Putting on a show at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a true test of mettle for a performer, particularly if it is a solo show.
But Ginny Davis discovered two years ago, when she went with her show Ten Days...That Shook The Kitchen, the hardest work by far started well before curtain up as she and her family and friends spent hours trying to entice/cajole/beg people to drop by her venue.
“Everybody says the average audience at Edinburgh is three, she said. ‘‘We did much better than that but it can be.
“We were very disciplined about it. We were there from 11am, rain or shine, and that year it mostly rained, just engaging people and trying to get them to want to come.
“It rained so much we were just standing there under umbrellas with a handful of soaking wet flyers and we’d just be putting these soggy piles of mush into people’s hands saying ‘this is a fantastic show’.”
With anything up to 2,000 productions competing for attention, the pressure to get bodies on seats is acute.
“I think I was quite naive when I first went up,” recalls Ginny, 55. “I didn’t realise the risk I was taking and it was only when I saw other people having a really miserable experience that I realised that could have been me.
“There was a girl in a venue right next to mine and she didn’t work very hard to get audiences. She just hoped that people would turn up. She often didn’t have an audience at all.
“There was another woman I met who I sort of saw as a kindred spirit because she was of similar age to me and she got an absolutely terrible review. It was awful for her because a bad review can destroy a show in the same way a good review can make one.”
Luckily for Ginny, her performed monologue got a glowing reception.
Though not autobiographical, much of the material for Ten Days was culled from her own experiences as a wife and mother of two, and the games of parental one-upmanship she saw being played at the school gates.
“I have a little notebook for gathering material. When people see me they do say they had better be careful or it will go in the show but the brilliant thing is they forget.”
Prior to having her children Ginny had been a translator for Birmingham Chamber of Commerce, then retrained as a barrister, working at Fountain Court in Birmingham.
After Rosie and Ralph were born, she discovered that the confidence it took to stand up in front of a court combined with her observational skills and talent for comedy flowed naturally into writing and performing.
She continued the adventures of Ten Days... harassed middle class mother-of-three Ruth Rich in Family Matters. This August she is taking Double Booked, the third episode in the saga, to Edinburgh. Ruth’s children are now teenagers and young adults, her husband is brooding over the recession and her nemesis, Timmy’s mum, is gloating about the fact her son is at boarding school (having been sent there in disgrace after getting an Asbo).
As before, Ginny performs all the roles but admits she finds teenage boys the toughest to tackle.
“It’s the body language. Men stand very differently to women. It’s useful going to pick up my son from school because I watch these boys all standing around.”
This time she is in a larger venue at the Pleasance Courtyard, where she will perform daily from August 4 to 29.
Her family, including her husband Judge William Davis QC, the Recorder of Birmingham, and one of the leading lights in Kenilworth’s Talisman Theatre, and friends will be going up to support her and help with the all-important flyer distribution.
“As as an exercise, flyering is incredibly interesting psychologically. How you get people’s interest and how you can turn people off. I saw one group there with a boy who went round in a kilt and nothing else. But he had this awful acne all over his back so physically he was very unattractive. I thought ‘that’s not going to help’.
In the two years since she last went to Edinburgh, Ginny has been performing her shows in a variety of venues. She got involved in a scheme called Live and Local which takes theatre out into remote rural spots.
She has also been busy writing short stories for ‘light relief’. She won first prize in the Oundle Festival of Literature Short Story Competition with her debut entry a few years ago and has been shortlisted twice since.
Her daughter attends Oundle School and it was there that Ginny faced a challenge even more intimidating than a hung-over Sunday morning crowd in Edinburgh.
“Performing at Rosie’s school was the most terrifying thing I have ever done in my life. “She was so worried about it that she actually arranged a party so that none of her really good friends could see the show – what could be more embarrassing than your own mother on your own school stage.
“I did Family Matters and I remember standing in the wings knowing that to an extent it was taking the mickey out of these children. I knew if it went wrong it wouldn’t be me who suffered it would be Rosie. But the audience was great.”
* Ginny performs Double Booked at the Old Joint Stock in Birmingham on Friday at 2.30pm. and 7.30pm, sponsored by St Philips Chambers. Call 0121 200 0946 for details.