How to Survive Edinburgh Fringe According to Equity

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Photo Source: © Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society

Equity, the performer’s union, has a presence at the Edinburgh Fringe each year in order to meet some of the 20,000 actors, comedians, musicians, dancers and solo artists who come to Scotland from across the world. Members old and new can pop along, so too can anyone in need of advice, guidance or even just somewhere to spend an hour away from the fray. Backstage spoke to Equity’s Louise Grainger about what performers can expect from the programme of events, how the Fringe is changing and some of the burning questions actors drop in with.

What are your tips for performers coming to Edinburgh?
Some people throw themselves into it. That can be a bewildering experience. You need to do a research trip before you decide to bring a show. Go and spend some time there to find out how venues work and speak to artists doing similar sized work or, even better, in a space you’re interested in. Also, read The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide by Mark Fisher. It’s a practical book with everything you need to know.

Whoever you are, come and talk to us! We’re not just for members, we’re always keen to talk to people doing a range of work. That’s what I love about coming up, I get to meet all sorts of creative people from across artforms. If you talk to an actor they’d probably say we are an actor’s union. If you talked to a comedian they would likely say ‘Equity’s my union’! In truth, we are for everyone in the industry.

Why is it important for Equity to be at the Fringe?
The Fringe is fabulous but it’s also an unforgiving place to live and work. Our sanctuary space is for performers who need to get away from it all. The drop in sessions are important because thousands of people arrive, perhaps for the first time, and have questions or issues they need to discuss with us. You also have lots of young people and new faces in the industry—our “Setting Out” event is designed for them. It’s important for us to be here for everyone, whether they are members or not. There are a lot of members of arts industry at the festival, so it’s a great opportunity to talk with venues, producers, backstage teams too. Outside of the week of events our wonderful team in the Glasgow office are on hand.

What do people bring to the drop in sessions?
I really enjoy the drop in sessions because you never know what people are going to ask. It might be something complex like a group of performers who’ve made a show together, have been approached by a producer and now need to work out who owns what. Or issues with accommodation, actors who thought they had a bedroom and arrive to find out they’re sleeping in shifts with other people. You can come for basic career advice, to improve your CV—we also get a lot of performers who’ve lost their voices!

How did you curate the programme of special events this year?
It depends on how we’re campaigning across the union. Our talk about being disabled in the entertainment industry is designed to complement what we’re already doing year round, like our recent casting manifesto and the play fair campaign. Both of those are pushing for an end to discriminatory practices.

We’re always interested in mental health and our event with ArtsMinds promotes well being in the industry. Previously we’ve run lots of voice workshops but this year we decided to do something different. There’s a workshop on looking after your feet because Edinburgh is full of performers working outdoors or in non-theatre spaces on hard surfaces - as well as cast members previewing their shows outside and flyering all day on The Royal Mile.

How has the Fringe changed in recent years?
The biggest structural change is the resurgence of the Free Fringe. It’s now an established part of the festival. Over a longer timeframe, the Fringe Society has become very organised with its support and advice. Before people get anywhere near Edinburgh they have amazing guidance on bringing shows to the Fringe. Everything has become more professionalised, there’s a huge amount of support up there.

Find out more about Equity’s 2017 programme of events at the Fringe 2017 here.

Check out Backstage’s London audition listings!