So this is it… Edinburgh Festival! A chill of anticipation grips my spine. Initial costings to put the show on that I want to perform at just over £8,000. Which would financially negate the last year of work. A daunting prospect for one’s first time in Edinburgh, having not seen a single venue, or know where that venue was in the city.

Thus a more prudent approach is warranted. Yes, go to Edinburgh, see as many shows as possible in as many different venues as possible. Get a feel for how it all works, meet the movers and the shakers and pick their brains like a zombie gastronome only interested in the most prized morsels. Then I would see what flyering techniques worked, what posters were most effective, what clientele might attend the show that I was itching to perform. That was the plan. I should have known better…

In the Army, I was taught that every plan is perfect – until the first shot is fired. Something I should have remembered when that castle cannon went off.

Day one and I was cast adrift amongst sea of people flooding the Royal mile, just another chunk of flotsam or jetsam, pockets filling fast with flyers from am-dram societies, comedians with dreams making up for shortfalls in experience and in some cases talent, musicians, magicians, sword swallowers and what’s that? Rock ballet you say? My favourite! Why did I say that? I was drunk on the raw emotion of it all.

Street theatre, 4pm, I will be there! Pardon? You have a show that intentionally seeks to offend an audience? Well I suppose so… yes indeed another cider sounds like a wonderful idea. No I can’t believe it’s 4am already… and the bars are still serving! And the music blares on while people I barely know offer half heard advice and utter tales worthy of Paul Bunyan about the numbers they’ve had through the door.

My that gutter looks inviting, maybe a wee rest is in order? Who knew Edinburgh had been designed in an ‘upstairs downstairs’ pattern? I swear I’ve seen that cobble stone before, my shoes wet with… something… probably cider… possibly not though. Not keen to check, sleep edges ever closer, should really try to make it home…

Day 2: I wake in my sleeping bag, a cold £5 pure Angus burger lies beside me and the fleeting thoughts cross my mind ‘Where did that come from? Why didn’t I eat it when I bought it? Why is it in my bed?’

Dreadfully hung over, still wearing my clothes from the night before. As I rise delicately off the floor, flyers and business cards fall from every pocket, the crashing sound as they hit the floor breed pain like hot needles dancing in my head. My muscles are stiff, my joints ache and I’m suddenly aware of how quickly the glitter of the festival has worn off. Still so much to do and it’s only day two.

Thus the first lesson of Edinburgh is learned. Pace. I shudder when I imagine what could have been were I doing my own show. In this state! I had performed in three line-up shows the day before, helped friends flyer their shows and after blagging my way into industry-only bars had generated a few more contacts. Day 2 was much of the same, this time being roped into four line-up shows and still flyering.

Day 3 saw me cover a friend’s show. He’d lost his voice and rather than cancel the show asked if I could cover the hour for him. I agreed and explained to the audience that this was the earliest Edinburgh preview show they were ever going to see. 27 people through the door, a lovely show, well received in which I learned that as funny as the show was, it still needed a stronger structure and a more accessible conclusion. Lesson two: The £8k I could have spent would have been on a show that was only half ready.

Day 4: More shows, more advice both offered and received. For a guy who had only planned to watch shows, I’d been performing on average three per day. I saw my friend’s shows first and paid for tickets or dropped what change I had in the bucket (even if I was performing in that show).

Ultimately because they were the ones taking that punt, if I could help with a couple of quid or a freebie performance then I was happy to. I was here only on a stealth mission to gain intelligence for next year. I risked nothing but a sore head and tired legs.

Day 5: The morning after the night before, I leave to return to the club circuit with shows in Norwich and V Festival, knowing full well that to return to Edinburgh  with the show I have in mind and to spend the amount of money I’m thinking about requires still more work.

But I’ve learned, more than anything else that despite how much we pine for good reviews and how much we long for people to see us do our shows, it’s the freedom to perform the show we want without restrictions or rules other than those we impose on ourselves that is the reason we take such huge financial risks. Final lesson learned: The show you have can be better.

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