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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Satori na h-Alba a dhà

we displaced all our rivals

and adorned our weapons systems with their names

we learned that the earth remembered

a thousand million sunrises

in complex hydrocarbon chains

and that with ingenuity

we could grow our own plants

of concrete steel and silicon

to fabricate our own memories

of noontimes near to hand.

It’s not as though you can just

uninvent an invention’s manufacture

but as we no longer die of smallpox

we must no longer die of war.

 

– Edinburgh 7 Aug 2013

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“we displaced all our rivals” composed with a Pilot Precise V5 XFine pen in an Ecosystem notebook serial # HM27010RB in Edinburgh, 7 Aug 2013.

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The Fringe is not an anarchy but can seem like one when contrasted with an event of similar magnitude such as the Games of an Olympiad, or the Paris Salon. Indeed, the Fringe is similar to the Salon de Refusés, the group showing of art rejected by Emperor Napoleon III’s Salon that spawned the Impressionist movement and changed French painting. The Fringe, with its refusal to adopt a central committee responsible for choosing what was in the festival and what was out, outgrew the Edinburgh International Festival to become the largest English-language performance festival in the world. People and perspectives from around the world seek the attention of those who come to watch as well as others who come to perform; everyone at the Fringe, it seems, spends some time as a flanêur of the type that Baudelaire embodied and Walter Benjamin attempted to capture in the Arcades Project.

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The flanêur stands apart, and through his or her gaze regards the life passing by on the street as theatre. Both Marcel Duchamp and John Cage had the operating belief that the spectator completes or realizes the artwork, that by lifting a moment out of the unnoticed everyday and giving it the right attention, it becomes theatre. Empires going back to the Romans did this by forcing the conquered to perform their rituals as entertainment for audiences. At the Fringe, all are there by choice, and everyone ends up participating in some way; there is no emperor to command.

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[Note: "na h-Alba" is Scottish Gaelic for "Scottish." "a dhà" is Scottish Gaelic for "two." "Satori" is a Japanese term for a form of enlightenment associated with Zen Buddhism]

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Satori na h-Alba a h-aon

I am not a stranger in this world

I’ve got my home right here

and no my home does not lie

along some policed border between word and flesh

the paradox lies in your conceptions

accepting the duality without accepting

being on the losing side of it

how then shall we find our way home

if there is no sure difference

between us and the mountain and the river

she asked as she folded her umbrella

yes, beyond the institutional memory

of approximations there is the smell of rain

and the ritual warmth, perhaps, of tea.

 

– Edinburgh 4 Aug 2013

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“i am not a stranger in this world” composed with a Pilot Precise V5 XFine pen on a single page of an Ecosystem journal serial # HM27010RB, Edinburgh, 4 Aug 2013.

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The conversation between two people, no matter how ritualized that conversation might actually be, cannot be reduced to an algorithm. It is not possible to enter a secret code, flip a switch, and be able to perfectly predict all that will be said between two people as they talk. Conversation requires listening, even when that listening is done in the dark watching an actor on stage. This is not to say that there are no formalisms that guide the theatre; there are many, and they evolve. Audiences today at Venue 13 and elsewhere become quiet when the house lights go down and applaud when they come up, but these are cultural conventions, not biological imperatives, and did not always happen. Formalisms now include algorithms implemented by computers, such as the programmatic reproduction of an encoded video digitally projected behind an actor to supplement the action on stage or of encoded sounds synchronously played over several speakers to create a sense of space and suggest things present but unseen.

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Indeed, there can be a sign we see, and an interpretation of that sign we make, which can through stagecraft allow us to be a part of that dreamlike world where the correlations that connect those signs and interpretants are not cardboard props and projections of videos, but are a world we share for all too brief a time with the actors who make that world vivid for us. It is different than watching a movie. For the magic time when the lights are down and the play is on, we breathe the same air as those actors in that world they are staging for us.

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And around us, the world goes on, not waiting for us to notice.

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[Note: "na h-Alba" is Scottish Gaelic for "Scottish." "a h-aon" is Scottish Gaelic for "one." "Satori" is a Japanese term for a  type of enlightenment found in Zen Buddhism.]

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