Behind the Scenes at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019

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Monsters Within

Traversing slowly through the foggy room to find my seat, Taiwan Season: Monster by Yen-Cheng Liu was an experience from the onset.  Creative, evocative, uncomfortable, boundary pushing – This is the kind of work I came to the Fringe to experience. 

Afterwards, Liu was very approachable and open to share about his art.  Although created in 2017, this is his first time touring with this piece.  Liu, an acclaimed international dancer, explained that he reached a point in his dance career where he began to seriously question why he was dancing?  “What was the point of dancing?”  This work reflects those explorations as he experiments with space and time in unusual and interesting ways.  He says that this is a “movement piece” versus a dance piece.  Liu explained how he likes that in some Chinese landscape paintings you see mountains on each side of the picture and a big open space between.  The concept is reflected in his work. His actual dance movements were captivating. I walked away wanting more! MORE!  And needing to think and take it all in.  I love that.  I love that the Fringe is the place he decided to allow a very non-traditional piece the space.  Isn’t that what the Fringe should be about after all?

About that Snail in My Shoe: Tent Camping at the Fringe

My new blanket and pillow.

Huffing and puffing, I arrived with my heavier than hell backpack via bus to Mortonhall campground and crematorium (not joking) about 40 mins away from the center of Edinburgh where most of the Fringe action takes place.  I thought I would try to cut my expenses at the Fringe by going cheap on accommodations and tent camp.  Surely this is what artists on a budget must do, right?  I envisioned camping amidst all sorts of creative sorts and getting a really behind the scenes glimpse into performers’ lives at the Fringe. 

The long walk past the cows to reception.
None of these deluxe setups are mine…

It was hot and sunny when I arrived, and I found myself sweating the 15 minute walk from the bus to reception.  I had pre-booked into the extra cheap “Fringe Festival Camping” area which proved to be another 15 minute walk to a back field.  With limited bathroom access and a location way too far from the campground amenities, I rather quickly surmised that it would not do for a month.  I resolved to pay the difference to be closer to the front.  With sweat now dripping down my face, I trudged back to reception.  The helpful gal kindly allowed me to camp in the regular tent camping area only a three minute walk away.  Thank you sweet woman!  My new spot was under a fine shade tree.  Score! Maybe this was going work out after all! Heck the campground even sports a nice restaurant and pub.

This is my tent, and this was the last day I saw sun!

That was pretty much the last I saw of the sun for the next 13 days. It poured seemingly non-stop.  Rain makes a few things I intended to do much more challenging – cooking and drying clothes being the two biggies.  Fortunately, the campground had a kitchen, as do most campgrounds in Europe.

Kitchen, laundry, and recreation room.

I depend upon the plugs in their recreation room with inconvenient hours to do my charging, or hopped the bus to town to enjoy a coffee and recharge.*

Adding to the challenge, there was simply no way to dry clothes – not even my quick-dry towel would dry with the constant rainy damp weather. 

The welcome mat.

With the rain, came the mud.  My lovely little camp area turned into a mud pit.  I purchased a mat that said “SMILE” for outside the door to put my shoes on and make getting in and out less messy.  That helped.  Another challenge was keeping warm.  I erred in bringing my lightweight sleeping bag.  It’s summer after all, right?  I froze for the first few nights until I finally broke down and bought a blanket and a pillow, and another pair of pants.  I only brought one long pair – jeans, all the rest were shorts and a pair of capris.  Fortunately, Edinburgh has fabulous secondhand stores, “Charity shops” as they call them.  I got some fine pants for just a few pounds.  I went new retail on the blanket.

The break in!

Then came a new challenge — one I had never encountered in all my years of camping.  A break in!  I arrived back to my tent one evening to find a large hole, approximately 4 inches, chewed through the wall of my tent and into my bag of bread! Thank goodness it was not through my rainfly!!  I have no idea what critter broke in, just that I no could no longer keep any sort of bread product in my tent. 

On the bright but pricier side, the weather prompted lots more dining out, which is a bit of a treat in an international city like Edinburgh.  I am also taking in more shows (which have been amazing) than I anticipated because it’s just too miserable to wander outside.  I bought a monthly unlimited bus pass, so I spend a lot of time on it too. Plus, all the wet weather has been great for my skin and hair. 

About those artists camping … Yeah, not so much.  I didn’t notice very many folks camping, not “fringe” tent camping anyway.  Those that were in the field had much larger, more deluxe tent set-ups – so presumably they’re from Europe and not trying to pack small and light for flying.  Also, one should note that the night busses run much less frequently.  

One more little unexpected issue: bees!  At first there was an occasional one buzzing about my tent, but yesterday there were more like five making efforts to get in.  Did I park myself on a nest? Are they too over the rain?  Another first for me camping.  Wait … maybe it’s the banana peel! I think I got that one figured.

And about the snail I found in my shoe? At least it was not a slug. The slugs really like sticking themselves to my tent as well. Needless to say, when my friend arrives in a couple of days, I’m moving indoors.  Of course, it will probably stop raining thereafter! Ha!

*No free wifi, so I opted for a $20 sim card for my phone with 12GB of data for the month.

Tips & Words of Advice from Fringe Leaders 2019

This year the Edinburgh Fringe Festival offers over 100 programs aimed directly at helping Fringe participants, not to mention Fringe Central, a large central locale offering more participant services and respite.  I caught the “First Time at The Fringe: A Newcomer’s Guide”, a panel discussion where eight key Fringe employees representing various areas from music rights to marketing to ticketing provide all sorts of helpful information.  Here were the final take away key nuggets of advice from the eight:

  1. Be sure to take a step back – that is “get some perspective, by getting away.”
  2. Don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  3. Make the most of the diversity at the Fringe – from programs to people.
  4. Be kind – to others but also to yourself.
  5. Go to the Fringe Welcome Address.  You’ll hear an excellent Key Note speaker who will inspire and remind us all what the Fringe is all about.
  6. Be sure to use one another for support.  Help each other out as much as you can.
  7. Don’t become obsessed with ticket sales (don’t drive yourself crazy hitting refresh on your phone to see about sales).
  8. Build genuine relationships (that’s the best networking you can do).  A few genuine relationships will go further than a ton of quicky acquaintances. 

Note that two main focuses of the Fringe programming this year are diversity and self-care.  Lots of Fringe Central programs are specific to those topics.

How to Create a Pleasurable Show about Grief

Can a show about grief be pleasurable?  The answer is yes! As a first time producer at the Fringe (but a long time actor), Liz Richardson collaborates with fellow performers Josie Dale-Jones and Sam Ward, and musician Carmel Smickersgill to create a very interesting, engaging, and entertaining work called Swim.

Left to rightL Liz Richardson, Sam Ward, and Josie Dale-Jones

At the show’s onset, it is explained that this work is not about grief, but rather a show for the person who was grieving – a friend of Liz’s. This becomes a thought-provoking aspect of the show. By the end, the audience begins questioning their original assumptions about who is grieving.  The show offers a very clever concoction of mixed media, interesting “real” characters, original live music, dance, quality storytelling, and the opportunity to learn about wild swimming.  As a bonus, you get a behind the scenes look at making the show while enjoying the show – how perfect for me and my blogging.

Swim at the Edinburg Fringe 2019

In speaking with Liz after the show, I was most interested in understanding what the experience is like to produce and continue performing in a show that’s so personal and a continued reminder of a very sad time.  She explained that she is is no stranger to creating and presenting work of an intimate nature. However, she added that it’s been quite a different experience producing at the Fringe versus in Manchester, England where the show debuted. Back in Manchester, the show is connected into a grief organization, Cruse, which supports her work and vice versa.  Creating work that is helpful to others appears to be an important, recurring theme for Liz.  She shared that after shows in Manchester, audience members often approached her to share their grief.  She confessed that after about 3 days of shows and lots of crying, the theater realized the emotional toll it was taking on her and brought in support for her.  I asked her if she had any coping strategies with the prospect of the show being picked up for more runs elsewhere.  She smiled and shared her mother’s advice which was that she, Liz, needs to distance herself and attempt to “act” more.  It sounds like she is working out how to navigate that moving forward.  With the quick set up and breakdown of a show at the Fringe, who has time to grieve?  The show must go on…and out!  Next!

Swim plays at the Fringe through August 26 at 15:30.

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