05 Aug Why I love and hate the Edinburgh Fringe
I have a complex relationship with the Edinburgh Fringe. I started coming here when I was sixteen. I stayed with a friend of my mum’s from her school days and I had saved enough that I could spend a whole fifty pounds per day. I was pretty much instantly addicted and I have come here nearly every year ever since, as a performer, punter, director, sound guy and producer. I have accumulated a pretty big bag of memories. Some good, some bad, some just plain weird. There was the time I went to a preview of some Beckett short plays in a huge old church and I was the only person in the audience. There was putting up posters in the rain with Steve Roe of Hoopla. Trying desperately to hold together a company of students from the UCL drama society, get them to flyer and to the theatre on time and sober. Taking a chance on an odd-sounding improv show and meeting the wonderful PGraph. Taking the full-of-drunks all-night coach down to London, flirting at 4am in the Gilded Balloon. Getting great reviews and absolute spankings, seeing wonderful shows and the kind of shit that makes you feel itchy inside your very skin. I have so many conflicting memories of this city and the festival over almost twenty years that when I am asked if I like Edinburgh, it feels like someone asking whether I like the human race. Sure, when it’s good it’s wonderful, but when it’s bad, I hate it with a passion. And you can never tell which one it’s going to be.
When I am coming up here as a performer, I often slightly dread Edinburgh. You are guaranteed to lose a load of money. And while you’re doing that, you’ll probably see good friends (and in my case, an ex) selling out huge shows and feel that heavy wriggling feeling of jealousy and pride fighting for control. Flyering can be dispiriting, and audiences can be un-invested in your show if it’s the filler before what they really wanted to see. With the all-night boozing and all-day working, the festival can be an exhausting assault on your sanity if you let it. And I am not very good with impulse control, so I tend to let it. This year, with the Nursery running a venue, I have felt the danger of pre-emptive Edinburgh blues even more than most. Cos yes, I am a worrier. Sure, we have our own venue and there are some great acts in it, but it’s a little away from the main drag. We are not a big name yet and the room is in a hotel. Pre-build, it’s a bit cooperate and lacking in atmosphere. We have never done this before and have no idea whether we are prepared or not! What if the room looks horrible? What is no one comes? What if the performers are difficult, what if the audiences can’t find it? what if what if, what if.
My realisation as I came up to Edinburgh on the train a couple of days ago is that you have to choose your own path.Whatever the month you want to have, it’s up to you to create and curate that experience. There are a thousand options available (actually many many more than that) and you can’t spend your time worrying about other people’s experience. Or indeed, what you wish yours was/had been. just like when you’re improvising, you make a clear choice then allow it to change when reality has other ideas. Hold on tightly, let go lightly.
So what do I want to get out of this Edinburgh? I want to learn what an improv venue needs so we can do it better next year, I want to meet and hang out with some lovely people. I want to stay sane and eat some vegetables, makes sure I remember to exercise. I want to be so ready to do the best possible show every day (often three times a day). Oh, and I want to go on a ghost tour, cos I never did that. These are some of the things that I will do this month. Or, you know, not.