Sunday, September 20, 2015

Fringe frenzy

            Throughout August, every time I spoke with someone who wasn’t in Edinburgh about the Fringe I had trouble describing it. As I wrote previously, it’s a massive affair with nearly 50,000 performances of 3,000 unique shows in four weeks. Many of those shows are free, and there are hundreds of venues nearly all of which are makeshift spaces such as classrooms, lecture halls, bars, basements, parks, and temporary buildings. Still, the entire month felt like a blurry frenzy since there wasn't a single tone to which you could acclimate. This was partially owing to the fact that our intern schedule changed each day but also due to the greater ever-changing festival. Some shows were one-offs, others one weekend, one week, everyday, or even multiple times a day. Plus the number of tourists is consistently high but even that ebbed and flowed every few days as new spectators sampled the Fringe’s offerings.

            My main duties were marketing and technical support for the shows which boils down to four to five hours a day of lifting set pieces, distributing email slips for a raffle, handing out programs, and trying to get tourists to take a flyer by offering up free candy or “sweets” as they say in the UK (the improv troupe’s name is Baby Wants Candy). While not the most glamorous work, it introduced me to a number of young theatre enthusiasts also interning for Baby Wants Candy and it enabled me to see the Fringe through its entirety, giving me a fuller understanding of the festival than I would have gotten from a weekend visit. Plus we had free passes for all shows in Assembly, one of the largest multi-venue operators at the Fringe, so out about 30 of the 51 shows I saw were free.
            A surprising element of this month was the place itself. Edinburgh is a magical city; it's no wonder it inspired Harry Potter.

Taken from Arthur's Seat:

The Edinburgh Castle (ft. Mary's Milk Bar ice cream):

Pentland Hills:

Loch Ness; a few of us spent our last day in the heather-coated Highlands:

            I also participated in a three-day beginners’ intensive with Baby Wants Candy, and a musical improv workshop. Both watching BWC’s shows and taking their workshops led me to realize how many important skills one learns from improv. It demands attentive listening, open-mindedness towards others' ideas, trusting one's own intuition, and a positive, “yes, and” attitude, so I would encourage everyone to try it out.
            Theatre at the Fringe felt more alive and impactful than anywhere else I’ve been. Tens of thousands of theatre-artists from all around the world converge to watch, perform, and celebrate theatre, an art form that has been revered since the festival of Dionysus in ancient Greece. The Fringe reminded me that theatre demands what few things do in this day and age: complete attention. You cannot mute, pause, or rewind a play; stubbornly tethered to the time and place, theatre requires us to listen and to imagine. The festival served as the ultimate prologue to my documentary play project since it enabled me to dedicate an entire month to theatre-going, a rare and fortunate occasion.

            Now I better understand the process and expense of getting a show to the Fringe and depending on how things go this year I may return to Edinburgh next August!

Also, here's a write-up on Princeton interns at the Fringe with other student's reflections:

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