The Edinburgh Fringe is well underway. And it certainly has its ups and downs.
Having arrived here exactly a week ago from Manchester, where I performed the show for 2 nights to packed, enthusiastic crowds, my first voyage from the train station to my flat was up a huge hill and down another… while lugging about 75 pounds of luggage. This was a primer for what was to follow.
The flat is in the Leith section of Edinburgh, across the street from a lovely green park. I’m in private room in the home of Alan and Victor, who couldn’t be sweeter. We have the same taste in music, tapas, and B-movies and they provide tips about the terrain on an hourly basis. It’s a sweet spot to come home to at the end of the physically and mentally exhausting days here.
One minute it’s pouring rain, and the next it’s hot and humid. One second it’s breezy and freezing, and the next it’s sunny and still. The weather changes faster than my mind. I go through 3 outfits a day from shorts to jeans and hoodies.
I make a joke in the show about the joys of “navigating the ancient cobblestone streets of London” – but that’s nothing compared to the practically Medieval roads of Edinburgh! The city is built on upper and lower levels. Hills, valleys, alleys, short-cuts that become long-cuts, roads that lead to nowhere, etc. For 5 days I kept overshooting a major road here whilst crossing the populated North Bridge. How did I keep missing that damn road? Every time? Oh! I missed the little set of granite steps that lead down the road to the lower level of the city. So very, erm, Roman?
Walking with a map is sooo not cool. I can’t do it. So I save a photo of the destination on the map on my iPhone and use it as a sorta primitive GPS for every new location I visit. At least I look like a cool, wealthy American who gets a signal on his phone. And then my UK phones starts ringing and I have no idea which phone is doing what.
So far, I’ve done 7 performances of Desperately Seeking the Exit. And I’ve seen 10 shows. Or maybe 12. I don’t even know anymore. Many of us Yanks have been seeing each others’ shows and I have to say they were all excellent and inspiring. I’ve also seen some shows that just caught my eye … and some of them were rubbish. High and lows. Highs and lows. The trick is to see as many shows as you can; not only for the “art” but to network. That’s how it works. You scratch my show’s back, I will tweet about yours. But with 2,700 other shows all playing here, there is a ton of people to reach.
In a city populated with thousands of performers, locals, and tourists, I run into someone I know at least a dozen times a day. From visits to Fringe Central for the free wifi or seminars, to the popular late night outdoor garden tents of Assembly, Gilded Balloon, and Underbelly – I always spot a familiar face. “Hey! You just tweeted me this morning! I’m Pete! You look just like your avatar! Come see my show!” And then I hand out show flyers. That’s all I do. Hand out flyers.
That’s all anyone does here when not drinking or performing. Promote and promote. There’s a popular strip called The Mile where all sorts of performers in various stages of painted-face and garish costumes hawk their shows. It’s like walking through an actual circus. I can’t do The Mile anymore. I’ve instead taken up conversations with folks at other shows, or at pubs, telling them about my show. Hence, I carry about 100 postcard/flyers with me every day, as well as my promotional glow-in-the-dark buttons, stickers, computer, hard drive, and adaptors. And I’ve lost about 8 pounds in a week. In sweat. My belt tells me so.
At the end of the show, my entire “costume” is completely soaked. I call the room at the Edinburgh City Football Club where my show happens at 6PM every night, “The Sweat Box.” It seats about 50 and is quite intimate. Just a 6’X6′ stage, two windows, 6 tiny HOT lights, and a tiny backstage area. But the backstage area is not for prop storage. That would be the tiny open closet down the hall, next to the ladies room … which has become my dressing room. I use a cheap bike lock to lock up my trusty boom box to an iron grating on the window in the prop closet – because we all know how important windows are in closets. I simply cannot carry that box back to my flat 10 minutes away whilst also carrying a few pounds of sweaty clothes and flyers, posters, buttons … you get the picture.
Sometimes my show has 8 people in the audience; other times I have 40. Inevitably there’s a familiar face in the crowd who buys me a Magners in the upstairs bar. And I wind up filling in even more blanks about the show, and the show within the show. Like an evil form of déjà vu, I’m once again adapting my script every day to satisfy and engage an international audience. “British” becomes “English”, so I don’t include any Scots in my observations about life in London. After all, I don’t know enough about the Scottish culture yet to make any judgements. The word “spastic” is offensive to Scots. OK. Now it’s “jerky.” Miming a cigarette comes off as “the finger” to the Scots, so change that. Candy=Sweets. Arugala salad= Rocket salad. And no one here knows the TV show SMASH. So, I need to know who is in the house so I can direct certain bits to that section of the audience. We now open with, “Where is everyone from? Oh! London! I love that city. New York? Me too! Kirkintilloch? Where is that? Scotland! I love it here! Well, I have a story for you …”
I see the audience nod and sometimes nod off. It’s hot in the Sweat Box. I’ve stopped using the stage lights and just use the natural light streaming through the windows. “Oh! The sun is out! Let me pull the shades. Oops! It’s pouring rain now. Let me turn on the stage lights. We all good? Good. Oops! The humidity made my banner fall on my head. Whose mobile phone is ringing? Why is the deaf guy and his translator down front leaving halfway through? I’m talking too fast?”
While holding out my collection bucket at the show’s end (actually a cheesy Uncle Sam hat) I get a pound here, a £20 note there. I’ve had folks tell me they saw the actual musical in London and loved it. I’ve met other performers who swear to spread the word. I’ve had an old couple wander in 40 minutes into the show and tell me how much they loved it. I even had a reviewer come in 8-minutes late and then gave me a trash review in The List based on not hearing the set-up for the entire show. A real LOW. We got that review retracted. And then we got a MUST SEE from The STAGE the very next day. Ups & downs every minute of every day!
More reviews will be coming out this week. We are all warned not to read them. How can I not? You learn just as much from your negatives as your positives. Your highs as well as your lows. A lot like life.
I’m off now to “exit-flyer” after a fellow Yanks’ show. That means passing out flyers as the audience files out of a show. “If you liked this show, you’ll like mine. Come see it. It’s about a flop that I wrote! And it’s free!”
The good news is I don’t need a map to get to the venue. I ain’t no tourist.