10 Things You Learn About Edinburgh Festival Fringe As A First Timer


I debuted my first play at Edinburgh Festival Fringe and it was a really interesting experience. There are a few things you do need to know about the festival before you go there for the first time. The thing is, it’s really easy to sign up for the Edinburgh Festival Fringe but you don’t really know anything about the Fringe until you go to the Fringe.

You may have heard a lot of things about the festival, you may have seen shows there before, you may have friends who have taken shows there before. None of this matters, because, I repeat, you don’t know anything about Edinburgh Festival Fringe until you go there. And even though I basically just told you not to listen to anybody’s advice, I’m going to share what I learned about Edinburgh Festival Fringe as a first timer. Because we should be talking more about this.

1. You Are Probably Not Going To Break Even

I don’t know how to stress this enough. Everyone will keep telling you this, but you’ll think they are not actually being serious. Or you’ll think to yourself, oh, but our show is interesting. Or, oh, but my show is at a prime location. Or, it’s fine, I have time to promote it. The average audience for a debut is 0-5 people. You are probably not breaking even. Or at the very least, don’t expect much of a profit.

Just remember that people don’t go to the Fringe to make money, they go there to perform, connect, get noticed, etc. You might need a few years to actually start making money. And here I’m mostly talking to those who are financing it themselves.

10 Things You Learn About Edinburgh Festival Fringe As A First Timer

2. Do Not Pay For Useless Promotions

Here’s an example of a useless promotion – The Space magazine. Basically, if you are doing a show at the space you can pay to be featured with a bigger picture on the page of the program for The Space venues. This will cost a lot and it does not guarantee you any visitors. Most people already know what they want to see by the time they get to the box office. If they pick up the program, you can’t be sure that they’ll pay attention to your show anyway. It’s just not worth it – at all. And it’s mostly because of the cost.

That amount of money can get you loads of other better promotions. Doing an Instagram promotion will probably be better than paying for something like that. The big banners on the side of the streets are not bad and if you have a catchy design you might grab somebody’s attention. Posters, I’ve noticed, are totally useless and you need only a few to put in your venue, the rest are just going to be covered up or fall. They don’t drive much traffic.

Flyers are the best way to get someone’s attention, but there’s another paragraph specifically dedicated to flyering. In general, just remember, don’t feel like you need to pay a lot of money to get promoted.

At Edinburgh Festival Fringe the best way you can promote your show is word of mouth. 

3. Other Creatives Really Do Want To Connect

Twitter is amazing when it comes to Edinburgh Festival Fringe. You can find loads of companies and shows which are just starting out. And they will all love to connect with you. You’ll definitely make some new acquaintances and spontaneously strike up conversations with other shows. And wherever you are flyering, whatever your show is, if there is another flyerer next to you, you are going to get a reassuring smile from them.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe has a supportive community. And although people would like you to think it’s about competition, it actually does feel like it’s more about community. It’s about meeting people and forging lasting connections.

You’ll get invited to other shows. When you Tweet out that you don’t have anyone coming to your show, a bunch of cast members from other shows will show up to fill your seats. It’s great!

4. Getting Reviews Is Hard

Especially if you are not doing the first two weeks. Something we didn’t realise when we booked third week is how hard it is to get reviewers in. Most of them are already booked. And some shows are harder to pitch than others. You have to really think about the angle you are going to use to pitch your show.

You need a really strong elevator pitch!

5. You Don’t Necessarily Need To Flyer On The Mile

The Mile is great an all. It’s a must see, especially if it’s your first time. It’s the epicentre of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. But it’s also full of people. Almost nobody will stop to talk to you about your show. Your flyers will largely go to waste. It’s not great for your voice either, so if you are doing a show later in the evening, the Mile is not the best option.

What you really want to do is talk to people. Use your flyers as conversation starters. Meet people, ask them their names, what they want to see, if they want a recommendation for a theatre show. Introduce yourself, give a little backstory. People love it. You will learn to judge people from afar, as well. So you’ll know whether to just hand them a flyer and tell them to read the synopsis, or to stop and have a chat. But remember that there are many options for flyering and you don’t need to go on the Mile. It can be too much both for your physical and mental health. And that’s not what you want.

10 Things You Learn About Edinburgh Festival Fringe As A First Timer

6. Promotions Are Necessary And Nobody Pays Full Price

You want to put tickets on sale and you want to do it from day one. The tickets you sell full price – you sell them before the Fringe starts. Keep in mind that many people are “Friends of the Fringe” so they get a half price tickets. Which means that when you do your opening night for one pound, they’ll pay 50p. But, especially if you are a debut, you have to make use of those promotions. It’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, if you are a debut, you have to use any means to attract an audience. And promotions definitely help with that.

7. Tech Rehearsals Are Short

Tech rehearsals are short and if you realise on the day that your venue only offers a tech person to set up the queues, you are going to be on a tight schedule. Thankfully, my brother was there to save the day and he learned how to queue sound and light in about 20 minutes. This was quite stressful for him though. So, learn from our mistakes.

Ask your venue what they mean when they say that they provide someone to do the tech. And make sure you travel with an extra person who can learn to do the tech in 20 minutes.

8. Coffee Is Indeed Your Best Friend And So Is The Person Making It

You are going to need coffee to get though the Fringe. It not only provides an extra hit of energy, but it also warms you up. Scottish weather is tricky and you need to have three layers on you at all times. You’re going to want to have a t-shirt, sweater and jacker + backpack to put any and/or all layers inside depending on the weather.

During Edinburgh Festival Fringe you don’t only become friends with other performers, you also become friendly with baristas. You’re going to have a few go-to coffee shops that you are going to become a regular at for the duration of your time there. So be prepared.

Some recommendations: Machina Espresso (personal favourite), Edinburgh Larder, Brew Lab Coffee.

9. Your Mental Health Comes First

Your physical health is obviously really important, but Edinburgh Festival Fringe can especially hard on your mental health. There’s not much to say here, really. Self promotion, performing every day, talking to hundreds of people, stressing about money and audience – it’s exhausting and your mental health will need an extra bit of attention.

10. You Really Should Have Fun

Once you get to Edinburgh Festival Fringe forget about everything else. It’s great to have a game plan, but really you should also have fun. Stop and watch some street performers, go see a show, have a quiet coffee break, try some nice food. Make time for fun. You are at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe! Make the most of it.

10 Things You Learn About Edinburgh Festival Fringe As A First Timer

Have you ever been at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe? Share your experience in the comments.

Features image source: personal gallery
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Gery Galabova

Currently going into her final year of English and Creative Writing at Goldsmiths, University of London. Gery has been writing in a personal blog since 2014 and has been published in publications StudentVoices and FictionHub on Medium. She debuted her first play 'Liminality' at Edinburgh Festival Fringe and is already planning her next project.