To the Fringe and Back: Reflections (or Ramblings)

My original intent for this post was to consider the ways in which taking photographs for documentary purposes was indeed a much different task than taking photographs for artistic purposes, or taking photographs for personal use. To question whether, with documentary imagery, the aesthetic concepts of line and color are important, and whether the documentation image needed to be interesting or visually pleasing. Is it enough to have the image even if it isn’t a great image? When it comes to a cultural community or movement, how does one take it all in and reproduce it?

These questions still interest me. Yet, as I try to settle into the last few weeks of summer in New York—crowded subway cars, block parties, festivals—and write my blog post about the challenges, the concerns of how to best document culture as a (student) archivist/ tourist/ theater-goer, I can’t help but consider the parallels between my two weeks in Edinburgh and my week back in NYC.

Parallels:
• People handing-out literature on the street during all times of the day.
• People dressed in colorful costumes for no recognizable reason (juggling farm animals?).
• A kaleidoscope of culture, various styles of dance and food, people speaking different languages.
• Tourists like me snapping pictures, wanting to document everything, and blocking foot traffic.
• Even at 12 am in the morning, there is a hint of something going on. (I most enjoyed walking around at night in Edinburgh when there was less traffic).

Differences:
• The buzz doesn’t last forever. A friend of mine, an Edinburgh local, explained that the city isn’t always so full of people; the Fringe is what brings in the crowds that almost spill over the narrow sidewalks.

Edinburgh definitely seemed familiar to me, even though it was my first time in the city and first time at the Fringe. In fact, when my friends and family ask me about first excursion abroad, I often report that being in Edinburgh during the Fringe felt a lot like being in Manhattan—but with gothic architecture. Hmm…how is familiarity captured?

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Show in 15 Minutes: The Necessity of Guerilla Marketing

Since I have arrived, I have encountered performers—actors, comedians, fire eaters, and sword swallowers—who are hungry for audiences. After a gig, these performers often head to the Royal Mile, or any other place around town, to flyer, perform, and market their productions. I have enjoyed many of these encounters, because I view them as informal opportunities to connect to audiences.

Last week on my way to a performance, a comedian from London stopped me and handed me a flyer for his show. Rather than simply shoving the flyer it my hands and walking off, he chatted with me a bit, telling me what I could expect from his set. I told him that I was in Edinburgh with a group of American library students who were committed to documenting the Fringe Festival and asked to take his photograph. I explained that in a hundred years from now, scholars would see that he was a part of the festival. He agreed and, jokingly, instructed me to only include his photograph (and not his flyer) in the archives. “I don’t know if I want people a hundred years from now seeing me in the kilt,” he said.

Imhotep, Comedian, London England

Imhotep, Comedian, London England

A few days later while I was snapping pictures near the Scott Monument, a storyteller introduced herself, and just as it started to rain, handed me her flyer. She told me she was playing at the Merchants’ Hall and said that the show was about her life. She kindly agreed to a photograph—she even held the umbrella for me as I fumbled with the light meter on my dying camera.

Shurl, Storyteller

Shurl, Storyteller

Monday afternoon while I was flipping through the Fringe booklet, the required text for the festival, a woman came over to me and offered her flyer. She was out marketing her show with her daughter. Across the street from us, a crowd had gathered to watch and listen to a group of street performers jam in the square.

Even the performers at Venue 13 do their own share of guerilla marketing on the street. In fact, before their show each day the cast of Things from Before often go out in costume to talk about the show and to get flyers into people’s hands.

I have done my own share of street flyering and I know that pitching a show is key. Just handing someone a flyer won’t warrant the desired return: an audience to fill the house each night. And even with a great pitch, there is still the sobering possibility that no one will show-up because there are hundred other performances to see. This has been the anxiety and reality of some of the performers that I have spoken to. Being at the Fringe has given me a new respect for street flyering, performing, and crazy-costume-wearing for these techniques have the power to rein in audiences in ways that festival interns and a 400-page-festival-booklet cannot.

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The Fringe is On: First Glimpse of Festival Culture in Edinburgh

There’s this buzz around Edinburgh, suggesting that something great is about to happen. Tuesday morning, I awoke to singing, a rehearsal for “Tattoo.” It was as if the collective voices, distinct harmonies were welcoming the suite guests into a new day. It was a special before-breakfast treat. It prepared me for a day of exploring.

After breakfast, the UMD students went down to Venue 13 where we will be working. On the way, I snapped a few photos of the flyers and signage for shows that guide pedestrians down the path. “Come See,” they beckon. Who was I to resist?

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When we arrived at Venue 13, Daz and his team of students from the Royal Welsh College were loading-in. The space only holds a little more than forty ticket holders, which will, perhaps, provide a more intimate setting for performers and audiences.  Daz explained that the performances will run back-to back, offering a lot of art in just a few days. He deemed it the “Fringe at its best.”

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Following our meeting with Daz, we ventured down the Royal Mile. Some performers were getting a head start with their in-person advertising and showing off their acts.

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During a quick coffee break at Caffé Nero, we met two festival–goers from Austria, Tari and Stefanie. Stefanie recently graduated from business school and is taking some needed travel time before settling into a career. Both women will be working at the festival this year and will get to see many of the shows for free. Not a bad deal.

Tari and Stefanie

Tari and Stefanie

Before heading back to the suite, I did a little exploring of my own, searching for other interesting performances to catch over the next few days. So many from which to choose…

(While I was drafting my post, the bartender at the restaurant on the University of Edinburg Campus began to sing the lyrics to Jay-z’s and Alicia Key’s “Empire State of Mind.” So my day ends as it began…with music.)

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