Talking to Guildford Fringe Festival
As the Guildford Fringe Festival gets set to take over the town this July, we caught up with the festival’s organisers Nick Wyschna and Charlotte Bateup to find out more…
What are you most looking forward to about this year’s Festival?
Nick: Every time I think about the Festival, the first event that comes to my head is Opera on the Balcony. We hosted this event last year and it was one of those moments that stops you and makes you remember how it all began and where you are now. I stood on the balcony of The Guildhall, looking down to the High Street (which had the best part of 300 people staring up at me!) to introduce our two professional opera singers and I had to catch my breath and stop myself getting emotional.
Opera on the Balconyis special for many reasons but the ones that really stand out for me are: it’s free for everyone, which fits in with my original goal for Guildford Fringe Festival, to make the arts accessible; we were standing on one of the most iconic platforms that Guildford has to offer, looking over the High Street that I grew up walking up and down with my mum; and the aftermath of wonderful feedback from the event made me proud of what Guildford Fringe Festival have achieved, with no funding – just support from local businesses and residents. To say I am happy that we are putting the event on again is an understatement. Thank you so much to Experience Guildford for sponsoring the Big Free Fringe Weekend which means we can produce this kind of event.
Charlotte: I think that this year I am most looking forward to some of the new theatre that is coming to the festival. We have some great topics being addressed and I think it is great that companies are choosing Guildford Fringe Festival to showcase these.
What does your own role involve?
Charlotte: As General Manager I am in charge of making sure the festival runs as smoothly as possible. Not only do I do most of the programming of the acts, organising venues and dates and most importantly making sure they don’t clash, I then run the box office throughout July, get involved handing out flyers, running the shows and hosting events. There are only two of us so it is all hands on deck!
Nick: A company of two full time employees (me being one of them) and two part-timers means that everyone’s role includes a bit of everything. I work, alongside Charlotte Bateup (General Manager), doing everything from handing out flyers and attending networking events to training the acts on how to best use social media and book-keeping (although Charlotte is a lot better at the last one!).
What are the challenges of putting on the Festival?
Nick: The same challenges that every business faces I guess, getting more customers and telling more people about what we do. Everyone that comes and already knows about us loves it and couldn’t be more positive about it but with limited finance there is only so much you can do to spread the word. That’s why our media partners are so special and important to us – without them we’d be a few lonely people shouting as loud as we can “come and see these cool events!”
Charlotte: I think the biggest challenge is always getting people to the shows. We are still a small business with limited funds so trying to get the best out of what we have to play with, being creative and thinking outside the box.
Why is it so important to you to work in partnership with local businesses and organisations?
Charlotte: Working together with other local organisations has always been at the centre of what we do. It not only makes things easier but it always great to get involved in other aspects of the community that can be mutually beneficial.
Nick: I learnt very quickly after setting up Guildford Fringe Festival that things are MUCH easier when you work WITH people rather than in competition with. It is SO important to work in partnership with local businesses and organisations! It’s a cost-efficient way of marketing as you are helping each other out, without exchanging money, and it also embeds you into the community rather than plodding along outside of it.
I couldn’t possibly name check all of the local people, businesses and organisations that have chosen to partner with us but it never gets less satisfying when you get the message that they would like to – it’s a flattering thing to be asked to work with someone as it means they like and respect what you are doing.
What is your advice for first-time Festival goers?
Nick: Easy – use this opportunity to see something you wouldn’t usually go and see. With an average ticket price of 8 quid, and many things free, what do you have to lose?
Also – get hold of a hard copy of the brochure rather than just using the website – sit down in one of Guildford’s (or your local town’s) independent cafes and go through and circle, fold pages and mark the events that take your fancy. I love having the brochure in my hand, it beats online shopping any day!
Charlotte: Try something new! Most ticket prices are around £8 so give something a go that you wouldn’t normally go and see… you might surprise yourself!
What memorable moments do you have from past years of the Festival?
Charlotte: For me, I think it was when we did our first Superstars Gig at G Live and we had 950 people there to launch the 2017 festival … that was amazing that we had got to that stage!
Nick: When I stood on the balcony of The Guildhall and had that moment of “how did we get here?!”, I also had a tummy-turning moment at the first show we did on G Live’s main stage two years ago. At the beginning of each event at Guildford Fringe Festival myself or Charlotte, or one of the team, usually stands up and welcomes the audience to the event. Now, in the previous years before 2017, this meant standing in front of up to 180 people but in 2017 it meant walking on to the stage in front of a SOLD OUT G Live – that’s just over 1,000 people! I almost forgot the speech that I had said a million times before as I saw that sea of faces – wow!
Why do you think the Festival has enjoyed steady growth and success?
Nick: One of my idols in business, not a famous person but a friend of mine, Matthew Mitchell (a local entrepreneur who lives in Farnham) said to me, I think when I was about 17, “surround yourself with successful people and you will become successful”. I think about that all the time. I have the most incredible and inspiring people around me and it keeps me going and wanting to grow the business more and more. I don’t think I have said it to Matt but he is certainly one of the reasons I didn’t give up when things were (and are) tough.
Charlotte: I think we try and do things right. We are open and honest and I think audiences and acts really appreciate that.
What are your future hopes for the Festival?
Charlotte: To continue to grow the audiences so that every show is a sell out!
Nick: I want it to be as inclusive and accessible as possible, standing by the reasons why Edinburgh Festival Fringe was set up in the first place. I also get incredibly excited when we put events into venues that don’t present this kind of thing during the rest of the year so we want to continue to add to our venues list in the years to come.
What do you do when you’re not working on the Festival?
Nick: I am actually an actor as well as a producer although Guildford Fringe has been my life for the past seven years. Earlier this year, I took my first professional job as an actor and I am currently touring with The Mousetrapby Agatha Christie. As I said, my first acting job in seven years and also the first play I have been a part of. I am loving it!
Charlotte: I was a professional dancer so that is still my favourite thing to do and I go to a local adult dance school, Woking Dance Space.
Describe GUILDFORD FRINGE Festival in three words.
Charlotte: Exciting, entertaining and authentic
Nick: Buzzing, inclusive and affordable.
Guildford Fringe Festival runs from June 28 to July 28 and the full list of events on their website: www.guildfordfringefestival.com