Brian Ferguson: Edinburgh Fringe and social media

Fringe business has changed dramatically mainly thanks to much more intense competition and social media. Picture: Toby Williams
Fringe business has changed dramatically mainly thanks to much more intense competition and social media. Picture: Toby Williams
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IT IS mid-morning in Edinburgh’s New Town and the hotel on one of its more handsome streets is a hive of activity.

A Hollywood star has arrived to promote their Fringe show – a relatively rare occurrence – but Anne Archer, best known for her roles in Fatal Attraction and Short Cuts – is holding court with the media before Easter has even arrived, almost seven weeks before the official Fringe programme is published and almost four months before she makes her debut at the festival. Her show was one of the first to be announced this year and even jumped the gun ahead of the launch of the Edinburgh International Festival.

Not surprisingly, given her status, Archer has already secured substantial star power for her show, in which she will portray Jane Fonda in a play that will tackle the latter’s controversial campaigning against the Vietnam War.

But Archer, her husband Terry Jastrow, the play’s writer-director, their publicity team and Tommy Sheppard, promoter of their venue, the Assembly Rooms, still seem remarkably ahead of the normal Fringe game.

It is also a reflection of how the whole Fringe business has changed dramatically recently, mainly thanks to much more intense competition and the social media revolution.

It’s only a couple of years since the Fringe caved in to demand from various quarters and started selling tickets on its website well before it was able to publish its own, ever-increasing programme, which heralded the start of the annual publicity blitz.

Now, most of the major venues have already started selling some of their shows and there are hundreds of entries on the Fringe website to peruse.

Despite a small army of publicity and PR teams descending on Edinburgh each August, very few of these have started working properly yet, but social media networks have been bubbling away with chatter about Fringe shows for months.

Billy Connolly’s wife, Pamela Stephenson, confirmed her involvement this year via a message to her Twitter followers about the Brazilian dance spectacular Brazouka, one of the biggest shows at the Assembly Hall on the Mound, weeks before tickets went on sale.

Another act appearing at the same venue – English comic Jim Davidson – has been merrily whipping up his own publicity by taking to Twitter to berate a newspaper for perceived slights over his show before it has even been performed. And then there is the case of Alan Bissett, who pulled off the coup of having excerpts of his Fringe show The Pure, the Dead and the Brilliant performed just minutes before Alex Salmond was due to take to the stage at the SNP conference.

There seems little to link Archer, Stephenson, Davidson and Bissett, but when it comes to the race to sell almost two million tickets, they are already off the starting blocks.