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The Edinburgh Fringe, day 1: Thursday

August 20, 2010

After a week and a half of (relatively) peaceful solitude in York, I hopped on the train (as lightly as one can while dragging along all of one’s worldly possessions) and headed north to Edinburgh. The route lies along the east coast of the UK with sometimes no more than a cliff between train and sea: really lovely scenery.

It’s my third time in this city and I could tell as soon as I stepped onto the platform at Waverley that things are not what they once were. It was lively before, even in dark-by-3pm December, but it is packed now. And the only people I could see were people for the Fringe – theatrical tourists to the largest international arts festival in the world.

That first afternoon, I dropped off my things at my cast’s shared flat and went back into town to hang out at our venue’s cafe-bar. I spent an hour or two flipping through the official program with no clue how to choose between shows. At any given moment, there are dozens of shows to choose from, hundreds in a day, thousands in the three weeks of the festival, and no sure way of picking only good ones. But it’s that same grab-bag effect that makes it so fun.

That night, once everyone had arrived, we did our first line-through since May. It was a bit shakey of course, seeing as 1) it was after midnight, 2) our lead stays at a different flat, and 3) it’s been ten weeks since we were all together. Nevertheless, I was so impressed: the Fringe, my Fringe, was underway.

Yesterday (Thursday) we had a 9:30 call tech-run to set our lights, sound, and set, and get our first feel for the space. There wasn’t enough time to run the scenes but we did cue-to-cues for lights and sound; it was terribly exciting to see “Sylvia” lit and coming to life on stage!

After that, we had the rest of the day free. Here’s what we did:

101 (Oneohone) – an interactive show that rotates through four different scenarios, so you never know what you’ll get. Go down to a basement venue that is pretty much still just a dark basement, tie on a white armband to show that you’re willing to participate in the action, and go! The cast mingles with the audience, shaking hands: “My excellent good friend? My excellent good friend!” “My fellow student? My fellow student? My fellow student.” We are introduced to the King and his son (pulled from the audience, but later revealed to be a plant), his friend and his friend’s son (David, from our cast, is picked from the audience) and daughter. We kneel to the King one by one: “Think on thy sins.” “They are loves I bear to you.” We watch the daughter fall in love with the king’s son: “I bear my loves to you.” (This is the extent of the dialogue, you see.) One man clearly has tension with the King, and murders him: we kneel to him as the new King. “My excellent good friends” are his supporters, while “my fellow students” support the old King’s son. Plot derivation revealed? You guessed it: Hamlet. It was so amazing: the opening circulation determines where your loyalties lie- responding “my excellent good friend” gets you in with the usurper’s crowd, and they defend you against the “my fellow students”, interrupting with a pointed “my excellent good friend.” The restrictions on dialogue make intonation amazingly clear and important, and by the end you feel really traumatized, having been immersed in a society that led to so much tragedy. Ophelia especially made it very clear that it was Hamlet who caused her death, by killing her beloved father – her accusatory cries, “I bore my loves to you!” left my ears ringing. This show was my favorite of what I’ve seen so far.

Death of a Theatre Critic – this production comes from a Swedish theater company, but from what I could tell all the parts but the lead had been replaced with Scottish actors. This four-person show was a little uneasy. It dives into the pain caused by one bad review, which killed the protagonist’s show and left it dead in the water. His wife then leaves him for the play’s up-and-coming writer. The director basically falls apart, goes to the house of the reviewer and in what was probably the best scene discusses the fallout from the review and the roles of directors and critics to the theater. “We are the theater, and you’re just a parasite” as opposed to “we save the theater from the egos of people like you.” The reviewer does die, in an almost-accident (the director strangles him, but the reviewer has a stroke mid-strangle): the director goes to prison, not for murder, but because he failed to call an ambulance. In prison he meets a psychopath who has written an eight-hour surrealist play. He’s in prison for having murdered his stepfather. One of the funniest moments was his description of the murder: “It wasn’t difficult. What came after was difficult.” While ice-fishing, his stepfather criticized one of his drilled holes. He killed the stepfather with the ice drill, and then, being out on the ice with nowhere to hide the body, he carved him up (“for hours”) with his small fishing knife, the only other tool to hand, in order to fit him through the hole in the ice – around eight inches in diameter, and fifteen inches deep. But unfortunately, the holes keep clogging, so he has to drill new ones, until he is surrounded by about fifty holes full of body parts. Efficient? (The best writing in the play were the parts like this: anecdotal. Where the characters got around to actually discussing and analyzing their issues, I started to lose interest.) Once the director gets out of prison, he decides to put on his fellow inmate’s play, hiring the writer from the original piece to shorten and adapt it. But according to the inmate, the play is “myself, and if you shorten it you shorten me” etc. The psychopath kills the director in order to preserve his play and get enough publicity to have it performed in full. The end. The question you walk out with then becomes “which is the dead theater critic? the original reviewer, or the director?”, which is trivial. As stated in the play, in ancient drama there is only one end for the protagonist: death. So what is the play about? Death? Theater? Both? I don’t know, and while I enjoyed watching it at the time (because the acting was so strong, and all the parts aside from the lead were doubled, showing great versatility), I don’t really care.

Lashings of Ginger Beer Time – Queer. Feminist. Burlesque. Need I say more? Probably: “vagina dentata” to the tune of “Hakuna Matata” from the Lion King (“it means no penis / for the rest of your days / it’s our phallus-free / philosophy, vagina dentata”), an extremely smart song about the trials (and pointless deaths) inflicted on LGBTQ  TV characters (“Now I’m the dead girlfriend”, “at least Joss Whedon tried” etc.), and some really well-written stand-up about being a transwoman (“any “real” women in the audience? no?”). Plus, the words to Taylor Swift’s “Love Story,” re-written: “Juliet take me somewhere we can be alone / I have you so who needs Romeo / You’ll be a princess, I’ll be a princess / It’s a love story / Baby just say yes”. Finally an encore to the tune of “Que sera, sera”: “Join the fight with me / against heteropatriarchy / and consumer society / join the fight with me.” Amazing.

Dracula – a midnight production, which in itself is a cool idea. It was an adaptation unlike any other I’ve seen, where all the major characters are patients in an asylum, “reenacting” events, mumbling to themselves, moaning, twitching, and generally being creepy (complete with white dresses (or white shirt and shredded white trousers), black eyes, “broken doll” movement, a smoke machine and a venue akin to an abandoned warehouse. Scenes from the book emerged from these figures like hazy crystal-ball images only to dissipate again. With no set, movement quality was everything, and any sound effects were produced by the actors (which was a bit heavy on the hissing and moaning). All in all it was a really cool and creepy idea, but a bit on the long side. Also, Dracula wins – which I suppose is fitting for a creepy midnight production.

So that was yesterday – four shows in one day, plus two rehearsals – amazing! Also, our cast is the cutest: we made our grocery list Wednesday night and went shopping for communal food yesterday, and last night we all ate pasta and salad, “like a family.” Our flat is a bit of a hike from the city center and we all share beds (except the one guy, who merited the only single), but it is really quite nice. Right now, I am watching Alex make bread before our afternoon rehearsal. We’re so wholesome. (Although yesterday we did come home to find a random stranger sleeping in our bed (Goldilocks, anyone?), a friend of the other cast staying here, and yesterday I retrieved a waterlogged-looking passport from the bathroom floor, belonging to one of the guys with our production team; upon returning it I learned that it had not, in fact, gone in the toilet, which was a relief.)

And that is my Fringe thus far: midnight Draculas, oddly sweet and tame queer burlesque, morning tech runs and family dinners, Goldilocks, the crazy Royal Mile, and getting overly excited over just about anything – including fold-out Victorian dollhouse books, avocados, Lidl’s, and songs from Buffy. And that was just the first day!

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