Digs & Naked LandladiesDate: 5 August 2010
One of the very first questions that any Edinburgh Festival Veteran Actor will ask when offered a job at the fringe is about the company's digs arrangements. Digs can really make or break an actor's festival experience.
Incidentally, for those of you not in the know, the term 'digs' refers to an actor's lodgings. The origins of the term go back to the middle ages when traveling troubadours on the way from one town to another would stop for the night by the side of the road. Being the poor wandering minstrels that they were, and unable to afford any decent lodgings, they would dig themselves a hole the ground to sleep in. More often than not, they would leave those holes open and ready for any other troubadour passing this way in the future. Thus, roads all over the country were lined with holes, or 'digs' as they became known. This is a completely fabricated history of the term, but please feel free to pass it on to others as the truth.
Anyway, digs really are important. Not just in Edinburgh, but also on tour. When you're away from home for months at a time, it's quite important to have somewhere comfortable to come 'home' to. As you can imagine, the quality of digs available on the market varies widely, from the palatial to the, well, hole in the ground. In my relatively few years of experience as a professional actor in the UK, I believe I have become acquainted with pretty much the entire spectrum of digs in existence.
There was this one place in Stirling that was a huge house, complete with croquet lawn and sunken garden. The entire company stayed in the house, with a bedroom each. It was lovely, like living in a chateau. There was an enormous dining room with a table big enough to seat the population of a small town. One night, we cooked a gourmet supper and then everyone dressed up for dinner.
I once stayed in a place in Darlington. It was my birthday and it was utterly miserable. I'd gone out to buy some books and returned to my digs, which consisted of a room in the house of a very well to do lady in her later middle years. I let myself in, climbed the stairs to my room, dumped my purchases on the bed, and walked back out onto the landing. There, opposite me, was my landlady naked from the waist up. She obviously hadn't seen me yet, so I spun round and pretended to be fiddling with the lock on my door. I waited a few more seconds (or maybe minutes) and when I turned round again, she was gone. Neither of us mentioned the incident again.
Another landlady once had a secret that I was totally unaware of until my last day as her lodger. She lived in a tiny, unassuming flat. The woman was a very motherly-type person with all the typical associations that accompany that stereotype. Little did I know that she ran an illegal DVD empire out of her living room. On that final afternoon in her flat, I sat down for a cup of tea and a small chat. She told me she owns a lot of DVDs. I couldn't see any but smiled politely (I had just blocked her toilet and so wanted to be as nice as possible before telling her). However I think my frozen smile must have betrayed me, because she suddenly got up, picked up a small booklet, and handed it to me. The booklet was a list of hundreds upon hundreds of DVD titles - all copies - of musicals, plays and other theatre-related films. I could have, if I had wanted to, bought a copy of the Broadway production of Hairspray (autumn 2002 cast). It was that specific!
Edinburgh digs can be particularly nasty. Well, there's only so many lodgings to go round and many locals that hire out their places for the duration of the festival charge astronomical rent rates. I know someone who owns a flat in Edinburgh which she rents out during the festival. She boasts that she makes more in a week what her monthly mortgage bill is. In four weeks, she makes enough to pay more than four months worth of mortgage on the place. With such high rates, many companies struggle to find affordable accommodation, which leads me nicely to the story of my first Edinburgh digs.
I had been warned, but hadn't believed. Someone had told me that I should watch out for terrible Edinburgh digs, but I had foolishly thought that it couldn't be that bad. It was. In fact, it was worse than anything I could have expected. We lived in a cold, drafty, disused basketball court. The ceiling had holes in it and leaked rain. There was about sixteen of us sleeping on mattresses on the floor. Part of the building, separated from us by only a wall of frosted glass, was a nursery school. Every day, at 7.15am, what sounded like a hundred screaming toddlers would crazily massacre each other (at least it sounded like it) with such ear-piercing noise that the rest of us would be left clawing at our ears and sobbing into our pillows.
We then moved to a large house where I was lucky enough to have my own bedroom. The house was nice, but that didn't last. Actors are known for three things: They enjoy drinking, they enjoy partying, and for some reason they always sing songs from musicals when on a bus. In a matter of days the house was a tip. I'm generally quite relaxed about messiness, but this was on another scale. For example, one morning, not long after we'd moved in, I walked into the bathroom to find the remains of a kebab take-out on the floor. There was still food left in the bag. Now not only did that raise many questions of an unsavory nature (I mean who would eat a kebab whilst on the toilet??), but the thing is, the take-out remained on the floor for the rest of our stay in Edinburgh! Obviously the person who had left it there could see it every day. You couldn't miss it. For one thing, after a couple of days every time you entered the bathroom a black cloud of flies would rise out of the take-out bag. Also, after a week or so, the bag began to glow green. Well that might have been a hallucination brought on by the smell emanating from the bag, but still, my point remains.
Why didn't I remove the bag? I have no idea! All I knew was that it wasn't mine, so I jolly well wasn't going to throw it away! It's ridiculous, I know, but strange things happen to you when you're living in digs. Thankfully, my current digs are lovely. I've got a room that's larger than my London flat. The other people sharing the flat with me are lovely and always replace the toilet paper when it's finished. Mind you, it's early days yet. There's a cardboard pizza base that's been on our kitchen counter for the last two days. Well I'm not picking it up!
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