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The Mainstream Is Littered With Paper (Edinburgh Fringe: part 3)

25/08/2014 13:09 BST | Updated 23/10/2014 10:59 BST

Please forgive the slightly outdated nature of this post. I wrote it 2 weeks ago, and then my brain was duly scrambled in the terrific work and play load of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Now, even as the Roscoe Haze ® is at it's thickest, I've finally remembered that I recently forgot to post. Herewith, the first weeks lessons in print:

The first week of the Edinburgh Fringe was an embarrassment of riches in terms of blog-worthy experiences. That does not make for good sleeping. But sleeping pills do. My venue is beautiful - if not a bit sterile in the context of the soggy, dirty, leaky Fringe I was used to from 10 years ago. But I'm happy to be able to walk barefoot in the dressing room (there's a dressing room!) without fear of Tetanus. The Fringe on the whole seems to have ramped up considerably in the commercial value of its offerings. Although the opus of 2014's guide is still very eclectic, there is a running gag throughout that goes like this: a bunch of self-produced artists get together to do a festival where their art can finally flow into the mainstream. Then, when it becomes a money-maker, big West End and Off-Broadway producers get involved and bring their mainstream major tickets to the party. The independent types find themselves again very much on the Fringe, even of the Fringe. It's a small town, and though populated with plenty of tourists in the busy season, it's a nearly impossible endeavor to get heard amidst all the high-budget marketing campaigns bombarding every wall and corner. I say nearly, because I must believe, the cream will rise.

I booked myself into a posh, 200 seat venue. It's the year-round Studio theatre in the backside of Edinburgh's celebrated Festival Theatre. I wanted at least the unspoken support of the venue to tell me nightly that I am, if not quite yet a star, at least "an entertainer of note." And I'm glad I did. Even when I only had 1 person in it. That's right, for my second performance, I had 5 tickets sold, of which only 1 was collected. I had been out flyering all day, introducing myself and my show to anyone who would listen. This may be the most humiliating adventure of the Edinburgh demands, but it has brought some good results, in the shape of friends, new fans, and even the occasional gig.

On that day, I entered the Underbelly Garden, and did a quick scan of the punters milling about under the big, purple cow-shaped tent. Reading a crowd has become one of my more acute, acquired skills. I bee-lined towards a woman sitting alone. I offered my opening line and the flyer and she said, "Oh, I've just bought a ticket to this!" Upon further conversation I discovered she'd just flown in from South Africa, read through the whole programme on the plane and mine was the first and as yet only ticket she'd bought. She was the one person in the audience that night. So there was no canceling.

"Get every usher in the world, sitting in that house right now." I said as the opening music cue started to play. I did it for them, and for me, to be fair. After 2 weeks of rehearsing in a room with no one but a mirror, at least the 5 of them would be more interesting than that. They were. They were the warmest, most delightful "crowd" of 5 that I've ever played for. I've never played for 5 people before, let alone 1 person and 4 ushers. I frolicked on the empty chairs. I met and kissed each one personally through the show. They got me through a moment of genuine frailty with their laughter. We love each other now. And maybe forever.

The very next day, I played for 3000 people at the storied Edinburgh Playhouse for the Forth Gala's Best of the Fringe. My dressing room still had Burt Bacharach's name by the door from the night previous. I rolled around on the massive stage to pick up any residual brilliance dust. My show, it's theme and it's trials, has ensured that I actually suffer no shame. I did new material, that I'd written that day with local dirt I'd mined from some locals that I'd met flyering my show in the rain. I killed for 3000 people laughing hysterically at my shameless, offbeat, independent comedy. The thrill was staggering.

Then I realized, I had to run off to do my show, there would be nobody to flyer these 3000 happy, well-to-do locals that I'd just unduly impressed with my outrageous silliness. I had no street team. I never thought I'd need one. Back in the day, there was no way it would have done any good to have kids pass out flyers for a no-name like me. But times have changed. Now, every show has a street team and every alley way is a gauntlet to run lest you be attacked on all sides by eager interns with catch-phrases and a heavy bag of paper. Every other industry has gone paperless, the Fringe is now paper-full. Sorry, environment, marketing comes first.

It has begun, no matter how tinily. No shame in small beginnings, all beginnings are small.