Dispatch from Fringe
Oh goodness me! I’m back in Edinburgh! During the Fringe! The largest arts festival in the world! It’s been 9 years exactly since my last (and first) visit, when I came as part of the American High School Theatre Festival. A recent high school graduate at the time, I was tasked with running the light board for a musical version of the Ugly Duckling called Honk! Yikes! (This is reminding me that my 10 year high school reunion is nigh. Double yikes!!)
I arrived only yesterday, but I feel like I’ve been here for ages. That’s what happens when something literally takes over a city. If you’ve never been, the Fringe is to Edinburgh as a football game at the Big House is to Ann Arbor. But sustained for a month! The energy is at an all-time high from morning ‘til, well, it never stops!
I’ve seen exactly 8 shows as of now, 11:37pm local time, Monday, August the 22nd. 6 of them today. Yes. 6. And some of them more “experience” than “show.” Here’s a little taste.
The first show I saw was the National Theatre of Scotland’s The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart at the Ghillie Dhu, a local pub. Written by playwright David Grieg, the story follows an uptight academic named Prudencia as she travels out of town for a conference, and learns to loosen up along the way. How this happens is the crux of the action, the fun, and the heartache, some of which can be seen in this youtube video. The National Theatre of Scotland has had some hits on their hands as of late—most recently in the U.S. with their production of Black Watch. If the buzz surrounding this one at the Fringe is any indication, you just might see this one at a pub near you. I sure hope so.
Today’s marathon of shows included the premiere of a work in progress called A Reply to Kathy Acker: Minsk 2011 by incendiary political theater-makers, Belarus Free Theatre. BFT was founded in 2005 by a husband and wife team in response to the pressure and censorship of Europe’s last surviving dictatorship. Under constant threat of persecution, the group’s rehearsals and performances are often held in secret , and have at times been broken up by police. In their short history, members of the company have faced harassment, beatings, and even arrest. In this piece, the audience was given a glimpse into Minsk today from the artists’ perspective. And it was, in a word, brutal. They’re a brave group. And their acting is likewise brave. It’ll be interesting to see how the work develops.
Later in the evening, I was able to catch David Leddy’s newest work called The Untitled Love Story. Some of you may remember David’s Susurrus made an appearance in Ann Arbor this past year out at Matthaei Botanical Gardens. Though this piece was housed in a more traditional theatrical setting, the hallmarks of David’s style of writing rang loud and clear. His knack for weaving seemingly disparate storylines into one cohesive production is astounding and the story all the more powerful because of it. And, as with Susurrus, the use of music is crucial—and used to great effect. Here are the basics: the setting is Venice. The characters are known only as the Collector, the Historian, the Priest, and the Writer—two men and two women who have all suffered/will come to suffer great loss. It’s not all sad though! I promise!
The night ended with a short 15 minute “live video” experience for one called And the Birds Fell From the Sky by Brighton-based Il Pixel Rosso. In a nutshell, I joined a group of nomadic criminal clowns (collectively known as the Faruk) for a car ride. Crimes were committed. Birds fell from the sky. I was supremely freaked out. And I totally loved it. Logistically, it involved an impressive pair of video goggles synced up with an in-ear audio track. An actor unseen to the audience member provided the other tactile sensations—smells, touch, movement . All in all, a deep and bizarre Fringe experience. The best kind.
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Have you been to the Fringe? Are you at the Fringe now? Share your experiences below.