Before this year, I didn’t even know “perform at the Edinburgh Fringe Fest” was on my bucket list, and now it’s been checked off. Edinburgh started its international arts festival in 1947, and right away, a fringe festival sprung up to feature more experimental works, for a more affordable price. I’d wanted to go to the Fringe ever since I learned about it, and I got the chance when my friend Liz invited me up for the show she helps produce.
I stayed with the crew of Stand Up Tragedy, and flyered for my keep. I would guess at least half of the comedians at the Fringe mention the pain of flyering in their sets, since it’s a thankless job that must be done in order to get butts in seats. I didn’t mind it too much at first–I liked checking out who might enjoy the show, and telling them about it while handing them a flyer with all the pertinent info, then seeing them after the show and hearing how much they liked it. But since everyone is flyering, it can get overwhelming, and most people rushed by without another glance; and when it started raining on top of that, it wasn’t quite as fun.
But then the shows! Stand Up Tragedy runs in East London throughout the year, but since it’s a variety show, there’s nothing specific to rehearse when bringing it to Edinburgh. The core team of Dave, Liz, and Harv keep it running smoothly, guiding five different acts through the show every night. The idea is that there’s a lot of comedy out there, but not as many shows focusing on the darker side of things, and there’s plenty to explore. So every night is a mix of comedy, spoken word, storytelling, sometimes music–all about something on the spectrum of sad, from bad dates to some truly tragic themes, like abuse or death.
Flyering beforehand and holding the hat for donations afterward meant that I got to hear a lot of different acts, and it was humbling to hear the talent up on that stage. Many people had their own shows, so after a 10-minute sample of their work, I could decide to go see the rest of their act later on in the week.
So it was intimidating to get up on that stage myself. I was in the chorus of the spring musicals in high school, and I gave several speeches to crowds in college as the leader of activist groups, but I haven’t been on stage in any capacity in about a decade. (Karaoke doesn’t count, right?) I like being the center of attention and I have a lot of stories to tell, but that’s not the same thing as performing a spoken word piece. I wrote the piece over the course of a week, and spent another week rehearsing it to myself and once for my cousin (an appreciative, if biased, audience). But getting up on that stage, finding out five minutes before curtain that I was going first, I was a little nervous.
I remembered what I’d learned in theater classes–speak more slowly than you think you should, talk to the back of the room, make decisive but not jerky movements. I say I remembered these things, but I’m not sure I actually did them properly. I’m pretty sure I talked too fast, and since I’m not used to audience interaction, I talked over a few laughs that Liz reminded me I should let have their full time.
I was slated to perform three times, and although I felt generally good about my first two performances, something felt a little off. I had to glance at my notes too often, and some of the sentences felt forced. So I rewrote the second half two hours before my final performance–and it was much better. Even though I’d just written it, I consulted my notes less frequently than the version I’d been practicing for weeks, which just goes to show that the changes were the right ones to make. I stopped forcing a theme and really dug into the deep loneliness of being hit by a car in a foreign country, which was truer to my experience and better for the gig. That’s probably the version I’ll try submitting to various publications (which is why I haven’t written a blog post on it yet–I’m trying to get it published).
I got a rush from being on stage, and feeling the audience respond. One of the reasons I enjoy writing true stories is that it helps me look at my life a little differently, and performing one of those stories added another layer of perspective. I might have the bug–who wants to put me on stage next?
Being in Edinburgh for the Fringe was great for seeing people on top of their game, too. Aside from the wonderful performers at Stand Up Tragedy, I saw the shows of the following: sketch comedy group Casual Violence, storyteller Tim Ralphs, slam poet Sophia Walker, performance poet Lucy Ayrton, playwright Megan Cohen, a couple members of the sketch comedy group The Beta Males, comedian Brydie Lee Kennedy, character comedian Samantha Mann, comedian Tom Webb, weirdo rock opera gods The Mechanisms, cabaret duo The Ruby Darlings, and comedian Tamer Kattan. I recommend seeing whatever any of them is involved in, if you ever get a chance.
Being in Edinburgh for the Fringe meant being on a different schedule from most of the working world–getting up late, seeing shows or writing blog posts, flyering, running the show, seeing more shows, home late, wake up and repeat. But that’s the schedule I’m best at anyway, so I did just fine. Also, I drank a lot of Deuchars beer and ate a lot of chips from the chippie up the street. Liz and I befriended a few young Scottish kids, who wanted to hear about life in America. I befriended a woman on a bus who said every time she visits her family she buys a round-the-world ticket: South Africa to see her mom, Australia to visit one son, New York to visit the other son, back home. I stumbled upon a few places that feature in Ian Rankin’s novels, including the actual police station DI Rebus is based at, which pleased me greatly.
Dave has podcasted a few of the shows from the Fringe. A clips show with my third and best performance should be ready to go in late November, so I’ll let you know when that’s up. In the meantime, you can hear some of the acts I mentioned here if you head over to the Stand Up Tragedy website. Enjoy!
And who knows, maybe I’ll head back to the Fringe another time, at least just to see the incredible amount of creativity on display in one small city for three short weeks every year.
On my second to last day in Edinburgh, I climbed the volcanic hills that loom over the city. Arthur’s Seat, the craggy bit at the very top, is maybe named for King Arthur, or is maybe a corruption of Gaelic for “Archer’s Seat,” but since I’ve scrambled up it, I think it’s maybe a rough translation of the heavy breathing noises you make when you reach the top: “ah…dur…hee.” It’s steep, y’all.
There are several different paths to the top, and when I approached from the southwest, I was met with three of these. As in fairy tales, the paths seemed to offer clear choices: the first led downhill, away from the goal; the third went nearly straight up, via steep stairs; and the second sloped gently up, though the path was lined with thistles. My path was clearly the middle way, so up I went, encountering a few rocky stairs but mostly just a steady gravelly incline.
The final part of the ascent is rock scrambling, which is a lot of fun going up, and not any fun coming down. About thirty people milled around up there, taking selfies while taking care not to get too close to the edge (except for the guys wearing Men’s Fitness Test t-shirts, of course, who actively sought out the steepest route to descend by).
The whole city is spread out around you–there’s the Royal Mile with the castle at the end, the Ferris wheel by the train tracks, the Meadows, and over there, the North Sea, golf links, a few fields of grain. It was beautiful up there, and the wind only picked up as I started to head down, so I didn’t have to fight that on my climb.
I took tiny steps on the steeper part of the walk down, so that I wouldn’t put a foot wrong and twist my ankle or go tumbling. I chanted to myself, “step like a goat, like a delicate little goat,” which got me a few stares until I stopped saying it out loud.
I loved visiting the wilderness in the heart of the city, and I can see why Liz does it every time she comes to Edinburgh. It’s a little challenge, and a lot of reward.
Water of Leith. Glenorchy. Macandrew Bay. There are a lot of Scottish names on the South Island, and that’s just the most immediate sign that the main Pakeha settlers in this part of New Zealand came from the land of lochs. Dunedin (Gaelic for Edinburgh) used to be a major industrial and commercial center for the country, but nowadays it’s mainly known as a university town. I’d intended to spend a couple days there, but as so often happens near the end of a stay in a country, there suddenly didn’t seem to be as much time as I’d thought there’d be. I liked what I saw of the town, though.
Theresa’s friend and fellow Couchsurfer Ritchie picked me up from the bus station and we decided the beautiful weather made it the perfect day for a drive along the Otago peninsula. We stopped at a shop next to a tiny beach half full of determined ocean bathers, and I bought a cheese roll, which Ritchie said is something of an Otago institution. It consists of a piece of long bread (the kind you find pre-sliced) rolled around soft cheese and chives, and then toasted. It wasn’t a delicacy, but it did the trick for lunch.
We drove up to the Royal Albatross Centre. The albatross is a rare bird. There’s a well-protected colony on the Otago peninsula, and you can often see them up at the center. We saw a lot of seagulls but no albatross, so we carried on down the winding coastal road to the small town Ritchie lives in. His house overlooks the ocean, and he said he often goes spearfishing for his supper. We relaxed on the balcony and I had the luxury of an afternoon nap and a few hours of reading. That night, Ritchie’s roommate mentioned how clear the skies were, so we stood on the balcony staring at the stars. I’d been searching for the Southern Cross the whole time I’d been in the southern hemisphere, but hadn’t had any luck finding it until this night, when Ritchie pointed it out to me. Just in time before I headed back to the northern hemisphere, where you can’t see it.
The next day, I had to catch the bus up to Christchurch, so Ritchie dropped me off in the Octagon a couple of hours before it left. The Octagon is the town square, with—you guessed it—eight sides. A road rings the small park in the center, and another road bisects the park. Fancy shops and nice restaurants take up most of the storefronts, and there’s also Town Hall and the Cathedral Church of St. Paul the Apostle. Right at the top of the hill—this is New Zealand, remember, so there are hills everywhere, I hardly need mention that the Octagon was set on a hill—anyway, right at the top of the hill is a statue dedicated to Scottish poet Robert Burns. This is a city that wears its heritage with pride. (Also, Burns’ nephew was one of the founders of the Otago settlement in 1848.)
The cathedral was putting on a free “cruise concert” for cruise ship passengers right as I was admiring the building, so I went inside. It was a lovely twenty minutes of listening to the organist play Bach, Handel, and Elgar while sitting in the spacious, sparsely decorated church. Afterward, I had lunch at a perfectly collegiate café (trendy, charming, overpriced) and admired the train station made of local stone. On the bus ride out of town, our driver told us some fun facts about Dunedin, all of which I’ve forgotten, but what stuck with me is I need to come back and spend more time here.