The truth is out there. And we artists know it. Programmers, producers, presenters... people. The Big P's come to the Edinburgh and Adelaide Fringe fests looking for artists to book. There is a taste of blood in the air, and that blood is money, money for doing what you love. Delicious, tantalizing, elusive. It could be you, or it could not be you. You feel hungry and desperate, or maybe it makes the glint in your eye go KaZAOW and you get right into it. Some artists thrive on the game, some hate it.
And some successful artists are great at networking and connecting and promoting, and some successful artists are shit at it. There is no formula here, fuckers.
Both of these big fringes set up official networking events, which are attended by producers, presenters, programmers, people, and artists. You'll generally recognize the artists by their look of vague sadness, confusion, and determination despite the odds. You'll recognize the Big P's by their ease and obvious satiation, and the fact that they each have several humans huddled around them straining to catch their every syllable.
It is very lovely for the Fringes to set up these events. I go to them when I'm feeling generally okay about myself. I do not have advice about how to do well at such events. I do have ideas about how to survive them.
WHY GO. Right, I don't really know why you should go. Most producer types I talk to say these events don't do much for anyone, least of all them. Why would they go to your show just because you harassed them at a networking event? Producer types will only come see your show if they've heard about it some other way, or a few other ways. That's just the truth. But still, maybe you should still go.
You should go because something listed as a "networking event" means you get to work on your cocktail party skills. And artists ought to have something resembling cocktail party skills. Right? Or maybe not! Like I said, some artists don't fucking need cocktail skills. No fucking formula.
But you should go because you will get a goooooood long whiff of the smell of desperation, and you may think it's emanating off of everyone else, but it's probably coming from you, too, and here is a rare opportunity for you to really smell it. It's like the smell of Los Angeles, all the time. It smells like exhaust, artificial sweetener, an old lime soaked in gin, and your cell phone, if you've ever leaned over and really smelled your cell phone. It's a good smell to be able to recognize in yourself and others. Go for that.
GO TO GATHER INFORMATION, NOT DISSEMINATE IT. I'm specific in my word choice here. I see some artists at these events spurting their flyers and their show pitches like semen all across the land. They do not care if you want to hear, they're not stopping to check if you want to hear. They're just in the Zone, but their zone totally sucks for everyone else. Everyone's getting wet and nobody even asked for it.
Do these artists succeed in getting Big P's to their shows? Who the fuck knows. But you don't want to be like that, just another ego-spurting gush-mountain of attention-grabbing. You want to be a secret agent.
I just had a great experience of secret-agenting at this event earlier today. A group of artists had 15 minutes to talk to this one festival director. We all hovered around him, like bees around the queen.
"I'm looking for everything: music, dance, theatre!" he said magnanimously. Everyone started fumbling for their flyers.
I said, "Okay, but what do you like?"
"I like everything," he said.
"But what do you look for?"
It took a minute or two of playful prodding before he came out with the fact that he's looking for only one show and then he'll be fully programmed. And the one show he was looking for was "non-verbal, physical theater."
Ohhhh, everyone at the table said, and several flyers went away.
There you have it.
So you've ended up at an Industry networking event, and you've got a Big P within earshot. Find out what the Big P's want, and what they have, and see how specific you can get them to be. Don't even pitch your show to them! Or do, but just give 'em a flyer and go away quickly. Then get their contact info, and send them an email like this:
Hey! You said you wanted dez thingz, and guess what bitch? I got these thingz! Come check my shit out!
And they may!
On the other hand, I have no idea if this really works.
GO FOR THE OTHER ARTISTS.
Go because there will be other artists there, and some of them are cool and you'll probably want to know them. And you'll be able to sniff out the ones that are fun and playful and taking it all in stride, and you and they will feel like you belong to a secret club of reasonably cool people, at least compared to some. And that will be nice.
At the event today, my friends Dan and Clare were there. Dan and Clare are considered successful touring artists, and they are, and they deserve it because they're incredibly special and cool. They had a little table set up, but the vibe at their table was totally different from the other tables, because Dan and Clare are not buying any shows, they were just there to offer advice.
So the talk around the table was a lot more genuine, and super vulnerable, and way more interesting.
And the basic question that every artist who came up to them asked was HOW DO I MAKE IT.
I've had some success at this festival or that festival, how do I take it to the next level?
I've had no success at all, how do I get some?
I think I should be way more successful than I am, why is the world so stupid?
Does it ever get easier?
All the same question. And Dan and Clare stood there and absorbed it all, and said, Yeah, right, we often have that question too. And the artists all surrounding Dan and Clare hovered in this delicate moment, a moment we've all experienced, the moment in which you realize that you've gone to someone as an authority figure, and they say they may not have the answer, but you had thought, well, if anyone had the answer, these people do, BUT THEY DON'T, and maybe the answer DOES NOT EXIST, and maybe you're not as far off as you thought you were, and maybe, just maybe, you can forge your own path, and it'll all be okay.
I found it all enormously comforting.
There's a big poster at my gym. You know those stupid gym inspirational posters that take up a whole wall.
IT NEVER GETS EASIER
YOU JUST GET BETTER.
I like that, these days. Because each level you get to, there's probably another level you want. So if you feel kinda okay, you'll probably always feel kinda okay. And if you feel hungry and desperate, you will always feel hungry and desperate, unless you address that in yourself. And any way you slice it, you probably smell like your cell phone.
That's not how you make it. I have no idea how you make it. But that's how you make it through.