New York Actors at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
Monday, September 20, 2004
New York, NY –
It's expensive to take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland. It also takes guts and gumption to be part of the biggest and oldest fringe festival in the world. This year sixteen off and off- off Broadway theater companies organized themselves into a consortium to support each other with marketing and survival strategy. Judith Kampfner found out what they learnt from their Edinburgh experience..
Kampfner: How do you become a commercially successful show in New York if you are a small not for profit theater company? Try becoming the talk of the town at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival . It may sound far -fetched but every year careers are launched says Eileen O'Reilly a fringe administrator.
O'Reilly: On the world stage, that Edinburgh is - it is very competitive, if you are a success here - it's that New York thing - you can make it anywhere.
Kampfner: For three weeks in August the population of Edinburgh swells to 4 times its size. This year was busier than ever with 1700 productions mostly theater and comedy. And one million tickets sold
Shows start at ten in the morning and end at just before dawn. Audiences come from all over the world - and from the Scottish highlands and lowlands.
Scotsman: When you stay here for three weeks, you either get annoyed with how many people are here or you go and see things - I usually go to between 20 or 30 shows.
Kampfner: If word of mouth is good, if you get stunning reviews, if you get one of the top awards, if the right producer comes to see you - then bingo!
The percussion show Stomp , is one such success story - they presented their show at an Edinburgh gym. The Fringes' Eileen O'Reilly
O'Reilly: It was a time when beat was really it. They took up with a choreographer to bring a street show to Edinburgh One of the fairly entrepreneurial promoters of good shows picked them up and developed them into something more substantial.
Kampfner: The Edinburgh fringe grew as a response to the Edinburgh International Festival which brings in flagship companies. The Fringe by contrast is an open access festival. If you can pay the modest entry fee - you can set up in whatever venue you can get.
Nightengale: Here's. Candlemakers Row, here's Cowgate
Kampfner: Alongside Eric Nightengale the director of a New York theater company, I toured some of the more unusual theater spaces
Nightengale: Underbelly is a venue for experimental work - it is a series of wine cellars only open for the festival - some say torture chambers.
Kampfner: There are a few venues where you get to perform only if you are invited. Nightengales' company 78th Street Theater Lab, was booked by the Assembly Rooms - one of the most prestigious spots. They come to New York to scout every year.
Nightengale: They'll pay a visit; they'll spend a day at the 78th Street and see 6 or 7 projects in various stages of development.
Kampfner : But even for Nightengale who has been coming for 5 years, the Fringe is tough to negotiate. Each year it gets bigger and costs are greater. So this year he set up a New York consortium. Abby Wilson managed the alliance of sixteen companies. We sat in a courtyard of theater complex and there was a stream of costumed actors doing performance teasers.
Wilson: We thought it important to pool resources. How to get your flyers out? How to get to this or that office? We made an effort to see each other's shows.. it was morale boosting
Kampfner:The average size of an audience at the Edinburgh Fringe is 7. The New York group met frequently in a pub and in a flat to talk about how to build audiences.
Lucas: You can have zero sales in the morning but if my company go out on the streets we can have 82 by the end of the day
Another way to publicize was to book a spot on an outdoor stage. Two British actors wearing Bush and Osama masks performed an excerpt of their slapstick show
Many shows were sharply political reflecting a British feeling of anguish and shame about the invasion of Iraq. Some of the American performers felt they were being singled out and audiences were boycotting their work .One New York actor Huda Scheidelman reported abusive comments encountered when giving out flyers.
Scheidelman: They should have bombed more towers, they should have killed more Americans on Sept eleventh. On two different occasions statements like that were made so that showed quite a lot of hostility.
Kampfner: It was chilling for the coalition that young and liberal minded festival goers would have contempt for work from New York. But the alliance put up a strong united front and effectively showcased New York work. It was especially supportive for solo performers like Naava Piatka with her show Finding my Mother's Voice . .
Kampfner: The American companies did well according to Fringe authorities.
O'Reilly: We are pleased that this year there were more American companies than ever before and they got a fair level of success either in reviews or audience attendance or both and they are mostly back for a second time and they are trading on their reputations.
Kampfner: The most coveted theater awards are called Fringe Firsts - only a dozen are handed out and 2 of these went to New York coalition members. One to a youth theater with a play called Bang Bang You're Dead. Another to a company fresh out of Yale drama school with a play about the era of the roller derby
Kampfner: Another company is set to appear in London and yet another to go on a European Tour. As for Eric Nightengale's production ? It was called by a leading reviewer the surprise hit of the Fringe . That's a trophy to take to his donors and foundations.. It was above all an out of town tryout - an expensive punishing humbling but rewarding way to workshop a play. These are tangible results of the experience . For the group as whole ? - well said Nightengale - we went to war together and we gelled.
For WNYC - I'm JK