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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We’re Off To See The Wizard! : Seeing Shows at the Fringe

In addition to the shows we document at Venue 13, we are encouraged to experience and document other performances at the Fringe. No, I didn’t get to see a production of the Wizard of Oz as the title of the post might suggest (though there was one about Dorothy that looked kind of cool), but I did get to see some other fantastic shows. The most difficult part was narrowing down a manageable amount of shows–there is the official programme (over 400 pages, color coded by genre of performance, and with a handy map at the back) and app to make the job easier. I really liked this tweet the other day that illuminates how large this festival is:

Out of these, I (with the help and company of some classmates) managed to narrow it down to 5 shows as I mentioned in my last post–but so far I have actually gotten to see 7 shows! We happened upon the cast of “He Had Hairy Hands” on the Royal Mile, and we got free tickets to their preview show that night; that was some of the best money I’ve never spent. It was a silly “horror” story with a werewolf, an enterprising detective, and had a little twist at the end! They also had some of the most inventive uses for a retractable dog leash I have ever seen–it was at times a telephone cord, a mountain climbing rope, the edge of a(n invisible) table, and of course, a classic dog leash.

Flyers, Tickets, and Map

Flyers and venue booklets for the shows I saw, as well as my handy dandy Fringe venue map

Then, during a pause in documentation shifts, I saw the 5 shows I originally bought tickets for. First up was “Shakespeare’s Avengers Assembleth” on Sunday–and it was as fantastic as the title might suggest. Will Shakespeare has been called by the queen to defend Protestantism against a Papal inquisitor…by putting on a play. Appearing in the play was quite a mix of characters–Hamlet and Ophelia showed up, as well as Macbeth, Brutus, Katherine (from Taming of the Shrew), Tybalt, Romeo, Juliet, and Iago. Shenanigans ensued, and it was hilarious.

Next, I saw Out of the Blue (an all-male a capella group from Oxford) at a venue at the University of Edinburgh, and to put it in perspective–they started with a Shakira medley and got better from there. What more can I say, really? They were very talented musically, and were great performers on top of it. That night, I went to see a production of “Hamlet”–choosing one out of the many because of a vague personal connection to a director–that was also well done. Watching such a well-known (and often-performed) work is interesting to me because of the different stylistic choices made by the directors and actors, and this one had its own unique flavor–helped by the fact they managed to fit most of Shakespeare’s longest play into about 70 minutes!

Flyers collected over the course of just a few hours on the Royal Mile (and elsewhere)

Flyers and booklets collected over the course of just a few hours on the Royal Mile (and elsewhere)

Tuesday I saw two more shows. In the morning, we saw “The Seussification of A Midsummer Night’s Dream”,  which was very cute. In addition to performing the majority of the play–in a rhymed, Seuss-ed style–the all-female cast ran through the show again at the end only faster…and then did it again, only faster and backwards. My ticketed shows ended with watching a musical group from South Africa, called Soweto Melodic Voices, in St. John’s Church. They started with a tribute to Nelson Mandela (which gave me chills for almost the entire first half of the performance), and by the time we finished people were dancing in the aisles. They were awesome, and so my original list of 5 shows ended on a good note.*

Finally, yesterday (Wednesday), I got the opportunity to see “Fleeced!” at Venue 13. I had seen a description and it looked funny, so I went in and gave it a shot–it was hilarious. Jesephules leaves home on a Hercules-esque quest and meets Odysseus, and then they meet Medusa (who is very nice, wears a bag on her head to avoid fossilization accidents, and has a hand puppet as an imaginary friend). Hades also shows up, and had a very thick Scottish accent (who knew, right?). The mashup of different Greek mythological characters, along with the fact that it was a well-written musical, made it one of my favorite experiences of the trip so far.

*Pun not originally intended

 

 

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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 Whole New (Old) World

Street in Edinburgh

Taken on the walk to Venue 13 to check out the space and tech move-in

Today was our first full day in Edinburgh, and it was just as bright and sunny as yesterday. Bright, sunny, and completely new to me–this is my first trip outside of North America. Going through customs (and traveling through Heathrow in general) was certainly an experience, as well as remembering to make sure to look BOTH ways before crossing because they do indeed drive on the left. So far I’m really enjoying all of the stone buildings–it makes every view more dramatic. Hearing all of the different accents and languages adds a flair to every interaction as well.

After walking with the group to Venue 13 today to learn the route and meet some of the people from the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama setting up the venue, and then stopping for coffee (and Wi-Fi), Andrea, Melissa, and I explored around town. We got tickets from the Fringe Box Office–we managed to narrow it down to 5 shows out of an expansive list–and then explored all the way up the Royal Mile to Edinburgh Castle. Then we walked back down, made a couple stops, and headed back to Greyfriars Bobby’s (where we had dinner last night) to meet up at the statue of the well-known little dog for a tour for Harry Potter fans.*

Pizza Paradise Menu Offerings

Pizza Paradise Menu Offerings

One of my favorite parts of the day was the place we stopped for dinner on the way there–and not just because there was food involved. It is called Pizza Paradise, and as you can see in the picture, a sign outside advertises that they serve falafel, humus, shawerma, kebabs, pizza and burgers, all in the same joint. I’ve never seen this particular combination of food served at one place in the US, but I do see it with amusing frequency here! And I don’t know about all of the other falafel-humus-shawerma-kebabs-pizza-burger joints of the world, but this one had really good food (Melissa and I shared chicken and corn pizza, for curious souls).

Finally, an ongoing side project of mine on this trip includes asking people I meet a Question of the Day and videoing their responses. I’ll put these responses together in a video for the kids at the DC Public Library branch** where I work, as a fun way to teach geography and share some global perspectives. In this quest so far, I’ve met 3 people–two friends from Vienna who had traveled to the Fringe to work (and get into shows for free), and an author from London who was on the Royal Mile promoting her book of short stories. They were very nice, friendly people, and I’m excited to keep working on the project–and to keep my progress documented/summarized here!

 

*If you don’t know about the sweet little terrier, here’s the Wikipedia article, as well as the Historic UK description.

**Totally my own project, not official in any capacity.

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Images from “Goose”

Gallery

This gallery contains 10 photos.

I am part of the three-person team documenting “Goose.” This show, part of CalArts Festival Theater at Venue 13 here at the Fringe, is an all-ages show about a boy’s 13th birthday party, which no one shows up for, and … Continue reading

About Marissa Mason

Marissa (@thebibliofille) is enrolled in the M.S. in Information Science program at the University at Albany with a concentration in Archives and Records Management, and also works full time as a law library assistant. She holds a B.A. in English and Writing and has previously studied abroad in London. She is particularly interested in digital archives, digital curation, and promoting preservation of and access to our cultural heritage.

Social Media at the Fringe

Yesterday, day one of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe, I climbed twisting streets and wynds until I emerged, slightly breathless, at the head of the Royal Mile, where I was immediately caught in the rip tide of the crowd. It was an exceptionally warm, sunny Edinburgh day, and the very air seemed to be pulsing with music from a percussion band performing in the shadow of the St. Giles Cathedral, while not twenty feet away a man juggled with fire. In the chaos, flyers were thrust at me from all directions, and like a good sport, I took them all. I made my way past feather-bedecked women gyrating to the pounding of the drums, past painted faces and a marionette dancing mournfully, accepting more flyers from show promoters–a man in a snail suit, a group in Victorian dress, a man with a shock of traffic-cone-orange hair. The Fringe creates an inversion of expectations; the more you stand out, the more you fit in. All around me, people clutched cameras and smart phones, and, no doubt, some were also tweeting, Instagram-ing, and consulting the Official 2013 Fringe App, which allows for things like searching for shows and venues, purchasing tickets, and connecting with Facebook and Twitter.

After this first experience of the Fringe, I couldn’t help but reflect on the evolution of the festival from eight theatre groups performing outside the official program of the Edinburgh International Festival in 1947 to the massive gathering it is today–thousands of performers and countless attendees from around the world–and wondered at how festival communication has evolved during that time. In 2013, you’re as likely to get Fringe news from Twitter as on the street.

I even noticed one promotional poster that used Twitter:

Fringe poster with Twitter

This integration of Twitter is appropriate, because Twitter is probably the number one source for social media at the Fringe. The official Twitter hashtag is #EdFringe, and by following this you can find out about shows, get reviews, and generally keep up with the buzz around Edinburgh during this hectic festival season. Many theatre companies, shows and performers have their own Twitter feeds. You can also keep up with the Fringe through blogs (such as this one), on Tumblr, and on Facebook.

Interestingly, the online Fringe Guide to Selling a Show has tips not only for making effective flyers and posters, but also offers tips for social networking, such as: starting early to build a following online, using the #edfringe hashtag, and connecting with journalists and other companies.

Embracing social media at the Fringe, my colleagues and I will be blogging and tweeting our little hearts out over the coming weeks. Be sure to keep up with our blog here as well as our class hash tag #mlsfringe on Twitter (our Twitter feed is also embedded in the sidebar of the blog–how cool is that?). For us, social media is a great way to communicate with each other as we go through the documentation process, to record our experiences and to share and connect.

About Marissa Mason

Marissa (@thebibliofille) is enrolled in the M.S. in Information Science program at the University at Albany with a concentration in Archives and Records Management, and also works full time as a law library assistant. She holds a B.A. in English and Writing and has previously studied abroad in London. She is particularly interested in digital archives, digital curation, and promoting preservation of and access to our cultural heritage.

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On the Fringe

MLS Group at the Mitchell Library

UMD MLS Group at the Mitchell Library

It’s been quite a journey since we set foot in Scotland a few days ago! We began our trip in the quiet serenity of Glasgow’s West End, which I felt encompassed everything a quaint little British village should.  While there, we toured Glasgow’s beautiful Mitchell Library, which holds a vast collection on the Scottish poet and lyricist Robert Burns, and had a wonderful group dinner at the Mussel Inn.  Still in good spirits, we hopped on a train for Edinburgh and made our way eastward through the countryside, dotted with sheep and cattle.  I dozed on and off on the train, only to awaken to little pictures of rolling green hills and fields of heather through my window.

And then BAM! Edinburgh!

Dark Evil Castle (aka Scott Monument)

Dark Evil Castle (aka Scott Monument)

I got off the train and rubbed my eyes several times, wondering if I had fallen down a rabbit hole.  The hills, the fields, the quaint little cottages were all gone! Only to be replaced by tall, castle-like buildings glaring down from every avenue, and twisted streets that seemed to change their path each time you walked them.  Even the weather had changed!  Whereas Glasgow had been bright and sunny, Edinburgh was gray and drizzly, and I had the feeling that it held some old, dark magic deep inside of it.

Things only got more bizarre as I walked around the festival. A man on stilts greeted me as I walked in, his face painted in a permanent smile.  Men in drag gave monologues in the middle of the road.  A fellow in a top hat rolled around on a unicycle.  A group of college-age students sang a cappella jazz on the sidewalk.  My head was filled with a cacophony of voices, instruments, and camera shutters.

I was on the fringe.

It took a few days to get everything together.  To accept that I was not, in fact, in Hogwarts. To remember that I had a great deal of work to do.  And to get my technology and strategy together to document the CalArts theater group I would be working with.

Fringe Performer

Fringe Performer

I was thankful to see I wasn’t the only one at my wits end.  My partner, Alison, and I dove into work by attending the “tech” of our theater group.  Tech, for those who aren’t familiar with theater, is a rehearsal where technology, such as audio and lights, are checked along with stage cues.  Our group, performing Whispering in the Dark, only had about an hour and a half to run through their play and check the technology with it.  The show itself only has two actresses and relies a great deal on lighting, audio effects, and screen projections to convey the mood and story.  As someone who has never done theater, I was amazed to watch how many elements were involved and how delicate the orchestration was.  If an actress missed her line, it was easy for a lighting or audio cue to be missed.  At the same time, a mistake in lighting could lead to the wrong mood or idea on stage.

Given the time restraints and the foreign area, the group seemed right on the fringe—they were nervous to get everything together and have everything in working order before today, the dress rehearsal.  Everything was happening last second and there was a certain tenseness in the air. Even Alison and I were struggling with our own video camera, still image camera, and audio device to figure out how we were going to record everything properly.  When we left that night, not everything had been worked out.  The cast and crew seemed stressed and tired.

But hey—it’s the Fringe.  Tonight is the dress rehearsal, and after all I’ve seen of Scotland, I’m willing to bet just about anything can happen.

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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