Beyond the End of your Fringe

1 October 2009

Accepting a part in an Edinburgh show is a bit like accepting an extra Cambridge term in the middle of your summer. After an initial week of skills-based rehearsals (we can now embody seven colours and throw, catch and remember each other’s names with astonishing proficiency), and after two weeks of putting the play and the scaffolding together, we were in Edinburgh. Looming ahead of us, instead of the Cambridge norm of four or five, we had twenty-five performances. But before those we had flyering aplenty on the festival publicity hub and pedestrianised thoroughfare, The Royal Mile. For the first few weeks we were here every day, spending most of each in full costume and make-up. (Flattering, no? – Flattering? No.)

Our Director broke his leg. Our Assistant Producer broke the law. Our Lighting Director broke the world record for illicit chocolate consumption…So why would you agree to spend seven weeks of your life pretending to be an insect? I can’t speak for everyone, but I loved it. Not every minute of it. Or even every day; I was desperately unhappy at times.
Looking back now, I valued every moment. And I wouldn’t have swapped the whole experience for anything else. Why?

For me, three reasons. Firstly, as an actor, doing a show with a four week stint is the closest you can get to a professional run in Cambridge theatre. Secondly, it’s also the closest you can get to professional standard, without it being snatched, post-essay hours in some balmy college buttery. It is three weeks dedicated to intensive – or, depending on the show, not so intensive – rehearsal.

In going to the Fringe you are competing not just with students but also with professionals at the top of their game. It’s a hotbed of talent, a festival of creativity – an opportunity and an inspiration, everything that I value most about Cambridge.

Spending seven weeks of your life with a group of strangers is both a test and a gift. Good friends have become loved and cherished, and wild-cards that I just wouldn’t have allowed myself time to get to know anywhere else are now more than treasured friends. I don’t want to leave you with a moral message as saccharine as that of an American High School Theatre Festival production ‘Live Out Loud’, but I’m a patronising sap, so I have to.

The keys to Edinburgh are compassion and compromise. Understanding that other people are different to you – think, want and need differently; overcoming the narrow, hermetic introspection our womb-like Cambridge cells nurture and exercising your ability to see things from other people’s point of view; and then adjusting your mode de vie to accommodate that. In other words: Live Out Loud (Unless your neighbour’s asleep).

In all seriousness: Why Edinburgh? Well, just as the some of the shows you will see take your standard commercial/Cambridge fare and smash out of that mono-dimensional, -chrome, -sensual box we’re theatre-ing inside, the Edinburgh Fringe is a mind-changing and total experience.

It is not just about doing a show for four weeks – not just living with a bunch of people you might not already know and love – not just seeing more shows in a month than you have in the rest of your life – not just crouching on the Royal Mile in rain and skin-tight lycra pretending you’re an insect for the flashmob of long-zoom lens perverts. It’s an experience, a Gesalt: the sum of all its parts, plus some. Often (but not always) fun; ultimately rewarding.

Simon Haines starred in Metamorphosis.