Back in the day I used to do a lot of sound and lighting for student theatre. I did a lot in Oxford, and went up to Edinburgh a number of times to do the Edinburgh Fringe. I did not go to Oxford University, but I did hang around with a lot of people who did. Once or twice I contributed to a theatre column in a student paper. It’s a bit thespy because it’s okay to experiment with language when you’re young. Reprinted here because why not.
‘Flyering’ consists simply of any act which gets a postcard-sized advert into the hands of an unwitting potential customer. However, this simple cross between marketing and causing a public nuisance is so important to a show’s success, at the Edinurgh Fringe in particular, that experienced flyers are required to develop some style to stand out from the crowd, not to mention a thick skin.
Flyering technique generally lies somewhere between art-form, competitive sport and means of socialising. Often offering more entertainment than the actors they promote, flyerers are a resolute, outgoing bunch. But they still have feelings too, it seems.
Such a character is Miles, the eager public-school student with buckets of enthusiasm, as he picks off members of the public with a flyer, a smile and an unnerving stare. He seems harmless, but in all my time spent on the flyering gauntlet of the Royal Mile I’ve never seen him let a victim escape with less than a written contract that they’ll come and see his show.
Altogether more palatable is Sarah, an optimistic New Zealander I met on the Royal Mile. Whilst we’re working for different venues (and so technically deadly enemies) we’ve been for the occasional drink between shifts, two exhausted souls who have to go out each day and face a public fast becoming unsympathetic to our cause.
It is over a pint, our feet bending back into shape under the table, that Miles springs out of no-where. Two weeks of “Miles, mate. No.” have done little to distinguish me from any other face in the crowd, and it is with glee that he whips a flyer out of his bag and starts reeling off his boiler-plate “no seriously it’s really good it’s literally the best show I’ve seen—”. It is as fanatic as it is unwelcome.
In the mood for some fun, I let him talk for a few seconds before taking out one of my own flyers and blurting out the automatic half-truths and reviews that I have rehearsed three hundred times already that day. He looks worried, but perseveres. Like a flash, Sarah produces her flyer and does her speech. Not knowing where to turn, he looks at me with growing horror as I produce a flyer for my other show and launch into that too. Not one to be out-done, Sarah picks up a flyer from the pile on the table and start to sell that show too. Miles’ voice trails off.
I feel a pang of sympathy as he looks genuinely hurt. I feel moved to apologize for our bit of sport. Shaken, he assures us that it’s really alright, and moves onto the next table. But he didn’t attack me again.