Paul Ricketts: Announcing the truly free fringe
My aim at this year's Edinburgh Fringe is to have the all-time lowest sales figures at a ticketed venue. Ideally I wanted to sell none but at the moment I've estimated that I might have sold around 30 tickets for my show Ironic Infinity at Just The Tonic at The Caves as we enter the final week. So why am I doing this?
Comedians seldom make money from the Edinburgh Fringe. The reasons have been readily discussed – by Stewart Lee and Richard Herring among others – but put simply you either accept the financially unfair model of paying £1000s to hire a room or take the free fringe/festival route. I've done both and always come to the Fringe with the expectation that I would never recoup all my costs – as advised last week by Edinburgh Festival Fringe Chief, Kath Mainland.
However this year I've taken this assumption that I have 'write-off' costs to its illogical/logical conclusion. I wanted the kudos and technical support you receive from a paid venue, but the undeniable audience lure of free admission. It's a new financial model that I'm sure will not catch on – pay £1000s for a room and then give away as many tickets as possible. If I wanted to have a political/philosophical justification for this I could mention the seventeenth-century English 'Diggers' movement or Abie Hoffman's late 1960's 'Yippie' group in the US, who both preached the idea of destroying money and giving everything away for free as revolutionary acts.
How does this work in practice? Well to do this you have to pay for all costs yourself, not via an agent or as a management company 'investment.' Then I invite my audience with a combination of 'papering tickets' (with the attractive price of £0.00 printed on them) and complimentary ticket flyers that can be redeemed for tickets. It completely changes the 'flyering' experience as I'm choosing my audience – if during the conversation with a prospective audience member I decide I don't like them I withdraw the ticket/flyer offer. All I ask is that they declare a 62% commitment to turn up for that night's show and the ticket is theirs. Then I ask them to choose other people they'd like to be in the audience with them. I can avoid the mad desperate flyering gauntlet run of the Royal Mile and pick my audience from other venues while they're sat relaxed at tables.
But why didn't I just do the free fringe/festival? Because my model is 'freer', I'm literally giving it away. There's no bucket at the end of my show, the audience leave with joy in their hearts and a full wallet. I did fleetingly consider asking the audience to give me money if they saw me on the street, but as comic Carl Donnelly pointed out, that would turn me into a mobile bucket. Plus, I was doing a traditional free show this year, which I pulled as the venue was hard to find and had technical issues. In a frank exchange of views with the bar owner it was made clear to me I had failed in my responsibilities in failing to pull in punters so he could sell beer – how 'free' is that from pressures of commerce? In a further irony, I have now been banned from flyering at one free venue as I was "unfairly stealing their punters."
But with my paid/free model it's easier to get what I wanted from this year's Fringe: honing my craft, performing to full rooms and getting good reviews. Last night I had to turn people away and I have received some great reviews for my show. Of course, each review has cost around £650 each so if you work for a publication that hasn't reviewed my show already, please send someone as soon as possible. Obviously I'll arrange a complimentary ticket.