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Impressions of the Edinburgh Fringe Arts Festival

I obviously lied in my last post about the “regular updates” I would bring you from the Fringe. It wasn’t intentional, I swear. In my mind, I pictured leisured writing in a pub while sipping a drink, taking notes about funny happenings and then sharing them here. I forgot how all-consuming life at the festival is if you are producing a show and living with an untenable number of people for a month. It’s an un-natural atmosphere and one that doesn’t lend itself to extended periods of thinking.

I spent just over a month in Edinburgh this year and in that time played a part in producing 28 shows, including the world premiere of “50 Shades! The Musical“, a parody of the terrifyingly popular 50 Shades of Grey book series. It was exhausting, but incredibly rewarding work. Managing to persuade a crowd to come see your show every night and having people actually turn up is a great feeling, especially if they enjoy the show.

Stacks of Fringe guides on the last day of the festival

Edinburgh is a great place to be during the festival. From the early rumblings of excitement as the city wakes up and rubs it eyes, to the frustrating middle days as tempers run high and the public gets fed up with the endless reams of flyers and crowds. Then comes the sad end, as stages are wheeled away, thousands of performers and workers leave for home and the city loses a little colour.

I lived in a large apartment with 12 other people, which was nowhere near as horrifying as I expected it to be. It was not always a love-in but we did pretty well considering. I made some great new friends, renewed old friendships and gained confidence that maybe I’m not so aimless in life after all.

Path to Arthur’s Seat

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Packing is such sweet sorrow…

I am Edinburgh-bound. For the second year in a row, I will be joining the ranks of Chicago’s “Baby Wants Candy”, a musical improv group who have been going to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for over a decade. With bases in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles, they put on a great show and I love working with them.

No matter how exciting a trip or a journey will be, packing is always torturous for me. I’m currently staring at my bag wondering where the faint smell of rubber lingering inside it came from and wondering if there will ever come a time when I am left with room to spare in my luggage.

I’m a light packer but there is always too much stuff. I’ll be gone for a month so realistically will need a considerable amount.

Throughout the month, I hope to keep you updated on my experience of the festival, which  really has to be seen to be understood. It is an injection of life and vibrancy into an already pretty lively city. I went last year without a camera and am determined to rectify that this year.

On to an adventure.

30 Days of Indie Travel- Day 30…TICKET

BootsnAll says: Where are you going in 2012?  

I have no set travel plans for 2012 yet. But I’m working on it. The problem I have is that there are so many places I want to go to that it’s hard to focus on one and settle on it. So, I try to prioritise using factors like time of year, the price of plane tickets and if a certain destination is “urgent” or can be visited any time.

An example of a slightly “urgent” destination I have in mind is Iran. Increasingly in the media, there are signs that Iran will soon be at war with either Britain or the US, or at the very least that there will be serious travel restrictions in place due to tensions between those countries. So, I want to go before the risk of violence becomes too great, along with ticket prices sky-rocketing.

A more definite short trip I’m working on is to Edinburgh early in the year with some friends for a weekend. Being somewhat of a veteran of the Scottish capital at this stage, it will be nice to show people around and show off a great city.

You don't stay sane in 30 days of crowds like this unless you love Edinburgh

Yet another possibility is Moscow and St.Petersburg, as I’ve done some research and think it would be fun for a short enough trip, maybe a week or so. I think this could be an opportunity to start utilising resources like Couch Surfing or AirBnB, as I get the impression that Moscow is the kind of place that’s hard to break into as a tourist. It would be nice to get a local perspective.

There’s also the pipe-dream 2012 trip, which is the most ambitious. Spurred on by a friend’s gushing praise for Zambia, I’ve looked into Africa as a possibility. The most likely route being Cape Town to Livingstone, via Windhoek. This would be a longer trip, a month or so at least.

I don’t know where I’m going to be next year. Everything is very uncertain as regards a grown-up job and further education. It may be the perfect time to take on an ambitious trip while free of ties and debt, but it may also be the time when I should start making serious plans for the future. One of the hardest things travellers face is balancing career and travel and I guess I am no exception to the rule.

I’d love people’s opinions on my contenders: Iran (mostly predictable- Tehran, Shiraz, Persepolis), Africa (South Africa, Namibia and Zambia) and Russia (Moscow and St. Petersburg). Have you been to these places? What did you think? I’m adding a poll where you can vote on these three contenders.

All I know is, going into 2012 without set plans is scary, but full of possibilities.

A roof-top in Wadi Musa, Jordan

Playing with seriousness

I was on the grocery run in my local town while living in Edinburgh when I came across this missing cat poster.

Text reads: “Our hairless cat “Flesh” ran outside in the middle of the night on July 24th (Sunday). He is a Sphnyx cat, meaning he has no hair and needs protection from the sun and cold! He is very unique looking, much like Yoda. Please call _____ if you see him. He may be hiding in a garden shed. We are located at _____. Thank you!”

I must admit, the “much like Yoda” bit cracked me up but one things for sure, I remembered that cat! I thought it was a great example of using humour to grab attention for a a good cause.

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.

The Royal Mile, Edinburgh (before festival, note the uncrowded streets)

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.