There's a delicate art to selling a show at the Edinburgh Fringe. It's not just about putting flyers in hands and getting the word out. When people are walking up and down the Royal Mile with hundreds of flyers waved in their faces, you need to stand out. This requires more than just standing on the sidewalk, mutely brandishing a handful of postcards and hoping someone will grab one, read it, and actually come to your show.
I've seen several tactics that people seem to think are attention-grabbing and original. There are the aggressive few who go out in full costume and make-up and basically do a hard-sell version of their act using your personal space as their personal venue. Or the comedians who attack you with personal questions or uncomfortable slogans ("Why so serious?" "No-pants Irish comedy!"). Those guys won't leave you alone until you take a flyer, engage with them in uncomfortable banter, and promise you'll come to the show and give them your first-born son. Finally, there are people who set up tableaus or processions up and down the mile in full costume, silently distributing their show's "aura" along with their publicity materials. These people take themselves and their show very seriously, and 10-to-1 that show is some new version of Macbeth. But when my sister was helping me flyer for the show I'm producing at the 2012 Fringe, we discovered an entirely new flyering move -- straight-up lying.
It started when she turned to me with a somewhat innocuous question, "Can you lie?" At first I balked, given that it was my reputation on the line if people came to the show expecting one thing and left disappointed, but sister Sally had no such qualms.
"Raunchy sex comedy," she cried, pressing flyers for our dark fairytale-inspired drama into the hands of clueless strangers.
The allure of doing something illicit but virtually consequence-free was too much for me to resist, and I soon found myself shouting, "Sexiest librarians at the Fringe!" alongside her. Cue the snowball effect. "Raunchy sex comedy" met "librarians" by way of the blindfold on our actual poster art to become "Sexy librarians discover bondage and take Manhattan!"
To people who stopped, of course, we explained the actual show. But the show we weren't explaining, the one we were advertising to unsuspecting passers-by, had taken on a life of its own. During lulls we would brainstorm plot points for our imaginary farce. Librarians in New York formed an underground, Fight Club-esque sex-dungeon-slash-prostitution-ring. When high-level politicians get involved, all hell breaks loose!
Was I worried that people would come to the show and leave disappointed that there weren't any librarians and/or handcuffs involved? Maybe a little, but I also have great faith in humanity. They had 24 whole hours to read the flyer or visit the website and expose our false advertising before giving us their money.
So to anyone who came with false expectations, I apologize. But seriously? It's called the Internet.
Follow Anne McGrath on Twitter: www.twitter.com/applegalette