Category Archives: Edinburgh

Turning Points

sock-pile

Hello, lovely reader.  I hope that the world is treating you exceptionally well today.

After a brilliant (but very tiring) month at the Fringe directing Tumbling After, I have now safely returned to the wilds of North London.  At the end of August, when the shows started to wrap up and the suitcases started to drag their exhausted owners towards the station, my team and I found ourselves having a typical end-of-the-Fringe conversation:

“Oh my God, I can’t wait to sleep in my own bed.”
“I hate packing.  Where did all of our socks go?”
“Won’t it be weird not to go flyering every day?”
“Has Rob got, like, ALL of our socks in his room or something?”
“I can’t believe we got through so much Berocca.”
“Guys.  Seriously.  WHERE ARE OUR SOCKS?!”

What our festival-addled brains could not yet process was the fact that we had completed a mammoth task.  Achievement Unlocked: Did Really Well With A Fringe Show.  After months of hard work, early starts, bruising, caffeine and hysterical laughter, we were finished.  We got lots of nice reviews, many lovely audiences and a very fortuitous sponsorship deal from Arnicare.  We did flipping well.

Finishing something like a project, trip, job, or even a relationship is usually a turning point.  When something that we’ve built our lives around – however temporarily – comes to an end, we are forced to make decisions about what happens next.  Necessity is the mother of invention, and life change is the mother of difficult choices.

One of the biggest problems with turning points is that wherever we decide to turn next, we feel the loss of potential.  However amazing something is, once it’s over the excitement of possibility is gone.  I was very ready to come home from the Fringe this year.  I had a lovely time, but by the end of it I was tired and eager to get on with my ‘real’ life.  Now that I’m back, I am finding it weirdly depressing to think that something I worked on for seven months is finished.  Where did all that potential go?

Potential becomes reality.  Turning points are much more obvious in hindsight.  A month at the Fringe puts your liver through its paces.  These statements may all be perfectly true, but we also have to remember that you can treat any decision as a turning point.  Not in a scary, butterfly effect-esque way, but in an exciting one: any choice you make has the potential to give you a better reality.  Pushing yourself to go to the gym when you don’t feel like it makes you more disciplined.  Remembering to call a friend back makes you more reliable.  Giving up on approximately twenty missing socks makes you less materialistic (as the Tumbling After crew discovered the hard way).

Of course, we’ve all come home and remembered that ‘real’ life is just as busy, just as exciting and even more fascinating than the Edinburgh Fringe.  The potential of Tumbling After has been realised, and now we get to explore the potential of a bunch of other stuff.  Life is nice like that: when one thing ends, something else is probably about to kick off.  Exciting, no?

Have an anecdotally good day.

Forget it, Jake. It’s Edinburgh.

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:

  1. 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.)
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

    004
    My producer Kate Goodfellow with one of our lovely posters. We were on our way home from the gym, actually. That’s fitting.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

From Page to Stage (via Rage) – a GIF Guide to get to the Fringe

Hello, lovely reader.  How’s everything with you?

I must apologise for my prolonged absence – this is about 20% due to a bit of a confidence crisis, 10% due to laziness and 70% due to being completely brain-swamped by Tumbling After, the fabulously physical show that I’m taking to the Edinburgh Fringe this year with RedBellyBlack Productions.

It’s a gorgeous show that combines all kinds of ideas and disciplines, but as a devised piece it’s been an enormous (and welcome) challenge.  Everyone’s journey from page to stage is different, and the great thing about the Fringe is that you can take almost any performance genre imaginable up there and find a receptive audience.  Comedy, theatre, spoken word and performance art (and every other sub-genre and hybrid of those) show up on the Fringe programme every year.  Isn’t it amazing that the arts hold so much variety and such a wide range of skills?  (I’M TALKING TO YOU, CAMERON, YOU UNCULTURED SWINE.)

Ahem.  Sorry.  Anyway, one thing I’ve noticed about getting ready for the Fringe this year is that, no matter which genre or sub-heading you’ve picked for your show, you go through a lot of the same stages:

Realising that your show idea is actually pretty darn good

Realising how much work this great idea is going to need

Refusing to acknowledge the huge amount of stress on the horizon

Getting into the swing of it

The first time you really and truly force yourself to look at the budget

The second, third and fourth time you look at the budget

The amazing moment when you can see how it’s all going to work

When the first cast/production team member cracks up

When it’s YOUR turn to crack up

Realising that you’ve only got a few weeks left

Still knowing, even after all the stress, that your show really is a great idea.

If you’d like to know more about Tumbling After and the magical mischief we’re getting up to, search #TumblingAfter on Twitter – there are lots of ridiculous photos and short videos to enjoy.

Have a cracking Wednesday!

What Are You Tumbling After?

Photo credit: Flickr.com
Photo credit: Flickr.com

Good morrow, dear reader.  I must begin by apologising profusely for having been absent for a whole month, which is just morally wrong.  Please forgive me.

My main excuse is that I have had pretty dreadful writer’s block, including all of the usual symptoms: staring blankly at my laptop screen, getting distracted in the middle of conversations and constantly thinking strange things like “WHERE ARE ALL THE WORDS?!”  The weirdest thing about this bout – which is also kind of reassuring – is that I know where the writer’s block has come from.  I have been trying to do too many things at once, and this metaphorical juggling act has landed me in a pile of broken plates and a lot of unfinished tasks.

A lot of the time life throws us all sorts of tasks and trials at once, and we have to prioritise accordingly.  Some people thrive under pressure of the multi-faceted kind, but for the rest of us it feels impossible to keep on top of everything, and instead we tumble after our lives with a vague sense of having forgotten something important.  In my case, it’s usually the house keys.

So what is it that you are tumbling after?  Which small duties are distracting you from chasing after what you actually want?  Do you have dreams and ambitions that you’re not fulfilling because your to do list is out of control?  Who do you want to be?  What kind of people do you want to spend your life with?  Where – if I may paraphrase the question that haunts all twenty-somethings as soon as they wake up in the morning – is your life going?

These questions and more besides are driving a lot of the collaborative work in rehearsals for Tumbling After, the devised piece that I’m directing for the Edinburgh Fringe 2015.  The cast, movement director and I are especially interested in why people choose to spend their lives with certain people.  How often are our relationships the result of sensible choices that we make with clear minds?  (Answer: rarely.)  How often are we willing to blindly fall down a hill, hoping to find love at the bottom?  (Answer: alarmingly frequently.)

It’s never easy to ask these questions, because they remind us so vividly of how much time we spend chasing after purpose, success and overall happiness.  That can be stressful.  But the unexamined life, as Socrates once said over feta and vino, is not worth living.  Examining ourselves in detail and assessing where we are in relation to what we want is not an easy thing to do, but if we don’t check in with our lifetime goal list at least once in a while, then all we are ever doing is stumbling and tumbling without knowing what we’re getting into.

We all have our own ways of sorting out our lives: mine is to sit in a rehearsal room and tell four actors where to stand.  Not the most ground-breaking approach, but it seems to be working for me.  I hope that your method is equally enjoyable.

Have a fantastic day.

There And Back Again

i-71a2a374d7f1bfbd18e51b5d7e34c086-FrodoSam

Hello, lovely reader.  How are you doing?  

I have now returned from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, exhausted and a bit bemused, but very happy.  I also feel more than usually hobbitish: I took something important to a faraway land; my friends were all there but a lot of us had to do our own thing (and wear different costumes); I climbed a massive hill, and I have even returned to a flat called Bag End.  Elijah Wood, eat your heart out.

Coming home after a big adventure is always tricky, even though there are always people and home comforts we miss on our travels.  It’s tricky because of two things: firstly, once we’re back the adventure starts to fade and feel like either a distant memory or a seriously elaborate daydream, and secondly because we feel like we’ve gone backwards.  Weird, isn’t it?  

For example, I’ve spent two years working on Chris is Dead, and a year working towards this specific production.  There have been countless emails, dozens of meetings, hundreds of rehearsals and a lot of rewrites.  The show went down really well at the Fringe: we had great audiences and lots of nice feedback, and we all had a blast performing it.  So why do I now feel like coming home is taking a step backwards?  Is it just because Jon and I sat in backwards-facing seats on the train yesterday?

Seriously, though – the big experiences in our lives make huge impressions on us, partly because they are important, but also because they are transitory.  When our eye-opening adventures are over we are understandably confused and a bit shell-shocked.  The trick is to appreciate what was good about the experience, but has to be transitory in order to always be a good thing in our minds.  For instance, I love being on the Royal Mile for two or three weeks of madness every year, but that would become hell for everyone if it carried on indefinitely.  Think Alfred Hitchcock but with flyers instead of birds.

The other trick is to find the things that aren’t transitory about your experience, and keep hold of them.  Whether they are physical objects (tour hoodies, photographs, souvenirs and suchlike) or nebulous ideas (a sense of well-being, a feeling of achievement, increased confidence etc.), there is always something from our transitory times that we get to keep.  In my case, this year I made new friends and reconnected with some very dear old ones, so I will hopefully be keeping hold of them for a while.

Last but not least, make sure you have something nice to come home to when your travels or adventures are over.  I will be spending today with the glorious Laura Lexx, so that’s me completely sorted.

Have a beautiful day.  Make sure you have some vitamins and drink lots of water.

Never Lego

anY2nyL_700b

Hello, lovely reader!  How are you doing?  Did you have a nice weekend?

I know I said I wouldn’t write too much Fringe-based bloggery while I’m away, but I’m afraid this one does start with an Edinburgh issue.  (It doesn’t stay there, I promise.  It moves swiftly onto more general silliness.)  

One of the strangest side-effects of being at the Fringe is that you find out a lot about people based on how they behave here.  This is especially true when it comes to time management.  There are people who plan their time to the very last second, with colour-coded, highlighted schedules.  There are also people who have a vague idea of what they want to see, but who are happy to go with the flow.  And then there are people like my friend Harry, who try to do way too much too soon and end up, five days in, lying on the floor in the middle of the day and singing “Smack That” to themselves.

At the Fringe and in real life, everyone has very different approaches to planning their time and achieving what they want to do.  Some people panic as birthdays approach because they see age as part of a huge, colour-coded schedule that we are supposed to blindly follow.  Surely by 25 we should know what we want to do with our lives, surely by 35 we should have met the person we’re going to marry, and surely by 45 we should have stopped enjoying Lego.  (Never stop enjoying Lego, by the way.  Lego is awesome.)

Others tend to amble happily through, cheerily meeting long-term partners and exploring career opportunities as they go.  Being slightly more laid back about when you achieve your life goals means that you’re more likely to be ok if things don’t go the way you expect them to.  Crises and bizarre eventualities are disconcerting enough as it is: if you have an imaginary schedule with post-it notes and a symbol key, it’s a nightmare. 

The other thing about being more relaxed about this stuff is that it has a knock-on effect on your own self-esteem and the people around you.  If you are frantically concerned about not being married before you’re 40 (or whatever) you will obviously discuss it with your friends.  Your friends in turn are more likely to get the idea into their own heads – the power of suggestion and all that – and then they will start to worry about themselves, too.  Before you know it everyone’s too worried about hitting an imaginary deadline to enjoy what they’re actually doing in life.

In terms of your self-esteem, you do not have to let go of your dreams or ideals if things don’t materialise the way you expect them to.  If you’re not married when you thought you would be, not living in the kind of house you dreamed of, or even rocking a hairstyle that you’re not entirely happy with, you’re still absolutely fine.  Things not happening when you think they should doesn’t mean they never will – it just means not now.    

Have a sensational Monday.  

House of Horror (or Habitat)

tumblr_maf5htdoZV1rg06cso1_500

Good morning, dear reader.  Are you excited about your weekend?

Yesterday I promised you an anecdote about fearing the worst, so here it is.  I hope you find it funnier than I did at the time.

While I’m up at the Fringe I will be writing reviews for Three Weeks, which is very exciting and an interesting new challenge for me.  However, I arrived in Scotland a day or so after the reviewers’ briefing, so I had to go and visit one of the editors at home when I got here.

Edinburgh is a beautiful city, and it boasts some of the most stunning buildings on our island (if not in the ENTIRE UNIVERSE), but there is the occasional grot spot, too.  The address I was sent to was a bit closer to the latter type of venue, with some very fetching graffiti on the door and a distinct whiff of “people get thoroughly murdered here” about it.  Bit of a house of horror.

Feeling apprehensive but trying to make light of things, I jokingly said “Well, this is obviously how I’m going to meet my maker!”, and at least one of the friends who’d come with me said “yeah, it probably is”.  Great.  Thanks for the moral support, guys.  Obviously we were just being silly, but when we wandered down a couple of doors down to get a drink I had another nasty surprise.  Sitting outside a pub and trying to relax with my friends, I noticed that the gate of the property next to us proudly proclaimed the building to be a school of surgery, which immediately sent me into a half-serious panic about bring chopped up into little pieces.  My younger sister lives and studies in Edinburgh, and as such is familiar with the uni buildings scattered around the city.  She calmly informed me that it was the old school of surgery, and that no one studied there anymore. 

This, of course, made me think “OH GOD not only am I going to get chopped up into tiny little pieces, it will be done by out-of-practice amateurs using outdated equipment in a sub-standard environment!!”

None of this happened, of course.  The flat behind the scary door turned out to be one of the most sumptuous and ridiculously beautiful places I’ve ever been to.  Many, many cushions – definitely more of a house of Habitat than one of horror.

The moral of the story is, don’t judge a book by its cover.  Also, don’t go somewhere scary with friends who find the prospect of your imminent death amusing.

Have a marvellous weekend.

Anecdotally Speaking

anecdote

Hello, dear reader!  How are you?

After four and a half very giggly/sleepy/coffee-y hours on a train, yesterday afternoon found myself and most of the Empty Photo lot staggering into the Edinburgh sunshine.  Yesterday evening found us at Parlour Tricks, which was wonderful, and yesterday night found us drinking at the Three Sisters.  

This morning (which will surprise absolutely no one, I’m sure) finds me feeling a little worse for wear and vaguely ashamed of myself for having become a bit weepy whilst under the influence.  (Having said that, Harry just had to lean his head on the counter top while he emptied out the cafetière, so things could definitely be worse.)  

Having been at the Fringe for a mere twenty-two hours at this stage, we have already racked up a fairly respectable number of anecdotes and amusing incidents (which I’m sure Ash will be delighted to hear when she joins us tomorrow), and doubtless more will follow.  Anecdotes are a bit of a weird one, because a lot of them fall under the heading “you had to be there”, but the ones that are universally funny can bring a lot of joy.

I am wary of writing blog posts while I’m in Edinburgh, not because I won’t have very much free time, but because I don’t want to bore you, dear and gorgeous reader, with “oh my God the Fringe is so awesome look how much hilarious fun I’m having at an event which you either don’t care about or couldn’t make it to, depending on who is reading this” entries.  I don’t want to bore or alienate anyone, so I will do my best to keep these posts interesting and about all manner of topics.

I will also make sure to tell you all of the funniest anecdotes.  Coming soon: the time I thought I was going to be murdered and chopped up into tiny pieces at a review briefing.  (It is funny, I promise.)

Have an incredibly productive Thursday.

We Can’t All Be Ron Burgundy

ronburgundy

Good morning, and a very merry Monday to you!

Yet again, I find myself needing to apologise to you, you lovely and patient reader, for not having written anything for a while.  Truth be told, preparation for the Fringe is taking up an insane amount of time, and I’m afraid the whole blogging thing slipped through my incredibly disorganised net.  Today’s blog will be an extra 10% funny and uplifting, just for you.

One of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned from working in theatre is that everyone responds to emotional situations differently.  What makes one person cry will make another angry, and what makes one person laugh out loud will at best raise a small smile from someone else.  The bizarre thing is how drastically our emotional responses vary from those of our nearest and dearest.  Certain things that would put you into the Anchorman “glass case of emotion” might only dip your best friend’s toe into the goldfish bowl of vague discomfort.

This can be a very good thing and a fairly weird one.  It’s excellent to surround ourselves with people who can give us fresh perspectives, but sometimes it makes us feel less rational when our friends disagree with our responses.  When it comes to emotional reactions we are particularly vulnerable, because our feelings tend to be relatively instinctive rather than especially thought through.

This is something that has come up quite a lot during rehearsals for Chris is Dead, partly because the content is quite emotionally charged, but also because the people involved are all very different.  Despite his constant cries of “where are all the men?!”, our only male cast member is actually very sensitive to the most upsetting aspects of the story.  (In case you hadn’t guessed, the title of the show pretty much explains what it’s about.  You knew that already, right?)  One of the girls tends to be very good at distancing herself from her character’s grief, and the third is stoically open-minded about how different aspects of the story will affect her at different points of the rehearsal process.

The best and most rewarding aspect of working with these cracking people is the fact that they really respect each other’s views.  It’s hard enough working on a show about death without the cast disagreeing on their feelings about it, so I feel very lucky to be directing three such empathetic and lovely actors.

Although my head is very much stuck in a my-life-has-been-taken-over-by-rehearsals-what-on-earth-is-this-“sleep”-thing-you-speak-of-? sort of place, I can appreciate that the cast’s communal attitude is something that should be more prevalent in the real world.  It might be baffling or annoying to find that we are not on the same wavelength as others around us, but we should have confidence in the validity of our feelings.  We should also make the effort to try and understand where other people are coming from.

Have a stupendously enjoyable Monday.

“Can You Drink the Water in Scotland?”

1087_10_4_web

Hello, dear reader!  Happy Friday!

Despite the lovely weather and the cheerful atmosphere, mid July has become the time of year that lots of people associate with stress.  In years gone by it was the worst point during the long wait for exam results, and not so very long ago it meant the end of another university year, and the inevitable drinking/farewells/moving house that followed.  These days, a lot of my friends find this time of year stressful, exciting and nerve-racking because we are about to pack our bags and trundle 400 miles up the road to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

There are some very specific things that southerners (Londoners in particular) feel and experience when they make the performance pilgrimage to the capital of Scotland.  Here are a few of my favourites:

Coffee Conundrum: the moment when you realise that it will be easier to meet a friend for coffee when you’re both at the Fringe than it would to try and organise something in London, even thought you live a twenty-minute tube ride apart.

Tourist Tantrum: resenting the tourists all over the Royal Mile, even though you’re just as much of a visitor as they are.  (Except a friend of mine who, before coming up to visit us while we were performing in 2012, genuinely asked us whether you could drink the water in Scotland.)

Regression Renegades: no matter how sensible you are or how long it’s been since your student days, the second you get to the Fringe you take advantage of the fact that every drinking establishment is open til 5am.

Fan Phenomenon: people go and see dozens of shows during the festival, but every so often you come across a show that turns you into an instant fan of the performers.  It’s amazing to find that you can get just as involved with and passionate about the work of non-famous (but fabulous) people as you do about the main players on London stages.

The Edinburgh Bar Principle: something I mentioned in this article I wrote for Everything Theatre – you never know who you’re going to meet at the festival, including very drunk, very interesting or very famous people.  You may even find yourself photo-bombing Rhod Gilbert and having him call you a maverick.

Whatever you’re up to this summer, I hope you have as much fun as physically possible.  Give me a shout if you’re planning on being at the Fringe.

Have an unbelievably brilliant weekend.