Why it’s important for Edinburgh Fringe companies to ask: ‘Who do we want on our front row?’

In Edinburgh Festival, Features, Inspiring people, Opinion, Regional theatre, Scotland by Chris GradyLeave a Comment

Over the last few days I have been doing a series of workshops for artists and companies playing in Edinburgh. They have been around the theme of surviving the Fringe. With Ginny Kim and Carroll Ho we have offered the events in English, Korean and Cantonese. I have also visited The Space which always asks me to do one specifically for their companies.

This quick blog is really to highlight one big area which we always talk about. How do you find the right audience for your show, and get them to come in to see you? In my book Your Life in Theatre and in all my surgeries I ask the question “Who do you want on your front row?”

Here are six thoughts to help you focus, especially if you have spare capacity for the rest of your run:

Don’t give all your flyers to a flyering company and just pray that a wet and tired distributor is going to try and do anything but get rid of the pile you gave them. You are the best person to sell your show and talk to your prospective audience. Or you and your most enthusiastic followers and helpers.

Do take a moment to think of the five different types of people you would like on your front row. Maybe they are promoters of your type of show, maybe they are older women who would really be excited to hear their voices on stage, maybe it is students like you who will have a ball, maybe it is a serious drama audience member who will focus on your wonderful new play, maybe it is someone who loves music. Each of these people are very different and go to different places to get their theatre, their coffee, and their information.

Take another moment and give each of these five people a character map. Think about them carefully – their age, their interests, the time they come out to the theatre, the other shows they may be going to, the places they choose to sit down (work or rest), the hub venues they might most frequent (where you might exit flyer, and talk to people in Qs). You could give them a name and a sketch design – so you really focus on those people.

Next take each character/tribe and work out where they will be most likely to be walking when you have a flyer in your hand. Where they might pick up one of your flyers. Where you might take the company and have a coffee and talk about the show. Go there.
Most of your audience go online some of the time, but remember they are also in shows with their phones off much of the time. What facebook groups might they be on. What posts on twitter or other media might interest them. Each mini-campaign takes a bit of thought, should be different, but is time and effort which is focused.
And finally if you have 1 or 20 people in your audience, talk to them after (or in the Q before as I see ZooCo do) and find out more about them. Just looking at the Q will help you understand your current demographic. Go find more of them.

Flyering to passers by in the Royal Mile or in the leaflet obstacle path towards George Square may seem like a good idea – everyone else is doing it. Yes everyone is, and tourists are agog, and you’ll meet some lovely people. BUT they may not be your people.

For 15 and more years I have been asking the same question “Who do you want on your front row?” and whether we are planning a campaign for a 120 perf run of Mother Goose, or a one night charity gala, or even advertising a job vacancy, we go through the same process. Take time. Think. Know your target. Know where they might be. Seek them out. Talk to them. And woooooo them into your show.

I’m looking forward to my sessions at The Space today and then a day of CGO Surgeries tomorrow meeting many different companies.   There is an audience member out there for you somewhere, indeed many dozens of the right people. It is a task and a half to find them, but hopefully this simple self-reflective question will help. “Who do you want on the front row?”.  Let me know if it makes a difference to your thinking, your energy levels and of course your audience numbers.

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Chris Grady
Chris Grady is a creative and business life coach who has worked in arts and project management for more than 30 years, running marketing departments and creating festivals and theatres in Bristol, Plymouth, Edinburgh, Buxton, Keswick, London and Bury St Edmonds. He has also run the Vivian Ellis Prize for new musicals, and written Your Life in Theatre, a careers guide for all stages of your career. He is preparing an MA for Theatre Producers with Mountview Academy for Theatre Arts. Chris blogs about arts management at www.chrisgrady.org.
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Chris Grady on RssChris Grady on Twitter
Chris Grady
Chris Grady is a creative and business life coach who has worked in arts and project management for more than 30 years, running marketing departments and creating festivals and theatres in Bristol, Plymouth, Edinburgh, Buxton, Keswick, London and Bury St Edmonds. He has also run the Vivian Ellis Prize for new musicals, and written Your Life in Theatre, a careers guide for all stages of your career. He is preparing an MA for Theatre Producers with Mountview Academy for Theatre Arts. Chris blogs about arts management at www.chrisgrady.org.

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