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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Pub Culture

I love a bar or what I like to call a joint.  My idea of a great joint is diverse people, good food and good drink cheap.  A place that you don’t mind going to often that is frequented by your friends.  A meeting place, a place to relax, enjoy good conversation and grab a brew.  In the states, we have places like that, but they are not places where you see families, kids etc.  They are usually bars and the real reason for being there is to drink.  Maybe there is some food on the menu.  In Scotland the pub is a part of the Scottish culture.

Pubs were originally called Public Houses and their history can be traced back to Roman taverns. Pubs are a drinking establishment, but because so much information is traded there, in smaller places they can be the focal point of the community.  Pubs are socially and culturally distinct from cafes and bars. Families frequent pubs as they serve good, usually comfort food and spirits cheaply. The biggest difference however, was that pubs also sold spirits and beer in small shops that were attached to the pub.  Once supermarkets and gift shops were able to get licences to sell spirits the shops attached to pubs, colloquially known as the jug and bottle, went away and you are now left with the modern-day gathering establishment that I so enjoyed while in Edinburgh.

While in Edinburg I tried to have a beer at as many pubs as I could.  I loved the atmosphere.  You can sit with friends and have a conversation, catch up and enjoy a beer and a good meal in a happy atmosphere.  I enjoyed how different each pub was from the next.  Some were big spaces with lots of light and maybe some live music and others were smaller, cozy area with comfortable couches and chairs; places you could have a real heart-to-heart with someone.  I loved the fact that all kinds of people came to pubs, families, groups of friends, co-workers, all there to relax and have a good time.  I never once felt the “meat-market” atmosphere that I sometimes encounter in American bars.  I felt comfortable enough in the pubs that I went to in Edinburgh to go to one alone.

The pubs I encountered in Edinburgh had many more beers on tap than in most bars I been to in Maryland.  I enjoyed to cast ale and grew very fond of Innis and Gunn beer.  It  is a cast ale some of which is done in whiskey barrels and some old rum barrels.  Tasty!  I also loved the fact that I could get a half-pint.  Most of the beer is 5 or 6% alcohol and as such I really didn’t need to drink a pint all of the time.  Having the option of a half-pint was great.  I also found pub food to be comfort food.  Most of it was really good and relatively inexpensive so I had another reason to like pubs. I love to eat and the food was good.  What else do you need?

So…if you are every in Edinburgh, stop into the local pub that you see and raise a glass.  I guarantee you won’t be disappointed.

 

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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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Skill Building

I am learning new skills.  The old adage “you can’t teach an old dog new tricks” thankfully, I’ve found, does not apply to me.  I have learned more about technology during my trip to Edinburgh than in the last 20 years.  For instance, I am now writing a blog.  Really!?  I had no idea how to do that until last Tuesday and now I am able to sign on and write a blog. I can also Tweet!  That’s right, Tweet, and I do so everyday thank you. And, if I don’t say so myself, some of my Tweets are downright clever! The acquisition of these now common everyday skills may sound trite to some, but when your computer skills were truly limited to e-mail, facebook and ebay, blogging and Tweeting are big steps.

I am now somewhat proficient with a video camera. To be brutally honest I was scared to death of the thing. I was nervous that I would break it or at the very least do something to it that would keep it in some continuous loop or some other strange thing that would force me to buy a new camera. However, I overcame my fear and learned it won’t do anything that I don’t tell it to do. Pure power!  So now, I can put it up, check to see if it is taping correctly and video live performances without asking for help from my younger, more tech savvy classmates.  They are probably happy about that too. Now they can get their own work done and stop helping me. A win-win!

I have successfully used an audio recorder to tape a group interview.  Big deal, all you do is turn the recorder on and off, right?  Well not to the remedial tech person.  I had to practice with the device several times to make sure I was actually recording.  Then I had to check to determine if I could hear what was said. Sadly, after my first practice I heard absolutely nothing. Headphones? Did someone say headphones?  Duh!  You need headphones to hear the audio recording.  So I found some headphones and Wa-la…the practice taping worked!   After doing that about 15 times (repetitive actions help when you just don’t get it) I was finally comfortable with the little hand-held machine and able to interview a group of delightful students from the California Institute of the Arts about their play entitled “Kaspar”. They didn’t even know I’d just learned to work that little recorder that day!   I am now the master of the audio recorder, a skill that belongs to me and no one can divest me of it!.

Then there is my own technology.  I so wanted to use pen and paper, they are, after all old and dear friends, but I chose to get up close and personal with both my new tablet and my laptop.  I can use certain things like Word and Angry Birds, but learning to use my laptop to place photos in blogs for instance or my tablet to take pictures was a different story.  Yes, I know how to take pictures,(I had a Brownie camera back in the day that I could manipulate just fine, thank you)  but working with the tablet to get good photos was a test.  I also learned how to take videos with my tablet, a skill of which I am very proud.  Just ask and I will be more than willing to show my latest video.

Last, but not least, is the use of apps.  My apps included the Weather Channel, Jewels and MapMyWalk.  Since being here at the Fringe, my classmates have shown me how to find the times for shows, get a map of Edinburgh, find the nearest Indian food and how to connect to WIFI anywhere, including the bus. Oh joy!  I can be as connected as everyone else in the world! Now if I could only change the ring tone on my Smart phone…

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13 ways of looking at a black box

Some observations and reflections on Venue 13:

1. The fringe is economical: it fills every available street corner, nook and cranny, every possible time slot. A dark theater is a sad theater.

2. The productions conform to the space while transforming the space. They have to accept the restricted size but they also make it an element in their story.

3. Pomegranate Jam limits itself to two dimensions of the theater. Silhouettes of puppets and actors and props are projected against a scrim. With no dialogue, the play relies instead on movement and music to tell the story of Persephone’s descent into the underworld. In a predominantly black and white world, the appearance of colored projections and a very red sparkling pomegranate stand out.

4. The 15-minute gaps between shows are breaks only for spectators. For everyone involved in the theater, it is a mad rush to strike the previous set and install the new one. The crew frets over the main overhead projector at the venue, which seems at times to be slow to load the new projections and get centered. Stage managers call out how much time is left until the house is supposed to open. When it does, the audience has little idea how much sweat was spilled in the last 15 minutes.

5. Things From Before builds an elaborate set of 17 window or picture frames hanging from the overhead light rigs and includes a jumble of some 30 alarm clocks piled up in the back. The eight-member cast fill every inch of the stage, dancing at the opening before settling into an anxious family drama that gets interrupted by absurdist dance and musical interludes. It’s Tennessee Williams by way of David Lynch.

6. The space accommodates the narrative, the lyrical, the literal, the abstract; the wholesome, the risqué, the avant-garde; the minimalist, the mannered. Likewise, the space accepts all types of spectators: young, old, traditionalist, adventurous.

7. Victims of Influence features four young women who awake frightened to discover their human forms and the destinies that are laid out for them. Bits of story come through in movement, expression, projections and recorded snippets of dialogue. The characters have few lines of original, live dialogue; much of what they speak on stage is a direct quotation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. The effect is often unsettling but very thought provoking about how perceptions can shape one’s identity.

8. Projections, prerecorded sound, light displays: only occasionally are these mere enhancements of the story; often they are critical elements. In a scene at the end of Victims, the house lights come up, implicating the spectator as an influence on the characters’ predicaments.

9. Outside the theatre, a large man in a bear suit hands out flyers to rein in an audience for Fleeced. I haven’t seen it yet so I have no idea what the connection is to the story, which I thought had to do with the Golden Fleece.

10. In Yellow Fever, a tortured painter who aspires to be Vincent Van Gogh is obsessed with the color yellow, personified in a female character who is alternately his model, muse, lover, critic, and tormentor. The stage is covered in a yellow surface and bathed in colorful lights that drip like paint on a canvas.

11. Colorfully dressed people come and go from outside the theater. It is occasionally unclear whether someone in unusual clothing is in costume or just a very artsy/weird spectator.

12. The female lead of Kaspar begins by pounding on the door of the house, staggering inside and repeating a cryptic phrase about wanting to be like somebody else was once. One by one, eight more characters appear, interrogating, lecturing, musing, explaining about language and the spaces between the signifiers and the signifieds, the past and the present. Are we in a mental institution? A coffin? A circus? The story seems at times chaotic and relentless but develops in an interesting way, and the actors do an excellent job.

13. From outside the theater, there is no way to tell from a program or flyers just what is taking place within. The space truly is a black box, its contents known only to those brave enough to peek inside.

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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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A Magical Tour

I love reading for the same reason that I love traveling: I love seeing life through a perspective that isn’t my own. When traveling I like to see the different quirks that exist in all the new towns and cities that are different from the ones I’m used to. Seeing if people diligently wait at lights for them to turn green or if, like in Edinburgh, they press the buttons that they want to cross and then completely ignore the lights to j-walk across streets when there is a good enough gap between cars. Reading gives you a chance to uniquely see perspectives through the eyes of another person, even if they are a fictional character. My experiences in Edinburgh so far have been able to combine both my love of traveling and my love of reading.

The first event that I’ve had the privilege of attending of the Fringe Festival was The Potter Trail, a walking tour of the city to show all of the Harry Potter related sights in the city, places where J.K. Rowling wrote the books as well as various things and places that inspired aspects of the books. In my independent travels that I did before the program started I had seen a couple of the sights already. I had seen The Elephant House, a cafe that describes itself as “The Birthplace of Harry Potter” and knew that there were a couple of gravestones that Ms. Rowling got names from in Greyfriars Kirk’s graveyard – I hadn’t found the names, but I knew they were there somewhere.

The tour not only connected the fictional world of Harry Potter to inspirations from the real world of Edinburgh, but gave some history of the city of Edinburgh. For example, J.K. Rowling got Professor McGonagall’s name from the Poet, William McGonagall’s gravestone. This poet was given the unofficial title of “worst poet ever” and was generally not very well liked. At one point during his life he allowed people to pay to see him recite poetry and throw rotten fruit and such at him and his face. When one of the first health and safety laws was put into place outlawing this practice, William McGonagall wrote an angry poem stating that the law was taking away his livelihood.

I have greatly enjoyed experiencing this wonderful city through the perspective of one of my favorite fictional worlds and can’t wait to see other aspects of the city through other Fringe Festival events and by exploring more independently.

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First Day of a New Adventure

So far “Following the Fringe” has been a great adventure.  Scotland is beautiful.  Every vista is breath-taking especially the one out of my window that looks at Arthur’s Seat, a dormant volcano that is just beautiful. However, what makes travel so fascinating for me is meeting new people.  I love how many languages I hear while just walking down the street in Edinburgh.  Today turned out to be a boon day for me because I was surrounded by new sights, new sounds and very interesting new people. I awoke to the sound of various conversations that passed my window on the way to breakfast.  I understood very few of them, as they were spoken in languages other than English, but that made the sound lyrical.  Just as I began to get out of bed, I heard voices raised in song; beautiful young African voices singing for all they were worth.  It was a wonderful way to start the day.

On my way to breakfast I met a woman from Australia.  She was lost and trying to find her way to breakfast.  I was lost too, but I acted like I knew where I was going just to have the chance to talk to her.  I learned that she has been visiting many countries for the past few months with her husband and some friends.  We had a nice chat and then she and her party went onto breakfast.

After breakfast, we traveled as a group to visit Venue 13 where we will be working documenting the performances put on by students from the California Institute of the Arts. The venue was being set up by the students from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama. While there I met Clare, one of their instructors. We hit it off right away.  She had a big smile and eyes that sparkled when she laughed.  She told me the history of the building that will house Venue 13 as well as the history of the building across the street.  I learned from her that the building under renovation across from Venue 13 was the birthplace of Adam Smith, the author of The Wealth of Nations. We hung out at Venue 13 for a while and then we decided to spend the rest of the day exploring Edinburgh on our own.  I spent a delightful day with two of my classmates, Kendra and Melissa.  I have had classes with both of these young ladies, but today gave me a chance to know them better. Although not new to me, I consider spending time with them as one of the gifts of my splendid day.

Later in the day while having coffee,  I met two girls from Vienna, Austria. One young lady was intrigued by my accent and was trying to guess where I was from.  She knew it was the U.S. but was trying to pin down the state.  She was fun and very enthusiastic about being in Edinburgh for the Fringe festival. I enjoyed my conversation with her and her friend. Oh, and by the way, she never guessed what state I was from, I had to tell her I was from Maryland.

While walking to Edinburgh Castle we met a woman named Sarah Guppy . She is an author of short stories who was on the Royal Mile trying to sell her book.  Moreover, she was trying to get people to review her book.  She said that the competition between short story writers was intense and she was chatting with people to try to understand what would make people read collections of short stories instead of novels.  She was intense, focused about her writing and interested in carrying on a conversation with strangers. I found her brave and dedicated to her cause and I hope her book does well.

Around four in the afternoon it was time for a half pint.  Travel and beer go together so well!  The bartender at the Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar was delightful.  This must have been the day for guessing things about people, because she tried to guess the ages of Kendra and Melissa.  At first, while listening to her speak, I thought she was from Scotland.  But as she continued, it was apparent that she was from the U.S., Alabama to be exact. She made us laugh, welcomed us to sit anywhere and made us feel at home. She scored points for bartenders everywhere.

Today renewed my faith in people We hear so much about how poorly folks treat each other. Today I had nothing but great experiences meeting people new people and strengthening ties with my classmates. I hope as my stay continues I will be able to meet more interesting people and create some lasting friendships. That is the best part of traveling.

Picture of Andrea, Kendra and Melissa

Fun in Edinburgh, Scotland

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The Artistic Evolution of “Whispering in the Dark”

Last time I left off, I was just about to attend the dress rehearsal of the show I’m working on, “Whispering in the Dark,”  which is about two lesbians in 1950′s New Zealand who commit matricide, are torn apart, and meet again in the afterlife. Things went better than expected, though the crew did run into some technical difficulties and had to make a few compromises with the media they were displaying.  The actresses had to adapt to the situation as well, and the show went on!  Though everything started running more smoothly with the next two performances, the show certainly didn’t remain static.  The director, who also wrote the play in collaboration with the two actresses that star in it, made different artistic decisions each night.  Lines were said differently, the actresses moved differently, media was cut or added, and new lighting and sound decisions were made.  Seeing the show performed differently each night provided an interesting look into the evolution of this production.  I had the great fortune of conducting an oral history interview with Caitlin Teeley, one of the actresses in the play and the person who first thought of the idea behind the story.  Click the media player below to hear what she had to say about the evolution of the show and her relationship with costar Kat Ortiz.

Caitlin Teeley Performs in "Whispering in the Dark"

Caitlin Teeley Performs in “Whispering in the Dark”

 

 

About Heather Darnell

I am going into my second year of library school at the University of Maryland, studying archiving with a focus on music and sound librarianship.

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Reflection

EXPERIENCE

“You are the sum total of everything you’ve seen, heard, eaten, smelled, been told, forgot – it is all right there.” Maya Angelou

In short, who you are right now is the result of everything you have ever experienced. The notion is not new to me, but I have gained a new appreciation of it over these days in Scotland.

LOVE

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Never lost

I don’t know when I fell in love with traveling. Was it at Disney World with my grandparents? Or my first Euro-adventure at 17? Or was I born with some kind of genetic wanderlust? Regardless of when or why at this point in my life I’m a seasoned enough hobbyist that I don’t get anxiety over being lost, I just enjoy the being there. Some of my best adventures started by foot at 4am.

Drama

I would be remiss if I didn’t credit my best friend Rachel for insisting I join our high school drama club with her. In truth, it started out as just a high school crush, but I eventually fell so hard for the art that by the time I was 25 I was an alumna of The Juilliard School and starting a career as a lighting technician in New York City. I retired my wrench a few years ago, but I carry many life lessons about productions, creative problem solving and the ephemeral nature of art with me always.

Libraries

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I have completed one year of library school. My head is full of theories about collections, metadata, preservation, technology, and access. At times it feels like a scattered bunch of pieces. Other times I can feel the pieces fitting together. I’m looking forward to putting it all into practice and really knowing the big picture for all its finer details. For now, I am enjoying  the fall for this new discipline.

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So happy together

This class brings it all together: I need my passport to get here; I need to put my head back in the theater; I need to pull from my recent classwork.  Additionally, this class challenges me to create something new from it all. It is exciting.

We

What I am growing to appreciate most about this class is the collaboration. Every single person that is here has within them a key to solving a problem. We have run up against some challenges since we started documenting and we have weathered them all with grace by drawing from each other’s past experiences. I am thankful to be on this team and I am really enjoying this opportunity to learn from them.

We’ve only just begun, but what we have done only affirms my decision to make the leap and try something brand new. I have the feeling that this project will prove to be an invaluable experience as we move through school and into a career.

 

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