve machine, so I handed it in and thought "great! this means my show tomorrow will be amazing!"

I don't usually believe any of this stuff. I actually studied Engineering at University, and now I believe that holding a door open for someone on Tuesday will actually affect the show I'm in on Wednesday.

A lot of this may have been brought on because we've had reviewers in but the reviews haven't come out yet. I'm checking on line on lap tops and phones pretty much all the time, along with ticket sale. I feel like Schrödinger's cat, I'm currently simultaneously in the bad review and good review state. I've prepared myself for all outcomes, but it's pretty much all I can think/worry about at the moment.
The other mythical thing that keeps floating around is the concept of 'next year'. In the build up to Edinburgh most performers I know say something along the lines of "I'm not doing this again, it doesn't make any financial/creative sense, I'm better off going on holiday to Greece for a week and concentrating on my London life". Yet within a couple of days there are so many micro-lessons that have been learnt that it becomes addictive, and I'm already planning 'next year'.

Edinburgh Blog 7: Riots and Reviews

Two things on my mind at the moment: Riots and Reviews.

We currently feel like we're in a happy little Edinburgh soap bubble floating around a sunshine sky while apparently in our home town all hell has broken loose. Weirder still is that all the riots are happening where are cast usually live. George (my girlfriend and cast member) usually lives in Clapham, Jules in Hackney, Jon in Balham and basically all of us are seeing pictures of places we actually know and love. Jules's local pub has been burnt down and riots have been happening at the end of George's road.

We even had an impro friend who was tweeting last night from Clapham that gangs of masked men were surrounding her flat as it was above a Sainsbury's.

Usually this would all be seen on TV by us or in the papers, but because we're in Edinburgh we've been away from usual media and have instead been picking up what's been happening through twitter and facebook on people's phones as it happens. It was actually terrifying on our friend's behalf to hear about more and more people surrounding her house and us having nothing to do about it, and instead be in this happy little sunshine world of make believe musicals.

The nicest image we've ever seen though is of people gathering in Clapham, near my girlfriend's house, holding their brooms aloft. A kind of anti-riot riot and probably the most British thing I've ever seen. Well done riot wombles!

On the same day as all that we had our first reviewer in the audience. We had already decided that if we caught wind of a reviewer that we would tell each other so the whole cast knew, so I told them, and we immediately regretted that decision. We found it really nerve wracking and it made us feel quite frozen. It obviously takes a while for it to be written up and released so at the moment I've got the following stuff going round my head, in fact here's a glimpse of what's going on in my mind right now....

"Did they like it? Did people laugh enough? Becca and George sang beautifully. My singing was awful. Deathbot could have been better, I should have been a bigger deathbot. Please please please. Oh no. It was ok. I hope that family enjoyed it, they were great. Why didn't they come to the one before? We don't need one anyway, we're doing really well. What if it's awful? Riots? That's where George lives. Not party superstore, I love that place, I buy all my show props from there! Please leave London Bridge alone. Balham. Who are they? I want to meet them. Where do they come from? Please hope you like it. Can we do another one please? We'll come to your house. Twitter twitter twitter facebook twitter. Can't believe they are surrounding your house. It's fine, not that important. Oh my god it's so important. Can I have a cuddle please? Yum, fish and chips. I wish I hadn't eaten that fish and chips. Can I have some nachos please? I wish I hadn't eaten those nachos. How much for a milkshake???"

Good news though is our show is selling out every day now. This makes me really happy. Making it suitable for families and making it clean and happy as opposed to bleak dark comedy seems to be working, especially in the afternoon.

Lots of love to London and everyone voluteering to help clean up, we all think you're amazing and you're showing London for what it's really about.

Lots of love to Edinburgh, you're actually being sunny at the moment and everyone really appreciates it.

We thought our suggestion today would be "London Riots" but actually it was "On top of a mountain", and it was the most fun bit of escapism I've ever improvised.

Extra Bit:
Just reading the above after posting it and it reads really weird. It feels strange to be talking about something so negative and something else so positive at the same time, as if I'm not allowed or it looks spoilt to have such great things going on.

It feels like London at the moment is an example of what happens when lots of people join together to destroy as many things as possible, and Edinburgh is an example of what happens when lots of people join together to create as many things as possible.

Edinburgh Blog 6: The Music Box Sandwich Board, Best Thing I've Ever Done

I went to the Meet the Press event a couple of days ago. This involves queuing up with other performers in order to meet the press and reviewers directly and have a chat about the show. It wasn't at all as intimidating as I thought it would be, and was encouraging to find out that most of them had already heard of us and were planning on coming along. The event was also helped along by free beer from Deuchars IPA, however I'm a massive lightweight and by the time I got to speaking to the last reviewer I was making a fool of myself and talking about our show like I was Oliver Reed in the 1970s.

Major developments in our marketing plan have included.....wait for it.....BUYING A SANDWICH BOARD. That's right, give me a phd in marketing and advertising, I've made a sandwich board. I can't explain how happy this makes me. Even when I'm not flyering I can walk around the Royal Mile wearing my sandwich board, knowing that the show is getting advertised somehow. It makes me feel good.

Shows have been going well, and almost sold out every performance which is great news. We had a tough suggestion a couple of days ago - 'Inside a Mixing Bowl', which was hard to make a musical about, it's quite hard to act as a raisin, but other than that I'm really happy with the show. Yesterday was my favourite, we got given 'Circus' as a suggestion so I got to introduce my various rubbish party tricks into the show like juggling chairs and balancing a broom on my foot. It was really fun and the cast are in high spirits.

Outside of flyering and performing I'm finding I'm having to spend most of the time in non-fringe places, which seems the opposite to everyone else. I'd usually be drinking late at The Pleasance Courtyard or C Venues but this year I'm being drawn to places like Pizza Express, Vue Cinemas and even dare I say malls. I think it's part of my long term plan to preserve my own sanity.

Although saying that I woke up yesterday thinking I was 17 years old and about to do an A-Level maths exam. It took me about 15 minutes to work out I was 32 and about to do an improvised musical.

Edinburgh Blog 5: Dr. Music Box's Prevention of the Edinburgh Lurgy

Hello, Dr. Music Box here. At previous Edinburgh festivals I have rapidly fallen victim to Edinburgh lurgy.


Symptoms of Edinburgh lurgy include:

- Sleeping all day for no reason.
- Turning a pale green/grey colour.
- Sheltering under a duvet like an introverted snail and only coming out to perform. If the first words you say each day are actually on stage to an audience, you’re in trouble.
- Shouting to yourself the second you leave the flat “why does it rain only when I’m outside?” and taking the weather really personally.

Causes of Edinburgh lurgy include:

- Sharing 3 bedrooms with 10 people.
- Putting on shoes in the morning that haven’t dried out from the night before
- Flyering in the constant rain while maintaining a positive attitude,
- Calling 3am an early night.
- Ongoing jealousy of other people’s show (“They’ve got a set?? How come we don’t have a set?” How many people did you get in your audience?” etc)
- Obsessive checking of facebook and twitter for #edfringe news. This includes late at night while surrounded by snoozing members of the cast.
- Surviving on nothing but rain and mist all day and then overloading on beer in plastic cups and late night takeaway vendors in the evening.


This year my previous Edinburgh experience has kicked in and yesterday I made various attempts to prevent the Edinburgh lurgy. These included:

- Walking up Arthur’s Seat straight after the show. Wooo, like, we’re totally looking down on Edinburgh man, like, totally getting some perspective.
- Deliberately eating in a chain pizza restaurant away from the Royal Mile surrounded like normal people.
- Dressing like a tourist when I’m not flyering or performing.
- Experiencing sunshine for the first Edinburgh in ages. Yep, this happened yesterday and it was awesome. I actually have a suntan.

In fact everything about yesterday was pepping me up. We had a full audience, which was an amazing experience, and had improvised a really cool show set in a graveyard featuring various ghosts and 1500 year old gravediggers and the song “it looks like a human, smells like a human, but it’s actually a demon”. So we’re now entering the show in high spirits and having fun.

Other Random Edinburgh Observations
Whose poster can you flyer over?
All manner of un-written rules about this. It’s widely agreed that it’s open season on the Royal Mile pillars, and you can poster over stuff, but that’s the only place you can do so. But even then I’ve discovered various sub-clauses when it comes to putting posters up there. These include:

1a.i: Not postering over a friend’s show, obvious really.
1a.ii: Not postering over a show you’ve seen and enjoyed.
1a.iii: Not postering over someone you’ve met in person. This had the weird effect of me meeting someone at a promo show and immediately thinking “dammit, I can’t poster over their show now”.
1b: If someone posters over your poster then all of the above are null and void, and you are allowed to hold a postering grudge for the rest of the festival.
1c: If someone is more organized than you, with multiple posters attached together and a taller ladder, then they are a valid target.

Most Popular Phone Conversation in Edinburgh
“Hello. Where are you?”
“I’m on the Royal Mile.”
“Come over to C Venues.”

Second Most Popular Phone Conversation in Edinburgh
“Hello. Where are you?”
“I’m at C Venues.”
“Come over to the Royal Mile.”

Exciting stuff.

Edinburgh Blog 4: Music Box First Show


First show done, first flyering done, first pint had.

This feels soooo good and has released a feel-good sense of adventure within me where I just want to make more cool things happen. More good news is that the first show had an audience! I was fully prepared to perform to one man and his dog, but in the end there were a lot more than one man and no dogs.

We made up Lather the musical based on an audience suggestion of a car wash and featuring the song "Couldn't Fit Quicker than a Kwik Fit Fitter". I played a rich banker who had a love of red Fiat Puntos and the girl who worked in the car wash. For some reason I changed from American to posh British to myself to underdog throughout the musical, so a bit of character work needed, but other than that thought it was a fun musical.

Such a relief to get it done too, and the first show nerves are evaporated.

Also it was a hurdle getting over flyering. I don't usually enjoy flyering but I found the Edinburgh people were lovely and actually up for me chatting about the show. They also found it funny that I was pictured on the flyer.

The C venues staff are really top notch - professional, friendly, switched on and are adding loads to the show.

So really happy overall for a great first day. Going out to a C venues party this evening, and then more of the same tomorrow.

Jon says: "Remember it's not how many laughs you get, it's how many girls you've got in your Cadillac."

Thanks for that Jon, that's really helpful.

Edinburgh Blog 3: Edinburgh To-Do No.456: Be in a good mood.

There was a flurry of Music Box social activity before leaving London. On Friday night I found myself at a BBQ  where everyone there was about to be in a show before Edinburgh. Everything was noticeably “before Edinburgh” over the weekend. I’m eating a burger, before Edinburgh. I’m sitting on the tube, before Edinburgh. This is the last time I’ll be in Morden, before Edinburgh. Morden, I’ll miss you.
We also did our last pre-Edinburgh show, at London Zoo, which went down really well and so put us all in great spirits. This was followed by our last pre-Edinburgh rehearsal at The Miller, where everyone had the same idea and brought along loads of cookies, cake and sweets. This also went really well so morale is at a high at just the right time, which makes me feel really happy.
I also got to the point on Sunday where I’d finally done all the pre-Edinburgh admin I could possibly do, and was staring at a ticked to-do list for once in my life.
My first thought was, what shall I do now? The answer I decided was to chill out, and have fun. Whatever the aims of the show are, the best thing to do right now is to chill out and have fun. Afterall there’s nothing worse than being in a comedy group that’s getting stressed and staring at each other wide eyed saying “WE HAVE TO MAKE PEOPLE LAUGH, NOW!”
Similarly nobody wants to be flyered by someone who looks sick and stressed. It’s not the face of someone who is going to make you laugh and feel good about life.
So whatever I do now, being in good spirits is the main priority. I’ve been diligently organizing myself into a good mood. First step was a run in the park. When I’m running I always pretend I’m an escaped prisoner of war and I’m running away from Nazis. It makes it more exciting. I haven’t admitted that to anyone before! I’m 32.
This good mood was rapidly escalated by finally getting the train to Edinburgh this morning. That’s right, I’m in Edinburgh now! The whole of Twitter is overflowing with people tweeting “I’m in Edinburgh, woooooo!” and I’m one of them. That’s right, I’m a massive Edinburgh cliché, and I’m proud of it!
I arrived off the train and immediately walked into C Venues to meet everyone. Was amazed how professional and friendly and efficient everyone was. Amazing stuff, I feel really confident in the venue team. This was rapidly followed by a similar series of really helpful and friendly meetings at Fringe Central Office. I had probably the most productive day I’ve had all year and things that I thought would take all day just took a couple of hours.
Which left me the rest of the day to hang out with Becca, our director, and be really silly. We spent the evening walking up to the top of Carlton Hill where we occupied ourselves by singing random songs about the Edinburgh view below while eating Muller Rice. These included a punk number along the lines of “Pleasance Courtyard, didn’t want us, we don’t care” and dirty little number about a phallic shaped Chinese lantern falling from the sky. It was incredibly childish, and did wonders for chilling us out.
So I might have remembered, just in the nick of time, that if you’re doing comedy you can’t take things too seriously. Edinburgh, wooooooo!

Edinburgh Blog 2: Ahhhhh! Edinburgh!

There it is, beating away on the horizon. This time next week I would have done three Edinburgh shows already. In the build up my mood constantly changes from terror to complacency to excitement to nerves to just stupid giggling, all in the time it takes me to finish my cornflakes.

I have to keep reminding myself that this is all entirely self-inflicted. I don’t have to do this, nobody tells you to take shows to Edinburgh, which is why it’s beautiful, and incredibly personal.

It’s strange being producer and performer; you have to have split personalities and keep trying to sell the show even when you really feel like wrapping yourself in a duvet and being a hermit for a few days.

For instance I’ve spent the last couple of days putting together a promoter pack about the show, which is all the technical, cast and show information a possible promoter/booker would need to book the show after Edinburgh for performances and tours etc.
In the eyes of a performer most promoters are mysterious people that hang around bars like ninjas of the night. They don’t seem to have names, and nobody seems to know who they are, only that ‘some promoters are floating about’. It’s not even clear what they’re actually promoting. I wonder if they even exist.

I might turn up in Edinburgh wearing a sheepskin jacket with a big sign above my head saying “I am a promoter”.  Perhaps they are shy creatures, like the wild haggis that live on Arthur’s seat.

We’ve also been sending our flyers and posters to print. One of our cast, Jon Monkhouse, has done an amazing job on the design so I’m really happy about that.

I’ve also been allocating lots of random odd jobs by text like “can you buy a step ladder/make a sandwich board please?” I feel like I’ve become the Mr. Boring of the group who sends people a trickle of dull shopping lists. As one of the cast is also my girlfriend I have developed the persona of Formal Steve so we don’t get these roles muddled up.

These odd jobs include buying things in London as if Edinburgh doesn’t have any shops. I found myself thinking ‘better get some razor blades before I go’, as if nobody in Scotland shaves. I’m sure they have a Boots, BUT WHAT IF THEY DON’T???? The horror.

The cast also had a pre-Edinburgh discussion that revolved around what they thought they would be like to live with. Turns out half the cast are early risers, half the cast are night owls, and Jon doesn’t like it if someone is in the toilet too long in the morning.

Other jobs this week have included sending out a second wave of press releases. The first batch were done at the time of the programme release so I was hoping this batch were going to have a new angle, or some piece of news. Actually this didn’t happen, so in the end reading between the lines of our second batch of press releases they basically said “Errrr, hello, me again, remember me? Ha ha ha, aren’t we such good friends! Remember me? Anyway, nothing’s really changed, same show thing going on, if you fancy it.”

It’s a bit of a paradox writing to reviewers when you’re also one of the performers. My producer side of me knows I have to do it for the sake of the show and use reviews however I can to sell to tickets, whereas the performer side of me is like a frightened little slow loris that wants to hide underneath a table. A similar paradox happens with acting sometimes, where you want to act but don’t want to be seen, and a huge leap comes from opening yourself and making yourself available.

In previous Edinburgh shows I’ve had everything from 1 star to 5 star reviews for various shows I’ve been in. One show I was in got a 1 star and 4 star review from the same publication in the same week. This feels likes having your ego used as a football. Eventually what seems to happen in Edinburgh though is that the performer’s ego just takes a holiday, which is when the really interesting stuff happens.

I’ve been fanatically checking ticket sales. We’ve actually sold some in advance which we really weren’t expecting as we’re a new group, and it’s done wonders for our morale. Not loads, but some, and that feels good.

To chill out a bit George (girlfriend) and I went to see Wicked last night. Being readers of you’ve probably seen it about five times already, so I won’t have to tell you how amazing it was, although it was amazing. It did however make me realize that maybe I should change our flyer copy from “everything you could want from a musical” to “everything you could want from a musical, apart from a fire breathing dragon, flying monkeys, full orchestra and frightening talking wizard head”.

See you soon!

Edinburgh Blog 1: Agent Music Box Reporting For Duty


I’m Steve Roe, producer of Music Box Improvised Musical. That’s my funny face staring back at you. Of all the headshots I’ve got, that’s the most normal looking! I had to go into comedy as my big head is unsuitable for any other style of acting. I once performed in an impro show with the mantra ‘natural natural natural’ only for someone to come up and say "wow I loved your massive cartoon characters, you pull such weird faces!", and I thought "no, that’s just my face".
I’m here to give you a behind the scenes look of our show building up to Edinburgh, then doing Edinburgh, and then after Edinburgh.
At first this will probably take the form of thinly disguised attempts to market my show at you while I attempt to write witty anecdotes about “flyering on the royal mile” or such Edinburgh things.
At some point though I’ll write a blog while drunk at 3am in the morning after spending the night dancing badly in C Venues. And then all hell will break loose, and I might actually be interesting to read. I predict this will happen on the fifth day of the first week, based on previous experiences.
Until that point, here’s some background and what I’ve been up to:
Taking an improvised musical to Edinburgh is quite a foolhardy endeavour, as there are already some well established improvised musicals in Edinburgh (Showstopper, Baby Wants Candy, No Shoes). We could have made a children’s version, or found a niche, or a unique selling point, but we thought we might as well just go about it in a headlong gung-ho fashion.
So instead we’re hoping to somehow subtly grow a reputation as the free-flowing young British upstarts, with different musical styles and character acting away from the normal musical theatre styles.
To assist this message I’ve recently been investigating and purchasing advertising. I came up with an advertising master plan, but when faced with the actual costs we’re now carrying out about 1% of this plan. I now feel like all I’ve done is stick two postage stamp sized music box logos on the internet, and an A4 piece of paper on a lamppost somewhere in Leith. In the future I’m instead going to save up to buy a big Music Box airship to fly around in.
I’m now looking at other ways to advertise for free or cheap. High impact low cost, blah blah blah blah, in fact it’s hard not to turn into some kind of late 1980s marketing yuppy. This included investigating out how illegal it would be to make a massive banner and hang it on the cliffs near Arthur’s Seat overlooking The Pleasance.
Other than that we’re putting the show together. Being improvised it’s not “rehearsed” as such, more practiced similarly to how a football team practices various skills so you’re ready to use them in a match. If anything we’re match fit, as we’ve been doing a huge amount of shows this year, in fact far more than is sane or normal. It’s more normal to just rehearse a show from scratch in the 1/2/3 weeks building up to Edinburgh. Instead we’ve been performing about 3 times a week for a year in the build up, and have actually had to take a rest in the 3 week build up to prevent madness. We’ll find out if this approach works.
At some point however I know I’ll be stood in front of an audience and reviewers, in Edinburgh, about to improvise a musical I know nothing about. At the moment that feels terrifying. Luckily our last London show last night at The Miller seemed to go down well, which has calmed my wildly fluctuating pre-Edinburgh moods.
We’ve also been sorting out lots of promo gigs. One of these has been the Virgin Money street stage. I initially wrote to them with a list of all our available dates, thinking I’d get some of them, and they wrote back offering us all of them. As impro is based on saying yes we’re now having to become street performers too, which we haven’t done before. I like the challenge of that though; if we’re no good the audience can just walk away. I find it fascinating how the venue and audience can alter the actual show, especially in improvisation.
Although the nervous butterflies are still there  I’m now looking forward to Edinburgh. It’s where I got together with my lovely girlfriend two years ago, and we’re now going to be performing together, AND I get to stay up late with friends without having to worry about getting the Northern Line home. Talking of which I’m up for meeting new people at the Fringe so if you bump into me say ‘hello Steve, I liked your blog’, and we’ll have a drink, my round.