So…. Just got back from my first Edinburgh Fringe. Woop-doo!
Had a superb time, obviously (chiefly thanks to some particularly generous friends). It certainly felt like a milestone for me. On top of the expected seeing of many good things, I got some education in what it means to be part of the festival. As anyone who’s actually performed there could undoubtedly explain it better, I won’t elaborate at length – but here are a few notes, just for the record.
Its obvious that putting on and actively promoting a run of twenty plus consecutive daily shows away from home will naturally be a bit of a gauntlet. Arriving for the final five days, I saw quite a few Fringe-weary faces sighing, and regularly heard the mildly battered refrain ‘It’s been a long Fringe’. Stamina and strategy aren’t pre-requisites, but they definitely help.
On the other hand, as one comic pointed out to me, the Fringe offers an otherwise rare opportunity to those who make the effort. Beyond touring or getting an extended run somewhere (much less likely for those just getting into it), there aren’t many other experiences for performers as intensely focused as the Edinburgh Festival. Twenty odd audiences in as many days – all varying in number, tastes and expectations – an epic proving ground. Gaining similar experience in the real world could take a fair bit of time – particularly if you don’t perform regularly or for a living. All that condensed into just over three weeks means that you gain more simply by having so much in recent memory to work with and mull over. At least that’s the theory. Wonder if it works.
As for what was on – the sheer variety of it all, while great for me as a punter, slightly intimidated me as a performer. Seeing so many acts, with such diversity in subject, style and intensity, performing to wildly differing audiences at a range of venues was as exciting as it was mildly disorienting. However, I confess to wondering at several points whether I had anything worth adding to the innumerable voices, viewpoints, styles and aesthetics already proliferating at the Fringe. Of course, the correct answer to that nagging doubt is: it doesn’t seem to stop anyone else.
My week definitely gave me a better perspective on the kind of performer I’d like to be – or perhaps more appropriately the kind of outfit I want to be part of. It’s probably easiest to talk about this in terms of who I saw and what I got from seeing them.
The Beta Males and Cariad and Paul were like entertainment engines powered by synchronicity – one through slick and deft design, the other through amazing chemistry. The results were impressive and intensely entertaining. There’s nothing quite as satisfying as two (or more) people who clearly share a sense of comedic rhythm. Better still when it manifests as a sort of bone-deep, near-reflexive awareness of the other. As this apparently only emerges from long-standing creative partnerships – time together is key.
Who Ya Gonna Call (go team!), Beardyman and John Robertson’s gleefully cruel The Dark Room reminded me that I’d quite like people to have fun whilst I’m revelling in my own. Riskily self-indulgent? Answer: only if you don’t invite the audience to the fun. These shows were all fantastic at taking personal passions and translating them into something anyone could appreciate and be part of – a really beautiful thing to see. WYGC and The Dark Room particularly, with their knowingly (and literally) recycled aesthetics, convinced me that the key to really engaging your audience is ultimately just about respecting them. As most improv is based on some level of audience involvement, this feels like an important thing to bear in mind.
Finally, there’s something about the power of personal truth or revelation in comedy. At almost opposite ends of the scale here were Tom Wrigglesworth and Al Lubel. Wrigglesworth’s was an intimate, charming and moving account of his grandfather’s lasting impact on him as a person. Lubel, by contrast, used all manner of revelations about his relationship with his mother to deliver an absurdly narcissistic, borderline loathsome account of himself. Both funny for completely different reasons, but both left me thinking: I can’t believe you just shared that.
So, the inevitable question – do I now want to take a show to the Fringe? Yes, absolutely.
If I can find three weeks lying around of an August – maybe.