The great thing about the Edinburgh Festival is that it lays out a great glorious buffet table of theatrical work for the edible delectation of the general public. It's the all-you-can-eat of performance, a seemingly boundless cornucopia of goodies to sample. But did you ever wonder how these steaming morsels actually make their way to your salivating palate? Were you ever curious as to whether the procedure is more haute cuisine or microwavable meal for one? Well, hopefully this blog will bring you into the kitchen, and allow you a little peak into the bubbling saucepans and overflowing metaphorical bain maries of the dramatic process. I will be inviting you into my thespian bakehouse once a week for the next six weeks, and you don't even have to wear a hair net, or those ghastly check chef pants.
This week was the first week of rehearsals on Boy in a Dress, the autobiographical transgenre play I am taking to the festival. It is the first time I have shown my own work in Edinburgh and so feels like an enormous undertaking. Upon recognising that this is indeed my deflowering, most of the seasoned pros in my aquaintance have given me a look of concerned symptathy so deep as to be positively funerial. Tales of alcoholism, fortunes lost, reputations made and ruined abound in the mythology of the festival, giving my projections for the month ahead the inescapable gothic drama of an Bronte novel. I hope I am not disappointed.
So far the histrionics and heartaches have been kept to a reasonable level, I have only thrown my bag across the rehearsal room once, and that was prompted by London's ever incompetent public transport, rather than any shortcomings on behalf of my collaborators. Interpersonal relations remain chipper, even edging more towards familial than professional, which is always pleasant (at least for a while). We bond over an improvised cafetiere fashioned out of a milk carton and a tea strainer, with which we make something related by marriage (if not taste) to coffee, we share stories of how we entertained ourselves the previous evening, and we comisserate with each other on our shared experience as nomads.
By some wicked coincidence, myself, my co-star Erin, our long suffering stage manager Stephen, our director Sarah, and my assistant Emily, have all found ourselves in transit. Between now and the end of the festival, all five of us will have left our apartments and entered into the unenviable process of house hunting on a come down. Edinburgh then is functioning as some sort of unexpected respite, at least conceptually.
For now there is an endless amount of work at hand. The set is in various states of construction, so when we are building scenes Erin and I are in fog of imaginings. That filthy old chair draped with a trash bag is actually a stack of hat boxes, the plastic cups are cans of spray paint, the geometric tape markings on the floor spell out the limits of our world. We barely know each other, being brought together by this process, and we are learning about each other whilst dressed as the Virgin Mary and a teen drag queen respectively. We catch a few minutes together in between scenes or on the way home, we share diet tips since we are both conscious of the fact we will be spending a large part of August nude in front of strangers. (I'm really not averse to being naked with people I don't know, it's just that when they're paying I feel I ought to give them something charming to look at).
The script, which I wrote, is still mutating like a swamp thing from a 50s b-movie and threatens to overwhelms us entirely, several times a day. It is meandering, poetic, punchy text set with a selection of songs from a diverse suite of writers, and neither Erin nor myself has a moment of pause in the entire hour. Plus there are 24 costume changes in 65 minutes, a feat even Cher would have to admit is bordering on miraculous especially since said garb comes not from Bob Mackie but rather for the main part, from my Auntie Marjorie's stash of 70s cast offs.
Likewise, our rehearsal space is an abandoned unit on a condemned industrial estate in Ladbroke Grove (inexplicably furnished with a dove cote but lacking an internet connection) and our entire budget is probably less than Kenneth Brannagh spends on smoothies each day. People more in touch with reality might potentially be concerned by these facts, but not us! As long as we have a corner of a room to tart around in and the threat of an audience to entertain, we are happy. As such we are facing the obstacles with the maniacal enthusiasm of a soon to be matyred saint, complete with the unmistakable medieval scent of sweat and singed hair.
Next week we will witness the transubstantiation, at the hand of set designer and part time enchantress Myriddin, of several crates of discarded bric-a-brac into a oversized staging of my formative years. We will see Marjorie's old rags become chacubles and cloth recollections, transformed by Lily our costume assistant. We will see our producer Leo, through sheer force of personality, alchemically translate her abstract spread sheets and schedules into a living, breathing experience. We are witnessing miracles here lover.
We maybe working 12 hours a day, with only one day off scheduled in the next six weeks, and we may be earning pennies an hour, but we have somehow managed to spin a collective hysteria around ourselves which has convinced us that what we are doing is what we must do, or else who knows what will become of us? A project like this brings the people who work on it into a deep complicity, it becomes the receptacle for our hopes, our insecurities and our very will to live. If we are lucky, we may transfer this passion to our audience, and then truly we will be able to say that we succeeded, that it was worth it.