The Edinburgh Arts Festival According to Toby Gough: How You Can Work There, With Your Show, or as a Temp

After having scared his audience with the sheer magnitude of the competition between shows and the logistical nightmare of presenting a show at the Edinburgh Festival (Part 1 and Part 2). Toby Gough goes on to giving a few reassuring hard facts that will get your show staged, or, more modestly (but just as interestingly) land you a job there.

Part 3

There are a lot of shows that start in Edinburgh. You will find in Edinburgh, festival directors and TV producers from all over the world. It is a major place where people go and source material for festivals and TV commissions.  It’s predominantly a comedy festival now. There’s very little interesting theatre going on. 85-90% of it is third-rate bad quality stuff. There’s very little original stuff that has a good story to it. If you can make a show work at the Edinburgh Festival, you can apply those same principles to anywhere else in the world. If you can make a show work at Edinburgh with all the difficulties that you have there, then you’ll come back to wherever you’re going to be working and you’ll actually have been through a fairly rigorous training period, emotionally and administratively. If you can survive at Edinburgh and get through, then you’ve done a pretty good job. It’s a good place to make connections and friendships.

Question: How would a group be allocated a venue or a time slot?

Answer: You can approach any venue that you like. Send them a video, if you have one. The problem with the Edinburgh Festival is that you’ve got, in every venue, 25 different groups on, so you get a 10-minute “get-in” time and a 10-minute “get-out” time. So if you’re going to work in a venue, you’ve got to have a show that is light, easy and fast. The larger venues, the Assembly Rooms, the Pleasance Theatre, the Gilded Balloon, the Church Hill Theatre, the C Venues, they all open their doors from now. You can write to them and tell them your preferred time slot. They will then come back to you with a time slot and cost. You can also go in very late when there are venues desperate for people so you’ll get a very good deal.

How does a Malaysian group start the process? Do you have to physically be there? Do you have to take your work there and show it to someone?

No, not at all. You can do it on the Internet. […]The Fringe office does send out two very, very good booklets which give you all of the venues, the press – who are the picture editors, all the papers, local printers. That’s a good starting point. Just e-mail them and they’ll send you these very concise guides to starting from scratch.

There is a Visiting Arts Fund in Great Britain and they give out sums of up to £5,000 for visiting artists. How does a Malaysian company find funding? It’s hard to know where to start. I always take a risk and borrow cash. If you’re looking for money, always try to think out of the circle. There are lots of people using theatre for corporate means nowadays.

I guess what we can offer you is that if anyone wants any specific advice, or if you need someone to help you there. Get in touch with us if you want to know more about a venue or arrange accommodation. I intend to look for maybe 6 or 7 performers from Malaysia plus a choreographer, an artist and an administrator before January to take part in an event next year. And these people can report back next year and say, these are good place and we made some contacts here. It’ll be like a recce.

How would a young person get work at the Edinburgh Festival?

There’s tons of job opportunities working front-of-house. At the Assembly Rooms [people] get paid something very small, like £150 a week. You get to see all the shows for free, and they put you up with some accommodation. Depending on your time slot, you can even work there and perform. There’s well paid work for technicians. Just apply by e-mail.

Is there some kind of pattern that you can look out for that will give some indication of what will work at the Festival?

No. It’s a free Festival, so how can you tell what the world is thinking. You need something uniquely Malaysian. You won’t get any reviewers coming and seeing Beckett, Pinter, Shakespeare, unless it’s a really interesting adaptation. They won’t touch any of the classic texts. It’s got to be something original, interesting and unique. It’s got to have some identity from where you are.

What about comedy?

Everyone goes to the International Festival of Comedy. If you’ve got a good comedy, you have a lot of competition, but it’s a festival where every TV company goes looking for good comics. You can become huge. If you’re good, the Comedy Festival every year has a very big award, the Perrier Award. You can get a TV series. All the heads of the major television channels are there. You’ll get more of an audience for comedy than you’ll get for theatre.

Would a play in English written specifically for Malaysian audiences travel?

If you’ve got a great project, sometimes it’s better not even to go for a festival. Just do it outside the festival because then you’ve got no competition. It may be that something like that would do better to come at a different time where you can actually get funding because there’s nothing else going on. In Edinburgh, there’s a large Indian, Chinese and Pakistani audience and they have other festivals. There’s a festival at the end of the Edinburgh Festival called the Edinburgh Mela which has a large fund for multicultural work. The Royal Court Theatre in London has got a scheme for things that are similar to yours. You could also write to the Traverse Theatre, they’re a very accessible organisation.

Do languages play an important role in a play’s success?

I think if it worked visually, it’d be okay. If you had enough going on. You need to have a strongly visual element to it. You’re only going to catch your masses if it is spectacular. There’s a venue run by a lady named Shakti, called The Garage, which promotes Asian theatre and has lots of theatre in Asian languages. She has large amounts of funding and she’s very accessible as well.

How does music fit in at the Fringe?

There’s music everywhere, of all shapes, sizes, and flavours. There’s every kind of music that you can imagine. It fits in all the venues. All the venues will have music.

If a company wanted to promote itself and it wanted to send a package, what should that package contain? How long should a video be?

Five or six minutes. It’s hard making theatre look good on video. A three to six-minute VHS with a back-up of a longer one if you can afford it. Three or four good photographs. A good title. Good press pack, which is written in clear, understandable English in short sentences. Any reviews that you’ve got from here. Again, every company is doing the same thing. Sometimes being a bit more humble and interesting is better than superlatives because they get superlatives all the time.

First Published: 20.11.2003 on Kakiseni

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