Most people's first experience of the Edinburgh Fringe is the frenzy of the Royal Mile, where hundreds of actors and comedians rush between performances to thrust flyers advertising their shows into the hands of anyone nearby.
With a record 2,695 shows at the festival this year, performers face a bigger battle for the "gold dust" of publicity than ever before. Yesterday they were given a golden opportunity at the fourth annual Meet the Media event – a sort of speed dating experience which gives the artists a timed slot at a table to pitch their show to newspapers (including this one).
Among the shows pitched to The Independent was a drama about dementia, Shakespeare in drag, stand-up by a former banker and an updated opera comedy by Mozart.
This year upwards of 1,000 people turned up with the hope of flogging their creativity. Cast members, producers, writers and directors arrived at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Society's headquarters from more than 600 shows – 50 more than last year.
"It is a very competitive environment at every level; whether you're talking about amateur dramatic productions, about college shows or professional theatre companies and stand-up comedians," said the Society's Neil Mackinnon.
Newspapers, festival guides and online review sites set up a table in the main hall, and performers queued nervously in front of them. They had about five minutes to pitch their show, and convince the publication to review or feature their work. The event was created after a management overhaul at the Fringe, replacing an event that brought performers and journalists together at a "massive party" which was deemed too chaotic.
It seems to have worked. Despite the scores of performers jostling to get noticed, the hall was remarkably calm and ordered, in marked contrast to the frantic streets outside. Most publications had teams doing shifts, although one year a journalist from the New York Times did all four hours. "He had a dazed look by the end," Mr Mackinnon said.
After accepting the offer to join the pageant, a table was prepared for The Independent, signs were printed and a queue hastily formed. The first to pitch was Emily Jenkins, a Royal Court Young Writer, who has brought her debut play Rainbow – the story of three men who unknowingly affect each other through their decisions – to Zoo Southside in Edinburgh.
"The play is dark and sinister; it's about the brutality of the mundane," she says mysteriously. She adds that she has already had some interest from agents and publishers.
Next up was a show from the Free Fringe called Teeth in Eggcups, cheerily described as a "Monty Python mixed with the Mighty Boosh" comedy sketch show, performed on a bus by a comedy company who – like many in the Fringe – are just out of university. Ali Pritchard, who created the Alphabetti Spaghetti Theatre, said he wanted to keep the show at the Free Fringe. "People can give what they want, it's much better that way," he said.
Next to arrive at the table was the Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club's all-male As You Like It, with performers drawn from university drag troupe Denim. "We want to make Shakespeare accessible and explore men playing women. It is a camp, hilarious production performed by drag queens," says Amrou Al-Khadi, who set up the troupe, which attracts audiences of 1,500 students.
Edinburgh being Edinburgh, there was a series of comics. Nick Beaton, a stand-up comedian from Canada whose show is on at The Shack, said the pitching process was "Slightly alien...It's like a teaser trailer for my show". He has been doing comedy for seven years, and has already played the Just for Laughs festival in Montreal.
Kahlil Ashanti, an American born in Germany and raised in Japan, promised a "short and painless" pitch. His show Basic Training won the Fringe First award in 2005, and he returned with it two years later. "A true story about how I joined the air force to escape an abused childhood," is how he describes it. "It's a mix of M.A.S.H., Glee and Band of Brothers. It's a comedy, as well as a mix of breakdancing and theatre."
Surprisingly few acts queued in costume, despite the practice being encouraged by the Society. Mr Mackinnon speculated that the promise of rain and the long queues meant most left their glad rags at home. Still, a man dressed in nothing but a nappy turned up, as did another dressed in 18th century garb – including a pompadour wig.
It proved a long day for both sides. " But there are companies that are now getting reviews that otherwise wouldn't. Reviews are like gold dust," Mr Mackinnon said.
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