One day, early in the festival, a man in a colorful costume started to offer me a flyer. But then he noticed the small bundle of postcards in my hands. "Oh," he said, offering a grimace of solidarity, "You're flyering, too." And then he pulled his flyer away, retracting the offer.
This encounter put an oddly bad taste in my mouth. On one hand, it's a personal thing. I don't want to be discounted as an audience member just because I also operate on the other side of the curtain. But it also ran counter to what I see as one of the most effective flyering moves -- trading with other companies. I sometimes think of it as the "I'll show you mine if you show me yours" principle of flyering. This man's recognition of our solidarity showed that he acknowledged the insanity of mounting a show at the Fringe. What he failed to realized, though, is that the best audience members are usually the people who are just as crazy as you are.
However, flyer swapping can be a dangerous game. Our company started the festival with an attitude of "Oh, these people came to see our show, therefore we are now obligated to see theirs." I think that this attitude is honorable, and there is no doubt that it pointed us to some great shows. But it's also optimistic and naive. Because we were operating under such an idealistic attitude, we assumed everyone else did as well, we were in for a rude awakening.
Our first night in town we all went to see a comedy sketch show. It was pretty good, and we spent a long time talking to one of their producers afterwards. "Off course," she cooed, "I'll bring the whole company along to your show once we get settled!" Well, the Royal Mile is a small place and soon it seemed like we ran into her and the rest of her company everywhere. At first we would be friendly, "Oh hey, we already saw your show, it was awesome!" But then we got a little desperate: "Hey guys," we laughed, "When are you coming to see our show?" I myself ran into a member of their company who offered to swap flyers with me.
"Oh, I've already seen it, but here's one of mine," I said. He took my flyer and gave it a cursory glance, then a double-take he didn't think I'd notice. He flipped it over and scanned the back.
"You guys... Yeah... I've heard of this..." He gave me a look that I thought was reserved for crazy girlfriends and edged away, tucking the flyer into his coat pocket where it would surely never see the light of day again.
At that point, I understood that I needed to let it go. Although we saw it a certain way, they had no actual moral obligation to see our show, and who knows if they would have even liked it. But even if they'd hated it, by not coming they were missing out on something I think is intrinsic to the Fringe experience. You want your fellow performers at your show for the same reason you should go to theirs -- the ideal audience is made up of your peers, other theatre-makers who know that a venue in a closet is still better than where the ceiling doubles as the floor for a dance show, who will understand and laugh at your obscure Harold Pinter jokes, and who will appreciate your show for what it is rather than what it wishes it could be. The man who refused to swap and the company that wouldn't reciprocate weren't just alienating potential audience members; they were missing the whole point of the festival.