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Tuesday 27 August 2013

Reflections On Edinburgh 2013

A couple of nights ago (after what I can only describe as a 'pig' of a journey home, which involved schlepping a £60 flipchart stand and a changeover at Birmingham) I returned home from the 2013 Edinburgh Festival Fringe. I had been up there for the second year in a row, with my children's poetry show. The Fringe is quite an experience, and I thought I'd share here some of my reflections on this year's run.

First, Edinburgh generally. The city is an intense place to be during the Fringe. Apparently its population doubles, and at times one can barely move for posses of undergraduate interpretive dancers shoving flyers for 'Josef Fritzl: The Musical' in your face. One has two options here (aside from incredulity at such a stupid production being brought to the Fringe; believe me there are worse): one can get angry, or one can simply accept that by entering this environment one has thereby entered into a kind of tacit contract, and tolerate it. Stewart Lee - the overrated comedian - seems to opt for the former: I tried, not unreasonably I think, to give him and his children a flyer for my children's show, and he was less than gracious to say the least. In my munificence I did my best to take the latter road. (Although that didn't stretch as far as actually going to see any interpretive dance.)

Probably my favourite thing about the Fringe was simply being in an environment where, pretty much any time of the day or night, one can rock up to watch a show, often for free. One begins to take this for granted in Edinburgh, but upon returning to reality one realises quite how cool it is. Another great thing about the Fringe is seeing stuff that one would otherwise never have seen. The Free Fringe (of which my own show was a part) removes a great deal of the risk inherent in taking a punt on some pretty wacky stuff. A lot of my choices were based simply on discovering a wonderfully bizarre name in the programme, and one of the highlights of my Fringe ended up being Professor Dr Neal Portenza's Interactive Goat Hour.

Now it must be said that a few reviewers disagreed with my immensely favourable opinion regarding the aforementioned Goat Hour. Which brings me onto my next topic. One quickly learns at the Fringe that, just as performers are there to hone their craft, reviewers are there to hone theirs. Thus, the influence of the reviews is usually out of all proportion with their quality. It sounds impressive to say that Three Weeks gave one's show 5 stars; it becomes less so when one notes that Three Weeks seems exclusively to employ unpaid, inexperienced undergraduate interns to do their bidding. And the same goes for most of the other Fringe publications. Again, one has (at least) two options here: one can simply accept that this is how it is, and thus take all reviews with a pinch of salt, or one can get angry that these ignorant foetuses dare pontificate on one's work. Which option one chooses will inevitably be in large part determined by whether one's reviews have been favourable.

Fear of having my work appraised, and distrust of those doing the appraising, meant that I didn't send out any press releases this year. As it happened a couple of reviewers did come to see the show, although only one review ever saw the light of day (it was 4 stars from Broadway Baby, since you asked). The other reviewer, from Three Weeks, came to see the show at the worst possible time: there were only two children in the audience, both of whom were unusually shy and unresponsive. In the event I was proud of how I handled the situation, and would have been interested to know what the reviewer made of it. But nothing has been published. I suppose that, with the sheer amount of shows being reviewed, bits and pieces will inevitably get lost in the system.

And so to my own show. I was for the most part very pleased with how it went. Apart from the aforementioned Day Of Only Two Children, audiences were mostly numerous and appreciative. I think the mean average was something like twenty-five people per day, with a satisfaction rating of roughly 7/10. (This is real science!) I sold at least one book every single day, usually much more. There were audience members who saw the show more than once; one girl told me she had seen the show four times, although I think this says more about her propensities than the quality of the show. On once occasion I got an entire class of nursery children watching the show. I was slightly perturbed by this, as the show was aimed at 5-11 year-olds (already a massive age-range), and on the day when the nursery children were there there were also some much older children. However, I think I worked the room well, and the nursery children seemed focused, even though they obviously didn't understand everything I said.

In 2012 I performed what I very proudly declared was the only children's poetry show at the entire Fringe. This year I was one of two, the other being Dommy B's The Dragon Who Hates Poetry. This occurred in the same venue as my show, although I think it was on at a better time, as Dommy B seemed to pack in bigger audiences! (Or it could simply be that his show was better?...) Despite both ostensibly being 'children's poetry', the shows were in fact very different: mine was more like a gig, with a selection of poems baring only tenuous connections to each other, and no overarching narrative to the show as a whole. Dommy's show was a single story, told in rhyme. He very kindly offered me several guest slots, which I used as an opportunity to promote my own show. I think this kind of cross-marketing worked well, and helped forge a kind of children's version of the Free Fringe. Maybe that is an idea for future years: a quasi-autonomous Children's Free Fringe. I think this would help drive a lot of audiences to free children's shows. I am not really one of life's great organisers, unlike people like Fay Roberts, Dan Simpson and Richard Tyrone Jones, but it could be worth my time investigating this.

And it wasn't only about the children. I also performed a one-off ADULT poetry show, entitled 'Things I Couldn't Tell The Children'. I performed a show of the same name last year, although this year's version was far superior I think. For one thing, my parents were not there this year to witness me making several foul jokes at their expense. Also, my venue this year was the Banshee Labyrinth, which was the hub of spoken word on The Fringe. A decent-sized audience thus got to experience the fact that I don't only perform to the little ones. The theme of the show was basically childhood, both my own and that of the children with whom I work. Special mention goes to Gary From Leeds, who did a slot in my show, and whose poem 'Freud's Only Knock Knock Joke' is definitely not for kids.

All in all, then, The Fringe was a positive experience for me this year, and I hope to return in years to come. I hope I do not sound obsequious when I say a massive thanks to all those who made it worth being at.

Sunday 11 August 2013

New Edinburgh Show - First Performance Tomorrow!

I started this blog with the intention of updating it fairly regularly. Sadly, this has not come to pass. The main reason for this, I must confess, is general laziness. A significant subsidiary reason, however, is that I have been working on my new children's poetry show, snappily titled 'Joshua Seigal Presents The Legend Of Ooshus Magooshus (And Lots Of Other Poems'. The title piece of the show is one of my most popular poems, and one of only a handful that seem to work well with children of all ages. (You can watch a video of it here should you so choose.) The show is basically what I consider to be a Best Of Joshua Seigal, as of August 2013.

I have performed each piece numerous times in schools. I tend nowadays not to get particularly nervous when performing in schools, apart from the standard excited butterflies and rush of adrenalin. Edinburgh, however, is different. One of the reasons for this is that it is a family show, and as such will have a number of grown ups in the audience. This means that I will need to cater to their needs as well (something which I was rebuked for not doing in a review last year). It also means that the children in the audience are not likely to know each other, which can make for a tougher show from a performer's perspective. In schools the kids are all familiar with each other, and are thus relaxed in each other's presence and can feed off each other's energy. There is a ready-made community spirit which a performer in a family show needs to build from scratch. I've often found that poems and jokes which get a big laugh in schools get a much more muted reception at family shows. I think I will need to learn to see this as part of the nature of the show, rather than as a failing on my part.

Another reason for heightened nerves in Edinburgh was alluded to in the previous paragraph: the presence of reviewers. Last year I sent out a large number of press releases prior to the run, and subsequently spent a great deal of time inordinately anxious, lest a reviewer come and scrutinize me. Partly as a result of this I have not done any press releases this year. I'm all about the audience; all about the art, baby. OK, the main reason for this is that I am fairly near the beginning of what I hope will become a decent career, and I don't want a poor review showing up in a Google search when teachers are considering booking me for their school. Not that I for one minute expect to receive a poor review, or think that I deserve to do so. The point, rather, is that I simply don't trust the reviewers. I have read an awful lot of nonsense on Edinburgh review websites, often by people with questionable experience or knowledge of the relevant artform.

Having said all that, I often come away from a good performance wishing there had been a reviewer in the audience. I hope the forthcoming fortnight is full of such performances. ONWARDS!

(PS see my show!)