The Edinburgh Fringe can be a funny old time for performers. It represents the culmination of a year’s hard work writing and rehearsing a show. Artists will have invested a huge amount both financially and emotionally and the gruelling slog of bringing the show to the public, while exhilerating and hugely rewarding, can be a big challenge too.
It’s easy to get to the end of August and feel like the experience has taken its toll on your mental health just a little bit. So here, culled from a few years of doing the Fringe, are my Top 5 tips on things no Fringe performer should be without. You’re going to find yourself in a few emotional scrapes, and the following is a list of equipment that you’re absolutely, 100%, going to need in order to get through it all without a hefty emotional scar. Feel free to comment and contribute some of your own foolproof Fringe coping strategies as well!
Porcupine Tree and a vantage point
I say this every single year and it never gets any less important. It’s vital that new Fringe acts realise that every single moment of emotional significance at the Fringe will take place while listening to Porcupine Tree on higher ground, so put a bunch of it onto your iPod now and start researching the best hills to climb in Edinburgh. Steven Wilson’s solo stuff is also acceptable as long as it’s some of the more plaintive, moody stuff like “Perfect Life” or “The Raven That Refused To Sing.”
The two classic situations you’re likely to face are as follows. First, there’s that time you’ll fall off the side of Arthur’s Seat and end up entangled in a gorse bush that starts slicing into your wrists and tearing out your hair as you dangle over a precarious drop while listening to “Arriving Somewhere But Not Here.” Then you’ll get a text that says “Have you heard John’s won Best Newcomer?” and you think “So this is how I die,” and you feel weirdly ok with it. The second instance is that time you’re sat on the Monument on top of Calton Hill and just sit with your back to the Fringe, staring out to sea and listening to “Feel So Low” thinking over and over to yourself “It’s alright. Everything’s alright. Everything’s going to be alright.” “So see how long I can last,” sings Steven Wilson, “You can pretend that I don’t exist for you. And I can laugh about it now.” And you think “Tell me about it, mate. Tell me about it.”
A gold thong and an escape route
An absolute classic, this, and one it’s important to be prepared for. So you’ve agreed to do a guest spot at a friend’s mixed bill comedy show, with the twist on this one being that all the acts remain onstage throughout each other’s sets and are allowed to join in and interact with each other. You’ve been asked to burst in halfway through and do a big, silly character act to surprise everyone. On the mistaken understanding that you know all the comedians involved, you decide to go all out and rush in midway through wearing nothing but a gold thong (having hidden your clothes and belongings in an alleyway behind the venue) and clamber all over the audience for a bit while shouting in an Australian accent. You eventually get to the stage, where you are dismayed to find that you have never met any of the comedians before and none of them have any idea what you’re doing.
The audience seems horrified. One of the comics points out that one of your testicles is hanging out, and another says “You’ve ruined the show.” Thinking on your feet, you turn to the audience and proclaim “I have mental health problems,” thinking it will endear you to them. There is total silence.
At this point, you need to have a plan. You need to leg it through the nearest exit and go to collect your stuff. At this point, while you’re trying to get changed, it’s possible a chef carrying a tray of onions will stumble across you. You’ll then have to leg it onto the roof of the building while completely bollock naked and wait there until everyone has gone away and you can go and get your clothes back.
A couple of days later, somebody will stop you in the street and say “Were you that guy who ran into the Rat Pack naked?” You’ll say yes and they’ll say “Oh wow, that was the funniest thing I’ve seen so far.” “Brilliant!” you say, “Maybe you’d like to come and see my show?” “Absolutely not,” they reply.
A bucket of shirts and an umbrella
This was one I only discovered last year, but it’s quickly become an essential. Last year I shared a flat with moustachioed comedian Ali Brice, who discovered the most inspired Fringe coping strategy I’ve seen yet. By week 2, his mental state was deteriorating quite rapidly and he’d already cornered me outside the bathroom and lifted up his towel enough to show me his scrotum. The following day, I knocked on his door and opened it to find him in his boxers standing over a bucket of water with about four shirts in it. He had poked the end of an umbrella into the bucket and was slowly stirring the shirts around in the dirty water, thoughtfully and methodically.
I immediately forgot what I wanted to ask him and just stared at him for about a minute. He stared back in silence, while continuing to stir his shirts, then I closed the door and left him to it. From now on, I will assert that no Fringe performer should head up without the requisite materials to carry out this ritual. As a side note, behind Ali’s head I could see that he had about six jars of mayonnaise on his shelf. It’s possible this was part of his show, but I like to think it was just another coping mechanism.
A 24-year sugar addiction and a copy of William Dufty’s “Sugar Blues”
You’ve been addicted to sugar for twenty-four years. You drink a Dr. Pepper a day and you eat a packet of sweets in about twenty seconds. Comedian Marny Godden buys you a copy of William Dufty’s Sugar Blues in an attempt to help you kick the habit, and you decide after reading it to use the Fringe as a proving ground for the idea.
For the first two weeks, you cut out Dr. Pepper, sweets, chocolate, and fizzy drinks in general and quickly realise just how crippling sugar addiction is. By Week 2, you are feverish and shaking and can’t stop blinking. You end up wandering around Pleasance Dome in a daze, where you bump into Comedy Blogedy impresario Sara Shulman. “How’s it going?” she asks, and you immediately burst into tears and start showing her pictures of rainbows and weeping.
Three days later, you go to see Alpha Papa in the cinema with the Weirdos and buy a massive pot of pick ‘n’ mix and you’ve never felt so alive. At the bit of the film where somebody mentions Marillion, everybody turns and looks at you and you think “Yeah, I know who I am and I like who I am.”
A sturdy Chelsea boot and Yes
Your midnight show at the Phoenix had a tough outing last night. The audience didn’t clock onto the fact that it was a character show and seemed to view it as just you being a conceited dickhead for an hour with no irony. Half an hour in one of them shouted “Let’s punch him in the face!” and everyone else cheered and rushed the stage and you shouted “That’s enough, you’ve ruined the show and it’s not working today!” while crying. On the plus side, you got more in the bucket that night than on any other performance.
Tonight, you’re determined, will go better. After the show you go for a drink with a nice girl. In a foggy, drunken haze, you remember how much you like that scene in the garden in Notting Hill, and you decide “I’m going to break into a garden with this woman.” You run to Prince’s Street Gardens together and climb over the fence. It’s about 5am. She gets over with no difficulty, but you have an Alan Partridge moment and a spike goes through the sole of your shoe into your foot. Luckily, you’ve got a sturdy Cheslea boot on and it stops it from going all the way through, so you only lose a small amount of blood, and only have to spend ten minutes or so nursing your foot before you can wander round the gardens together.
You end up runnnig away from the park rangers who come to open it up at around 6, and share a nice kiss on a doorstep at dawn. You run home as fast as your legs can carry you while listening to Yes’s “Machine Messiah,” knowing that everything will be ok. It doesn’t work out between you, but you’ve always got Yes. “Run down a street where the glass shows that summer has gone! Age, in the doorways, resenting the pace of the dawn! All of them standing in line! All of them waiting for time! From time, the great healer, the Machine Messiah is born!”
Joz Norris: Hey Guys!
Heroes @ The Hive
6–31 August 2015, 2pm
£5 or PWYW