Sunday, May 31, 2009

Postcard from the Fringe


Back in 1997, Robb and I were living in Baltimore, and running a small theater company with our friends. Things were going well, we were doing exciting work, and we decided to take one of our productions to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We raised (what was for us) a lot of money. We came up with ingenious ways to scale down our show so that we could ship it to Scotland. We prepared to install, perform and strike our show every single night. We rented a flat in Edinburgh. We bought travelers' checks to pay the rent on our performance space and flat. We hired a promoter.

Then the big day arrived. Everyone who was going to Scotland headed off to the airport.

And things started to go wrong.

Our travelers' checks were left in our office.

Our scenery, which we had shipped ahead, got stuck at the docks, because of a customs snarl-up.

Our baggage was broken into by the airline's baggage handlers, and our tools were stolen.

But the worst and scariest part of all of this happened the night they arrived in Scotland. Shortly after dinner, our stage manager went into convulsions and lost consciousness. None of them knew what was happening, that she had epilepsy, and certainly nobody was trained to respond to the situation. Somehow, somebody (probably Donna) figured out how to use the Scottish phone system to call for emergency services. Robb sat on the floor, cradling our friend, and hoping that she wasn't going to die. As she was being loaded into the ambulance, the last thing they heard her say was, "I have insurance." to which the paramedic responded, "That's nice, dear." Fortunately, she was back the group after an overnight hospital stay.

On the theory that no publicity is bad publicity, the Edinburgh Festival offices managed to spin all of this into a pretty decent bit of press. A British tabloid dubbed them the "Disaster Actors" (which we now know means "first responder"). The BBC scheduled an interview and The Scotsman newspaper decided to send a critic. For a troupe at the Edinburgh Fringe, this is apparently the Golden Ticket. A good review in the newspaper of note is about the only way a struggling company can succeed amidst the dozens of performances on offer each day.

There was only one problem. Our scenery and costumes were sitting in a shed 400 miles away and there was no way to do the show without them. The afternoon of the planned opening night, the decision was made to cancel the show, the tickets were refunded, the press was notified. And then, the set arrived.

With no time to waste, they rehearsed the show in their living room, begged the newspaper to send the critic after all, pulled people off the street to be an audience and then did a flawless performance before an appreciative crowd.

The next morning, they awoke to a five-star review.

(An invitation to tour our work in Holland followed.)


heidi said...

what an amazing experience:)

John and Diane said...

Great story!

gollygee said...

WOW. I'm surprised only one person went into convulsions after all that stress! I'm surprised there weren't any heart attacks! :D So glad it had a happy ending! :)

Anonymous said...

That sounds like a movie!



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