A Better Way to Experience the Edinburgh Fringe
I was looking forward to a stress-free retirement.
My problems began when I spent the month of August, 2014 in Edinburgh for the largest arts festival in the world, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. The summer I was there 23,762 performers from 51 countries put on 49,497 performances of 3,193 shows in 299 venues.
The month started out well. My wife and I rented a centrally located flat with five spare beds that were soon booked with friends and relatives who wanted to visit for a few days each.
The first week was awesome because we got to spend time with European friends we hadn’t seen in years.
Things went downhill rapidly. We were taking in five or six shows a day and the effort of getting worked up to host each new set of guests was exhausting. Ten days into the month I was beginning to slip into depression.
Then Robin Williams died.
What’s more, I was overdosing on entertainment.
I felt as you might if you eat so much cake you begin to choke on it. If I attended a less-than-stellar show I’d say to myself, “Well, there went an hour that I’ll never get back.” I spent a good deal of each day asking myself, “What am I doing here?” I wanted to bail but felt trapped because our entire month was booked with guests who expected to have a good time.
Perhaps my problem was that I needed to engage with my environment differently. It occurred to me that the serious conversations I needed to have were with the people all around me who were working so hard.
I identified the first person I wanted to speak to from the catalog of shows. Phil Jupitus stood out not only because he is well-known but also because he seemed engaged with the Fringe more than most. Not only was he performing separate shows as a comedian and a poet, he was also teaching himself painting by copying masters at museums around the city.
I decided to put my internal critic to sleep and engage with people rather than judge them.
Where Else Can You Work So Hard?
I asked him, “How are you?”
He said, “Fantastic.” When I asked him how so, he said, “I work 11 months a year and save every penny. Then I blow it all at the Fringe.” He explained that he’d been putting on shows at the Fringe for four years and every one of them lost boatloads of money.
That’s when it hit me. As a retiree, I did not miss having an income. I missed working really hard at something that won’t succeed if I don’t give it my all.
I’m Not The Only One Depressed
I looked her in the eyes and asked, “How do you feel?”
She stared at me for about six seconds and then burst into tears.
She said, “I feel terrible.” Then she explained that she had to quit her job and used all her savings to bring her show to Edinburgh. People would glance at her flier, say “This looks like it sucks,” and throw it in the trash. She said, “That’s me they are talking about.”
I told her I’d go to her show if she would let me take her to lunch afterward. She readily agreed.
I asked her if she felt like quitting and she explained that it is an Edinburgh tradition that even if only one person comes to see you then the show must go on. And if you have no audience at all that’s even better because nobody is judging you. Once I got to know a little bit about her I became impressed by her courage, and that blinded me to her faults.
Fringe As Therapy
When I asked her why, she said, “Because we’re not very good, and that’s OK.”
She explained that she’d been suffering low self-esteem for a decade and had tried every form of therapy she could find: Freudian analysis, cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, reiki, acupuncture – even fortune telling and astrology.
Then someone said, “You don’t need therapy; you need to go to the Fringe.”
I took my whole family to her show, and I can tell you it was good – but not great – and that is why it worked on so many levels. Had they been better performers the lesson would have been lost.
Maker, Not Taker
By the end of the Fringe in August, 2014, I was committed to returning as a performer rather than as a tourist.
But what was I going to do?
It took me a year-and-a-half to figure it out.
Four Principles of the Fringe
Self-expression & Participation
If you can keep these four principles in mind during your time in Edinburgh you will have an entirely different experience then if you merely expect to be entertained. If you take to heart what you learn then it will change your life.
Other performers are invited to join our tour so they can tell you about their experiences and their shows.
(If you are performing at the Fringe and want to join us then write to me: Brooke@BrookeAllen.com)
I’m also doing a lighthearted show called: (Cut the Bullshit) Len Bakerloo Speaks Truth to Power. I was inspired by my 30 years on Wall Street, where every single employer I’ve ever worked for has either gone bankrupt or been bailed out by taxpayers due to a scandal or malfeasance.
I will show you that the most harmful bullshit isn’t the bullshit others spew but the bullshit you believe. I’ll teach you how to uncover beliefs that can harm you and I’ll show you how to speak truth to power. Every attendee will get a copy of my Cut the Bullshit Game to take home and play with friends.
(Note: If you aren’t going to Edinburgh you can catch my show in New York at 59E59 Theater on July 12, 13, and 19.)
Your Vacation Will Be My Worst Nightmare
That is why I’m hoping you’ll come see me at the Fringe. This year it’s happening August 5-29; tickets are on sale now. I’m not after your money (my shows are free). What I need is your sympathy and encouragement; maybe even a little love.
Brooke Allen retired in 2014 after 30 years on Wall Street. Brooke has been published widely and also performs under the stage name, Len Bakerloo.
Read other articles about festivals around the world:
- Tunisia: Festival du Sahara at Douz
- First Timer’s Guide to Hot Air Balloon Festivals in the USA
- 10 Festivals That Celebrate Local Produce
- 4 Reasons to Return to the Burn: Burning Man Festival: Black Rock City, Nevada
- Best Festivals & Events in Europe
- Drums & Dragons: California’s Festivals for the Gods