Show in 15 Minutes: The Necessity of Guerilla Marketing

Since I have arrived, I have encountered performers—actors, comedians, fire eaters, and sword swallowers—who are hungry for audiences. After a gig, these performers often head to the Royal Mile, or any other place around town, to flyer, perform, and market their productions. I have enjoyed many of these encounters, because I view them as informal opportunities to connect to audiences.

Last week on my way to a performance, a comedian from London stopped me and handed me a flyer for his show. Rather than simply shoving the flyer it my hands and walking off, he chatted with me a bit, telling me what I could expect from his set. I told him that I was in Edinburgh with a group of American library students who were committed to documenting the Fringe Festival and asked to take his photograph. I explained that in a hundred years from now, scholars would see that he was a part of the festival. He agreed and, jokingly, instructed me to only include his photograph (and not his flyer) in the archives. “I don’t know if I want people a hundred years from now seeing me in the kilt,” he said.

Imhotep, Comedian, London England

Imhotep, Comedian, London England

A few days later while I was snapping pictures near the Scott Monument, a storyteller introduced herself, and just as it started to rain, handed me her flyer. She told me she was playing at the Merchants’ Hall and said that the show was about her life. She kindly agreed to a photograph—she even held the umbrella for me as I fumbled with the light meter on my dying camera.

Shurl, Storyteller

Shurl, Storyteller

Monday afternoon while I was flipping through the Fringe booklet, the required text for the festival, a woman came over to me and offered her flyer. She was out marketing her show with her daughter. Across the street from us, a crowd had gathered to watch and listen to a group of street performers jam in the square.

Even the performers at Venue 13 do their own share of guerilla marketing on the street. In fact, before their show each day the cast of Things from Before often go out in costume to talk about the show and to get flyers into people’s hands.

I have done my own share of street flyering and I know that pitching a show is key. Just handing someone a flyer won’t warrant the desired return: an audience to fill the house each night. And even with a great pitch, there is still the sobering possibility that no one will show-up because there are hundred other performances to see. This has been the anxiety and reality of some of the performers that I have spoken to. Being at the Fringe has given me a new respect for street flyering, performing, and crazy-costume-wearing for these techniques have the power to rein in audiences in ways that festival interns and a 400-page-festival-booklet cannot.

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On the Fringe

MLS Group at the Mitchell Library

UMD MLS Group at the Mitchell Library

It’s been quite a journey since we set foot in Scotland a few days ago! We began our trip in the quiet serenity of Glasgow’s West End, which I felt encompassed everything a quaint little British village should.  While there, we toured Glasgow’s beautiful Mitchell Library, which holds a vast collection on the Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns, and had a wonderful group dinner at the Mussel Inn.  Still in good spirits, we hopped on a train for Edinburgh and made our way eastward through the countryside, dotted with sheep and cattle.  I dozed on and off on the train, only to awaken to little pictures of rolling green hills and fields of heather through my window.

And then BAM! Edinburgh!

Dark Evil Castle (aka Scott Monument)

Dark Evil Castle (aka Scott Monument)

I got off the train and rubbed my eyes several times, wondering if I had fallen down a rabbit hole.  The hills, the fields, the quaint little cottages were all gone! Only to be replaced by tall, castle-like buildings glaring down from every avenue, and twisted streets that seemed to change their path each time you walked them.  Even the weather had changed!  Whereas Glasgow had been bright and sunny, Edinburgh was gray and drizzly, and I had the feeling that it held some old, dark magic deep inside of it.

Things only got more bizarre as I walked around the festival. A man on stilts greeted me as I walked in, his face painted in a permanent smile.  Men in drag gave monologues in the middle of the road.  A fellow in a top hat rolled around on a unicycle.  A group of college-age students sang a cappella jazz on the sidewalk.  My head was filled with a cacophony of voices, instruments, and camera shutters.

I was on the fringe.

It took a few days to get everything together.  To accept that I was not, in fact, in Hogwarts. To remember that I had a great deal of work to do.  And to get my technology and strategy together to document the CalArts theater group I would be working with.

Fringe Performer

Fringe Performer

I was thankful to see I wasn’t the only one at my wits end.  My partner, Alison, and I dove into work by attending the “tech” of our theater group.  Tech, for those who aren’t familiar with theater, is a rehearsal where technology, such as audio and lights, are checked along with stage cues.  Our group, performing Whispering in the Dark, only had about an hour and a half to run through their play and check the technology with it.  The show itself only has two actresses and relies a great deal on lighting, audio effects, and screen projections to convey the mood and story.  As someone who has never done theater, I was amazed to watch how many elements were involved and how delicate the orchestration was.  If an actress missed her line, it was easy for a lighting or audio cue to be missed.  At the same time, a mistake in lighting could lead to the wrong mood or idea on stage.

Given the time restraints and the foreign area, the group seemed right on the fringe—they were nervous to get everything together and have everything in working order before today, the dress rehearsal.  Everything was happening last second and there was a certain tenseness in the air. Even Alison and I were struggling with our own video camera, still image camera, and audio device to figure out how we were going to record everything properly.  When we left that night, not everything had been worked out.  The cast and crew seemed stressed and tired.

But hey—it’s the Fringe.  Tonight is the dress rehearsal, and after all I’ve seen of Scotland, I’m willing to bet just about anything can happen.

About Heather Darnell

I am going into my second year of library school at the University of Maryland, studying archiving with a focus on music and sound librarianship.

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Settling into the Fringe

Our group has officially arrived in Edinburgh, met with the great people from CalArts, and are getting into the spirit of the Fringe!  It has been an adventure already and I really cannot wait to see what is in store in the coming days.

Once upon a time before library school, I studied studio art and I am constantly looking for new inspiration.  Luckily, the festival provides it in abundance.  Social media, technology, and the like are really not filed under my list of strengths.  So, I will be going back to my roots and contributing drawings and videos to document my experience here.  Please forgive any absurdity that may pop up as this is really just a reflection of the magical land that Edinburgh has become – nothing is outside the realm of possibility.

Fringe on, my friends.

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All the world’s a stage

The travel part of traveling tends to be my least favorite part. Or at least it’s the most stressful, especially in instances of ocean-crossing, time-zone hopping, airport loitering. It’s limbo. Depart and arrive are polar points of a continuum; you constantly approach arrival the farther you wander, all while creating distance from departure with every step. It’s the process, the middle, the present, the moment-to-moment. It’s the prolonged tension of not-quite-there, not-quite-complete.


Departure, or the calm before the 16-hour travel storm

It’s like a performance.

I know all of my cues: check my bag at the kiosk, disassemble hand baggage at security, present boarding pass and passport, and again, and again, and once more, just to be sure I’m me and I’m where I’m supposed to be. I have rehearsed less thoroughly than some, more than others. The players – travelers, security personnel, flight crew, disembodied voices echoing throughout the airport – each performs, each is vital. Each is in constant motion; ongoing, in progress, in transit.

So as I sit, arrived (cue: exhale, decompress), in my Glasgow hostel, recovering from jet lag and awaiting another (mercifully brief) journey to meet up with my colleagues, I think about what we have arrived to do on this journey – to perform the documentation of performances. We are players recording players, with practical roles to capture theatrical roles; each player, each role, is essential to each production, on their end and ours.

Looking forward to the festival days ahead in Edinburgh, it’s my hope that the records we create will reflect the fruit of preparation and the release of completion, respective of the CalArts production ensembles and our documentation teams. We rise to the challenge of recording these performances and preserving them, armed with our budding archival instincts and know-how. I say, Bring on the Fringe.

(Originally written 29 July 2013; revised 2 August.)

About Alex Lange

I am a recent graduate from the MLIS program at the University of Maryland, where I specialized in Archives, Records and Information Management. I have a Bachelor's degree in Russian Studies, but became interested in archival science while working as a student at the National Archives in College Park, where I worked for 4 years. I have recently been hired at NARA in a permanent capacity.

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