The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is essentially an experiment to see if, for a month, a human being can subsist on a diet of refined carbohydrates, minimal sleep and rum. I volunteered myself to test this theory back in August.
The results came back as a resounding no.
If attempted, you will contract strep throat and spend a week in bed, on antibiotics, trying not to create any saliva and stroking your own head for comfort. A word of advice, if you come to the festival try to eat a vegetable and sleep more than six hours a night.
My Fringe Festival journey came after a door of opportunity was slammed in my face. Naturally I opened a window and shimmied down the drain pipe. Super yacht dramas meant I was unexpectedly back in the UK without gainful employment and no real plan for where I was heading.
I had visited Edinburgh on my Dad and Daughter road trip and knew that it was somewhere I was interested in spending more time. My best friend had also just moved there and stand up comedy is my absolute favourite thing ever after diving. Edinburgh for the Fringe was looking like a pretty good gig. All it took was a very wise friend to give me a push and suddenly I was on a Skype interview trying to explain why I was so late applying for a job.
Working the Fringe:What to expect
If you want to work during the Fringe Festival there will always be a million jobs here for anyone that wants one. Every restaurant, bar and venue is looking for extra recruits for that month to deal with the masses of festival goers. The difficulty is finding somewhere to live while you do it. Everyone is renting out their couches, spare bedrooms and cupboards as the city groans under the weight of all the extra bodies.
I would recommend joining the Facebook group Edinroom, most short term lets and rooms are posted here and you might get lucky like I did and find something cheap and central. If you’re coming from London then rent will seem like a bargain anyway. I could have my own apartment in Edinburgh for what I was paying in London…and there I was living in a ten bedroom house that had an actual swamp forming in a corner of the kitchen.
I got myself a job with Assembly who are one of the Festival Big 4. The others are:
These guys are the king pins of the festival and hire tonnes of people across loads of venues to run catering, bars, front of house and flyering. I was going to be bar staff in George Square Gardens which meant nothing to me at the time but on reflection I can see it was pretty much the best spot to be in festival land. GSG becomes the central hub of the festival with tents and stages within the gardens, bars and food shacks galore and an awesome atmosphere.
If you’re applying for a job, my recommendation would be to go for bars. Catering means you will be slaving over a hot fryer (but also get free food). Flyering means you’re beholden to the Scottish ‘Summer’ and people will literally run away from you when you try to give them your show flyer. Front of House means a fair amount of standing around trying not to look bored and re-arranging seating. It definitely has it’s downsides but Bars is where it’s at in my opinion.
Not all bars are created equal either. At Assembly alone there were masses of different bars (Hall, Studio, Underground, Strainer, Club) dotted across the city. If you can make cocktails then you might end up in Club which is a bit wanky and just for artists (riffraff like us weren’t allowed in). If you can’t muddle a lime you might end up in Studio. They stay open until 5am and you have to serve all the other Assembly staff when they’ve already knocked off (hell). Or you might be in Gardens like me and have a bar that is permanently 5 people deep with Heineken that keeps running out. Either way you will be working with an awesome crew of people who all support each other while the keg gets changed or give you a hug when you’ve just had to do 14 double rum and cokes, 7 jagerbombs and 5 tequilas for a group of absolute lads.
Prepare to be doing 10-12 hours a day on your feet, 6 days a week. It’s physically exhausting and I was glad I had invested in a pair of Doc Martens before we started, they saw me through the random downpours, the spilled drinks, the trash and the sticky bar floors. The rest of your snazzy ensemble will be completed by a stylish shirt, jumper and lanyard combo. This uniform will entitle you to 25% off food and drink, and allow you to jump queues. It will also make you a target for every lost tourist trying to find their venue or ask about refund policies while you’re on your precious half hour break. Avoid this by sheltering in the staff shed with a snack (ideally containing some of your daily dietary requirements and not just chips and gravy).
If you’re over the age of 25 you will feel ancient compared to your co-workers. They’re all still at university or taking their gap years. You will probably be older than your managers too…this is a place that runs on the power of youth. How else do you work those insane hours, go out for drinks after work and still get up to do it again the next day…30 days in a row?
There is so much that goes into making this insanity hold together for a month. It’s a bit like the dance costumes my Mother made me as a child, sewn, safety pinned and hot glued together to look fabulous but only for a very limited time.
Now that I have recovered from the sleep deprivation I look at the time fondly but I’m also aware that I’m far too old for that shit and crying in the cleaning shed next to a spray bottle marked “For Poo Only” is not an experience I wish to repeat.
If you want to know anything specific about working the festival then leave me a comment or come and find me on social media but I will leave you with this…
make your festival the best ever by:
- Making friends with everyone who works with you even those not on bar. Make a buddy in catering and you might score yourself the odd pizza on the house. It’s all about scratching each other’s backs. Quid pro quo and all that.
- Getting out to see loads of shows. Plan your days off wisely and book tickets ahead of time for things that might sell out, you can always shift swap closer to the time (I had a whole spreadsheet for planning purposes.)
- Making the most of the free shows you can see with your staff pass, be the first one in the passholder line so that any spare seats are yours.
- Going to see things you might not ordinarily have picked from the programme. Sometimes these random shows will end up being some of the best things you saw.
- Wearing face glitter behind the bar! We wore this everyday in various designs. I can tell you that nothing brightens your mood like catching the sparkle in your peripheral vision.
- Taking photos of everything so you can remember it all later, it goes by in a bit of a blur sometimes.
- Making an awesome playlist because you get to put your own tunes on behind the bar and grooving is the only thing that will get you through some nights.
- Hiding in the aforementioned cleaning shed when you just need to sit down for five minutes. You’ll find you’re not the only one doing this and your little retreat might be ruined by another Binja looking for some respite.
- Embracing the role of Binja (Bin Ninja) which everyone has to do at some point. Walking around picking up rubbish isn’t much fun but using the hydraulic bin compactor is!
- Mustering up the energy to go out with your workmates even if you have been standing for 12 hours and you think you might be developing strep throat.
Aside from the bacterial infections and the continual hangover the Fringe is one big messy month of fun. This is the month, not to burn the candle at both ends, but to incinerate the whole goddamn thing. You can sleep when you’re dead.