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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Follow the Fringe 2014

And we’re back! The UMD iSchool is returning to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to document and archive three stage productions produced by CalArts and students from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, and all performed at Venue 13. In addition, this year we will be documenting a production by students from the York University Center for Film and Theater.Fringe Pre Class 2014

We, Lissa and Alex, are returning as #MLSfringe veterans (Class Coordinator and Librarian, respectively) to help lead our second year of students and we look forward to working with the class and Dr. Mary Choquette.

Fringe Pre Class 2014 DC exercise

On Monday, July 21st, we gathered in Hornbake Library to meet each other, go over safety in a foreign country, review logistics, and learn about documentation strategy from Dr. Choquette. The students finished the day with a documentation exercise where they interviewed each other and recorded the metadata for their interview.

We all arrive in Edinburgh Monday, July 28th. Our first group dinner will be at one of last year’s favorite spots, Greyfriars Bobby’s Bar, and the work at Venue 13 begins on Tuesday. Check this blog over the next two weeks for posts from each of the students and follow our journey daily on Twitter using the hashtag #MLSfringe.

~ Alex & Melissa

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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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“Goose”

Fringe Programme "Goose" Entry

Fringe Programme “Goose” Entry

One of the best parts of my experience within this “Follow the Fringe” course was being lucky enough to work on the performance “Goose.” After seeing the show once, I was hooked. The impressive writing and acting from Michael Yichao made it so that I was excited to see the show every single day. Sarah Shoemaker’s performance as the goose was memorable and the movement she created for the piece was spot on. The show transports you back in time to when you were thirteen, and the nostalgia really draws you into the piece. Now that I’m back home in the US, I find myself quoting some of Michael Yichao’s words, or going through pictures of the show and smiling, it’s effects resonating with me even though it’s been five days since I last saw it.

Below are some of my favorite pictures from the show, and if you happen to be in Edinburgh, I cannot recommend this piece enough!

 

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