Bryony Kimmings: Advice From One Fringe Performer To Another

Submitted by edg on Fri, 7 Aug '15 10.23pm

Comedian Bryony Kimmings today gave the official Fringe Central Opening Address, the third of its kind. Fringe Central is the hub for participants, media and arts industry, putting on around 85 professional and career development events during the Edinburgh Fringe.

Kimmings, a self-described “slightly pregnant, loud mouth, feminist, performance artist slash comedian slash theatre maker from London" has a show Fake It ‘til You Make It at the Traverse Theatre til 30 August.

In her speech she offered some advice for the hundreds of Fringe participants, in particular those performing on the Fringe for the first time.

Here are some extracts from the speech:

On the Highs and Lows of the Fringe

It is a beast and it is rare to tame it and in some ways you have to ride it for three and a half weeks, being careful not to fall off or crack your head open or drown in its drool and then jump off it and then ask the question (dazed and confused), 'What just happened?'.

My first ever proper Edinburgh, with my first full-length, solo show "Sex Idiot was in 2010. I was in the wonderful Zoo venues. I can’t ever thank them enough for taking me on. I must have sounded like a nutter on the phone to James with my risk assessment of scissors and bourbon and other flammable goods.

My venue was 30 seats in what used to be Zoo Roxy. In the basement. We had six lights and some playback. I think now it is a store room: I tried to get in there last year to peak and the whole stairwell was covered in boxes and cobwebs which made my heart ache a bit. It was tiny. Two rows, three sides, 50 minutes of me screaming at you about ex-boyfriends and demanding your pubes from you at the end. Everything about that should have spelled out disaster. But for whatever reason: stars aligning, trends being set by other like-minded artists, a new-found penchant for brash female comics, that show was a hit. Out of nowhere. Good reviews from big papers, lots of invites to do slots, a gig at Soho Theatre before I left the festival, and a Total Theatre Award right at the end.

I remember that summer as bouquets from a fan, skipping from party to party, laughing hard, producer and best friends being out our minds with excitement. I picture sunshine and taxis and prosecco.

Flash forward a year. And I find myself standing in the rain outside a flat just that little bit too far from the centre of town. I have an unfinished script in my bag, a very worried tech beside me and a completely different feeling in my gut. The show was 7 Day Drunk. My difficult second album.

I had spent July slogging my guts out at Jacksons Lane studio space trying to wrestle any kind of show out of a bunch of terrible material made during a madcap scheme to spend a week with some scientists getting progressively more drunk to prove to a friend that alcohol had no effect on creativity. That year no awards, 2-3 star reviews, audible whispers of “yeah she made sex idiot but…”

I picture hangovers, leaky shoes, bad ecstasy tablets, a throat infection and the worst feeling of not understanding how to make art, or what an audience wanted as I buried my head in the sand and spent hours on the phone to my mum.

Such different experiences in the space of one year. But those two polar extremes sum up how this festival can go for all of us. And allow them to help us keep our feet on the ground as we begin our journeys this year.

It could be great. It could be a disaster. And the truth is you have no idea at this stage which it will end up being. I think that might be part of this festival’s constant seduction for artists: the whiff of a hit. And I think that we have the best jobs in the world and are so lucky to be here. But believe me we’ve all played to two people, we’ve all hit bums notes when the man from Public Reviews has his notebook out in the front row and we’ve all cried as soon as we’ve stepped off stage.

On the Fringe community

With 3,193 shows here last year the Edinburgh Fringe can feel like a lonely, isolating and downright alien place. Especially if you are new. It’s like doing the first day of school times one million. Naked. Everything seems out to trip you up: you don’t know what the word PR means, your venue doesn’t look like it did on the floor plan, you had no idea that Scotmid stopped selling booze at like 7.30pm and your flyers haven’t arrived yet.

But what do have at your disposal that you are about to learn is about 10,000 people who are willing to help you out!

I’ve been to festivals all over the world and never at any of them have I ever seen so many people so happy to help one another. Be it advice, flyering, hugs, tea, to sit and watch your show 'cos you have the Financial Times in. My one gleaming recommendation to everyone, old or new is to talk to people. Everyone.

Nothing bad ever came of being friendly and helpful and supportive of strangers and this Fringe is built on the good will of artists and comedians. That extends to the services here at Fringe Central, the seminars and the advisory sessions, your venue team. God, even the angry theatre bloggers will answer your questions if you buy them a bev. Asking for help is allowed, encouraged, and how I learnt everything I know today.

On the Press

Ok, so I could be considered as a person who likes to court the press here in Edinburgh and beyond. I very much consider infiltrating the international press platforms that surround us in our daily lives as an integral part of my artistic practice. Anyone who followed my Catherine Bennett project will know that, as it reached 36 million people worldwide, art can be crammed into eyes via The Sun as much as the stage of The National! And over the past half a decade I have learnt some stuff.

My press tips are pretty straightforward:

  • Make a show about a newsworthy topic (if you feel so inclined). Now I don’t mean chose a subject matter depending on what the press is currently talking about, but rather what you want them to talk about tomorrow. I chose what I think of as public secrets (the things everyone knows but no-one says out loud yet). This usually means I am seen as being a provocateur of stigmas or taboos and people want to talk about that because it’s exciting.
  • Write the blurb for your show (which also then makes up a large part of your press release!) like a human being talking to another human being: who are you, what is this show about, what might people feel if they come and see it, what does it look like. It’s not hard. Don’t swirl it all up with buzz words and lies and not actually simply communicate the show.
  • Have a cracking show image: something that catches the eye because its smart.
  • Have cracking press and production shots: (I love dressing up and having my photo taken - don’t you?) and pick a photographer you love: mine are Christa Holka and Richard Davenport.
  • Make sure your show is what it says it is and that it is bloody good. Test it a fair bit as you are making it, to friendly people who will be honest with you! Then let the press see it, not before then.

BOOM. Easy.

On Art

Be you a comedian or involved in the making of (funny voice) theatre you have what is commonly known as a craft. And during these three weeks you have a very luxurious opportunity, one that presents itself very rarely.

You have 20 odd chances to get that elusive little bugger of a show right.

I know some people make work differently, even me this year (I arrive here off the back of Perth, Adelaide and Melbourne Festivals so slightly more prepared), but the majority of you are probably looking down the barrel of a brand new show.

I like to see the Edinburgh Fringe as not only the chance to showcase your wares for booking, for profile-raising and for potential press but also as an excellent chance to hone said craft; to learn something new every day, about audience reactions, about the way you write, about the effect you are having on the minds sitting before you. If you do not use this festival as a chance to get better at your job you are missing a trick. I very much feel like I am here to work.

Of course, there is the incredible chance to play, too, but it’s a great chance to get super geeky about your practice. Use the chance. Make notes, change things, play, keep tweaking. Everyone knows a show hasn’t found its sea legs until the third week and where else do you get the chance to do the job you love every day and possibly even get paid for it?

If you hate your show, turn it into something you love.

On the business of putting on a Fringe show

So we all know that the Edinburgh Fringe is a marketplace. But this doesn’t mean that it is a one-way street. You also control the market. The way I see it working is this: you plough your heart and your hard-earned cash into getting here; you pay for your venue fee, brochure fee, and marketing fees, as well as all that money that goes into the making of your show (be it through gigs like the stand-ups do, or Arts Council like my type of scrounger) and it costs money. So if that is the case, then you should be paying a little bit of attention to the fact that you might get some of that back as a return. If you are smart.

It irks me when performers and companies say, “Oh well, Edinburgh is a loss for everyone”, because that actually isn’t true. If you are a savvy business woman like I am you can make sure that you don’t just break even, but you pay yourself too. Obviously not if you are in a 25-seater venue with a cast of 50 professional actors (but I would say you should have been living within your means when you made that silly decision back in February!) And yes the first few years may need to be an investment but after that you can begin to expect a return. That might be in the future gigs you get by inviting the right people.

If this is to be a proper job you need to make every seat count. Paper the first shows to get a buzz going. Flyer hard. Hire a good PR and I promise it is worth it, keep asking the question 'how do I get people in here?'. Don’t give up. It’s very likely you find yourself with a hit in the final week when the first two have sucked (its happened to me!).

5 pieces of advice for festival sanity

  • Eat healthily: smash into your mouth your 5 a day and try to cook at home 2 to 3 times a week. Else you will get ill.
  • Get out of the city: on your day off (if you haven’t taken one you are an idiot) go to the countryside or beach and breathe the great Scottish air. It will clear your mind.
  • Use the facilities and services of the Fringe Society. Come to Fringe Central. Do everything. Knowledge is power!
  • Don’t sweat the bad stuff. Try not to fixate on bad reviews or tiny audiences, you will drive yourself insane and it’s bad for your emotional well-being. Set those thoughts adrift, compartmentalize them, or do something about it. Don’t dwell.
  • Make lots of friends. Literally be kind to everyone!

Bryony Kimmings' show Fake It ‘til You Make It is at the Traverse Theatre til 30 August.