Lessons of the Fringe
You may or may not have heard of the world's largest theatre festival, the Edinburgh Fringe. It happens each August for 3 weeks, where people from all over the world come to perform their plays in what can best be described as ordered chaos. Over 600 shows happen each day. It is a theatre-holics dream. Last year I was kind of luck to be there and OD on it. Since it's August again, I thought it might be fun to count down ten things that I learnt about the EdFringe. Here goes:
- Wear comfortable shoes: The EdFringe is more about runnng from venue to venue than just enjoying the show at a venue. A play in one venue (Pleasance dome for example) will finish exactly 5 minutes before the next one you are supposed to catch begins (in the Udderbelly for example). Only problem is that they are about 500 metres apart. So be ready for lots of running.
- Start Early: It is important to start early and try and catch as many shows as possible. Believe me, you won't be able to see all no matter how long you spend in Edinburgh. So you are going to be upset you missed some anyway. So catch all that you can. I was there for 7 days (laid up for one with fever), caught 49 shows, and still felt like I'd missed so much!
- Choose by time slots: In any festival of this scale there is going to be a lot of stuff that is 'fricking awesome' and a lot of stuff that is 'pretty crap'. As a newcomer to the festival, you will have no idea what is what. So the rule of thumb is choose some plays that you think you WANT to see, and the others should be scheduled through what is playing when you are not watching the shows you want. It's these in-between shows that usually throw up the surprises and incredible experiences.
- Buy tickets in advance: Only for some shows do tickets not sell out. Current booking is always hard. Plan the schedule buy in advance. Saves you time queuing up for tickets later and makes sure you get a ticket.
- Get ready to be fed: The amazing thing about the edFringe is that all the shows are vying for the audience. So everyone is trying every trick to feed you. I went to series of short plays where we were given 'breakfast' (a coffee and a croissant). At Chronicles of Irania, I was served Iranian tea. At a late night musical comedy show, we were served cheap champagne by the performers. The tickets aren't really cheap (especially if you are seeing so many) so it's nice to get a bonus snack once in a while.
- Don't expect big sets: The nature of the festival is to have back-to-back shows. So each play gets only 15 minutes of set up time. Each show has to start on time because the schedule is all packed together. Some audiences are 15, some are 100, but you start ON TIME. Therefore there is not time rig large sets. Unless you are in the more formal spaces like the Traverse Theatre, the other Fringe Venues are usually tables and chairs type sets. Although one of the most brilliantly designed shows was XYZ, which I saw at the ABV.
- Avoid the Musicals: Partly for the reasons above, none of the musicals are actually musicals. They are usually just a band playing. I made that mistake....twice. The first was to watch Pink Floyd - The Musical. How cool is that, I thought. It turned out to be a tribute band playing Floyd classics against the backdrop of the worst excuse for a plot ever. The band was good, but musical it was not. The second was The Blues Brothers. Awesome I thought, a stage version of the film. Instead it was a college band (although very good) simply singing songs from the film.
- It's all about interactivity: One of the amazing things about the EdFringe is the innovative experiences that are created. The performers are constantly trying to get the audience to participate and engage in some way or the other. In a brilliant Tartuffe, audience members were suddenly prompted by actors and pushed onto stage, either with a prop or a line to say. The cast ad libbed wonderfully, and the audience sat in mortal fear that their turn would be next. In one show, each audience member has to go on a 'date' with a cast member. Complete with wine, candle light, and the sharing of intimate details of your life. Dive in, theatre is immersive.
- Usually Simple = Good: Due to the time constraints, a lot of the plays need to rely on the performers. So one man and a chair may not sound very interesting, but it actually can be quite special like Innua Ellam's The 14th Tale or Matthew Sharpe's Johnny's Midnight Goggles.
- The Space part of the Experience: The venues are not at all plush and fancy. Some are actually quite dowdy. Almost like descending into cellars. But that is part of the experience. It is fantastic to see work in these spaces. Tartuffe for example, came alive because it was in the burnt out warehouse like structure and the audience sat around on defunct old furniture.