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Prague: Playing 'Our Town'

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It's light again. Only just, but still, morning has irrevocably broken. Upstairs, where the festival's closing party is in full swing, many are still dancing. For us, the party is over, we need to leave for the airport in two hours. The massive buildings with their bell towers and statues and blackened brickwork line the streets, even more stately than during the day. It's quiet. The road home is a half hour walk, but I try to stretch time because the city is so unbelievably beautiful at this time, and this is the perfect chance to walk the one bridge across the river which I hadn't taken yet.

I say home, but really I mean our rented apartment. Prague has become 'our' town in just ten days; we feel at home, and that is because we have been playing our show Bye Bye World here. The joy of travelling for work has become inescapable on this second international adventure of ours. The first couple of days in Prague we were just tourists, not performers yet, albeit tourists at a festival. We attended the shows by our colleagues, we visited the high-lights of the city, and I decided to go and see a different bridge every day. Like every other tourist, we felt a little bit lost at first.

After playing our Prague premiere, the city had changed. We looked at it with different eyes. As if we were now permitted to fully be part of the city's life. We had given Prague our show and in return for this the city opened its arms to us. That big bombastic church across the road from our venue had now become a familiar sight. The bar below the artists' hang-out of choice had become our beloved local. The park had become friendly even at night.

This last walk home takes me past the metronome, on the top of a hill from which you can look out across the whole of the city. In Soviet days this was the site of a gigantic statue honouring Stalin, one of the biggest Soviet statues in the world. It has been replaced by a giant metronome that doesn't work. Someone has attached a rope to it, with pairs of shoes dangling off it. For a moment I consider flinging my shoes up there as well, but the walk home will take another twenty minutes.

The Prague Fringe is an abundantly international festival. The performers, the volunteers, the audience: they flock in from all over the globe. Because playing here is entirely at the artists' own cost, it is even more remarkable that we met companies from the United States, from Australia and from South Africa. The Prague Fringe, along with seven other fringe theatre festivals, is part of the World Fringe Festival Alliance, an initiative started by the Amsterdam Fringe. The festivals collaborate to attract sponsors and exchange shows under the label 'Best of Fringe,' giving companies an opportunity to travel the world with their work. Because fringe festivals around the world largely allow open entry to companies, it is hard to stand out among the multitude of shows. A 'Best of Fringe' mark offers a possibility to stand out. In Prague, our show had picked up a lot of buzz. People had heard about it, people were flocking in.

More than at other festivals, companies took the time to see each other's work. One night, we were surprised to see that at the end of a show our production got 'plugged.' Visibly affected, one of the actors told the audience "Do yourself a favour, go and see Bye Bye World. It's an amazing show, you will love it." Wow. This was amazing, something we hadn't ever experienced before. Up until then, we hadn't really got our heads around the whole plugging thing, but after that night we started to fanatically recommend other companies' work at the end of each one of our shows.

It will be a big leap this coming Wednesday, coming from Prague - where the festival is small and where we took care of everything ourselves - to Edinburgh, a city flooded by festival goers and where we understand that without a producer, chances are high you might find yourself drowning. Fortunately, we can fall back on a fantastic team working with us.

Every city becomes 'our town,' just a little bit, by playing there. Our set always helps; one of the most beautiful experiences is arriving at a new location in a new country and finding our own set there (just two simple stools). Caringly constructed, each time, by people working there.

I imagine how in Perth, our two stools are now standing abandoned in some warehouse, our summer sweat deep in their wood. How in Prague, they might have ended up at festival programmer Steve's house (he liked them so much). In Amsterdam, they have found a new life as occassional tables in Anne's flat. In Edinburgh, they might already be waiting for us, or they are being built right now. Nearly. We're nearly there.

Bye Bye World will be performed at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival 15-26 August @ 11.35 at the Underbelly

Next week: Edinburgh
[ by Anne Gehring & Vera Ketelaars]