What the Fringe?!?

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50,459 performances of 3,314 shows from 49 countries in 313 venues. The Edinburgh Fringe festival has proven to be the highlight of my performance career thus far. In three weeks I’ve seen more shows than I have in the three months of this Eurotrip, and I’ve met more performers than I have in the three years that I’ve been in the profession. The entire objective of this summer abroad was to see as much art as possible, and I doubt I could possibly find a better place for it than the Edinburgh Fringe.

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The city itself is right out of a fairytale, centuries worth of architecture, gorgeous churches, towering spires, and a giant castle right in the middle of it overlooking it all. This is literally where the inspiration for Harry Potter came from. The Fringe is arguably the largest performance festival in the world, lasting the length of August and causing the population of Edinburgh to double.

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I arrived a week in advance to work the pre-festival crowds before the mayhem began. Being my first Edinburgh Fringe, I set out with the intent of sprinting the week before the fest so I could walk through the first week of it, taking my time to absorb the atmosphere and enjoy the Fringe as a spectator as well as a performer. Throughout this trip I’ve aimed to maintain a healthy balance between working and enjoying my first trip through Europe. Besides, being funemployed in the business of professional merry-making, for my work it is in my best interests to keep myself relaxed and in good spirits in order to provide the highest quality entertainment possible (any other excuses for enjoying oneself can be tacked onto the end of this paragraph).

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Oh and I also celebrated my 27th birthday while in Edinburgh =)

The goal of the summer was to see other shows, to study performances that I’ll likely never see in America. In street theater there are many shows that follow similar structures, some using the same classic routines, gags, lines, and bits. The good ones start with a standard show and then adapt it to their character and personality. The bad ones copy shows move for move and word for word. The idea of copying someone else’s show completely shocked me, and from the beginning I’ve put forth an active effort to do things different from everyone else. At the Fringe, amongst so many other performances, I was pleased to see that this effort at individuality did not go unnoticed. Several performers referred to my show as unique and elegant, and seemed to honestly enjoy it. Compliments aside, when you see so many similar shows you begin to lose the enjoyment of watching them, so for me to hear that my peers actually enjoyed my show was the biggest compliment of all.

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In some respects striving to present all original art has been a hinderance. There’s a reason so many people use similar material — it works. The classics are classics for a reason, they’re crowd pleasers and money makers. On the street, if you present pure art with no hustle, you’re not likely to have a surplus of cash at the end of the day. Convincing your audience to pay and pay appropriately is an art form in itself, and an absolutely necessary element of street performing. From the beginning of my study of street theater, I’d noticed the many street performers hustling, cajoling, nagging, and sometimes downright guilting their audiences into paying them. On an energetic level, coercing the public in such a fashion doesn’t jive well with me, so I’ve tip-toed my way from overly soft towards a middle ground of honestly and open-heartedly stating my financial expectations to my audiences. I still have a long way to go to find the balance between the art and business elements of street, but for the time being I’m satisfied with taking a gentler-than-most approach.

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I always strive to give the highest quality performance I possibly can, but sometimes in a crowded and hectic festival setting it serves everyone best to cut my performances down to a shorter and sharper show. The artist in me dislikes this but on the street adaptation is mandatory, and on a few instances I found myself experimenting with a quicker-turnover hustle show. It hasn’t ever suited and it still doesn’t — I prefer to give my audiences’ my best, and I simply can not fit that into a 5-10 minute show. I adapted further and focused on quieter times of the day in quieter spots where I could deliver my full performance at its intended pace.

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Life in Edinburgh off the street has truly been what’s made it so special. Meeting artists from all over the world and sharing the camaraderie amongst fellow performers has been incredible, and I’ve made many friends that I’ll likely see again soon, but in a completely different part of the world. The indoor shows I’ve seen have absolutely blown me away. The best circus shows I’ve ever seen, the best acrobats and comedians, extreme performances held in the cellar of a centuries-old building, some of the most brilliant comedic minds and several artists I’ve only seen on YouTube. At the Fringe the limits are pushed to, well, the fringe — I saw a clown show where the guy gets buck-naked twice in the first five minutes. In another comedy show I was hit on the head multiple times by a fake hand on the end of a pole, and then the show ended in a massive bread fight between the audience and the performer. Even on the street there are unbelievable sights to be seen.

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This last photo is of a clown named Gili, and it is the best finale I’ve ever seen in a street show, anywhere. After half an hour of following people, mimicking the public and building a massive crowd roaring with laughter, Gili notices a woman in a window of one of the buildings overlooking the street. He begins shouting “Julia! Julia!” and makes his way over to a drain pipe, which he scales with ease. This man then climbs several stories, unaided by any safety device, and crawls in the window of his Julia. Through his microphone you hear steamy shouts and grunts as a shirt, and then pants, come flying out the window to float down to the street. Gili then emerges in just his underwear, climbs halfway down, and delivers his hat-line thanking the audience for playing and paying.

Gili’s show is so spectacular to me because it could never, ever, ever happen in America — and that is what I set out into the world to find, the things I can’t find at home. The legality and liability of a street performer climbing a public building in the U.S. is laughable, but here in Edinburgh, it’s ok. It is still is laughable, but to the thousands each year that come to see a place with so many things they’ve never seen before.