A feature of our age, so we’ve been told, is that categories are breaking down. That’s why ‘generic’ has become a term of derision. And yet The Edinburgh Fringe Guide is separated in to categories.
My show is not theatrical enough for Theatre and not comedic enough for Comedy. Cabaret seems to be another word for Burlesque and I had every intention of keeping my clothes on. How we define Spoken Word, Poetry and Talks is anyone’s guess so I fell back on my professional identity and chose Music with the description jazz rap.
The Edinburgh Fringe, being an open-access festival, is whatever its participants want it to be. A browse through the Fringe Guide will establish the fact that comedy and theatre predominate so what is there for the musician?
Chico Chica is a vocal jazz band playing original songs. In order to add variety to the live show, I perform the odd (sometimes very odd) rap song. This year it seemed a good idea to gather these together to form a one man show. The Edinburgh Fringe seemed a natural outlet for this. The idea was to raise my profile, have the show filmed and to see as many other shows as I could.
Being my first time, I decided to do the Edinburgh Fringe on a shoe string, taking a cheap 35 seater, slightly off the beaten track. This turned out to be a false economy. I needed to average twelve people per show to make a profit. During the many conversations I had during the three weeks, I learnt that the average audience number is twelve. So for me it was a struggle getting into double figures. It was only in the last few days I was able to pull more than twenty. If I were to return I’d choose a more centrally located venue and spend money on advertising and PR.
Flyering is integral to the EdFringe experience but limited in its efficacy. In the first week people take them out of politeness but by the third, flyer fatigue sets in and people learn to blank out efforts to get their attention. It is more effective to see other shows and talk to fellow audience members.
It’s easy for the performer to retreat into his bubble, but this is missing out on where the Fringe comes into its own. In order to improve as a performer and writer, we need to see how best it is done (or not). With over 4,000 shows, the EdFringe can be overwhelming. After a couple days trusting serendipity I decided to make some serious filtering decisions. You might want to take these as a guide for next year.
Favour gravitas over levitas. The stand up comedian character type reminds me of that of the school bully. The type of person I avoid. Much of the comedy drama has crude sexual humour and I find myself the only person the audience not laughing. I prefer the subtle depiction of repressed characters we find in Bennet, Ayckbourne, Orton and Rattigan. This year I learnt that actors love playing the Upper Class Twit more than any other stereotype and Trump is the favourite subject for political satire but I suppose you kind of know that already.
Favour original over heritage. There is an enormous amount of tribute acts. All are well publicised and attract big audiences. This year I saw imposter posters for Joni Mitchell, Joan Baez, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, Carole King, Eva Cassidy, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Simon and Garfunkel, James Taylor and Carly Simon.
Favour professional over amateur. There are many one person shows that could be titled ‘My Miserable Life’. I’m not sure how these performers plan to proceed with their careers as they only have one life. Perhaps it’s a kind of therapy. Many university performance arts courses require students to bring a show to Edinburgh as part of their degree course. This is an excellent form of education because only by doing can a student realise how hard it is to write an entertaining play.
The age group of my audiences reflected mine. This seems obvious really and I don’t know why it didn’t occur to me before. A musician needs to pursue not just those with a similar taste but also those with a similar age. The formative years for the generation just coming to retirement age were the early seventies when originality was everything. They can be just as hungry for new ideas as anyone.
So should a professional musician go to the Edinburgh Fringe? I would say yes if you have a clear goal of the kind of work you want post Fringe. It’s more viable to be on your own. A duo doesn’t sell twice as many tickets as a solo performer. You can save on the cost of rights by playing your own material. If you are lucky enough to be able to rent your home out while you’re away you can offset your accommodation expenses.
Most importantly, you should love performance art generally especially theatre.