30 Days of Indie Travel- Day 7…CELEBRATE
BootsnAll says: Joining in a local festival, holiday or special event is a great way to learn more about a local culture. Share the story of a celebration that meant something to you on your travels.
This summer I actually planned my travels around a celebration. Since first visiting Edinburgh a few years ago, I had wanted to go back for a longer period of time. Pretty much the minute I stepped off the plane, I felt at home there. Something about the city, most likely the medieval buildings and cobbles, reminded me of my hometown of Galway. That has only happened one other time, in San Francisco. I made it my mission to be there for the annual Edinburgh Fringe Festival. A month long, this festival brings together the greatest performers on the international circuit. It’s known as being predominantly a comedy platform but this year they were consciously trying to expand the theatre and dance selection. I had heard that the city was a really exciting place to be during this month (August each year) and set about finding somewhere to stay.
As luck would have it, a school friend of mine who was living in Edinburgh for college needed someone to rent a room in her apartment for the month of August. Taking it as a sign from the universe that this was meant to be, I leapt at the chance.
Hoping to get casual work and see some shows in the evenings, I scoured job sites and printed dozens of CVs. I was having no luck and turned to the theatres themselves, hoping they would be in need of workers for the festival period. Underestimating the popularity of jobs in this sector, I discovered that most positions had been filled as much as 9 months in advance.
Getting worried, I happened upon an ad on Gumtree by an American Improv company who were looking for interns to help them stage and publicise their show every night. After a few hastily exchanged emails and a phone interview, I was in.
Showing up for my first day with Baby Wants Candy, I was greeted with a pleasant surprise. Because I was working with one of the shows, I would be given a pass that would get me in to most of the shows at the festival for free. Score. This would save me a lot of money as, while most of the shows were pretty reasonably priced, it all adds up if you have a few must-sees every week.
So began 31 solid days of work. There was a show every night bar one so there were no days off to speak of (unless requested), but I loved the crazy atmosphere of the festival. For that one month, they city’s population triples, rents sky-rocket and there is no place on the street that is not crowded with people and flyerers. I became an expert at weaving through unmoving crowds.
Through my work, I was out on the streets every day soaking up the atmosphere (and frequent rain). I spent most of my time with the other interns and the cast involved in the show, with people from Scotland, England, the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand being represented in our small motley crew.
It was not the show’s first time at the festival and we had the benefit of having a good reputation in Edinburgh, vital for a festival of this size. In a city where you could not walk down a street without being offered 50 flyers for various shows, hearing a familiar name is rare. People tended to be impressed that we were not a one-hit wonder. Giving out sweets with our flyers didn’t help either (Baby Wants Candy, Geddit?).
The show was a sell-out, a huge achievement in a festival where because there are so many shows, the average attendance number is 2. No, I’m not kidding. To understand the scale of things, it was extremely common to see people working off timetables and graphs when booking their tickets. There were so many shows on in such a short space of time that huge planning was needed.
Edinburgh swelled for that month. It was alive. New higher-priced menus appeared in cafes and pubs, taking advantage of the crowds. People were friendlier, many of them only there for the month so forced to make fast friends.
Whenever I had a few hours to myself I would make my way to one of the big theatres (or occasionally, some grotty little cave that smelled a bit funny) and take in a show or two. My selections were definitely more hit than miss, and all were interesting. On one memorable occasion, I went to a show not knowing anything about it and came out an hour later covered in rope burns and breadcrumbs. Such is the nature of Edinburgh.
I discovered new comedians who I adored (Neil Hamburger), witnessed unintentionally hilarious moments (a ballet dancer doing an over-ambitious knee slide flying off the stage and kneeing an audience member in the face) and best of all, every night I got to see our show, Baby Wants Candy. Because it was an improvised musical made up on the spot, it never got boring. It was as new and unexpected for us as it was for the audience members.
One of the best things to come out of the experience was meeting so many new people involved in the show, who I have stayed in touch with and consider to be friends. I have many beds waiting for me all over the world if I ever find myself in a Baby Wants Candy intern’s hometown. For someone who loves travel as much as I do, this is obviously a plus. In my upcoming trip to Glasgow, I will have a couple of locals to meet up with and show me around. All because of one decision I made. That’s worth celebrating.