Comedian Graham Duff
Now more than ever, publicity and promotion can spell life or death for an Edinburgh Fringe show. The people on the front line are the Leafleters, or as they are courageously known in the world of promotion, Foot Soldiers. The people whose job it is to whittle away a fad wad of glossy A5’s that 74% of the public are going to try and avoid accepting. They just don’t want another bloody handbill. A tiring and largely thankless task, foot soldiering is something that is frankly best left to someone else.
However, due to the prohibitive costs of promotion on the fringe, many actors, directors and technicians are forced to spend entire days walking the streets leafleting their production themselves, thus ensuring that by the evening’s performance they are tired, unfocussed and bad-tempered. The performer/foot soldier hybrid is not a stable mutation.
Several years ago, I was trying to promote my own show outside the Fringe Office, one of perhaps thirty foot soldiers and erstwhile performers, who between us were handing out enough paper to make a couple of decent trees. An hour later I had dispersed a somewhat disappointing 8 of my 600 handbills when an African erotic dance troupe set up their ghettoblaster behind me and proceeded to perform extracts from their show, whilst a scantily clad teenage girl wandered about inviting people to take a brochure from the wedge she’d stuffed down the front of her pants.
My own carefully typeset pile of publicity suddenly seemed rather flaccid. Make no mistake, promoting your own show on the front line can be an emotionally damaging experience. Suffice to say I had to spend the next three days in the fetal position taking food through a straw.
Some performer/foot soldiers however will feign an objective distance while slipping you a handbill with their photo in it. Watch out for phrases such as “This guy’s gonna be huge. He’s so funny. Despite the fact he’s sleeping out on scaffolding every night and his girlfriend’s gone off with that bastard Jason, like I bloody knew she would!”
Always bear in mind that these are desperate people who will tell you anything in order to get your cheeks on their rickety wooden seats. I well remember my own disappointment having been enticed to a low rent comedy play, in which the promised “Michael Palin cameo” turned out to be a small broach worn by one of the actresses. It must be admitted that some performer/foot soldiers are consummate sales people and with such skills it seems foolish for them to be wasting time on the fringe, when they could be making big money through pyramid selling.
Also keep ’em peeled for adverts bearing the legend, “Contains some nudity.” The key word here is “some.” It usually corresponds with how big the word NUDITY is on the promotional material. The bigger the print, the smaller the peep. Last year, a Physical Theatre Group (translates as: “the muscles on our necks may stick out during the show”) narrowly failed to get my friend Malcolm to attend their opus when one member proudly told him, “It’s not an easy show to watch.” Don’t let press quotes fool you either. The Retford Advertiser lauding a show as “a barrel of funnies” is not your guarantee of a top notch evening out.
Despite a general shift towards a more self-consciously camp postmodernism in fringe theatre (Barbie Reads From The Bible, operas about Starsky and Hutch and people in velcro hats dancing around video screens), there’s still a wealth of those old-fashioned, overearnest, post-Berkoffian, black T-shirt shows out there if you know how to avoid them. Beware in particular of performances which claim that they “combine speech and movement.” Let’s face it, this should be a minimum requirement and not something to boast about. Such angst driven projects can be usually be spotted by their darkly inspired names, my current favourite being Wolverton’s own Stripped & Starving Theatre Co.
Finally, always remember that if someone hands you a leaflet and tells you “Our show’s really on the edge,” there’s no guarantee that it won’t have actually gone over by the time you get there.