Saturday 18 August 2012

Dog do Dandy days

An appropriate image for this week when we had to clean dog muck off the entrance to our Edinburgh tenement, not once but twice.

In this most intense & exhausting of Edinburghs, it's been hard as always to keep up with the news going on in the rest of the world. The Olympics have come and gone with the outside world totally obsessed and Hev & I not having seen any of it, save the opening ceremony which was very good indeed. (Apparently the closing ceremony was a bit naff, so yah boo to all those who watched it rather than coming to our show, ha ha). But there have been two stories that have got through the mists of work and sleep - one being the Death of the Dandy and the other being the Dearth of the Punters at Edinburgh.

The Dandy story, which began with the suggestion that the Dandy was in trouble and which culminated in the news that it'll be cancelled as a weekly comic on its 75th birthday in December, saw me writing a blog which is my most read for months, doing an interview with Scotland on Sunday (appearing tomorrow - here it is*), and doing a radio interview down the line with BBC Radio Bristol (clip above). It's kept the Twitterati chatting, with many plans being made and many different opinions abounding. I particularly like this piece by Jacqueline Rayner in the Guardian which the story has inspired. And I remain optimistic that the comics will be fine as soon as the publishers start making proper books out of them. Like I keep saying, people will buy books, but no-one in this day and age is going to keep buying a disposable periodical printed on paper every week.

Then along comes this story. Private Eye reports its best sales in 25 years. So what do I know?

The Edinburgh Whinge. Okay, I know it's not that big a surprise that an Edinburgh story should have got through to us within its bubble, but really is a big one. This year has been the year the Edinburgh bubble burst. Or, if it didn't burst, it suffered a few big pricks and - no, that wouldn't be news would it. This year a combination of the Olympics, the poor weather of the early summer (which is hard to remember now that we've had three solid weeks of splendid sun up here), and the economy itself has led to the Edinburgh Fringe suffering a significant drop in revenues (stories nicely summed up here). Of course opinions differ, but I think these articles and their representative quotes give you the idea...

"Squeaky bum time at Fringe" - Scotsman

 "A very healthy Fringe" vs "the worst since 2007" - The Stage

Karen Koren being quoted in the Scotsman saying sales are not down 30 percent (which everyone has taken to mean they are down at least 30 percent)

And my favourite, Richard Herring's blog including the immortal phrase (the Olympics) "has sucked out all the punters as if someone opened the door on a space craft"

Whatever the true facts of the matter are, I certainly turn out to have chosen the least opportune year to put on two Socks shows a day, and to put them on in my biggest room ever (though, to be fair, when I booked it The Billiard Room was only 80 seats big as it had been when I last played there to sellout crowds in 2009, not the 105 seats it's suddenly expanded into). As well as suffering the lack of punters as described above, I've then taken what potential audience I may have had and rent them in twain. I'm doing better than most, and indeed were I in my 2007/8 room The 50-seater Balcony I'd have enjoyed 16 sellout or one-short-of-sellouts already this month. If I were doing one show instead of two, and the same people turned up who have spread themselves between these two shows, I'd have played to some weekend crowds 3 times larger than anything I've seen before, and would have sold out nearly half the time. But 2012 will go down as the year when ambitious schemes like a kids show and a night-time show, instead of being a guaranteed moneyspinner, turned out to be an exercise in knackering yourself by exerting twice the effort in performance for about the same reward.

Added to which flyering has been the biggest challenge I can remember. By the middle of this second week of the Fringe I had used up 2 thirds of my flyer supply. This compares with 2010 when I ended the month with a third of my flyers still in their box and 11 sellouts under my belt. Again, it's the lack of punters that is clear and palpable. There's no shortage of actual humans walking up and down the Royal Mile, but the proportion of them who are Fringer-goers is tiny in comparison to normal years.

The Olympics effect has brought an incredible number of foreign tourists, almost all of whom are attending the Military Tattoo, which I expect to have done its best business ever, but most of whom are only in town for one day and will not go to see a single Fringe show. The familiar Fringe punter, with their timetable in a notebook in which they have pre-planned their schedule of theatre and art, is almost non-existent, and those that have been visible have been much older than used to be the case.

That said, as I write this on Saturday evening (the 3rd Saturday of the Fringe) the new wave of week-long tourists has arrived, and at last they look like our kind of punters. I've just done what seemed like the most fruitful three hours of flyering so far this year. Since I finished, it's added a paltry 7 sales to tonight's show, but I'm looking forward to that improving between now and curtain up.

UPDATE: Saturday night and I just finished the most fantastic Boo Lingerie show to one of our best audiences. And the best news is that total sales for the Socks at Edinburgh 2012 is exactly equal - exactly, what are the chances? - to the sales at this point in 2010. So well done us. It's taking twice the effort but we're doing the business. And tomorrow the Socks perform a solo show on the BBC stage, one of very very few shows to be doing so. Yes, that was boasting there.

We have taken a few moments to look at some stuff purely for pleasure, this being above average art at Ricky DeMarco's new Summerhall Gallery

*In the Scotland on Sunday article, most of my quotes have wound up on the cutting room floor. The one that does survive has been slightly mangled. I appear to refer to "a book – such as in the Beano or Dandy annuals that are on the shelves all year round". Of course my point was that Beano and Dandy annuals are not on the shelves all year round, and that if they were, then that would be a good model. I was pointing out that annuals are a wasted opportunity because they sell well then go off the shelves in January, and I have ended up appearing to say almost the opposite. Cuh.

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