Behind the Scenes at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2019

Tag: Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Featuring Fringy Female Graffiti Artists

Craving an off beat art experience, I bussed across town thirty minutes to Leith in search of the 360 Wraparound Street Art Courtyard and Urban Art Exhibition.  Spying a spray-painted Asian-looking cat on a large metal industrial door told me I was probably close.  A brick and stone arched tunnel about fifteen feet long covered in more painted art marked the entrance into an open-air parking lot space enclosed on all sides by high walls now covered in murals with a small indoor gallery space to my right.  

A lanky, fellow bent over his painting project in the yard looked up and smiled.  David welcomed me in to the parking area and introduced himself jokingly as the “curator” of the urban art project, and the landlord.  Another gal painting away on a 3 x 3 foot wood cube, offered a friendly Hello too.

David in front of Elph’s mural

“So what’s the impetus for this project?” I asked David.  He explained that initially he wanted to feature female Scottish street artists and invited as many as he could find to cover the outdoor space.  Most of the art was created a month before the Fringe Festival during the Leith Festival, but David showed me a few new works that were done during the Fringe – including an incredible work by Elph (@elphone).   David offered that Elph started out as a graffiti artist, then went to art school, and has returned to his street art roots by creating a new original graffiti work every 24 hours! Upon closer inspection of his painting, you see his lovely lightly painted touch in striking contrast to the other wall art with bold thick layered paint.  The Elph of Edinburgh is like the new Bansky of London. Now I’m on the hunt for his work!  How long has he been doing this? Anyone know?

Only three of the woman artists and one male (Elph) regularly do graffiti art as their primary art form.  Zoe Atherfold (@zoeatherfold), the gal I met when I walked in is a very talented screen print artist (I mention as I ended up purchasing a print), although she contributed to the 360 urban art project by painting a cool pigeon art mural high on the wall above the arch of the tunnel. 

David explained that inexpensive art studio space is hard to find in Edinburgh.  His indoor gallery and workshop space is a former refrigeration storage facility (that failed to pass a cheese inspection – not cold enough!).  I entered through an industrial roller lift door into a small gallery space with a variety of different artists’ works displayed.  Zoe invited me into her work space.  What work space?  Voila … A secret door opened amidst the displayed art, and we entered into a myriad of tiny work spaces with artists buzzing about.  She showed me her small print shop area.  David commented later how artists are great tenants because they don’t need much.  “Just a space to create and a toilet. No need for high speed wifi, etc,” he joked. 

I asked about other graffiti art I had seen around town. He explained that there’s a group of graffiti artists located not far away who do only spray paint mural art.  He showed me their “tag” of approval on this space – a show of urban art respect.  

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?

We’re Moving! Putting on A Mobile Performance at The Edinburgh Fringe

It’s pretty fun when the nice young woman, whom you are sitting next to and chatting with, suddenly gets up and begins performing in the show.  I was particularly curious to experience Back of the Bus by Java Dance Theater as I have a “thing” for mobile shows. What do I mean by mobile?  I mean Back of the Bus is a musical dance performance that takes place both on and off an old-school double-decker bus as it travels throughout Edinburgh.  We wandered into various non-traditional settings at least three times.

I spoke to Sacha Copland, Artistic Director, after the show and asked about some of the challenges and problems she’s had with presenting on a bus.  She offered that to begin, there is the challenge of securing a bus!  It is peak season in Edinburgh after all.  Java Dance Theater company is based in New Zealand, but Back of the Bus has been produced around the world including Tokyo so that’s just a small hurdle.  

Another challenge I saw firsthand was trying to gather your flock of audience members in the midst of Fringe chaos.  It’s certainly more difficult than having people meet up in a theater, eh?  Sacha emphasized that for anyone thinking to try a mobile show, the number one priority should be on safety — especially among the cast.  The bus is moving, taking corners, and stopping while the performers are dancing about.  From time to time they run into logistical problems too.  She mentioned that last night they hit rush hour traffic and so the show ran about 20 minutes long.  They have back up material for such happenings. Other times, a bus has taken a wrong turn or broken down.  The key Sacha says is trying to anticipate all the possible things that could go wrong and have backup plans.  Our show seemed to go off without a hitch. 

I know what I got out of the show, but I was curious about Sacha’s vision for her audience experience.  She sees Back of the Bus as an opportunity to break down boundaries and bring people together, which she notes is pretty much opposite of what normally happens on a bus.  The show does do just that.  Audience members find themselves on an hour-long romp around Edinburgh and ultimately become part of the show.  I found myself laughing and singing alongside new friends by the end.  The gal I locked arms with exclaimed, “Oh I just love not knowing what’s going to come next!”  Thanks for the fun Java Dance Theater.   

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.

Chaos Costume Designing for the Fringe

The Fringe offers opportunities for a variety of behind the scenes folks that are a part of making shows happen.  I met Si Chen on the train to Edinburgh.  She is from Northern China but currently a fashion design student in a graduate program at the University of London.  She designed and sewed beautiful costumes for a small group of dancers performing an original dance and storytelling show at the fringe called Chaos.  Her friend who created and choreographed the experimental piece chose to use dance as the international language to share traditional Chinese stories. The show only performs a couple of days with today being the last day (today at 18:30).  Si explained that space is expensive, especially as a student, but the experience is still worthy.  

Like the show, her designs of the long flowing lavender colored skirts add a contemporary look to traditional Chinese designs.  This is a perfect fit for Si as her personal interest in fashion is creating modern twists to traditional Chinese dress.  She showed me a photo of a luncheon with friends who share a similar interest and each woman was wearing beautiful dresses that reflected six different Chinese dynasties and their stories.  For Si, the Fringe provides her a professional opportunity to share and display her designs with an international audience, and help her student friends with their artistic projects. 

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