Creative Programming

I’ve just spent a goodly amount of time this evening scanning the Edinburgh Fringe website, in search of interesting performances to see when I visit at the end of the month.

My main focus was on classical and choral music performances, because that’s the kind of thing that I’m interested in. And despite the mainstream media’s best attempts to portray the Fringe as solely a comedy festival, there are lots of musical things happening as well – in addition to theatre, dance, children’s shows, and exhibitions – but the scheduling of the stuff in which I’m interested shows a staggering lack of creative thinking.

Check out the amateur choirs and orchestras doing proper classical music, and you’ll that almost without exception all their concerts are at 7.30pm on a Friday or Saturday night. And while that’s a sensible programming choice for a wet weekend in November, it’s a crazy choice for the Edinburgh Festival – because everyone has ended up scheduling their concerts at the same time – thus dividing their potential audience.

As for me, I’ve found three different concerts I’d quite like to see – but I won’t see any of them, because they’re all taking place on the same Saturday evening – and I already have tickets for something else that night in the International Festival.

One choir I used to belong to is still going strong in the Fringe, with two performances this year. And back when they started, their original plan was to schedule their first concert for 7.30pm on a Friday night of the middle weekend of the Fringe – until I stepped in and convinced them to go for a 10.00pm slot on a Tuesday.

My thinking was that we wanted to avoid clashing with anything else. Indeed, the plan was to make our concert the musical equivalent of a nightcap – somewhere for weary concert-goers to stop in for an hour’s reflective wind-down, on their way home from something else. And you know what? It worked, and continues to work today.

In 2006 we sold-out our 400-seat venue about half and hour before the concert. In 2007 we sold-out a couple of weeks ahead of the gig. And they’re still playing to capacity crowds today – thanks to a bit of creative programming.

It’s just a shame that more groups haven’t thought a bit more creatively about when they schedule their concerts.