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Blog ArchivesOctober 2001
Monday, August 14
Pay What Now?
I’ve charged for shows at the Fringe in the classic paid-venue model. I’ve run free shows, which are horribly named after the venue cost to the performer, rather than the expectation on the audience. There’s nothing Free about the Free Fringe. The recent Pay What You Want model seems to be the most confusing of all, though.
If a pay what you want show is being charged the usual guarantee on box office sales that a paid show is being charged, with similar commissions and ticket printing costs, etc, then the pay what you want element is really a way to give out additional comps in the hope of receiving tips in a manner pretty damaging to business. Surely the point of the non paid venue route is that you reduce your risk as a producer?
The pay what you want model offered by “Heroes of Comedy”, at venues like Monkey Barrel, is a lot fairer. The venue takes a modest registration fee and a small cut of any box office sales. The show gets the rest, including anything that goes into the bucket. Great, right?
I reckon not.
A quick overview of the model, first. The performances are ticketed. The tickets are not 100% of the seating allocation, but probably close to that. Tickets are maybe £5. If the show sells out, you have to wait outside in the hope of getting in, but you’re also effectively told the show is full, so you may not. If the show is not sold out, you can show up without a ticket and get in. At the end of the show, the bucket speech is there to ask non ticket holders for a voluntary contribution.
This seems to make sense. It’s confusing when there’s a sell out, since you feel like you can’t get in, and might decide to leave on that basis, except in both shows I chanced my arm at waiting for, I got in.
I think it’s actually wrong… if your show is good.
Let’s take Phil Nichol’s show as an example. Most people had paid £5. I was in for free. He did the bucket speech, including asking for a tenner for a USB stick of cool stuff. I gave him a tenner. Most of his audience would have given him £5 a head for that show, and some of those would have given him the tenner, but since they’d all already paid, most people walked away from his bucket.
My view is that the model limits the audience members to a minimum payment and limits the size of the audience to the ticket allocation… by default.
In other words, to prevent the risk of being underpaid, or having lack of commitment from audience planning to see your show, you forego the opportunity to be paid nearly twice as much.
When we saw Stuart Goldsmith in 2015, his free show bucket speech put a clear price on the ticket, way above the average for a free show. The show was good and he got paid its worth. More than you’d dare put on a ticket price for a “reservation against a pay what you want price”.
Pay what you want bucket speeches are generally more awkward than free venue speeches, because you have to accept that ticket holders are already under no obligation to pay and probably shouldn’t.
I think the model doesn’t work. I also think it doesn’t NOT work. It’s more of a Five Pound Fringe with a Free Fringe stand-by queue… confusing for punters.
That said, the venues are very nice!
Here I am, fighting the Blogger app on the iPad on the train back from the Fringe. It’s time like this that I remember why I don’t like travelling with other people. I’m surrounded by some squawking tossers who don’t seem to know how to find their seats, how to carry their luggage, how to keep their children occupied, and some of them smell mysteriously of carrot and coriander soup.
I guess the obvious answer is that some people eat soup before they travel and it takes away most of their common sense.
Ignoring a possible trip to a Fringe show as a child, I’ve been to a lot of Fringes. I came twice when I was a student (94 and 95, I think). Since then, I started coming again in 2002, performing from 2003. My daughter was born at the end of 2012, so we missed 2013 and 2014 and then picked up again in 2015. No, you’re right, this isn’t that interesting a collection of raw data. What’s the final answer? Well, this year is my 16th visit to the Fringe.
A lot has changed in the course of the Fringe in the time I’ve known it, but some constants remain:
You can’t see it all.
There’ll always be some tosser spoiling something or other.
The city is full of naive young people.
Some oddly posh person is examining their fellow man as though specimens.
Some people are learning the craft in a most embarrassing way.
There are examples of utter genius lurking around the corner.
Genuine true-blue performers are always going to be appreciated…
… except the unlucky ones who accidentally land somewhere obscure.
Edinburgh’s geography will take its toll.
Time will temporarily cease to function correctly.
Money is an abstract concept.
Keeping score is pointless.
All of which means that commenting on a Fringe visit is pretty tricky to get right, so I won’t try to capture the essence of this one.
We saw 16 shows in the time between arriving at 3ish on Friday and our last show on Sunday night - 11.30pm. That’s not a personal record, nor is it a bad showing.
I delightedly bumped into various folks I know from the stand-up circuit, and wished to have said hello to even more old friends and colleagues, some of whom I spotted, and many of whom clearly had better things to do than stand on street corners in the hope of bumping into me.
These visits are not long enough to fill the Fringe shaped hole in my year, but they are the best we can do, and they’re great.
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