Going on social media at the moment feels like being able to hear the sound of a thumping party up the road that I've not been invited to. Even though sometimes it can feel like being put through the mill, a month at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for me is like a month in paradise. As a person who thrives off of mayhem, it's as if the world is suddenly beating to my drum.
But this year, with my own show HIP, I'm only going for the last week. Why?
Well, there are two reasons; One is an artistic choice and the second is because of finances.
HIP is predominantly improvised and involves the handling of genuine thirty/forty/fifty year old letters written to the real life protagonist of the piece, Anne Clarke, throughout her colourful and hedonistic life. If we spent a month touching, sniffing, opening and reading these letters then they would fall to pieces. This show is a special little treat for the few who stumble upon it. Once the run in Edinburgh is over only a short tour is planned, before the full archive is donated to the Brighton Museum, along with the story of the play and how the whole tale of HIP has unfurled. Then the letters and diaries will be preserved for future generations to explore and enjoy.
Of course, I'll also write a book about it, which will continue the life of Anne and my entanglement with her beyond the confines of the museum.
It will also keep the improvisation fresh to perform a run of just five shows. Unsurprisingly perhaps, audiences tend to chose the same paths to stroll down when presented with the choice of picking two out of the six bags containing aspects of Anne's life; Mother, Lover, Hedonist, Worker, Traveller, Artist. Can you guess which two bags tend to be chosen? It means that although the other options are available, the show can end up being less of a surprise to myself than I'd set out expecting it to be. I like performances to be raw, surprising and edgy, both as an audience member and as a performer. That's why I loved working with Jess Thom so much on Backstage in Biscuit Land. We literally never knew what was going to happen from one night to the next. This is where the term 'extra-live' was coined and is a way of performing that not only resonates with me, but when looking back over all the work I've ever done as a performer and as a producer, with Jonathan Kay and the fools, or as a stand-up comedian, street performer or even twenty-eight years as a Tudor re-enactor (don't ask), it became apparent that everything I've ever worked on has been to some degree extra-live, there just hadn't been a clear name for it.
So I want to keep HIP fresh and the letters intact.
Second of all there is the finances. Whilst producing Backstage in Biscuit Land we discovered that it was possible to come up to the fringe and do just a week without it being a failure. Obviously Jess Thom arrived armed with a PR machine and already had a level of public profile, but when we first came to the Fringe in 2014 she was a lot less well known than she is now and we had no idea how the show would be received. We came for just a week because a month would have been too much for Jess and a week was all we could do. It was a risk, but it worked, and it came with a lot less financial pressure and was less physically exhausting for all of us.
There's no way I'll be able to pull in the kind of numbers Jess brought in when she turned up on that first year. She already had a following and the show was ground-breaking. HIP is different, but it's intimate and gentle, not ground-breaking. But with the knowledge already gleaned from years of producing and flyering for Touretteshero and Tangram Theatre Company, I know how to get people through the door and am friends with many theatre promoters, so have a number who already have me on their list. It is harder to get reviews, in fact I'm not expecting to get any, but having taken the show first of all to the Brighton Fringe Festival this May, which was right on my doorstep, I've already got the reviews I need. Yes it would be good to have some stars or quotes to staple onto the flyers, but we'll also be able to say we've just arrived and so no reviews have come out yet. People respond better to a personable conversation from a flyerer, who takes the time to tell them the story of the show and what they might enjoy about it, then they do to a strip of stars on a flyer simply thrust into their hand.
But who knows. This might just fall flat on its arse and I spend five days performing to an empty theatre. But it won't cost me as much as it would have done performing to an empty theatre for a whole month.