The Northampton Arts Council works to support and nurture the arts in the city of Northampton. The Council awards grants twice each year to artists and arts groups from both state and locally-raised funds, and seeks to improve public awareness of the arts. Its' goals include maintaining and preserving the rich and diverse cultural heritage of Northampton, programming such annual events of interest to the community as First Night Northampton and Transperformance.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

So what is this FRINGE thing?

The view from our window
I am awakened at 6am, kill the first alarm, and then hit snooze on the second alarm. After all, we have been up until 1am the night before. John has already had his first breakfast, and is discussing last night’s performance notes and observations with Sheryl. I open the window toward a cool breeze, and gaze out across Canongate Kirk, the graveyard across from our Old Tolbooth Wynd flat. I see if I can get a befriended seagull to take the stale bread we’ve been saving. We have named the seagull Brian.

The shower’s hot water soothes the soul, and I grab my computer, check the times for the daily shows we’ve bought tickets to that day, having chosen last month from the over 3,000 offered. I also check our list of Fringe Central Artist/Producer Workshops and networking brunches for that day. Next I tweet about something I’ve experienced recently, and grab a cell phone photo to go with it. Sheryl and I then head out the door for the one to three times a day we will struggle uphill on High St. (also known as The Royal Mile), past the gelato shop, the multiple whiskey, fudge, cashmere, shortbread, and kilt shops to the intersection with South Bridge and North Bridge Streets.

This meeting of roads at the bottom of the crazy pedestrianized portion of The Royal Mile is the orientation point for most Fringe goers. Grassmarket is to the west and best reached by going left than quickly right avoiding the various buskers and juggling acts then heading steeply downhill to Cowgate.
Up the hill on the Royal Mile
We watch every time we even think about stepping into the street. Our “US sense of safety” is woefully backwards in the land of right-side driving. Rarely a day goes by when you don’t find yourself about to step into the path of a bus that literally is only inches away, as it whizzes past from the direction you weren’t looking. But even with the narrow and winding cobblestone streets with huge buses elbowing their way past tiny cars and foreign jaywalking tourists, it all seems to work.

And you can go the whole day jostling for position at ticket counters, hardware stores, markets, pubs, restaurants, newsstands, and never hear an unkind or discourteous word. The worst I heard was from cabbies bashing Theresa May and the whole Brexit mess. Remember Scotland wanted to stay in the EU. And Czar Trump often came up and while we were, by right of being at the Fringe, deemed NOT to be in league with the devil. We certainly got an earful once our accents revealed our home turf.

Fringe Central Lobby
So we are headed to a Fringe Central workshop on touring rural Scotland- or even London or Australia and more. We stay on Southbridge finding just enough space on the narrow sidewalk with the mix of performers, tourists, city workers, tour groups, and beleaguered city residents, trying to get to work. And did I mention the posters. Everywhere there are posters which either by their size or number, try to convince you why you should see their show over the 2,999 others visually lobbying for your attention and money. (Many trees gave their lives for this excess of promotional exuberance.)

Walking past the Tesco convenience market and Poundsavers, discount everything knock- off store, past the Surgeons Hall venue, where John performed so successfully in 2016, and onto the row of consignment stores for Cancer, Save the Children, and others- great places to pick up odds and ends. We continue past Coffee Angel. A cappuccino and scone at Coffee Angel on the trek home, have often been the perfect fix after long workshops on Touring Contracts and Artist Visas. But the day is young, so it’s around the corner and our destination Fringe Central, a gathering place for all Fringe artists and producers with important and helpful guidance from the Fringe Arts & Industry and Media Office staff.

Lots to learn about the various producing groups bringing shows to rural Scotland & London. But before that we have arrived at Fringe Central in time to chat a bit with Claudio and Armando, the Italian and Mexican talented classical clown duo with whom we keep crossing paths.  They had finished their conversation with Miguel, the solo performer in STARDUST. His show aims to rescue the reputation of his home country, Colombia, so often stereotyped as a haven for heroine drug lords.
Next we trek a few more blocks to one of our favorite venues, Summerhall. Lots of the more experimental theatre work goes on in various classrooms, lecture halls, surgical amphitheaters and assembly rooms that once housed medical students. We saw many performances here. It’s a great place to hang out either in their open cafĂ©, or the pint-fueled courtyard, or at the Royal Dick which had been temporarily renamed the Royal Pussy in keeping with the presence of Russia’s Pussy Riot performances and an exhibit on their aims, artwork and approach to change. Putin was not invited. 

Robin at Coffee Angel
We pick up a few more tickets this day for STATUS, EVROS:CROSSING THE RIVER, and GLORIOUS LOVER. Time to head back to catch Mairi Campbell’s new show AULD LANG SYNE at the Storyteling Centre back on High St. Mairi has become a really good friend and collaborator since we first met in 2016 after seeing PULSE. Serious Play was able to bring that show to the Shea Theater last December. She and her husband Dave Francis are insightful creators, and both value performance as an art form.

After Mairi’s show, it’s back to the flat to see what John is up to. He has a very disciplined daily regime with exercise, guitar practice, and rest in the afternoon of a performance. And keep in mind every day for a month except Sundays, he performs Serious Play’s THE RED GUITAR at 9:10 pm, with two performances each night the last two weeks of the FRINGE, when Serious Play adds in the new trio DO IT NOW: Manual Override at 10:20pm nightly. We throw together something to eat, often noodles with cheese, bread or sometimes a salad from Pizza Express just across the street and down a hill. Ask us about “the duck print” on the wall at Pizza Express someday. After dinner John warms up, and then it’s off to theSpace Niddry St.,Venue 9. Once there, we wait while the Drag show ahead of use finishes, and then rush to get in and set up.  I check with Matteo and Ben, our venue assistants, to quickly take over the tech, get a thumbs up from John after a sound check, and in comes the audience, with Sheryl making sure they all get seated comfortably and with a program. John launches into another unique evening of great guitar riffs and the personal story of his life in sound, always incorporating new nuances of gesture, focus, timing- and another memorable evening unfolds. Bows, handshakes and enthusiastic audiences, but we have to make way for the next show, generally led by a young woman running in, carrying a large black blow up sofa -- and we are out of there to meet with our audiences who await us outside.

The Group at Mairi and Dave's flat
Then it’s off to the High St Pub, and some relaxed conversation with local tourists, audience members or residents- making sure as little as possible is about Trump. It’s 12:30pm by the time the pints are dry and we need to get back to Old Tolbooth Wynd, so downhill we go, guitars, pedal board, album cover, and mic stand in hand. After a bit more decompression and talk, we finally hit the sack around 1:30am. Before you know it, the alarm sets the whole ritual in motion again for yet another day in our month long and ever so fulfilling saga.
      ----Robin Doty (Managing Director, Serious Play)

Stay tuned for more to come on what shows we saw & what we choose to try to bring to Valley audiences

Join us for Serious Play’s RETURN FROM THE FRINGE Oct 5 & 6 at 7pm-A.P.E@HAWLEY/ Arts Trust Building/Tickets $18 / at door $20

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