What is there left to say about the Edinburgh Festival? It has grown monstrous
in so many ways and yet somehow retains its capacity to be utterly wonderful.
I used to be too earnest, too driven, too focused on seeing my particular vision of theatre take over the world to get the most out of the festival. I used to see all the street performers, the student and amateur companies, the stand-up comics, the presentations of Berkoff and Tennessee Williams as clutter, getting in the way of what I thought should be the event's focus - the exploration and propagation of brilliant new theatre. Now I regard them all as part of the pageantry, elements I am pleased to celebrate without actively having to support.
A perfect Edinburgh.
In my estimation, for the perfect Edinburgh experience you want the opportunity to see some massive, big budget, full on - probably continental European - dance or theatre company presenting something as part of the International Festival.
You need to find some ridiculously obscure but compelling film receiving its UK premiere at the film festival; ideally with the director in attendance talking about how difficult it was to make (the Film Festival has now moved to June so this is no longer possible).
You should be able to experience the calm of following a riverside path up to the Modern Art Gallery and have some major retrospective awaiting you when you arrive.
Ideally you will spot that some Eastern European physical theatre is on at one of the higher profile Fringe venues and manage to see it before it becomes 'the talk of the town' and tickets become impossible to find.
You must follow some personal connection, rash promise or impulsive whim to an absurdly rough-hewn venue in order to see a show for which you or your party comprise 25% of the audience. You should enjoy the show and ideally hang around afterwards to say "well done" to the company: thus making their day.
On a good year you will have the opportunity to choose between seeing a company you've been meaning to catch for ages, or relaxing in the sun for a couple of hours. You will choose the show and the sun will still be out when you emerge.
Why not to take shows to Edinburgh.
I remain hugely grateful that as a second year student at Lancaster University the Theatre Studies Department selected a show I had directed/devised as one they would take to the Fringe. Those weeks were a tremendous learning experience for me. It was the first time one of my shows had met the public and it was hugely heartening to find that people came to see the show, people liked the show and that critics were kind to it.
Subsequently I was grateful to the comedy team Brute Face for taking on as a slightly distracted technician and allowed me time to see more of what the Festival had to offer.
Then my attendance fell off made just occasional, fleeting visits, usually to see a big show's only UK appearance. Stan's Cafe had been born and the pro/con equation for Stan at the festival was weighted heavily against going. The thinking ran thus:
- Stan's Cafe is a professional company but we have no money ergo we cannot afford to go to the festival.
- Our get-in times and the technical complexity of our shows are high, whilst get-in times and technical support for shows on the fringe are low, therefore our shows will look terrible.
- No one has ever heard of Stan's Cafe or any of our shows, there are thousands of other, better known companies and shows competing for attention ergo no one will notice if we are there.
"We will not be DISCOVERED at Edinburgh. We shall not go to Edinburgh."
Why we do take shows to Edinburgh.
By 2001 a number of things had changed. Stan's Cafe was now a professional theatre company with some money, we also had some kind of a name and a hot show that needed exposure. Crucially we were invited by Andrew Jones (who for us will always be 'The Visionary Andrew Jones') to present this show as part of The British Council Showcase in Edinburgh. Suddenly here was an opportunity to perform for a potential audience of 200 international programmers all looking for something to DISCOVER.
Now, for the first time in a decade, the equation had shifted decisively. We decided Edinburgh had become a risk we couldn't afford NOT to take. Things still weren't simple, Paulette still had to come up with the master stroke of persuading 'The Visionary Suzanne Dunn' to give us a studio at Edinburgh of College of Art for free. We still weren't in a position to go crazy, we went just for a week and we still weren't doing The Fringe properly as we weren't in the brochure and performed almost exclusively for showcase delegates, but we were there, in the city, at Festival time.
The gamble paid off wonderfully, we were discovered by a host of promoters and gained a hat full of bookings. The money we staked on going up to the festival was paid back may-fold. So when the opportunity arose of returning in a similar context two years later at the next showcase we grabbed it. This time we took The Black Maze, again at the ECA, again just for the Showcase week, again sidestepping a traditional engagement with The Fringe. In addition we revived Lurid and Insane, for one night only at the Bongo Club, an enterprise perfectly summed up by the show's title. Although The Black Maze appeared much enjoyed, we could't point to a single booking we gained from having it in Edinburgh and although Lurid and Insane was a rock musical triumph that night in Edinburgh remains its last appearance.
Two years later we were back with the formula intact, Showcase, ECA, one week and a non-theatre theatre show. On this occasion Of All The People In All The World had just come back from it's great success at Theater Der Welt in Stuttgart and this trip to Edinburgh sent it global. Our investment was again repaid with considerable interest.
Two years ago we decided to take The Cleansing Of Constance Brown to Edinburgh and the showcase. Here the equation and had shifted. Taking a show of this size an expense, with a limited audience capacity to Edinburgh was a huge investment and realistically the number of promoters who could afford to book it would be very small. But our thinking had shifted as well. We felt that our fourth visit to the showcase after showing a series of small para-theatrical shows it was time to do deliver a fresh statement, to show something big and very ambitious, something very theatrical and a show that for many very sensible reasons no other company would consider taking to either Showcase or Fringe.
We went targeting two bookings for Constance Brown and have four so far. But the returns from profiling a show in Edinburgh can be hidden and have ramifications years down the line. The three year collaboration between Stan's Cafe and Domaine d'O in Montpellier which starts in September is the result the producer Christopher Crimes tracking our work since 2001 and waiting until 2008 to book us for the first time. We are still meeting people for the first time who say they were at The Bongo Club on that night of madness. We took Constance Brown to Edinburgh almost as a designer may show a haute couture collection to raise brand value and increase demand for the clothes that are both wearable and affordable!
This is the first year we are taking on The Edinburgh Fringe for the first time on its own terms. We have paid for standard slot (12 Noon) in a recognised theatre venue (Underbelly), we are in the Fringe Brochure (page) we are there for two weeks (16th - 30th August) Home of the Wriggler with whose set is small and technical requirements modest . We are spending a lot of money doing but are spreading our bets by using the first week of Wriggler to install 49 Steps at another venue (Dance Base) and ensuring both shows are in the British Council Showcase. We are playing the game a bit more, but still trying to laod the dice.
James Yarker 6th August, 2009.