Every year, a plethora of ‘Fringe Survival Guides’ are written so I thought that I would add what little wisdom I have gathered. I have been to every Edinburgh Fringe since 2005, first as a street performer with a double act with my sister, then as a street performer alone and cabaret/burlesque guester. Then, after I met my husband, we moved indoors. Several solo shows and a variety show further down the line and here we are. Along the way, I have learned some stuff and I thought that today, two weeks before AFVS opens for its third season, I’d share it with you.
I cannot stress enough how important it is to eat and drink. Eat properly, try to have three meals a day. It is a bloody slog doing shows but it isn’t just shows. You’ll be flyering for anything from two to five hours a day, potentially on very little sleep. I’d advise a really good breakfast, a Berocca and at least two litres of water a day, or more if your show is particularly physical. There is plenty of moisture in Edinburgh, generally coming down in stair rods but unfortunately the human body has yet to find a way to drink via osmosis so make that Evian bottle your friend. Hydrate your head – it will keep you sane.
If you are a London performer, don’t think that because it is August you will need your summer wardrobe. Edinburgh has the most delightful way of throwing many seasons at you, sometimes all at once. I tend to take my Autumn wardrobe, so a field of tweeds and tartan wools. I have the most delicious tartan cape which I adore wearing at Fringe time, it’s floor length, warm, it has a Scottish Widows hood and a Sherlock Holmes-esque mini cape. It is also bright yellow. It is actually my favourite thing, I found it at Armstrong’s Vintage three years ago.
Be nice. To everybody; but be especially nice to the doorkeepers of the industry bars. They are the gatekeepers to a world of fabulous networking – and isn’t that really what we are all there for? Occasionally an A-lister might wander in, I remember a few years ago Hugh Grant came in, the Catholic priest I was with offered him a blessing although to be honest, Hugh was so stoned he probably thinks he imagined that! My observation is that Four Weddings was a long, long, long time ago. Ah! The onward march of time. Unkinder to some than others, thank heavens for post production.
Remember that Edinburgh, the City, doesn’t owe you anything, you are but a mere visitor grubbing around the hem of her tartan gown. Treat her with courtesy, please don’t piss in her alleyways, throw up in her gutters or leave your sexual detritus littered in her nooks. Aside from anything else, you never know who you might see and do you really want that casting director, song writer or future spouse’s first image of you to be a piss-soaked, vomit-sprayed huddle? Unless that is what you are going for.
You will be tempted to be drunk for days, we’ve all done it in that 24/7 melee that is Edinburgh Fringe. By all means get so wasted you forget your own name but remember that Edinburgh Fringe is a marathon not a sprint, so don’t spend the rest of the month broke and hungover. Save it for that final week when the reviews are done, the audiences steady and the pressure is lessened.
Someone once told me that Edinburgh is a dance not a race (I believe it was the gorgeous Mr Stuart Goldsmith). It will be tempting to compare yourself to your friends and compatriots. This is a one way street to absolute sure-fire self destruction and self-doubt. Everyone has their own Fringe, have yours. It might be your year to sell out a huge venue and get a galaxy of five star reviews, it probably won’t. Don’t crow if you are doing well, be humble because the very next person you come across might be having the hardest month of their life.
Whilst we are talking about reviews, I would always say DON’T READ THEM! It is simply one person’s opinion and it will give you a false sense of where you are at; even if you get a five star from the Scotsman, I’d still say don’t read it (maybe read it when you get home in September). Just enjoy your journey and don’t buy into the press that surrounds you, or anyone else for that matter. It makes me feel incredibly old to say I remember a time when social media and online blogs didn’t exist at the Fringe, it was a happier, less pressurised time. Now, as you check in every ten minutes, blog, tumblr and tweet, try to find time to not; live in the moment you are in right now without checking to see who is watching from afar. It is no longer a case of ‘what happens at the Fringe stays at the Fringe’ but more likely ‘what happens at the Fringe is watched, commented on and liked by your mother’s neighbour’s cat in a multi-platform way’. So keep that in mind when you meet the sexual partner of your dreams whilst your partner is dog-sitting at home.
I will leave you on a piece of advice that will keep you sane. Take time out from the Fringe. Yes, it is an amazing month, a creative, fabulous, social and professional trade show whirl, but it can be draining, exhausting and depressing. Take a day, or half a day to get out. Go eat in a restaurant that has real cutlery (I recommend Ondine or The Dogs), climb Arthur’s Seat, try on/buy suits at Walker Slater (that’s mine) or jump on a train to somewhere else entirely. You step outside of the Edinburgh Fringe bubble and suddenly the biggest Fringe in the world seems so very tiny.
To those about to Edinburgh Fringe – I salute you.
PS. In all seriousness, if the Fringe does start to overwhelm you – seek help. Fringe Central have heaps of amazing performer services so don’t be afraid; they literally have seen it all before.
Another F*cking Variety Show – 31st July – 23rd August – Queen Dome, Pleasance Dome, 11pm