How to take a show to Edinburgh – The Basics

How to take a show to Edinburgh

This is based on a chat I had with various people at The Miller a couple of weeks ago. There were some people from various Edinburgh shows, including me, Fat Kitten, Fingers on Buzzards, The Couch and Do Not Adjust Your Stage, and various people interested in taking shows up there next year.

This is only a summary of the chat, and this isn’t the be all and end all guide to Edinburgh, more just an initial overview. I’m always open to chats about this stuff so feel free to get in touch.

Super Basics

You have a show in a venue in Edinburgh. It’s either free, in which case people just turn up and pay by donation at the end, or it’s in a paid venue, in which case people have to book and pay for tickets in advance either at the Fringe Box office, online, on phone, or at venue.

You raise awareness for your show through advertising, posters and press.

You persuade people to come to see your show through flyering.

You live in a house with lots of other people.

You apply to venues first to get a venue to perform in. They are selective. Once you have that sorted you sign up to the Fringe in general through They are not selective, and will put you in the overall program.

Steps to take

1. Research September and October.

There are various Edinburgh websites but this is the best one. It’s run by the people who run The Edinburgh Fringe. Go to the participants section and there are some helpful guides, like How to Sell a Show, Venues etc. If you read through all of them you’ll have a good understanding of how the fringe works.

2. Decide if you’re going Free Fringe or Paid Fringe. October/November. 

Free Fringe

On the Free Fringe you don’t sell tickets, you perform for free, and then have a donations bucket at the end. The advantages of the Free Fringe are:

– Less initial costs to the performers, you don’t have to pay a guarantee etc.
– Easier to get a large audience, especially if you’re new to performing in Edinburgh.
– Increasingly respected by the industry at large.
– Can luck out with some really great venues.
– Can still make decent money on the donations.
– Easier to get in to.

Disadvantages of the Free Fringe are:

– Some of the venues aren’t great (some are).
– You won’t make a huge amount of profit (some people do thought).
– It’s hard to do theatre or anything theatrical on the free fringe.
– The free fringe audience changes the style of show that’s possible.
– Less likely to attract major publicity (some exceptions though, like Cariad Lloyd this year).

There are two organisations doing this:

  • PBH’s Free Fringe,, PBH stands for Peter Buckley Hill, the chap who runs it.
  •  Laughing Horse, Free Festival,

You can apply to one but not the other, as they don’t really get on. Read their websites thoroughly before getting in touch. Be aware that on the Free Fringe you are working to promote all Free Fringe shows, not just your own.

Paid Fringe

This means you are charging the public to see your show, and they have to buy tickets in advance from the fringe box office, half price hut, online, on phone or at your venue. You have to apply to each venue to get in, and the best ones can be competitive.


– Nicer venues.
– Professional support team.
– Higher profile.
– Easier to get press etc along.
– Able to do more theatrical shows.
– Possibility of making profit.


– Large financial investment required for paying guarantees (about 3000 quid at least).
– Larger financial risk.
– Harder to get large audience numbers, especially for a new group.

3. Research Venues. October/November.

Again on there is a list of all venues. Go through this and make a shortlist of suitable places. You’re looking for venues with the right space, that do similar stuff, have a good reputation etc.

Each venue has its own requirements and timescales for applications, so it’s good to be on top of this early so you know what you’ll have to provide.

You can actually apply to all venues, to increase your chances of getting in somewhere. We did this and it seemed to work fine. It’s good to have a perfect venue in mind, but you do want some back ups. Only exception to this is PBH Free Fringe, who prefer if you just apply to them if that’s what you’re doing.

Some major venues, not including Free Fringe:

Pleasance Courtyard: Place that makes comedians famous, seems to have become the place to be seen.

The Assembly Rooms: Place to go if you’re already famous.

Pleasance Dome: Bit like the Pleasance Courtyard, but different.

C Venues: Student things, plays, independent stuff, lots of impro for some reason. We were there and liked it. Found it’s proximity to the Royal Mile helpful for getting people in.

Zoo: Physical Theatre, dance.

Underbelly: Comedy, didn’t go this year though so don’t know much about it.

4. Initial Contact With Venues. November/December/January

This is an ongoing process. There is an initial batch of applications and then an ongoing communication with them. Timescales vary from venue to venue. We got bumped up into a nicer space when the graphics we sent off were good, so every communication is important.

5. Offer from venue. Feb/March

The timescale varies again, some leave it right up to the programme deadline. If you’re paid fringe you might have to pay a hefty deposit around here too.

6. Programme Entry, March/April

Once you have a venue confirmed you can submit your programme entry for the overall fringe programme. Don’t miss the deadline, this is important, so keep checking the website and do it early if possible. Quite often though the delay is from venues waiting to confirm you.

People do indeed go and watch shows based on the programme entry, so make sure it’s good and get some advice. The programme entry should attract attention, explain what the show actually is, why people should go and see it, and raise desire in the audience to see your show. It’s good to right from the point of view of benefits to the audience, why should they see it? Also reviews and quotes are helpful to seal the deal. Also don’t have a crap image, and don’t sound like a dick, as that puts people of. So sort of like this….

Title – hints at the show put more importantly

Explain the show explain the show. Benefit to the audience benefit to the audience. Raise desire raise desire. “Quote to seal the deal, someone good thinks it’s good” ***** – real publication.

7. Accommodation. 

Biggest expense. People share rooms. No real advice here, sorry!

8. Advertising. March/April/May/June

This largely depends on your budget. We found some nifty advert opportunities for not much. It’s all about the research and spotting the deals. Online can work well, and iphone apps.

You can also advertise in the fringe programme, separate from your programme entry.

Remember to keep on brand so your adverts/flyers/posters/programme entry are all delivering the same key message.

9. Press. May/June/July/August

The media team has a press contact sheet they can send out to you. It’s good to get press releases and listings off before the programme comes out in June, so the press are aware of you before they look through the programme deciding who to review or promote. Some press are great, some are not. Getting listed in everything is a good idea as people find out about shows through loads of different sources. 

10. Design and print flyers and posters. June/July.

This is sooooo important.

Again – this is very important! If you can’t do graphic design, don’t do your flyers. Get someone else to do it. Pay them. Maybe someone who isn’t yet a full pro but good, pay them a bit, it’s worth it.

The flyers are the single most important way of selling your show. I’ve never seen them work so well before this year. We had really nice flyers thanks to Jon Monkhouse, and I think this is the main reason we were able to sell out most days. If we flyered for 4 hours, we were full up. If we flyered for 2 hours, we were half full.

There is nothing worse than a shit flyer. A bad flyer will put people off seeing your show. So you will end up spending four hours a day in the rain, handing flyers to people that are making them not come. So some time spent before hand making sure they are good is well worth it.

A good flyer should have an eye catching image on the front that really captures attention and sells the show, capturing the mood of what you’re trying to communicate to the audience. It shouldn’t be too wordy. Also some short reviews, especially good star rating, are great, and the show title.

On the back should clearly be the core details of the show, where, when, how much, dates etc laid out so it’s not confusing.

Also there should be some blurb, similar to the programme entry, and again written from the point of view of benefit to the audience.

These flyers if kept are going to be read in the queue of the box office and other places, why should someone want to buy a ticket by the time they’ve got to the end?

Posters should look similar to the flyers. They might not sell tickets direct buy they serve as a reminder and raise awareness of the show.

I’ve used for the last four years and have found them really reliable. They are a bit more expensive than others but the quality is good, they deliver anywhere in the country within a day or two, and they actually turn up. Every year there seems to be a load of messages from other companies offering Edinburgh deals, but they always seem to cock up loads of orders and leave people without flyers on the first week of the fringe. So I pay more and have someone reliable and good.

Other Fringes

We briefly mentioned other fringes. Brighton was seen as a good one to go and do a one off show, but no need for a full run. Buxton also got mentioned as a good one that more people seem to be doing now.

There’s loads more but my keyboard is smoking now. Get in touch if you want to chat about more. 

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