The Edinburgh Fringe, a performer’s guide by newbie Nicky Gayner


When Nicky Gayner hit 50 she knew it was finally time to create her own cabaret show. Within no time she made her debuts at London’s Pheasantry, the Vortex, the Metropolitan Room in New York and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

After finding a great pianist to collaborate with in the form of Michael Roulston, Nicky came upon a theme that meant a lot to her – children growing up and leaving home. She spent a year finding songs and developing material and the result was her debut show “Empty Nest”.

She wisely invited Edinburgh Fringe veteran Sarah-Louise Young to direct her in the show and things quickly came together. After chatting and sharing ideas for a few days the show started to take shape.

In the same way Steve Ross suggests, they put their shortlisted 25 songs on cards and moved them around the floor until the order felt right, discarding those that didn’t fit.

One of the key elements of cabaret is being yourself on stage. The more open, honest and real you can be, the more the audience will be moved and engaged. Nicky says she never had a problem with this. She wanted to tell her story and never worried about showing her vulnerabilities.

Some of her chat was scripted tightly but the stories that she’s lived, the things that really happened, were easy to share.

The value of playing the Edinburgh Fringe

Nicky is enthusiastic about her Fringe experience. “By going to Edinburgh I did twelve shows night after night which meant I got five years experience in two weeks. I was thrown completely in the deep end; it was the best thing that could have happened to me.”

“If you’re doing a show once a week it takes a long time to learn it. If you’re doing it night after night you’re getting a lot of experience in what audiences can be like.”

Having a very clear theme for her show meant Nicky could target a very specific audience. “I didn’t have 25-30 years coming in. I had older people coming into the show because they had seen it in the programme and picked it out because they thought it was relevant to them.” She feels the £300 advert in the Fringe programme was critical to marketing her show.”

Will you loose money at the Edinburgh Fringe?

Most people loose money in Edinburgh. Nicky didn’t do too badly financially but knows there are other reasons to play the Fringe. “I didn’t make money but it wasn’t a disaster. The exposure I had and what’s come out of it will pay back in the end. I got years of experience and other work.”

It was in Edinburgh that Gaynor was spotted by a Norwegian producer who has since hired her for a nine city tour in Norway.

Another opportunity that came after the Fringe was playing New York’s famous Metropolitan Room. Many singers wait years to make their debut in the Big Apple but from performing at the Crazy Coqs Open Mic Night, Nicky was spotted by Harold Santedin and landed her dream gig.

How to find a venue for your Fringe show

If you want to try your lucky in Edinburgh Nicky suggests you look out for one of the Fringe Society’s Roadshows. Nicky had an introduction to the new free festival, (the Freestival) and sent an email with details of her show. She did have a simple showreel that she’d filmed with her iPhone at open mic nights for no cost at all. It worked and she quickly got a slot.

How to flyer in Edinburgh

Nicky did do give out some flyers herself but used hired help most of the time. It worked and did bring people in. She paid them £10 an hour and has some great tips:

  • Engage with people, chat to them rather than just shoving a flyer in their hand.
  • Meet your hired helpers. Explain to them who they should be targeting.
  • Flyer close to your venue.
  • Avoid the Royal Mile.
  • Go out an hour before your show and catch people coming in and out of restaurants and shops.

The real question is would she go back to Edinburgh again, Nicky says she’d love to.

Recorded in London 3rd December 2014

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