We caught up with Freddy Bowen, producer of The Poltergeist of Cock Lane, and PLOS Committee member, to give us his thoughts on the Edinburgh Fringe experience:
Q: This was the first time at Fringe for PLOS. What do you think were the biggest challenges we faced getting there?
“I think most of the challenges were those intrinsic to putting on a show in a completely new environment. When you’re part of a festival that’s as established and massive as Edinburgh, there’s a lot more to consider in terms of production, procedure, budget and compliance. Staging a show in a new theatre that you can’t see until your tech rehearsal, making sure all your publicity material is compliant with stringent house styles, making sure the company all have somewhere to stay and of course raising the money to be able to afford the whole thing! Our fundraising events and sponsorship campaigns were a huge part of our activity in the months leading up to the festival. Luckily, our director Damian has been taking shows to the Fringe for many years, so we had the huge advantage of his inside knowledge, for sure!”
Q: From your perspective what was your biggest challenge as a producer?
“For me, this was my first time producing a show. Talk about a baptism of fire! So generally, I think it was just about making sure everything was happening in good time! Liaising with the creative team, the festival, the venue, keeping the cast in the loop and just always staying on top of things.”
Q; Explain to someone who doesn’t know Fringe at all, what makes it, and the whole Edinburgh experience so unique/special.
“It’s just this amazing bubble, which is difficult to describe to anyone that hasn’t experienced it. All I can say is that you should imagine an entire city where everywhere you go, there are people who love theatre and comedy as much as you do. Most of them dedicate their whole lives to it and they’ve all come together to this small (gorgeous) city to celebrate that. So there’s just this atmosphere of joy and creativity which I’ve never experienced anywhere else. There’s some of the best theatre you’ve ever seen. There’s also some of the worst – but that’s kind of fun in itself! And when you’re participating with your own show, you really feel wired into it. It’s just the most rewarding feeling.”
Q: What were the biggest challenges/difficulties you had to deal with when you arrived, and how did you overcome them?
“I guess the first few days were just about setting everyone up into a routine. For a lot of the company, it was their first time performing at the Fringe so there was a lot for them to get used to; 10 minute get-ins and get-outs, flyering for two hours straight on the Royal Mile, street performances, press launches – you kind of feel like you’re jumping in at the deep end. But once everyone had been there a few days and got into a daily routine, it all became second nature!”
Q: How did the cast all get along living in such close proximity for over two weeks?
“I mean, it’s always a worry! A flat with around 15 people in it is always prone to friction. Fortunately, our cast are some of the loveliest, most helpful company members I’ve ever worked with, so there were remarkably few spats, if any that I was aware of! They’re just wonderful.”
Q: How did the whole experience meet your expectations?
“Absolutely exceeded them. It was a much longer run up to performance than any of us were used to, and it is difficult to keep up momentum for that period of time. Bearing in mind I started on this in October 2016! Obviously the writers started on this six years ago! But I think I speak for them and myself when I say none of us could have imagined being lucky enough to get the cast that we did, and having as positive and fun a fortnight as we did. And when you take a show to a brand new setting, you can never know for sure how well it’s going to go until you’re there! (Which is a little stressful!) We worked hard to publicise the show every day when we were up there, which made a very tangible impact on ticket sales, and we exceeded my own target of how many we sold.”
Q: How did our venue (C Venues) measure up?
“Our venue were brilliant, I’ve performed with ‘C’ venues twice before and there’s always been a really nice vibe. If there were problems, they would do their best to fix them every time and were so accommodating to all the many companies there. We were kind of spoiled with our theatre space, really. When people think of Edinburgh Fringe, they think of a small black box job with an audience capacity of 40. Ours was actually a proper auditorium with 160 seats and a raised stage and wings and everything! Pretty lavish by Fringe standards!”
Q: What was audience feedback like?
“We had some really lovely comments from our audiences, including from complete strangers who would approach members of the company on the Mile or the bar or elsewhere in the city and tell us how much they enjoyed the show. I loved sitting in the audience and watching the gobsmacked reactions of the audiences at certain points in the story! Though what made my Fringe was walking through our venue building and hearing a complete stranger humming one of the songs from the show as I walked past. That was a pretty great moment.”
Q: How did the cast and crew rise to the challenge of the whole event?
“I can’t really express in words how proud I am of them. I tried to tell them myself, but got too choked up to really elaborate much! Considering what a huge project this was, taking an unknown show to the biggest arts festival in the world as amateurs, raising all our own funds as well, and doing all our own publicity… – they did a phenomenal job. “
Q: If you were doing it again, what would you change, if anything?
“I’d go for longer!”
Q; And would you do it again?
“The Fringe is definitely addictive and I’m sure I’ll be back. Perhaps a little rest first, though, eh?”
Q: If you could summarise the whole experience of Fringe in one sentence, what would it be?
“A long hard journey ending in an indescribably wonderful experience.”
Q: What advice would you give to any society that might be considering Fringe?
“Oh there’s lots! But perhaps I’d start with get yourself a company of the loveliest people you know. Then you won’t go far wrong.“
Q: What’s next?
“Who knows?? Like I say, it’s addictive and I know every single person involved as got the bug now and is yearning to go back. Let’s see what emerges..!”
(PLOS staged the world premiere of Tim Connery and Steven Geraghty’s musical, The Poltergeist of Cock Lane, at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival from 2-12 August 2017)