There is a question that hangs over the head of every Edinburgh Fringe participant… how the EFF do I get reviewed?!
Well, our friend and Edinburgh Fringe guru, Paul Levy, held a workshop at the Imagination Workshop hub on exactly this.
Paul Levy – a writer, theatre maker and reviewer – founded this very website, FringeReview, in 2006. At that point it covered the UK; now it covers the world. That’s 14 years of experience, expertise and backing the underdog. Paul imparted a lot of wisdom throughout the hour and a half workshop – some of which we are delighted to share here (we’re also choosing to side-step the meta nature of blogging about a Paul Levy talk on FringeReview!).
A few honourable mentions before we begin. Paul brought along two of FringeReview’s experienced reviewers: Jo Tomalin who has years of experience reviewing at Edinburgh Fringe, and Amie Kendall, their Adelaide based reviewer. Each of them offered some great ideas, feedback and noteworthy points, so we wanted to thank them for coming along!
Fifteen minutes before we began, some shy faces entered the room – young, fresh faces that are here at Edinburgh Fringe for the first time; other more experienced Fringe goers began to trickle in soon after. It quickly became apparent that this was going to be quite a big workshop: 30 people attended this intimate conversation. As the room filled, chatter began to fill the air of performers talk about their acts, their Fringe experiences and swapping flyers.
Paul began with an example. A recent one, actually. Walking home, he got flyered by two men who had a show on at the venue he was passing. Paul admitted they had every opportunity to get him to see and review their show. He’s open to new shows and being flyered in this way (ear-mark this, we’ll come back to it). He asked them if they would like to do an interview with him, which they very much did – but the interview quickly went downhill. Paul decided not to publish the interview but in private quarters he played it back for us so we could hear why their interview didn’t do any favours for the show.
I won’t detail the uncomfortable missteps these chaps made, but what did become apparent was how easily an interview can head south if one comes in unprepared. The big example of this exercise was to see how important a full, well-rounded understanding of one’s own show is, as well as a clear, concise elevator pitch (we’ll come back to this point too); but most obviously (and rather painfully to listen to) is that you need to have confidence and excitement about your show. These chaps lacked both.
Practise your pitch – and know who you’re pitching to
A great recommendation here is to practise your elevator pitch, and write down important points about your show. Levy recommends that you try to think of an elevator pitch that will capture someone’s imagination in a sentence. No easy task, but certainly do-able. These things will help you to have a solid understanding and a few ideas of how you want the show to be portrayed in case you are ever put on the spot.
Levy also mentioned this: it’s alright to approach press. In fact, it might not surprise you to hear that you will have more success with a face-to-face pitch than you do with an email. As Levy says ‘it’s called human contact, and we all still crave it.’ Of course, keep it polite and tight and leave intrigue but don’t be afraid to approach if you see a familiar face walking around on their own.
Another great piece of advice was FIND YOUR ADJECTIVE. Do you have an adjective that will describe your show that is not ‘amazing’ or ‘good’ or ‘funny’? Levy cautioned us to stay away from common words and phrases because when everyone uses those words no one is believed. As Levy says ‘If we’re all ground breaking then there is no ground.’
We’re going to take a hard turn here. Up until now we’ve mostly spoken on how to prepare yourself for speaking with press but what about actually reaching out? Twitter, actually… Levy says it really is alright to tweet your reviewers (despite the warnings sung by Edinburgh Fringe itself). Levy suggests you learn who to target with your elevator pitch and invite them along digitally. Lynn Gardener is a great example – she has said in the past she doesn’t mind being tweeted at. She might not reply, but she might engage or retweet!
Friends in the workshop were advised though – don’t just tweet at the reviewers, also follow and engage with reviewers online. A few will even tweet out ‘my last show just cancelled’ and present an opportunity to engage with them and offer some last minute tickets to your show. So add them to your ‘follow’ list and make a point to be interested in what they are putting out in the world. Their social media presence can give you a lot of clues.
Of course, to maximise your chances of getting reviewed, the golden piece of advice is to know who the reviewers are! Familiarise yourself with the publications, reviewers and even google what they look like. Know who they are and where their interests are. Do your background research. So get your google out and start looking at some images. That way, if you do see them on the street you will know who they are and what they might be looking for.
Levy hums ‘What humans most want is acknowledgment,’ so we are told to acknowledge what and who the reviewers are that you’re approaching. Tomalin chimes in to agree with this point. The extra time it takes to acknowledge her and personalise the callout makes her more likely to pay attention to it.
Tomalin also says sometimes she does a lot of research to find shows that would fit well with her taste, but she can also be taken by something that captivates her imagination. ‘I look for things that take my imagination. Sometimes someone hands me a flyer and I see an interesting image, or it’s something they say that makes me want to find out more.’ It’s all about those first few seconds!
Tomalin also drops this piece of advice (she is on a roll) do not say ‘you will like.’ Don’t tell a reviewer how they will or won’t feel about a show. Leave it unassuming. Try saying ‘this is in the genre that you are interested in’, ‘this is similar to other shows you have reviewed’, or simply ‘you might be interested in…’ but scrap the assuming line of ‘you will like’ for good!
– Putting small reviews on your flyers and posters (i.e. 4 and 5-stars) has a major effect on public perception of your show. MYTH. Actually, reviews from independent or little heard-of pubs will not have a major effect on public perception or engagement. Major publications might have some effect, but the smaller the pub, the more limited the effect and it’s taking up valuable real-estate on your flyers/posters. Sometimes the question is ‘do you really want to get reviewed?’ or ‘who do you really want to be reviewed by?’.
– Don’t bother people. MYTH. Of course, don’t harass reviewers, but do keep yourself current and in their mind’s eye. Don’t be worried about sending out a few mailers a couple of weeks apart. The likelihood is that with so many others coming in, they’ve forgotten your email in just a few days and won’t be bothered at all by a little reminder or two.
– Don’t DM. MYTH…ish. Tomalin professed to liking a Twitter DM here or there because it felt more personal. Like we said folks, don’t be afraid to engage with them online.
Presenting the press release
Final words of advice are on how to send your press release and what it should look like.
Levy says leave it at one page long, maybe include one image, keep it simple and clear. Most importantly, imagine you have never written to anyone before. If you haven’t been picked up for a review, then approach them as if it is your first time. Completely rewrite your press release – make it fresh, make it feel new, and send it out.
Tomalin recommends you keep the whole email short. Get to the point so press can glance and know what it is.
Also, be sure to put everything in the email! No attachments. And make it easy to find the contact information and get tickets.
Well, that’s about it. There were many more little moments of advice and words of encouragement that we are just running out of time to share. Keep your eyes peeled for Levy’s next Imagination Workshop workshop which will be appearing soon …or indeed any workshop he runs – always full of brilliant advice.
We hope at this mid-point of the Fringe these words of wisdom have proven helpful to you.