What I learned at the Edinburgh Fringe

The best time to philosophise about the pros and cons of travel to an international festival, or specifically Edinburgh Fringe Festival, is when you are in extended transit on your way home. Hungry, smelly, tired, and still yet to buy enough duty free alcohol to kill a Jersey Cow, now is the perfect time to reflect on the whirlwind of the Ed Fringe.

Our show, SNAFU Theatre’s Murder at Warrabah House, ran for approximately sixteen nights from the start of the festival. The beginning was when crowds were still getting into gear and there was a freshness to the whole event. As time wears on, audiences, as well as critics, tend to dig their heels in more. Trends appear. Doors to amazing and innovative ideas open. People get very, very drunk, all day long.

The final weeks of Edinburgh Fringe tend towards the more prestigious acts that have received a lot of buzz from previous success in the Fringe or from critical buzz generated from festivals in other cities, such as London or the Brighton Fringe. An example of this was the Belarus Free Theatre, a company whose leader lives in the UK in political exile and whose members suffer constant threats from the country’s dictatorship. From the outset this was a must-see show, developed in London and premiering only in the final week of the Fringe with heaps of publicity to back it up. The buzz was well deserved and left me needing a quiet sit down afterwards.

But we are already about to delve into the Edinburgh Fringe’s mess of contradictions. The real hit of the festival (or arguably one of them?) was a little show by a bunch of kids vaguely associated with the Bristol Old Vic graduate program called the Wardrobe Ensemble. Their devised musical called Riot! was about a riot that occurred at the opening of an Ikea store six years ago in London. The ensemble of eight talented and annoyingly youthful artists incorporated a thoughtful story with belly laughs, physical theatre, dance, music and simple yet incredibly effective art direction (including a canny use of Ikea lamps as their sole lighting gear) to make a great piece of theatre. The reason I went? Because a friend saw it and told me to. How many people did I tell to see it? Three. How many people did they tell to see it? Who knows. But Riot! got its consistently large audiences from enthusiastic word of mouth, as well as from excellent reviews that they seemed genuinely surprised and delighted to receive. And you know what? I saw them out flyering on the street as well.

Both of these shows ran in the early afternoon. A trend that we did not know about before, but have learned now, is that theatre is generally on from the early afternoon until around 6pm, after which the stand up comedy kicks in. The rationale in many audiences’ minds is that they can see theatre and bawl their eyes out during the day, and then cheer themselves up and get drunk at stand up that night.

For us Australians living a 26 hour flight then a five hour train ride away from the excitement and fun of an Edinburgh Fringe it’s easy to forget that there are a lot of people who choose the Edinburgh Fringe as the vehicle to mount their production simply because they live two hours away. Not everyone is sinking thousands of dollars and jet lag into appearing there. As well as the companies like Belarus and Wardrobe, there are also high school groups bringing up their plays, lots and lots and lots of sketch comedy; there’s buskers and puppeteers participating in the free fringe, and so many other types of performer. The quality and verve with which participants are involving themselves varies massively.

I will definitely participate in the Edinburgh Fringe again. However, thought needs to be given, perhaps, to the merits of Australian artists continuing to participate, or seeing the pinnacle of exposure within the confines of the Edinburgh Festival.

One of the things I found surprising during my time in Scotland was that those that ran the Fringe, as well as the audiences hitting the streets, were genuinely pleased and enthusiastic that anyone had turned up at all. Then there was the receptiveness and curiousity of the audiences. People bought tickets to whatever tickled their fancy, whether they knew the performers or not. There were certainly ‘hot tickets’, but the overriding idea was that everyone has their own tastes, their own ideas of what they would like to see. People saw shows because they could, not because they should; a motivation that I sometimes feel the Australian arts scene needs to work on.

The Edinburgh Fringe, like so many other Fringe and art festivals reflects that old phrase: If you don’t like the news, go out and make some of your own; that refreshing new hit, or special discovery is out there, you just have to take the chance and go out and find it.

Link to the original article http://www.artshub.com.au/au/news-article/opinions/arts/what-i-learned-at-the-edinburgh-fringe-185610

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