Absurd living and heartbreak at independent Edinburgh festival
Andy Field's festival blog
This article is from 2008.
Well it's been a week now. The festival has erupted. A wild sea of damp flyers and dampened hopes.
I've been treading water. My friend Andrzej pointed out that Edinburgh seems to generate its own absurd mode of living, an alternative universe where three hours sleep seems like a reasonable average and everything is experienced through a gently numbing haze of exhaustion and intoxication. Like a city of lucid dreamers, or an army of Margaret Thatchers surviving on hard drugs and takeaway felafel.
How long can we live like this? I hit a wall the other day. Dragging myself to the venue at half eight in the morning with an hour of sleep in the bank I arrived to discover the ruins of the previous night's party. Mud, beer, cigarettes and paint. Chairs piled haphazardly in the corner and flyers stuck to the red tiled floor. It was, frankly, horrible. In the middle of it all a company rehearsed quietly, almost sheepishly whilst the rest of the venue lay silent, desolate and abandoned around them. What can you do in that situation? Slumping dejectedly in a chair I texted first the other venue managers, then (in a tone I hoped would be endearingly forlorn hopelessness) my girlfriend. Then I grabbed a mop and some hot water and started at it. Soon enough though, a gaggle of folk from some of the companies performing at the venue arrived to volunteer their help. Stepping out of the early morning rain like characters in the tearjerking finale to the 1987 film Batteries Not Included they rolled up their sleeves, grabbed their own bucket and started cleaning. A BAC producer and a Royal Court young writer scraped dried children's paint from the wooden alter at the front of the auditorium, meanwhile outside two performance artists from Bristol mopped the stone steps. Two of the volunteers from the cafe downstairs came up and gave us a bottle of sparkling wine. This place is just lovely. I'm deliriously happy.
It seems the atmosphere is kind of infectious. When we started we really didn't know what to expect. We had a budget for the entire venue about the same size as that used to buy novelty pens for the cast and crew of Pot Noodle: The Musical. I know for a fact that the venue budget was less than one ninth of the size of that for the show Potted Pirates , a two man children's show. About Pirates. With this we rented a flat for people to stay in, scraped together some programmes and bought a couple of new bulbs for the nine lights that constitute our rig.
But with an immense amount of help from my friend Gary Campbell (who is one of the creators of a stupidly lovely new venue in East London called the Stoke Newington International Airport Stoke Newington International Airport), we rejigged the place into something a bit beautiful. We built a little booth in the altar, an intimate space for intimate theatrical encounters; we built a prop store, a lounge area, we gaffer taped black out curtains on the top of a suicide ladder; we cleaned and cleaned and tidied and cleaned. When we opened it looked amazing; this old church hall, creaky and unconverted; a place for exciting things to happen. The Forest Fringe.
When the opening party consisted almost entirely of my friends and journalists I began to be a little worried. I wondered if my much-touted Kevin Costner if-you-build-it-they-will-come philosophy was about to be suffocated to death under the sheer weight of the Fringe. I admit I was terrified; mainly I really didn't want to have to explain to thirty amazing companies who I had convinced to come and perform why it was that they had voyaged half way across the country to play to a room of disinterested chairs.
And yet they did come. In a big way. The first night of The Night Flyer was one of the most exciting of my life. The hall was filled with people, some even standing a the back. By candle light they watched enthralled as The Paper Cinema and Kora did their thing and the whoops and cheers at the end practically broke my heart.