Monday, 3 August 2015

Edfringe Diary 1: Thoughts on the train

Here we are, on the train, on the way to Edinburgh, one of my favourite cities. I’m looking forward to it.

We’re also on the way, specifically, to the Edinburgh Fringe, and I wanted to write something about that. But Facebook and Twitter are full of people making the same journey, on trains, on coaches, in vans and cars, so I don’t know how much I have to add.

It’s fair to say I have a love/hate relationship, (or at least a love/dislike relationship) with the Fringe. This won’t be an unfamiliar mix of feelings to many people, and the reasoning behind it is articulated more fully in this piece I originally wrote for the British Council back in 2001. And actually, in terms of articulating the mixed feelings I have about the Fringe, as well as providing some really useful advice, I can’t do any better than this post by Bryony Kimmings.

But of course each Edinburgh Fringe is different, and the task we set ourselves is different, too. This year we’re there for the whole of the fringe, and are (kind of) opening a new piece. We’ve done the ‘whole festival’ once before, with The Lad Lit Project in 2005, and we opened Cape Wrath at St Stephens in 2013 – but not right at the start of the season.

The Paradise Project is on as part of Northern Stage’s programme at Summerhall. We’ve worked with Northern Stage in Edinburgh twice before, and this year the collaboration with Summerhall seems to be a really exciting one – Summerhall being one of the homes (along with Forest Fringe) of 'our sort of work'. This feels like a good place for us. And the Northern Stage team allay many of the concerns discussed earlier.

The Paradise Project, as I’ve noted before, has a shifting team of collaborators that is reconfigured, it seems, each week we’re working on it. A truly collective process. A process that started as a two-week sprawling conversation that included sociologists, a theologian, a mathematician, an art historian… and progressed through a devising and group writing process that has brought us to clear, focussed situation: two people whose job it is, each day, to figure out a new set of rules by which to live (for themselves, and by implication of the rest of humanity), and to catalogue our (humanity’s) previous attempts at building utopia – or just trying to make the world a bit better.

And although the show is ‘made’, we’ve been reworking for Edinburgh, and have a new cast combination – Jerry Killick (who has performed the show before) and Stacey Sampson (who hasn’t). I’m really excited to share the work with an audience, and watch Jerry and Stacey learn more about the show. We’ve got a bit of work to do over the next couple of days, but we’re on schedule. This new version is snappier, a bit more upbeat perhaps, more optimistic; certainly it’s a bit clearer about what it’s “about”.

You carry on learning about a show for as long as you perform it. But it’s fair to say that you learn the most in the early performances. Theatre makers and performers talk about a show “finding its feet” or “getting up to speed.” What we mean (or I mean, at least), is we’re finding the rhythms a show has when it has an audience. We’re understanding our ‘journey’ through the show (I know, I know). We’re learning how to best communicate what the show is about, for us. For some of us this is an intellectual process, for others it is quite instinctive. Either way, we’re learning on the job.

However, because it’s the Fringe, the curveball we have thrown ourselves is that we have agreed to a press preview on Thursday 6th. That’s the first performance of this version of the show. Why would we do that? The idea of having just one performance where we specifically invite the press is strange enough (let’s talk about that another time). To do it on the first performance is even stranger.

But. Here’s the thing. We want people to see the work. And at the Edinburgh Fringe, amidst the thousands of other shows, we need people to be talking about the work, so other people might decide they’re interested, and come to see us, come and see what they think. And an early preview is a great opportunity to get that ball rolling, to start that conversation.

Part of me believes that if a show is ready to be put in front of an audience, then it’s ready for people to write about it. But I also know that this will be the start of a new chapter for the show, so of course that is a little nerve-wracking. Third Angel turns 20 years old in October, but the nerves I feel with each new show don’t get any less. Because the show we’re opening is what’s on our minds at the moment. This is what’s bothering us. This is what we want to talk about, and how we want to talk about it. It’s understandable, I guess, to be nervous in advance of what you think or hope will be an important conversation.

And this is the love part of that relationship. Not only is it a beautiful city, full of great architecture, cafes and bars – and it’s in Scotland for heavens’ sake! - during the various festivals in August, Edinburgh is full of people – some of them great friends and brilliant artists - interested in theatre, in stories, in performance. Interested in experiencing shows and talking about them. There’s nowhere, and nowhen, like it.

We’re passing Berwick upon Tweed. I can see the sea. I’m nervous. And excited.

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