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Careers Clinic: I’m broke – how do I cope at Edinburgh Festival Fringe?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I’m off to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe next week to be in a show some friends and I have been working on for a couple of months. It’s a profit-share, which another friend has written, and for which she is covering our travel and accommodation.

None of us, including the writer, have much hope of an actual profit, but it is a good show we are all proud of and we are looking at the trip as a combination of a holiday and showcase. Unfortunately, a couple of paid gigs I was supposed to do last month fell through, so instead of the fabulous fringe I had planned for myself, seeing lots of shows and networking around the bars when I wasn’t performing, I’m embarrassed to say I’m now looking at three weeks of being up at the festival while totally skint.

If this was just a group holiday, I’d probably make an excuse and pull out, but it’s trickier given that I’m one of the leads in the show. What are your tips for managing the fringe on a wafer-thin budget?

JOHN BYRNE’S ADVICE Please don’t be embarrassed about sharing your financial circumstances. You are definitely not alone either in an actor’s life in general or, in particular, when it comes to Edinburgh Fringe season, and being realistic about that is definitely a good thing.

A business in which being successful can seem like the most important part of the image can easily lead us to make things worse rather than better. Over two decades of fringe events, I have seen plenty of actors make themselves miserable by going to either extremes. If they are not overspending money to ‘keep up appearances’, they are going into virtual hibernation between shows even when sharing digs with a houseful of people, because they don’t want anyone to know they are struggling.

We’ll deal with the day-to-day living concerns in a moment. First, I assume you have something in writing to say that your travel and accommodation are covered, as well as a clear breakdown of how the profit-share will work. Whether or not you feel there’s much chance of a profit, you should get that sorted as soon as possible if the answer is no. It should be a given, whether you’re working with friends or not. If the writer/producer really is a friend, the least they can do is check out the Equity fringe agreements, which are designed for low-budget shows, and make an effort to put something in place even at this late stage.

That said, collective living by the seat of the pants will probably always be a fringe rite of passage. In this spirit, I would suggest being upfront with your housemates about your tight circumstances. There are enough potential tensions involved in sharing a house as it is. Clearing the air in advance is usually the best policy. Even if you don’t have the readies to join in collective splurges on drinks and takeaways, you may find others are happy to pay more as long as you handle more of the dreaded cooking or cleaning chores.

Your fringe goals are still possible on a shoestring. You can still see lots of shows. Not only is the Free Fringe a key part of the Edinburgh experience but it is also proof that free admission doesn’t mean a show can’t be high-quality. The opposite can be true too, but that could be said of shows you’d pay to get into. Similarly, ‘networking’ doesn’t have to involve buying rounds. Find shows you like, enthusiastically pass the word on via word of mouth and social media and you’ll definitely find grateful performers ready to return the favour for your show. They might even get the drinks in.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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