Happy Sunday! Shall we have a roast? I’ll do the spuds if you don’t mind chopping the other veg. Ok? Great.
Today I would like to tell you, fabulous reader of mine, about mental health at the Fringe. If living in London can be compared with being in a bad relationship, doing the Edinburgh Fringe is like having an affair with the Marquis de Sade.
It’s incredible. The noise, the people, the flyers, the weather: everything about this festival conspires to give you a complete sensory overload. The Fringe is very good at casually sauntering up to you and nicking the things you hold most dear, like time with loved ones, decent sleep and a sense of reality. And yet we love it.
I really do love it, by the way. I know I sound a bit overwhelmed (blame the lack of sleep), but this is my favourite time of year. It’s something that my cast and I have been working towards for about seven months, and we are determined to enjoy the hell out of it.
The thing about doing the Fringe a few years in a row is that you can usually track your progress. For lots of people this is in terms of their career: my gorgeous comedian friend Laura Lexx has posters EVERYWHERE this year, which is good because she has an excellent face and an even better show – but personally I’ve noticed more progress in terms of my mental health.
Looking after yourself in Edinburgh should be very simple: eat well, get enough sleep, drink water, exercise, try not to stack it on the cobbled streets. These all sound very straightforward, and hopefully they are also rules which we apply to our general lives. But trying to preserve your sanity at the Fringe is akin to balancing a sea lion on a chopstick, so it’s important to learn lessons early and stick to them. Here are a few of mine:
- Exercise. I’ve been to the gym most mornings since we got here, and at the Fringe most people choose to walk everywhere rather than worry too much about buses. I cannot tell you how much of a difference it makes to get a few endorphins going through your system before you tackle flyering on the Royal Mile. (Plus, if you time it right, you might get to overhear some excellent conversations in the changing room at the gym. The other day I was in there when a group of old ladies had just come out of an aerobics class, and the lewd comments they were making about their male instructor were beautiful to hear.)
- Sleep. I’ve only had one “oh my God when did it become 5am and why is the sun up?” night since I got here, which is definitely for the best. Last year I wasn’t so much burning the candle at both ends as setting fire to the candle factory, and I can already feel the difference this year. It’s always tempting to stay out for one more drink or a bit more chat, but the same lovely people you’re talking to will be here tomorrow. Go to bed.
- Eyes and ears. There’s a weird phenomenon at this festival called “Fringe eyes”, which is when you’re talking to someone and they start to look past you, just in case someone famous or influential is in the vicinity. It is the rudest and most irritating thing in the world, and people who do it are to be politely moved away from. In the same way, if you’re talking to someone about their show, you know that this spiel is rehearsed and has been said a thousand times. Ask questions about the rehearsal process, or where the idea came from. Listen to the answers. Treating flyerers and performers like human beings is weirdly rare up here, and they’ll remember you for it.
- Passing Ships. You will see lots of people you know here: ex-colleagues, very old friends, intimidatingly famous people and that girl who was in that show last year with thingummy-jig, what’s her name again? Amy? Alice? Something like that. Can’t remember. Text whatshisname and ask him. It can be frustrating to only see these people in passing, but the trick is to realise that the month is intense for everybody, and most of us are perpetually late for a show. Don’t take it personally if your oldest friend is a bit difficult to get hold of, or the person you’re madly in love with is never at the same bars as you. A month is a decent amount of time to catch up, network, flirt and generally converse.
- Treat yourself. Your mind, body and emotional well-being can take an absolute hammering at the Fringe. Be nice to yourself. You’re working hard and you deserve to be proud of your work. Make the most of your time off, see some shows that interest you and for the love of all that’s good and holy make sure you do something that has nothing to do with the Fringe. Edinburgh has a lot to offer; climb a hill, jump in the sea, visit the Royal Botanic Gardens and go to the zoo. The Fringe is only one tiny aspect of an incredible city. (My main non-Fringe activity is going to be getting a tattoo with my friend next week, but by all means you can go for something less extreme.)
Whether you’re at the Fringe or not, have a smashing day. I’ll start peeling the potatoes.