Thursday, 20 September 2012

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2012: An Insider’s Account

by Emma Ralph

Improvoganza: an improvised fight
(all images: courtesy of Emma Ralph)

 Since the few performances in 1947, The Edinburgh Fringe Festival has grown to more than 2,000 shows a day. It is not surprising to note, therefore, that the competition to have a well-known show on the circuit is rife. I was in three shows at the Fringe and one event; my cast of 5 actors took to the Royal Mile, as did almost every other company. We sang and handed out flyers for hours and in that time everyone gets a bit creative.  Comedy-improvising companies took to busking improvised plays; some people took a bed to the Mile and lay in it handing out flyers. There was one case of a giant sperm being lifted through the Mile, the three witches from Macbeth on stilts being raised from the crowd and a bathtub full of actors just wearing towels.

It was late Tuesday morning, in scorching heat (unusual for Edinburgh) and the battle was about to begin; as I stepped round the corner from South Bridge, the ‘Newland’ cast had already set up, A Scholl of yellow T-shirts flooded the Mile. The ‘Clockwork Orange’ boys had started stretching for their demonstration of a physical theatre gang battle – something to behold – the giant sperm was swimming and the bed sheets were made. The crowd of people was immense. Geared with flyers, we began our barbershop number from the musical, then the opening number; if we moved too far away from one another the harmonies would disappear, so moving together to catch people and give them flyers was a climb in itself. ‘Lights! Camera! Improvise!’ were starting to steal our punters so we had to move quickly. One company were lying still on the ground with their eyes closed just holding out flyers – rookie mistake! We littered our flyers around them in a lovely pattern and people started to take ours from the floor instead. Poster on poster was continually pasted on to the stands of the Mile, relentless, unrecognised effort just for people to remember your poster and the ‘look’ of your show; well, I had three and for each a different demographic.

Emma Ralph (right) performing at the Fringe
Reviews are the biggest part of selling a show, there was not a single company that half way through the fringe didn’t experience the late night cutting and stapling to flyers of reviews and star ratings. But there were the most spectacular shows on in Edinburgh. To name only a couple (that are showing in London so you might be able to catch them): “A Clockwork Orange” by Action To The Word is a fantastic physical theatre approach to the Burgess novel. However, “The Loves I Haven’t Known” was a highlight for me. The theatre could only sit roughly 50 people; it was hot and only two men were on stage playing a lot of different instruments as well as singing and acting (mostly exposition) --- all of it was hilarious. These men were clearly extremely talented and yet they were hidden away in the smallest venue.

It’s a comfort to know that, after peddling your show to everyone you knew and met, the performances began. Doing the same shows every day for a month, I must admit, gets frustrating, making silly mistakes or not liking a scene that you have to perform 28 times. The point of it is to grow to build the character and make the boring the scene look good. My two original shows were on at C Main on Chambers street, but after a week I was invited to perform in a show at the Pleasance Courtyard, having the same venue and dressing room as Sean Walsh and Pete Firman.

It’s safe to say that I got a lot out of the Festival this year. Networking is a big part of it; never go without taking your business cards! I ended up hosting and organising an improvising competition; granted it was at 1am but the audience was huge and, maintaining the energy to host for an hour and a half after three shows that day, the only thing I was running on was adrenaline (be sure to catch ‘Improvaganza’ at the Edinburgh fringe, it is on every year).

One month of rehearsals, one month of performances and sixty-one shows later, it was all over: so much work and yet so much enjoyment. From my experience, I would strongly urge anyone who has ever had any interest in an art or a humanities subject to go. Get yourself there by any means possible. You meet people at the top of their game and form the most amazing bonds. I still see and work with the people I met there, the energy of everyone is contagious and it is quite easy to get swept up in the culture. An experience that everyone must have.

“C Theatre’s performers deliver their tale with infectious enthusiasm” – ThreeWeeks ****

See also Charlie Albuery's 'Pick of the Fringe'.

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