Bring your eye back dear, to the keyhole, to your private peep show onto the demented and lascivious happenings at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. I am La JohnJoseph, your voyeuristic narrator on this journey, and I am here to open your eyes.
Having arrived in Edinburgh with our body weight tripled by the luggage we dragged behind us, our first task was lugging our suitcases to our new home. It is a rather charming building with a garden and almost enough room for three people to live there comfortably. Unfortunately for we pioneers, there were five of us. Luckily we're resourceful people, and though some of us did have to hide in the pantry when the landlady arrived, we quickly made the place hospitable. Okay, so it did have the vague air of a refugee camp to it and no personal space, but we had all long discovered that there was no point in being shy when working on this project. (It was when the kettle broke that things really got tense). Living with your director, your co-star, your stage manager and the set design team might seem inadvisable at first but for this humanoid at least, the living arrangements were the smallest on the laundry list of concerns.
Opening a show to the public in such a competitive market is always nerve wracking. We are up against 2,499 other shows, each of which is armed to the teeth with a hysterical determination, an insatiable desire for success and a do-or-die attitude. The festival is so expensive to participate in, and requires such immense amounts of work before the performers even reach the stage that the whole thing feels like a life or death matter. Will anyone come to the show? Will the critics slate it? Will the producer assume a pseudonym and quietly slip out of the country? There is so much at stake in terms of finances, reputation and morale, it's a wonder that the festival isn't full of drunken egomaniacs driven to hard booze and bad sex. Oh wait....
Somehow, against all the odds we got our show onto the stage, and only a day late. We were forced to cancel our first preview, after the lighting desk blew up, but besides that, and the loss of two assistant stage managers (who promptly quit upon realizing the size of the task they had signed up for) our get in was practically perfect. It should be noted that our show, "Boy in a Dress", is a one-hour autobiographical performance art piece, with twenty-four costume changes and a lot of paint splashed around, it's just a little challenging to set up. The stage management team have the unenviable task everyday, of building the entire set in fifteen minutes, transforming the basement of a hotel into a dusty repository of dreams, complete with oversize wardrobe, UV lighting rig and an arsenal of props. Every other show in the venue is a stand up comedy show, consisting of a comic in a spotlight, with nothing more complicated required as set dressing than a mic-stand and a glass of lager. I think our show has come as something of a horrible shock to the venue; at least I presume that's why the venue manager was screaming some very unnecessary and offensive curse words at our stage manager today. Deeply unprofessional even by festival standards.
Likewise we as theatre performers are not like the comedians we share the dressing room with, and have proved ourselves a constant source of annoyance and bafflement to them. Stand up comics don't warm up in the same way as actors, so our jumping jacks and vocal trills must seem a little odd to the comics who are trying to revise a joke or two on the other side of the room. (My co-star Erin also made the fatal mistake of leaving her underwear on the coffee machine backstage, which prompted an endless chain of health and safety emails). Likewise when we come offstage in said underwear, drenched in blue paint, to say the cast of "Best of Irish Comedy" look at us quizzically is an understatement.
Not as quizzically as the people we have been trying to coax into our audience with our staggeringly unsuccessful flyering routine. Erin and I are unequivocally useless at it; I can barely talk to a single person (I get so nervous and intimidated), whilst she is too busy sizing up passers by as potential lovers. Between the two of us we get nowhere. Luckily Sarah, our director, is a bit of a dab hand at it, so we have been saved from empty houses by her promotional charm. Well, that and one or two terrific reviews. The Metro gave us four stars, The Fest described the show as an, "exuberant cocktail of autobiographical monologues (which) earn the audience's attention from the moment he walks out on stage." Broadway Baby wrote, "the songs are wonderfully delivered...the stories are varied and well chosen", whilst The Scotsman said "La JohnJoseph will be a star", which is nice.
Speaking of stars, Myra Du Bois new hit show, "Auntie Myra's Fun Show" is an absolute riot, and should not be missed if you're in town. She's a demented children's entertainer with absolutely no regard for professional standards, or good taste, which equals a rollicking hour of blue humor and disastrous magic tricks. Plus, my brother Alexander is coming to town next week to see my show, which makes me very nervous. He lives in Berlin, and has a new music video for his single, "Bad Language", which is quite a piece of work. Fingers crossed that I survive until then, this seven shows a week business is doing me in! Especially on top of the interviews, the promotion and the mandatory late night drinking. It's a wonder I ever make it onto the stage at all. Here we are, barely a week through the festival and already I am flat out exhausted and wishing for the soft mercy of bankruptcy to put me out of my misery. Sadly though, I have the creeping feeling that the show is going to do horribly well, and that I am going to be painted blue and singing the hits with my giant wardrobe for decades to come. If I'm to be the Liza Minnelli of live art, won't somebody at least get me a nice comfy sequined batwing kaftan to wear? These be-splattered underwear are so unflattering.
La JohnJoseph in 'Boy in a Dress' The Edinburgh Fringe Festival @ 16.20 The Stand