‘#INSTALOVE’ is not your regular improvised comedy

“Claire is a younger version, Cat will come out in bursts… They come into play at different points in my life, depending on what I need, what I want. I’m certainly more Kate at this point. She’s trying to find something secure.”

 

instalove

 

As Edinburgh rain unexpectedly falls, as it so likes to do, Catherine Duquette tells me which of her four ‘alter-egos’ from her one-woman show she feels most like at this point. This is characteristic of Duquette’s straight-forward honesty, something which is in turn characteristic of her show.Though calling it a ‘show’ may be misleading. In fact, ‘#INSTALOVE’ is crafted by each audience that sees it as they respond to the questions and actions of Kate, Claire, Cat and Kris, the four participants all skilfully embodied by Duquette, as they search for whatever it is they want in their love life, though they all seemed to working with very different ideas of ‘love.’ “Every show is different!” says Duquette. Indeed, watching the show I thought and later said to Duquette, audience participation seems to mild a word for it, it seemed more like “audience creation.” She enthusiastically agreed saying that it came about when, in a mild dislike of solo shows, she began “using the audience as players”. As a video game writer, like Kris one of the characters, she’s intrigued by “interactivity” as she wants the audience to have “a different kind of experience” from the normal one way interaction in shows.

 

As an audience member, I certainly did. As Duquette became four different people, I saw the people around me answer deeply personal questions, sometimes about their hopes and dreams, sometimes about their sex life. I somehow found myself confessing a reluctant belief in “the one” to the sweet, bright-eyed, earnest Claire. This may sound intense but I couldn’t stop laughing, and I definitely wasn’t alone. Laughter, partly due to the freshness of the audience participation and partly because of just how on the nose these characters, and slight caricatures, were.

 

“I noticed a pattern of personas that were trying to sell themselves as something and trying to attract a certain type of person,” Duquette explains. This observation is familiar to anyone who has dated, online or off. A presentation of a certain image has always been a feature since dating was called ‘courting’. Yet as Duquette points out “And we all try to sell ourselves as something unique and special but our needs are not that unique…”  Underneath all the laughter, this is the astuteness to ‘#INSTALOVE’: the recognition that the things we say we want are not as special as we think they are. Equally, there is an astute comment on this market element of the ‘dating market’ where people seek, and advertise on dating sites or apps, for something precise, someone with particularly desirable features.

 

For me, the sense of ‘maybe we’re all the same’ is in the experience of the show itself as person after person answered Duquette’s probing questions. Duquette sincerely hopes the show will help people look at themselves, not critically but with a heartfelt intention to help people grow. Both funny and well-meaning, ‘#INSTALOVE’ is not your regular improvised comedy.

Darcy Rollins

Ella Langley on how ‘growing up is possibly the most universal pressure there is’

Girls Will Be Girls, the sell-out Oxford show written by talented student Ella Langley, headed to the Edinburgh Fringe last month. Sian Bayley caught up with her to find out more about the show, and the challenges of bringing a student show to the Fringe.

Ella confesses that she was first inspired to write something like ‘Girls will be Girls’ while watching the ‘The History Boys’ on TV the day she received her Oxford offer, and re-watched when suffering from writer’s block, firmly establishing a connection with Alan Bennett’s modern masterpiece. She makes it clear, however, that ‘single sex schools are inherently and pervasively different for boys and girls’, and that the plays differ accordingly. She also explains that she deliberately ‘set out to undermine the importance that schools place on Oxbridge from the beginning of the play’ by not showing the girls applying. ‘The audience are given no handle on why it matters so much. So the process feels much more alien and harder to get invested in’. Admiring how Alan Bennet ‘gave these teenage boys a level of respect and their lives a sense of significance’, Ella ‘craved’ to write something that would give the same to teenage girls.

 

Luke Scott

Luke Scott

 

She wanted to change the stereotypical problems of teenage girls centring on ‘skin care and clothes and crushes’ to ‘the more universal pressures of coming of age, striving to find a social position, facing the state of your mental health and feeling pressure to succeed in your sphere’, in this case academic. In Ella’s world, female characters are not defined by their relationships with men, and whilst the play centres on a specific social group of reasonably privileged women, it seeks to be relatable to all audience members. As Ella explains, ‘growing up is possibly the most universal pressure there is’.

‘Girls will be Girls’ doesn’t shy away from exploring topics such as mental health, sexism, and racism, and Ella is careful to emphasise the difficulty of ensuring these issues are explored both sensitively and bravely. She admits she was scared to approach some topics, but was determined as a writer to engage with these issues and ‘move outside of the scope of your own privilege to amplify the voices and stories of others’.

Indeed, this social aspect of the play fed into the Oxford run’s accompanying ‘Dear Me’ project, devised by Daisy Porter, which gave the play a life beyond the stage. Asking audience members to write a personal message to their teenage selves after the performance created a wonderful sense of celebration and accomplishment, as audiences looked back on their formative years, and how they had come since then. This extra-textual moment of reflection was important to Ella’s conception of the play, and was extended during the Edinburgh run, as the production headed to The Mile to talk to passers-by, and engage with an even wider audience.

A key point about ‘Girls will be Girls’ is its accessibility, made evident by the innovative marketing techniques used in the Oxford run. From creating fictional Snapchat stories, to Charlotte Pang’s beautiful cartoon drawings of the girls, the marketing for the play always strove to be fresh and exciting – something that is not always apparent in student drama. As Ella explains, ‘with so many student shows the market is massively saturated so it’s the job of marketing to engage people who aren’t actively looking to go and see theatre for whatever reason. At the moment, I find a lot of marketing for student shows seems unaware that they’re only really directing their content at other self-proclaimed thespians, and might consequently be alienating a large portion of people who aren’t already super pumped about theatre – but of course have the potential to be’.

Ella attended the Edinburgh Fringe for the first time last summer, and watched almost exclusively new writing that is often ignored by festival goers. Describing the energy at the Fringe as a ‘really visceral experience’, where ‘actors and directors, writers and technicians, fearlessly open themselves up to audience after audience’, Ella admires the ‘off-the-cuff and trial-and-error’ atmosphere of the free and amateur Fringe. She confesses that whilst she is ‘probably going to be eaten alive by the reviewers there’, it is also ‘a weirdly exciting’ prospect – ‘a place to grow and learn as a writer and practitioner and person in the world’.

‘Girls will be Girls’ is Ella’s first full play, and it is no coincidence it is the right length for a Fringe show with basic set and tech requirements. She describes the hardest part of bringing her show to the Fringe as ‘applying to venues totally alone with a script that I didn’t feel like I had adequate approval for. Writing is a lonely business and there is no authority in the world that can assure you what you’ve produced is good enough for a theatre or a bookstand – you have to back yourself or give up. In a weird way applying for the Fringe felt like a moment where I was stepping away from the world of the characters. I had to face up to the fact that no one would hand me back my script with full marks or loads of ticks and tell me I’d done a good enough job. I just had to grow up and realise that a bad play would be better than no play at all. You can only learn from doing, and realistically it wouldn’t be either perfect or abysmal, just somewhere in-between.’

 

Sian Bayley


Helena Snider interviews the minds behind ‘Sex Education’

I was lucky enough to meet with the writer and director of a new production entitled, ‘Sex Education’. With such an intriguing title, I wondered which category this would fit into at the fringe: was it a comedy? A play? A part-lecture? All of the above? Well, the answer is that ‘Sex Education’ is a comedy set in a school. It explores teenage relationships and the ways in which the current generation is learning about sex. But for many of the characters, sex education is the last thing they’re worried about: one of the students needs to boost his grades to get into University; another is trying to avoid being suspended. We get to know them all and what’s important to them, whilst they practise putting condoms on carrots. The play, then, follows Rebecca, a gap-year student and aspiring teacher, who decides to go back to school to shadow some lessons. She observes a sex education class. Questioning the manner in which sex is being taught, she convinces the teacher to adopt a radical and daring approach.

The topic of feminism in relation to sexual relationships is clearly important to both writer and director. Cressida Peever, the writer of this bold new production, explains what inspired her to write the play: “I feel that we still live in a society that perpetuates sexism. For me, secondary school was the place that I learnt to conform to gender stereotypes because it was easy. I feel that drama is a great way of making a subject accessible to a wide audience, and it has a way of sticking with you long after the play has finished, keeping the conversation going.” Philipa Lawford, the director, believes the play’s main appeal is its ability to be comical without trivialising serious topics. While she was initially drawn to the play “because it is very funny. Cressida’s writing is really sharp and witty and the dialogue feels very natural”, she also points out that the play highlights the fact that, “according to the current government guidelines for sex education, schools are only required to teach about the male orgasm, not the female one, and discouraged to promote the idea of having sex for pleasure.”

I ask whether the pair felt a level of responsibility to tackle the gender-stereotyped way in which sex education is often taught. Cressida says, “I don’t think schools promote misogyny, but many don’t challenge it, which is just as dangerous. Of course, there are fantastic teachers already obliterating gender-stereotypes every day. But at the same time young people today are exposed to sexual content at a very early age, and many get their sex education first from the internet and pornography, much of which has a sexist – even misogynist – lens.” It’s clear that the aim of the show is not only to induce laughter but also to start a conversation about the matter. As Cressida says, “schools and parents alike should encourage their children to challenge everything; to be curious and questioning and never accept information blindly.” This play is a great first step in that direction.

www.sexeducationplay.com

 

Helena Snider


Radio: “We wanted to look at the shadows that lie beneath everyone’s lives”

Daniel Mahoney interviews writer/director Archie Thomson and producer Emma Irving about their production ‘Radio.’

 

Firstly, what is Radio about?

Archie Radio is about six students and their last day in their university house. Clustered around the kitchen table, it all seems like a recognisable vignette until a forgotten radio at the back starts spewing secrets to people who were never meant to hear them…

 

Where did the inspiration for this story come from?

Archie: From two places, really. I happened across a great short film called The Gunfighter, in which the traditional voiceover becomes another character who is set on provoking revelations about the inhabitants of a Wild West town. I couldn’t help but wonder what the malicious voice would expose if it came on in my own student house. Secondly, the rise of technology is affecting our generation in ways that are unprecedented. The idea of constant surveillance, of a generation obsessed with how they look to the outside world, is more apt than ever. We wanted to look at the shadows that lie beneath everyone’s lives.

 

Radio is a story told from a student perspective – Do you think its themes will resonate with a wider audience?

Archie Of course! A lot of the play is about intergenerational conflict; the radio excerpts are almost always the voice of an older person giving their opinion on students. We like to think it’s not just a window into a modern day student house, but also a snapshot of the tensions between this generation and those that have come before it. It has been fascinating discussing the play with people of different age groups after the performance, because the morality in the play in particular does seem to provoke very different reactions from people of different ages. I should think it would be interesting for older people to see what young people think they think, as well as just the opinions of young people themselves.

 

Was it a challenge for the actors to manage and make natural the shifts in tone a black comedy like this demands?

Archie There is no doubt that halfway through the play there is a shift from light-hearted student humour to something far more serious and sinister. To manage some of the very difficult issues that we touch upon requires a great degree of sensitivity and flexibility, but they seem to be handling it well! Part of that comes from the fact that the process behind this show was a very collaborative one. Many of the lines belong to the actors, born out of the rehearsal room, and so they all seem to own their parts in a way that is quite unusual.

 

Obviously a focal point of Radio is, well, the radio! In a story you’ve stressed is very much about modern life, was it a deliberate choice to centre the story around a somewhat dated technology rather than something more up to date?

Archie Yes, it was a deliberate move. The radio was an original harbinger of change in the technological revolution, but it’s also in some ways a relic. It therefore seemed appropriate to have a radio – as opposed to, say, an Amazon Alexa – as the voice of the older generation criticising modern day young people. It also makes it eerier, because it’s something that never seems a completely natural part of its surroundings.

 

Radio is an ambitious production, performing in Somerset and London as well as here at the Fringe – What have been the challenges of organising something on this scale?

Emma We actually might be taking it to Oxford and Manchester too, depending on our reviews! The biggest challenge with anything like this is trying to raise the funds, of course; the cost of accommodation alone for a 10-strong cast and crew for 3 weeks of the Fringe is pretty hefty. We were extremely lucky to be given very generous support from OUDS, Thelma Holt Ltd, numerous Oxford colleges and from the Vice Chancellor of the university, without which the tour wouldn’t have been possible. Of course, it can also be a challenge to make sure every performance is as good as the last, but I think the fact that we get big laughs every evening spurs the cast on. Oh, and the endless health and safety forms are a nightmare.

 

Any profits the production makes are going to Stem4, a mental health charity – Can you tell us a bit about what they do and why you chose to support them?

Emma Stem4 are a truly exceptional charity who focus on early identification and intervention with teenagers. They support not only sufferers themselves but also their families and local communities. One in three students at Oxford use university mental health services on a regular basis, and there are a series of indicators throughout the play that the characters are struggling to cope with the pressures of early adulthood, so it seemed like an appropriate charity for us to support.

 

Finally: If the radio was to reveal something about you, what would it be? 

Archie Fortunately for me, I didn’t live near any fields of wheat or angry farmers growing up, so I have nothing that damaging to be revealed. But, I must say I’m very glad that it isn’t in my kitchen…

 

Daniel Mahoney


Freud, Artificial Intelligence and horror in ‘Sandman’

After a friend told Adie Mueller about ETA Hoffman’s 1816 short story “The Sandman”, first published in 1816, she became intrigued by the idea of turning it into a piece of theatre. Mueller, a German drama professor with two children, dearly wanted to act again, and wondered if Hoffman’s tale of a young man who becomes bewitched to the point of suicide by a female automaton could be revived for the modern era. So she reached out to her friend, playwright and teacher Mike Carter, and asked him if he could create a theatrical text out of the story. The play, “Sandman”, that they have created is a painful and moving piece, but intended primarily as a horror story, as both Carter and Mueller emphasise when I meet with them to ask about the play and its creation.

 

Sandman_1

 

Carter, already interested in the Gothic and how horror can be used on stage, was instantly drawn to the story. “Freud wrote an essay on the uncanny”, he tells me, “and cited Hoffman’s story as the epitome of that concept. Adie and I both enjoyed the challenge of creating a disturbing and uncanny experience for the audience and people who see it tell us how freaked out they are by it!”

Mueller and Carter worked together, improvising scenes in the studio which Carter would then write, over a period of several months. The play they produced is tense and magnetic, and certainly leaves the audience as shaken and “freaked out” as Carter could wish. For him, he says, Hoffman’s tale had parallels with our voyeuristic way of viewing each other today, via the internet and webcams. In his play, Hoffman’s automaton is replaced by a terrifyingly lifelike sex robot – such as have now been created – and the play makes us explore the emotion behind this male need for the comfort of an artificial companion.

The play has been performed already at the London Horror Festival. While it does not contain extreme violence or gore, the horror of the story lies more in the sense of unease that pervades the piece, as Carter tells me: “Hoffmann’s story defies rational explanation – and that’s part of what creeps you out when you read it and leaves you feeling disturbed at the end – it just doesn’t add up. Once you can explain something, it’s no longer scary. And that’s the experience we give the audience: they must play a part in piecing together the narrative and try to make sense of what they’re watching, but they will leave with some unanswered questions.”

 

sandman 2

 

The play certainly requires concentration on the part of the audience – Mueller plays a number of characters who address us directly, and the time frame is not always linear. But, as Carter explains to me, as the audience fit the story together like a jigsaw, this adds to the intensity and mystery of the experience.

I ask Mueller why this story captivated her imagination so quickly. “It’s always difficult to say why you feel interested in something,” she tells me. “It’s a bit like explaining why you’ve fallen in love with someone. Usually, you just do. If I rationalise it, the story is incredibly evocative. It talks about quite universal themes, such as the child’s dread of the dark, the eyes, whether we are able to see reality or whether our view of reality is distorted by our fears and desires, whether there are some dark forces that have power over us or not.”

When I ask Mueller how important the Sandman story is now, she credits its relevance to the rise of Artificial Intelligence: “The questions ‘What is reality?’ is particularly pertinent in the digital age. A lot of our thinking and actions are influenced by the algorithms that feed us information online. Private companies target and influence individuals through social media in election campaigns without them even knowing. So we are under the influence of forces we don’t understand; and our personal data is used in ways we don’t understand. I’m less clued into artificial intelligence, but Mike recently found a documentary about the rise of the sex robot. An American company will launch the first sex robot this autumn! So the idea of creating an automaton to provide companionship for men is no longer science fiction.”

Science fiction or reality looming ever closer, Carter and Mueller’s show is a haunting and enchanting venture into both the future and past, using a powerful story whose mysterious fascination certainly remains undiminished.

‘Sandman’ runs at the ZOO theatre 140 Pleasance at 4:20pm from 17th-28th August

 

Emily Lawford


Men with Coconuts: “We need to take care of each other and the audience, not just take the piss!”

Despite being a little worse for wear the morning after my last night at the Fringe, I am in a good mood. This is because I am finally meeting ‘Men with Coconuts’, the brilliant improv group who entertained me so much last week in their show at La Belle Angèle.

 

Men with cocpnuts

 

I meet Steve Worsley handing out flyers on the mile and he introduces me to the other members as we head off for coffee. I ask them if, in their 5th year, they are still enjoying performing at the Fringe. Charlie Hindley replies, ‘Extraordinary isn’t it! We do have such fun, having started with really small crowds five years ago. We actually were reviewed in our first year, which gave us a lot of stuff to work on’. Mindful that my review of last week is not so much constructive as adulatory, I move on swiftly, and ask them, why improv and not scripted comedy? Will Naameh, whose freestyle rap performances at the Fringe are another feather to his bow, responds fastest: ‘I think we’re very lazy!’. Sam Irving takes a more serious tone. ‘It’s just about the fun and spontaneity. Having fun with all your friends on stage, a lot more freedom to enjoy yourself and not stress about hitting all the cues and all the marks…’ Steve builds on this: ‘It’s just a sort of organic creative process; it’s really nice having things happen naturally’. There are, of course, unique challenges to improvised shows. Charlie tells me, ‘When you’re practising a sketch show, there’s always a danger that you could do something that’s amazing in rehearsal, when improvised. Trying to do that again is an extraordinary craft and it’s not something that always comes off’.

I wonder at what they consider the most successful parts of their shows. ‘Sometimes the best moments for us are the accidents’, says Steve. ‘One time Will was very tired in an improvised Bond, and accidentally said Miss Monkeypenny instead of Moneypenny’. ‘I had to take Monkeypenny on a mission with me!’ Will remembers fondly. ‘It was Monkeypenny who saved the fate of the UK’.

It’s becoming clear that being a successful improv troupe relies on the trust between its members. Sam explains, ‘There’s a great pleasure in messing with each other, asking people to explain things in scientific detail… If you or someone else is guesting in a show, you’re not as comfortable doing the same level of fuckery!’. I think that this might be down to competitiveness between the actors on stage. Nothing of the sort, according to Will. ‘The only times it appears that way is when we make each other do stuff on stage, like asking someone to tell me their family’s motto in Latin’. ‘Or like when Will forced me to describe the specific scientific process of nuclear weaponry’, complains Steve humorously. Sam adds, ‘again, it’s all about trust. It looks like I’m just messing with them but actually I’m giving them a chance to look good!’.

I’m told that the name Men with Coconuts was born when they had the idea of doing improvisation combined with radio style sound effects, and though that format came and went, the name stuck. I wonder, therefore, if their comedy has developed along with their style. ‘In the last eighteen months or so Trump has obviously come up a lot’, says Charlie. ‘You can see culturally where people are at, and respond to this’. Steve adds, ‘You can play things like this a little differently. We’re not against being naughty but can change the meaning of what the audience request a bit’. I note that lots of shows I’ve seen at the Fringe rely on explicit, in-your-face jokes to force a laugh. ‘Shock humour’s an easy way out’, agrees Sam. ‘We do swear, make dirty jokes, but that’s not the basis for the show. The show has a good narrative, a good storyline, is lots of fun – the dirty stuff can come after that’.

It’s interesting to see that as well as farce, the team don’t want to shy away from more high-brow acting. Steve tells me about an American improvisor who told them in a workshop, ‘Play to the top of your intelligence’, and this seems an important piece of advice for all of them. Charlie explains, ‘we see a lot of improv where the improvisers do everything they can to move away from something emotionally interesting or moving, because it might not be funny or they might not be comfortable. We want to go to an emotional zenith if it’s going in that direction: it’s interesting and fulfilling. ‘There are going to be peaks and troughs, moments of reflection; equally there will be exceptionally fast-paced scenes which drive the action forward. We need to take care of each other and the audience, not just take the piss!’.

I remember a moment in the show I watched where the team acted out the marriage of a couple in the audience who had met each other in the Air Force. Will tells me, ‘you need to interact with characters on the emotional level, and not just disparage them’. All of this deep reflection makes me wonder how on earth they practise for each show, everything being improvised – they even manage to rhyme in the musical sketch! ‘You should see the notebooks in Will’s room’, Charlie says. ‘Of rhymes I should say!’, jokes Will, to general mirth.

It’s clear, though, that practice and experience is vital. Charlie tells me that Steve and he used to do a lot of musical theatre, and have become familiar with how musicals operate. Interestingly, they all emphasise the importance of learning from improvisation experts, and list some of the workshops they’ve gone to in order to carry on improving their act. ‘Improvisers are so honest and authentic, giving advice; there are no trade secrets’.

They then chat about the Free Fringe, and how its ethos of allowing anyone to perform a show is why they like to take part in it. They contribute a lot of their donations to the Free Fringe, which is nice to hear, and spend other donation money on developing as a group. ‘So where do you see yourselves going from here?’, I ask. ‘We’re actually going to perform a political party’, jokes Charlie, and I feel slightly embarrassed for having asked. ‘More of the same really’, Sam adds helpfully. They want to expand their horizons, have aspirations of taking their show to Australia and New Zealand, and are clearly very excited by their project, having great fun together. ‘I think that it’s the most important thing, to enjoy yourselves’, says Sam. ‘I’d rather do a decent show where everyone on stage is comfortable and happy than anything where someone might not be happy afterwards’.

They’re all an impressive bunch, so I finish by seeing if they themselves have any advice for aspiring improv groups. ‘Regular practice with the same group’, says Sam. ‘Never stop learning, doing new things, and having new teachers’. They all agree that continuously learning is the most important thing to building a successful troupe. Charlie concludes, ‘Even the biggest show groups in the country still go to workshops’. I thank them all and take my leave, very privileged to have met such a nice group, and eager to see more of them in action.

 

Charles Stone


A Bucket List for the Fringe Festival

As a newbie to the Fringe herself, Charlotte Lock has collated a small list of must-do activities to tick off your list, helping you to fully embrace the Fringe!

1. Walk down the Royal Mile

Frankly, if you have managed to, or have even considered doing the Fringe without stepping foot on the mile, you could question whether you have truly done/experienced the Fringe Festival. This street is such an enormous part of the Fringe; it is a constant hive of activity with a vibrant atmosphere, even in the rain! Yes, it is crowded and yes, you will probably leave with a few dozen leaflets, stickers and show recommendations, but it is all part of the experience. The Royal Mile is probably the best place to get a taste of different shows and a simple walk down the road will leave you really feeling like you have embraced the Fringe.

 

William Starkey

 

2. See something you wouldn’t normally

The Fringe Festival has such an array of the arts there is almost too much choice. Being such a unique experience, why not use this time to see something you wouldn’t normally. Experience a performance which is perhaps outside your comfort zone or even just featuring something you haven’t seen before, the Fringe provides you with the perfect opportunity to try something new, so I dare you to try just one thing that is unusual for you, who knows, you might be pleasantly surprised!

3. Discover a quirky café

Edinburgh Fringe is a feast for the senses, but after walking up and down the mile a few times and seeing a couple of shows, you will probably desperately desire a thirst-quenching drink and a comfortable sofa to rest your weary legs. It is, therefore, an obvious choice to try one of Edinburgh’s many quirky coffee shops; why not try to find a hidden gem down a backstreet, one to recommend to fellow Fringe festival-goers! Or, for the Harry Potter aficionados, try one of the many cafés used by J.K. Rowling when she was writing her novels, who knows, maybe you could be inspired too!

 

black medicine

 

4. Find an obscure theatre

On a similar note, the Fringe is home to hundreds of venues, with many not necessarily being established theatres. With venues often having such an impact on a performance, finding a particularly obscure theatre is part of the thrill of the Fringe, so why not try to discover the most unusual venue you can.

5. Trek up Arthur’s Seat

Not linked to the Fringe but a must-do is Arthur’s Seat. Despite its intimidating stature and being quite a climb, the views all the way up make the journey well worth it. It truly is an incredible experience, and if you bring great company, music and take the occasional break, I promise you it will be worth the effort. Plus, what a photo opportunity!

6. Visit the Meadows

Fancy escaping The Royal Mile? Head to The Meadows – a vast stretch of greenery. On a brighter day, this is a great spot to have a wander down to; you might catch a glimpse of a few performers training, I for one have seen people in elaborate equipment up trees and street performers rehearsing. Moreover, the Underbelly’s Circus Hub is located here, and this provides another great escape from the crowded Royal Mile whilst still enabling you to fully embrace the Fringe.

 

the meadows

 

7. Be spontaneous

Ironically, this isn’t exactly something you can plan, but try to turn up and see a show on a whim. The Fringe is all about impulsiveness and freedom, so take a risk and choose a flyer at random and go see a show, this is particularly great for the Free Fringe! The impetuosity is a huge part of the experience and makes the performance even more memorable and exciting.


The Oxford Alternotives: From Pitch Battle to the Fringe

The Oxford Alternotives are making their eighth return to the Fringe, fresh out of competing on BBC’s Pitch Battle. Oxford’s oldest student acapella group, formed in 1993, have already begun performing their new repertoire to sell-out audiences in Edinburgh. Their set is “incredibly alternative, as the name suggests”, co-president Rosie Richards tells us, with a mix of Michael Jackson, Muse and Ed Sheeran in their show.

 

402A6384

 

In the lead up to Pitch Battle, the group put in over fifty hours’ worth of rehearsals to perform their renditions of Led Zeppelin, Rihanna and Celine Dion. Although they did not make it through to the live finals, Rosie tells us that the intensive rehearsals for the competition mean that their new “arrangements are more complex”. Band member Oscar Darwin arranges many of the pieces that the group perform, but Rosie tells us that the rehearsals are a largely collaborative process. Overseen by Hugh Cross (Musical Director), everyone contributes to create the set.

I asked what an audience can expect if they came to see the show. Rosie tells us “there’s something for everyone, with a mix of slow songs, upbeat numbers and choreography.” However, what makes the Alternotives different is their chemistry on stage. On Pitch Battle, Rosie described the group as “basically like a family”, but Rosie admits that having the fifteen band members living in a ten-person flat has really brought out the typical family dynamic of getting on each other’s nerves, but still loving each other. We discussed how this translates onto the stage.

Rosie: “We’re all genuinely such good friends so we just have so much fun performing together. Also, there is no fourth wall in our show. We constantly want to interact and engage with our audience so they feel a part of the fun with us.”

 

402A6161

 

After the intense build up to Pitch Battle, Rosie tells us how they prepared to take on the Fringe. Following the competition, the band members all focused on their exams and studies, exhausted from the competition. However, before the Fringe they had a four-day rigorous boot-camp, singing twelve hours a day. They ensured that every band member has their moment to shine in the set list, with solos throughout the show that were voted upon by the group. This family of singers make sure they share the chance for each member to show off their individual talent.

I asked Rosie one final question: how did you achieve all those flawless confetti headshots of the band members? “A lot of confetti, and a lot of attempts. Everyone was meant to express their personality through their pose, but some people were very fussy about what their headshot looked like! However, they all turned out fab in the end.”

With such extensive rehearsal prior to the Fringe, the group are ready to smash their final days of shows. For rigorously perfected vocal harmonies, fun interaction with the audience and a variety of musical styles, the Oxford Alternotives promise to deliver a revitalising hour of acapella.

‘The Oxford Alternotives’ are performing every day until the 19th August, 1pm at C Venues 34 (Chambers Street)

 

Laura Wilsmore


Charlie V. Martin on the creative process, solo pressure and how the Fringe has changed

Louis Harnett O’Meara speaks to Edinburgh local Charlie V. Martin ahead of his debut show ‘Dante’s History of the Banished.’

Can you tell us a little bit about your show, ‘Dante’s History of the Banished’? 

The show is a one-woman character comedy hosted by the Italian poet Dante Alighieri, who introduces the audience to three more famous characters of exile: Napoleon, King Lear, and Eve. There’s a fair mix of scripted and improvised material throughout the show, with some character sketches including more improv whilst others are quite tightly written. For instance, Napoleon’s character relies entirely on his responses to the audience, but King Lear is scripted. This said, there are still lots of chaotic elements in the segment, and room for audience interactions – plenty of room for things to go wrong! While the show has a dark and very timely theme, I try to make sure that its never taken too seriously, and I try to make my characters big and loveable so they can bring it to life in their own silly ways.

 

You’ve been up to the Fringe a few times before to a positive reception with the improv group Blind Mirth, but this is your solo debut. Are you nervous?

I’ve been performing my characters in solo shows down in London for a few months now, so I’ve become more comfortable with it. My first few performances were a bit scary but I suppose it’s like anything, you just have to keep at it. It does require a lot more stamina than group work. When all the focus is just on you you need to give them a lot of energy back. And when there are any difficulties it can only come down to you, so you need to be able to pick yourself up if anything happens. With the improvised side there are always going to be unpredictable aspects but I’ve had plenty of practice by now.

 

Dante's

 

I noticed that you’ve done some puppet work before. Will any puppets be making a feature in this performance?

They will! I’m using puppets of varying levels of sophistication to act out a ten-minute version of King Lear. It should be a lot of fun! Cordelia is a Muppet-style creation, and the most complex. Gloucester and Cornwall also feature, although they’re less than complex, although they usually get a bigger laugh; their puppets are a little more ‘abstract’. I find that puppets help connect an audience with their inner child; they can help them laugh, or help them feel emotions they might find difficult to address with real people. You can throw them about a bit too which always gets a laugh; as Jim Henson once said, ‘always disrespect your puppets!’ Or something along those lines…

 

A ten-minute King Lear? Tell me more.

Haha, yes it’s a bit of a challenge! It probably has the most preparation needed to organise it. There are loads of props and different features and things happening all at once. Although it’s the most heavily scripted of the different parts that doesn’t necessarily make it any easier – quite the opposite. Fitting it all in is the challenge! I was influenced by the neofuturists when I was putting the segment together. Their goal is to achieve honest performance above all else; you need to make yourself vulnerable to the audience by setting yourself impossible tasks and demonstrating your own limits and weaknesses as a performer. I like the audience to see the failings of the show, and know that they are still enjoying it.

 

You’ve done a range of work in writing and performing, from live performances to scripts for BBC Scotland How do you manage the creative process?

I’ve been writing and improvising comedy for over eight years now, so using both scripts and improvisation in my production works well for me. I will sometimes write a bunch of jokes or themes that can act as a loose framework to improvise around in front of an audience. This works really well to generate new material; an audience might respond particularly well to something spur of the moment, or else I’ll remember something that I thought I might be able to work into my next show or my next script. It feels like a natural process for me to go through. Painful as it is, sometimes I find recording the shows and watching them back helps me to see what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes it’s hard to remember everything that goes on! I’ve been developing Dante’s History for about two years now, performing on the circuit as a character at a time to try and get a feel for each one. It’s pretty much been lather, rinse, repeat until I’m getting what I want from my performance, and it’s a process that doesn’t ever really stop.

 

You say you’ve been performing your characters around the London circuit for a while now. How does the Fringe’s audience tend to differ from the usual crowd?

The exciting thing about performing at the Fringe is that there’s a different crowd every day. At university or in London you’ll tend to be performing for the same sort of crowds each time, and the audience will recognise you and learn how to respond to you. At the Fringe you have to gain the audience’s trust again with every performance, and this is a skill that can be too easy to forget. The fresh crowds stop you from becoming complacent with your performances, and hold you to account or reward you differently every night. They keep you on your toes! Besides this, it’s a great way to meet people from all over the world. I’ve learned a lot from chatting to them after the show and discussing how comedy or theatre or improv compares to where they’re from.

 

The Edinburgh Fringe is celebrating its seventieth birthday this year. As an Edinburgh local, have you seen the Fringe change over the years?

I do worry that the fringe is becoming a bit too commercial. It’s certainly slipping away from its origins; it was meant to be for small acts, outcasts, literally called ‘The Uninvited’.[1] I’ve been saving and planning for years for my solo debut – and I’m from Edinburgh! So of course performers get put off or feel under a lot of pressure once they get here to be a big success. Audiences and performers alike often seem unwilling to step outside of the big venues, and it’s been known for a while that there are a lot of people who only come to see the big names. The Fringe spirit is still alive and well, but I think we need to be careful to not let go of all the smaller and free-ticketed venues. My message for anyone coming to the Edinburgh Fringe is, by all means see your favourites, but don’t be afraid to try something new.


[1] http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/culture/theatre/the-uninvited-eight-who-started-the-edinburgh-festival-fringe-1-4500422

 

Louis Harnett O’Meara


[1] http://www.scotsman.com/lifestyle/culture/theatre/the-uninvited-eight-who-started-the-edinburgh-festival-fringe-1-4500422


Behind the scenes of ‘A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light’

Chloe Moloney spoke to Charlotte Stephenson, producer of ‘A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light’ with Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club (CUADC).

Ben Maier’s ‘A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light’ is the story of a burgeoning friendship between two young Londoners, Jude and Leon, told within the frame of a fictional game show about mental illness, ‘This Is Your Mind’. They undergo a series of games and challenges, which become increasingly surreal as the show progresses – and as its hosts, Fizz and Terry, reveal themselves to be far less benevolent than they first appeared. The game show reveals more and more about Jude and Leon; about their families, their friendship, and their experiences with illness. This comic drama is fast-paced, combining physical and musical comedy with poignant, reflective moments that challenge stereotypes and create new ways of understanding the struggles of our social lives and inner minds.

Stephenson informed us of what exactly the role of a producer entails and how it differs from other theatrical positions. A director for example deals directly with the cast, rehearsal sessions and brings the play from script to performance. A producer on the other hand acts as a ‘practical figure’ – including making sure that people are keeping to their assigned budgets, organising rehearsal schedules for the cast at the start of the production process and communicating with the theatre first-hand. The producer tends to be the only person in contact with the venue, dealing with crucial aspects of the production ranging from equipment to insurance. However, Stephenson’s role does not end there. With publicity being a vital element of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, promoting ‘A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light’ is equally important. Whether its Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or handing out flyers on the Royal Mile, the unique Fringe experience allows for a perfect amount of coverage for the CUADC production.

Stephenson was inspired to tackle the producing role primarily by an event for new students at the University of Cambridge. Having previously produced a pantomime in sixth form, Stephenson explored her first Cambridge producing role at the ADC theatre. Just around the corner from her college, Stephenson noticed the abundance of students at the venue. Having fallen in love with the buzzing environment, she found herself suiting the producing role nicely. With excellent time management and organisational skills, it seemed that Stephenson fit the role like a glove. Despite claiming that she is not naturally much of an extrovert, she takes pleasure in the trust that both cast and crew have in the producer.

The difference between producing a show in Cambridge and one in Edinburgh is startling. This is Stephenson’s first time at the Fringe, let alone first time producing a production at this acclaimed festival. Nonetheless, the variation and diversity in the productions available at the Fringe is extraordinary. She remarks the larger potential audience of theatre-goers here at the Fringe and, compared to only a week running time in Cambridge, the CUADC’s two-and-a-half-week run is certainly a stretch.

Adapting to the new publicity process has been a pleasant challenge, in realising that there is a special way of marketing a production in Edinburgh. The Royal Mile is a jam-packed, fast-paced road where your pitch is condensed into one quick line to grab someone’s attention. Stephenson gives the spectators two sides of the coin of ‘A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light’, stating how the production ‘explores mental health but in a game show’.

Stephenson happily gives advice to aspiring student producers, heralding that you should simply ‘go for it, [and] don’t be afraid to send in that first application or go for an interview. It’s a wonderful position.’ This Cambridge producer likes to regularly see the crew, conducts weekly meetings as she finds that face-to-face contact with the team facilitates the production process. Stephenson parts the interview with one last gem of advice: ‘There’s no right or wrong way of doing it, [you’ve] got to be organised and hit the right deadlines – make your show the best it can be.’

‘A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light’ is on 2nd-19th August, Gilded Balloon Teviot