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Tuesday, June 28, 2022

Surviving on the Fringes

The experiences of a director at the Edinburgh Fringe .

What it means to bring a show to the Edinburgh Fringe. Luke Dunne, producer and co-director of Love/Sick recounts his experience of taking a show to the festival.

The Edinburgh Fringe is an overwhelming cacophony of creative noise. With over four thousand shows, the competition for eyeballs and bums on seats could not be more fierce or more elaborate. See live performances on the street, posters on every surface and flyer-ers shouting from every corner, telling you anything and everything to get you in the door. But doing a Fringe show doesn’t start here for anyone. It begins months before, in my case back in April, midway through putting together my first show Love/Sick in Oxford. The plan had always been to do a couple, then maybe think about taking a show to the Fringe in a year’s time. I honestly have no idea when that plan changed, but it did, and so we found ourselves committed to a two week run in Edinburgh at pretty short notice.

I can only give one perspective on our show among many, and can’t speak for the thousands of other performers here in Edinburgh, but as a company full of Fringe first-timers our ‘preparation’ was a colossal exercise in crisis aversion, from getting our costumes, posters, and props up north in the first place, to finding accommodation, figuring out where to advertise our show and when, setting up a social media presence, recasting one of our parts etc etc. It was a steep learning curve. Admittedly, I’m one of our show’s producers so take this headache-inducing account with a pinch of salt, but I don’t think anyone would argue that putting a Fringe show together is much fun at first. Question is, why do it at all? Why bother to put on a show hundreds of miles from your home and university, why tolerate the torrid weather, why compete with thousands of other talented creative types for an audience when you could just wait for term time.  

I think I found my answer on the second day of our run. We’d had a pretty messy first performance, but after working out some of the issues in our show and blitzing the Royal Mile (Cornmarket on steroids) with flyers, we got a good audience in and sent them away laughing. That daily rush, to go out and find your audience yourself, is pretty unique to doing a show up here. You get good at talking to strangers, and you also learn how to respond politely when those strangers don’t want to talk back: (‘Seeing a show this morning sir?’ ‘Hing aff us, a’m running late ye posh twat’, ‘Oh, er, have a good one then!’). But the vast majority of people here are friendly, even the long-suffering locals, who have to put up with their city being invaded for a month.

Flyering becomes a lot of fun when you get into the swing of it, and even when it’s pouring rain and nobody’s interested you tend to make fast friends with other performers who are in exactly the same boat as you. That’s the joy of the Fringe – it’s hard work, and stressful at times, but you’re surrounded by literally thousands of people going through many of the same things you are. I’ve made friends here I hope I’ll keep after August, but even if I don’t, I couldn’t be more happy to have rubbed shoulders with cynical old comedians, drag queens, puppeteers and circus acrobats as well as plenty of fellow student theatre nerds.  

I’ve seen more theatre here than I’ll likely see in the next eleven months combined. Some of it was great, some of it less so but in any case I’m leaving Edinburgh with a notepad full of half-formed ideas scribbled on my knee, as well as a new appreciation for how hard many of my fellow Fringe acts have worked, for decades in some cases, to hone their craft and put on some remarkable shows for the rest of us.

As I write this, my show (Love/Sick, The Space on the Mile, 10 am for those interested) is still going on and I can’t give you a detached, thoughtful conclusion of what doing this show ‘meant’ just yet. But I have found out that Fringe is chaotic, it’s loud, it’s exhausting and anxiety-inducing. I can’t wait to come back.  

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