From Edinburgh August 2018 Part 1

SAT: 11 AUGUST: 8am: leave home for Tullamarine

9am: check in Royal Brunei

12-15pm Depart for Heathrow, LONDON via Brunei and Dubai

Many good reasons to choose RB…three easy flights, excellent food, great leg room, excellent attendants, great choice of movies and the price is unbeatable.

Arrive on time: Sunday 6am. Fastest customs and baggage clearance ever. We’re on the train to Kings Cross within half an hour. Hang about waiting for the Edinburgh train at 10-30am. It’s a nice trip especially from Newcastle along the coast. E met a lovely American couple and chat the whole way without ever going near Trump until a Scotsman brought him up as we entered Edinburgh.

Raining and people everywhere shuffling for a taxi. 10min wait and we’re off to our apartment. The driver wants to chat, as a local mostly derogatorily about the festival and the tourists. Even in the rain there’s thousands of people everywhere.

Meet Gordon at the Air B and B..a terrific cozy one bedroom apartment about 30 minute walk to the theatre…shower and shave and head off for Pete’s place…..arrive 6ish, a bit giddy now. Everyone’s there except for Anna who is in a hospital in Liverpool for a check up…( thankfully she seems ok and arrives about 10pm for rehearsal. ) Everyone’s cheerful and looking rested apart from Jen and I, but we’re holding up ok and I’m holding off asking about tickets! On the walk to Pete’s the scale of the Festival has become increasingly apparent. I thought I had a grasp of this. I didn’t. It’s rather massively overwhelming if the posters are anything to go by. There’s trillions of shows and a lot of very expensive adds, way out of our league in terms of budget and experience. How does anyone small and not in the know get noticed?

Pete shows me a ticket print out and we’ve presold about $5000 worth of tickets! I’m both gobsmacked and very happy! Maybe we’ll be ok. I’m told we’re being reviewed ( Brecht ) on Wed and Thurs. Good reviews here really are very important and sell tickets instantly. I’m told. As with all things I’ll reserve judgement, listen, watch and learn. Pete and Lydia have actually experienced the fact that good reviews sell tickets, having seen a couple of shows in the new writing category, sold out.

Arrive theatre 9pm for’ fit ups’ We’ve got until 3am in the morning with our first show at 11am Monday. Tired and a little dizzy we get stuck in to it. The sound situation is a bit of a nightmare, a statement we revise to a challenge two hours later. Paradise Green techs are very helpful. I meet Matt who I’ve corresponded with. He bends the rules and thankfully turns a blind eye to Matthew’s radio mic for the sax. I think the offer of a beer or three swayed the issue. Lights, haze and smoke look good. Very good fit up really. Finish 12-30am thoroughly shagged by now! It’s a long time since we left Melbourne. Walk home in the rain very quickly…good job well done… Don’t know about the location of the B and B apartment. It’s quite a hike especially late at night. It makes me nervy. Bed…but sadly, no sleep!

MONDAY: Show time…bring it on !!!!! Feeling very optimistic while aware of reality…we’ve worked hard for two years for this and I know we’re good, very good actually. But how am I going to feel if other people don’t agree?

So, we arrive at the theatre, costume and get into the space. Someone has fiddled with the desk and there’s nothing coming from the band. Stress city! Not so much for us, we’re chomping at the bit to be off. The head tech, Matt, is sweating, we’re ten minutes late already and the way things run, that’s not good for anyone. We have 35 in the audience, a solid beginning. No, a fucking brilliant beginning all things considered. Finally, we’re good, everything working. It’s an excellent opening show to a very positive response. Everyone’s very happy. Mark is totally rung out. He’s sweated blood; tells me he’s shagged and troops off home to have a rest. Not much rest from here on in though. Lunch and an afternoon nap: we’re back with Electra at 9-30.

We send afternoon,’ fliering’ brigades to attract the crowds. We have our buzz words: ‘original, daring and highly theatrical.’ You’re obliged to join this ritual with all of the other hopefuls, unless you’re in the big league which means big league budget with huge and copious adds. These folk have built their reputation and adds come with five star recommendations from The Times and The Guardian etc. I’m a little envious and then again, I’m simply not. This adventure is already all I’d hoped for and more. Our people make it so in every way!

We have 12 booked in and where that might seem disappointing, it isn’t and then 35 people take their seats. I’m wrapped. We’re asked not to take an interval. This is a little problematic as we have costume changes. We negotiate three minutes and Pete announces this.

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As to reviewers, one came to Brecht in the morning and another from Musical theatre to Electra last night. Anyway, show finishes to excellent applause and a partial standing ovation. Sam and Andy have been breathtaking. Jenn Walter and Mark T, superb. Everyone really. My only issue and its knit picking is tempo at times, the rhythm and pace that defines great shows. Two older people leaving said “ We hope you get full audiences and the kind of appreciation that your wonderful company deserves”. I’m well pleased.

How do you stand out in the crowd? Because that’s the burning question here. We’re good but how can you let people know it? I go to bed with a conversation reverberating in my head. The festival is so vast. It’s a giant, corporate, well oiled machine and paradoxically it threatens to swallow you up so that you evaporate without trace or mention into the Edinburgh drizzle. And for all this, they offer free seminars on how to get noticed if you’re not getting an audience. One strategy is to offer half price tickets or two for the price of one deals. As I’ve said, I’m very pleased with things so far but Pete reckons we give it a go, ( particularly as Simon Calloway is doing it ) and see if it tops us up a bit. Since we’re here to observe, analyse, evaluate and learn, I’m happy to give it a try, besides we’ve nothing to lose.

So, I lie awake thinking………… thinking. We’d talked about fliering in costume and although its not strictly speaking what I want. ( without sounding too pretentious, It seems to me to compromise the intended artistic level of the shows, like advertising pizzas or perhaps it’s simply undignified particularly at my age ) But this is, nonetheless, show business and I concede we need to give everything a try. We’ve observed how other people ‘Flier”. They have a succinct spiel as the flier passes from hand to hand. No lengthy information, an oh so brief encounter and move on. So, I’m tossing and turning and then this:

Brit soldiers on tours of duty in Belfast, left their barracks one at a time, at intervals, ten seconds or so after each other. It was the safest way. The lead soldier stood a good chance of being shot by an IRA sniper but hopefully he reached relative safety and provided cover for the soldier coming after him. You see the dots I connect in the early hours of the morning! So, our actors leave the theatre in a similar manner in full costume. They speak with no one, imperatively always in role: they group together, soldiers to the outside, principals shielded within. make their way to the Royal Mile…speak to no one.

Seek out position of advantage ready to engage with the crowd. Soldiers now face outward, poles perpendicular to the ground. As they step forward, a gap opens between each soldier, the crowd is ‘pushed’ back. At the appropriate moment the poles form the wrestling circle, soldiers always standing. Principals form tableau. Soldiers perform pole routine. Come to a halt with ‘Hail Agamemnon’!

Now a single principal OR a duet will deliver 30 seconds ONLY worth of dramatic monologue/duologue.

The soldiers retreat to their starting point, the ensemble marches on to another convenient spot.

Begin routine again, each time with different monologue/duologue.

Each time the chorus will ‘offer’ fliers without speaking.

It is absolutely essential that the integrity of these street extracts be maintained, indeed that they be treated as performance art in their own right. Alright, flash mobs.

TUESDAY: 3pm: It was a great plan but I didn’t take into consideration the Edinburgh rain! In any event, a big morning. We had 40 in for Brecht and a reviewer from the Derek Awards. ( Wasn’t aware that he was there, so the shows started and I’m thinking this is the best I’ve ever seen or heard it. Mark is literally dripping with sweat. I’ve never seen him like this before. He’s thoroughly rung out at the end to the point where it disturbs me greatly. I just hadn’t considered what it is we expect from him and what he expects from himself. He’s given everything, nothing left in the tank. Pete is so utterly, compellingly professional, inspirational, always magic and Tove is insanely good. EVERYONE is insanely good and I’m loving it in the bio box on the sound desk. ( Where oh where is Pete Palankay! ). The audience loves the show…tremendous applause and lots of beautiful comments all round.

Back to reality. We’ve only sold seven for Electra tonight and the next few days are looking decidedly bleak and I’m not referring singularly to the weather. Hopefully word of mouth will kick in…we’ll see and It may stop raining so we can flash mob. I suppose all we can do is keep the faith and keep working hard.

Our apartment is lovely. It’s in a typical Edinburgh imposing sandstone building on the second floor. The silence is golden…no need of earplugs…..yeah!!!!!!!!!We can walk to the city centre in about 25minutes and we’ve done this a number of times as it’s very pleasant. Otherwise there’s a brilliant bus service almost outside the door which drops us outside the door of the theatre. Takes 10 minutes and its cheap. On the corner there’s a Costas and on the other corner a beautiful trendy and utterly friendly restaurant. We have a pre show dinner…awesome food! There’s a routine now if not a ritual. We meet in the dressing room, talk things over, then our twenty minute call. Action stations, putting the set and band in, checking mics and lights and we’re on before you know it

TUESDAY NIGHT: From my vantage point, I watch and count the punters trooping in. “ Keep coming, keep coming”! 25 tonight turn up for Electra including 6 of the techs from Paradise Green. There’s seventy companies at the venue so a lot of staff rostered on at all times during day and evening. Our tech tells me that they had heard such good things about us. I’m visited by the head tech, Matt. He likes the show…again Sam is something else. I have goosebumps when Electra demands that her mother realise what she has done to her. Matt tells me this is his ninth festival, that’s he’s seen all kinds of shows but ‘never anything like this’. He’s very complimentary of everything and then goes on to say how great the music is and the recorded soundtrack. I tell him about the collaborative nature of the writing and The Recording Space at the Warehouse and how fortunate we are and he says that the engineer is superb…..take a bow Pete P!

I suppose when I say we are playing to an average of just over thirty so far that may seem small. It actually isn’t in the venue. We seat 105. And if someone had said this would be the case, I would have been very pleased. I told Geoff all along that I would consider an average of 20 to be a success in the first year. But it’s like everything in life, we want MORE damn it! The other thing I’ve always said is that regardless of how many in the audience, they will like what they see and this is certainly the case so far. We walk home tonight. The rain has stopped and its mild, still people everywhere at midnight on a Tuesday.

We haven’t seen any other shows yet…too tired so we go home and chill, have a nap and then head out about 8pm. It’s broad daylight so our show time at 9-30pm is perfect. The others have all seen a range of things so Jenn and I will probably see something today. Haven’t a clue as to what but choice is no impediment.

So, we actually get to see another show…..The Dark Lord. It’s written and performed by three Irish girls about their autistic brother. I wasn’t sure at first but it got better and better, funny and sad and very human, quite beautiful and also a little personal. Kirsty would have liked this.

The reviews keep coming…four stars in the British Theatre Guide…. and a terrific write up. Great!

We attempt the ‘fliering’ strategy and its great fun apart from any practical value. Pete acts as the sergeant major barking out instructions as we move from spot to spot pushing crowds aside, stopping traffic and greatly amusing the police. There’s buskers of all kinds and the crowd snap away with their cameras. Conscious of saving voices, only certain people speak: Mark and Pete, Sam, Jenn Walter, my Jen and Pete. Later, I wish Sam hadn’t because as always, she gave it absolutely everything, She’s also stunning to look at in the tableaus.

DISASTER! The biggest worry we always had about this adventure was stamina….voices. Could we last the distance. Most of us are used to short seasons broken up over a period of time. Here, its a marathon with 24 shows in a row and they are very vocally taxing. Mark T is the first to fall. He’s at a whisper but soldiers on. Then Andy starts to croak and is reduced at times to speaking lines from songs. Lachie is losing his voice and Sam is on the edge. Everyone is a little down as they traipse off into the night. Oh, the sun shone today!

There’s sometimes I find myself waiting for someone to make a decision and then realise that that’s my job. So. I’ve got a head cold and I’m feeling fuzzy and I haven’t slept and everything is going on around us in a frenzy and I toss and turn and wake up. I’m thinking football coach. So, I turn up for the game on match day and one or more of my players are injured. Perhaps not badly but badly enough that to play them would knowingly be to risk further injury, perhaps serious injury. I want to win the game but I can’t in all conscience play them. You probably get the drift. Problem is there’s no one on the bench.

Tove could probably stand in for Andy but that would be to compromise her in Brecht so it’s not an option. We have to cancel a number of shows. I expect no one will like it but I take my responsibility very seriously. I think everyone will understand. It’s not a disaster actually, nothing like it. We’re here to have fun and embrace the festival, so a heaven sent opportunity to chill out a bit see some of the other things going on and regroup for next week. Yes, that’s it. I’m very comfortable with that, hope everyone else is. Decision made.

Good decision as it turns out! Feeling the love right now. Andy and Sam looked quite miserable when they arrived at Augustines. My announcement cheered them considerably and others too. I felt quite paternal and in truth a little emotional at their expression of gratitude. I remember them very fondly now as my kids, my students even though I’m sure they’d rather I saw them as adults!

Another terrific Brecht show, marred only by a few minor sound issues. Inconsequential and the audience very appreciative.

Jen and I go shopping…see another show by an American company, Urban Unrest…enjoyed it immensely and they were so glad that we were there having suffered from very small audiences to date. That’s how it is for most folk here. We’re off into town for a 6pm show…an Irish company doing ‘Antigone nah’Eireann’.

Then dinner with Pete and Lydia and an early night to bed…delicious!

FRIDAY: Walk to the theatre. Arrive at 9-30am. The ensemble file in, go through their routine, costume, make up, warm up. Pete’s a little on edge. It’s a new Paradise crew today and they are slow and not particularly caring. Eventually the mics arrive but all of the belt packs are missing…an omen. We get the call to go. I climb the stairs to the sound desk anticipating that all is in readiness, plug in the I pad and sound check as usual. No such thing. There’s a new tech crew and they are fairly inept.. Mark is beside himself, nothing is working because the novice crew, haven’t much of a clue as they attempt to get the band up and running. Small change. Where I am, someone has removed the memory stick which houses all of the mic settings for band and vocals. There’s nothing and doors open in five minutes. The ‘tech’ is sweating with very little idea of how to solve the problem. I’m very patient, calm even. He’s a nice young man and he’s very earnestly attempting to solve the problem. With a minute to spare he stumbles on the vocal mics and sets about E Quing them. Very good size audience. I analyse the demographic. It’s interesting, not the young student types I had expected but generally much older. We’re off and there’s immediate magic in the air. This is going to very good…communion between actors and audience who laugh at all the right moments. Confidence and assurance are high. It’s a terrific show and everyone’s well pleased. Lydia comes to get me on behalf of Pete who is chatting to an American College professor He begins by thanking me for the “most extraordinarily entertaining hour and half”. Needless to say, he and his wife loved every minute of Brecht. He asked where he could access the text to share with his students….a lovely exchange.

ELECTRA lines rehearsal in the afternoon. Andy and Sam sounding much healthier. We worked on rhythm and pace as well as editing the play. What has become increasingly apparent is the we are quite an anomaly here. The vast majority of shows are 50 minutes to 1 hour 10 minutes. We’re 1 hour 35 minutes. That’s very significant in the selection process of what people want to see. Just had word that The Scotsman has been to see Brecht and reviewed us. She has written to say that she enjoyed it very much but has no control as to when it might be published….wait and see.


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