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Me with Robbie Sherman and the Love Birds company in the Pleasance Courtyard, 2015 Edinburgh Fringe

Me with Robbie Sherman and the Love Birds company in the Pleasance Courtyard, 2015 Edinburgh Fringe

Yesterday wasn’t just a miserably wet Bank Holiday Monday in London (and most of the rest of England): north of the border, it was also the conclusion of the world’s largest arts festival, the glorious Edinburgh Fringe (and its parent, the more auspicious and less chaotic Edinburgh International Festival).

So Edinburgh was on my mind for many reasons: as I posted the official closing of the Fringe release, and the full list of 2015 festival award winners, on My Theatre Mates; as I tweeted final performance luck to my fine-feathered friends at Love Birds musical, which had its premiere at the Pleasance and is now hoping for a future life (West End via the St James Theatre, if I get my way); as, back on My Theatre Mates, I read my colleague Mark Shenton’s blog explaining why he’d given Edinburgh a miss for the third successive year.

“I decided to skip out on Edinburgh after all this year,” Mark explained. Why? “Partly it’s because anything that makes a splash at Edinburgh invariably makes its way down south… But I actually knew I could use the time constructively at home, catching up on stuff I’d previously missed or would otherwise.”

I know where Mark’s coming from. Edinburgh is exhausting – I feel like I’m still recovering from my all-too-brief four days there in early August – and there’s always quite enough work to do and shows to see in London. (Or, for Mark, wherever he happens to be – we don’t call his weekly blog the #TheatreAddicts diary for nothing.)

But for all the necessary recovering, I spent most of the rest of August wishing I were still in Edinburgh. For me, over the years, the festival has become less about the individual shows that I see – there have been plenty of highs and lows; many that have, yes, inevitably transferred (some with southbound journeys secured long before August) and most that, thankfully, have not – and has become more about the collective spirit of the place.

If we could bottle the Fringe and sprinkle it over the West End, over the rest of Theatreland – no, the rest of London, the rest of society, what a place the world might be.

How many careers, I wonder, were launched or nurtured at this year’s Fringe?

What are the key elements of this Fringe spirit? For me, experimentation, collaboration, passion and a true feeling that we really are all in this crazy, wondrous, ephemeral thing (theatre, art, life?) together: a will and want to see others thrive and succeed.

Also, something more: beginnings.

How many careers, I wonder, were launched or nurtured at this year’s Fringe? How many actors, directors, playwrights, designers, producers (and, hey, a few comedians) got their first steps up on the career ladder?

Actually, let’s swap that “first” and just say “significant” steps up. Because I’m talking about fresh starts as much as brand-new beginnings. Renewal, reinvention … reconnection. How many more established figures were reminded, thanks to the Fringe, of why they started what they do in the first place? Why they love theatre and theatre-makers?

I often spend a lot of my Fringe time at the Pleasance. And at the Pleasance Launch each year, I’m struck by director Anthony Alderson’s ability to articulate this “what makes the Fringe special” notion so well. This year, Anthony used his seven-year-old daughter as a metaphor for the spirit of the Fringe (and, more specifically the Pleasance, which celebrated its 31st festival this year with 240 shows, including Love Birds).

As the 2015 Fringe concludes, I think it’s a good time to share part of the speech that helped launch it so brilliantly for me….


 

Anthony Alderson speaking at the Pleasance Gala Launch, 8 August 2015. © Peter Jones

Anthony Alderson speaking at the Pleasance Gala Launch, 8 August 2015. © Peter Jones

 

Anthony Alderson – Pleasance Launch speech

A few weeks ago I was woken up very early one morning by the most unbelievably loud banging sound coming from our kitchen. This was loud, incredibly loud, the kind of banging you only get with a hammer…I rushed downstairs…. Our terrified dog rushed the other way…

The first thing I found was a trail of white plaster …. Bang Bang Bang… the noise continued… Now I should explain that there is a small vortex of unpredictable energy in our household. She is Candida and my daughter, she is seven years old and developing a certain mutinous independence. There in the middle of the kitchen floor, wearing a diving mask and snorkel, was our plaster-covered daughter clutching a large rubber mallet. She had carefully wrapped up in a bathroom towel, several brightly coloured ceramic tiles, and with a huge grin on her face, she was now smashing these tiles into tiny little pieces.

“In the pursuit of creative endeavour, it is okay to make a mess, and whilst growing older is unavoidable, growing up is quite definitely optional” – Anthony Alderson

Bang Bang Bang… She saw me and stopped…… “I don’t need your help, I can do this myself”……

”I can see that,” I said……

Bang Bang Bang…

Another look, and then she said…. “Anyway, you were asleep and I didn’t want to wake you up!”

Our daughter had decided that she wanted to make a mosaic tile for her teacher, and there was absolutely no way she was going to wait a moment longer to do so. Now you are probably wondering what possible link this has to the Pleasance [Terri: and the Fringe].

Well, if I am honest, really none whatsoever, except to reassure you that the anarchic energy of young people is still very much alive and well, although nowadays it comes wearing a mask and snorkel and wields a rubber mallet.

My daughter is a constant reminder of what I love most about the Pleasance [and the Fringe], in the pursuit of creative endeavour, it is okay to make a mess, and whilst growing older is unavoidable, growing up is quite definitely optional… It seems a great many creations start with a bit of passion, some banging and a little bit of a mess.


 

Pass the baton

Anthony went on to explain that, with the places [like the Fringe] to make the mess and access to the right tools, “the very greatest creations are possible”. He challenged us old industry hands in the audience to help pass on the baton:

“If our job as adults is to leave the world in a better place with better opportunity for our children, then I often worry that we aren’t doing it so well. All too often, success is measured by the ‘take’ – perhaps we would be better off measuring success by what we put back.”

The Pleasance puts back via its “Pleasance Futures”, encompassing various schemes including: the Young Pleasance theatre company, the Charlie Hartill Fund which offers investment to two productions a year, and new in 2015, a media mentoring scheme. I’m proud to say that I accepted Anthony’s challenge and had the pleasure of meeting and mentoring this year’s three aspiring journalists putting together the in-house “Pleasance Times”: Tim Bano, Ellen Cawthorne and Alec Woolford. (Twitter was a key part of my lesson!) 

I hope they – and Mark Shenton – will be back for the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe, and will spend the intervening 11 months doing what they can to keep the Fringe spirit alive.

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