Teething ProblemsDate: 8 August 2011
Edinburgh is never quite what you expect it to be. Spending weeks in my rehearsal room staring at print outs of the floor plan of my performance space in Edinburgh, I was most often seen crawling around on all fours ripping off pieces of LX tape with my teeth to stick in pertinent places within the space. Driving into central london at 10 pm to creep into my rehearsal space and erect our set, baking practice batches of cookies and procuring every prop possibly necessary, I felt rather smug when announcing to our actor that he would no longer have to 'imagine' what Edinburgh would be like: we'd brought it to him.
Or so we thought. Fairly well-rehearsed (we'd even managed to pop in an open rehearsal in our last week in London) and definitely well practised in getting the set in and out and up and down in our allotted 10 minute get in/out period, we felt confident that we'd prepared ourselves appropriately for our first week in Edinburgh. Until we arrived at our venue the day before our show was due to open and found ourselves unable to get in. We knocked. We phoned. We moaned. Finally at midday a barman came and opened up the bar slash performance space. He told us that the room was ready for us and we were welcome to have a peek at it but, although the technical equipment was in place, we weren't to touch it until their sound guy arrived. Not exactly the auspicious start to the technical/dress rehearsal we had planned but, when you sign up to do the free fringe, it's often impossible to demand the same level of support regarding the get in process as at the paid venues.
Regardless, we popped on into the venue to have a look around and all immediately stopped ...stock still. We stood and stared at what must be the most misrepresented space at the entire fringe. The room -said to seat 100- can fit only a tiny percentage of that figure. Comfortably, and with an actual view of the stage, that is. The two booths at the back of the stage that were included in the diagram as part of the space were covered in a variety of detritus including spare chairs, an amplifier, two tables of different sizes and a ladder. Once I reworked the show so that we used the front booths rather than these back booths, we then lost another eight potential seats! The stage -apparently eight by five foot according to the information we had received- was actually three by two, meaning that our Production Manager had to go shopping to find wood and a saw to rebuild the set (a cafe counter) so that the actor ended up with a modicum of stage space. The sound box was situated in a hidden box behind the door of the venue and had no view of the stage, thus creating the need for us to organise a secondary person to be placed on the edge of said box to give the technician his visual cues. There is no door to the venue, just a curtain, which gives little protection from the vast amount of noise created by the bar patrons.
The thing, however, that really really threw us was none of the above. Situated in the front centre of the stage space was a table. We knew this. We knew there was a table. We'd seen it on the floor plan. We'd also looked up pictures of it. It looked like a normal, if immovable, table. What it did not look like was a giant immovable five foot round table placed upon a metal cage enclosing a statue of a disgusting gargoyle type creature. To say we were slightly stressed by this is a gross understatement. We were -albeit it briefly- inconsolable. Months of careful rehearsals melted away in an instant. The feminine body language we had painstakingly taught our actor was all about to be masked by a GIANT TABLE. The nervous actor in question who we had managed to calm by impressing upon him our sense of professional control was due to walk into the room any moment.
I did, for a short period of time, really think it was finally all over. I blamed myself and my team for not checking out our space thoroughly enough (though how we could have done much more bar actually visiting Edinburgh weeks ago is beyond me) and started to mentally calculate how much money (and respect) we would lose if we just ran back home immediately. But, as these theatrical endeavours finally do, it worked itself out and we went ahead with the show. Theatre makers are notoriously overdramatic and I needed my Production Manager to really kick my panic into submission and impress upon me the importance of dealing with the hand you're dealt. My actor, openly terrified about his upcoming one-man debut in a brand new script in a free fringe venue, was perfectly professional in the way he set about aiding me in reworking the necessary scenes to best suit the dodgy space. The bar manager and staff of our venue -the Jekyll & Hyde- were incredibly helpful, always around and willing to help as much as possible. By that evening we'd finally managed a full and rather nice run of the play.
I won't pretend the venue is perfect. If I had to choose it all over again I would certainly go for something else. Something a little more suited to theatre. But it has it's charm. Situated in a gothic themed bar, there is always plenty to look at and, thanks to our colourful set decoration, is now a nice and cosy little space where the actor and audience are never too far apart. The terrifying table has proved to be much less of a distraction than we feared, with audience members choosing the seats infront of it as their most preferable of the whole room. We had a shaky start indeed, but our last two shows have been full and happy audiencewise and the show is going from strength to strength. Working at Edinburgh means you'll come up against all kinds of problems and, generally, working the free fringe means you'll probably have more than your fair share, especially if you're working on a full play rather than a one person stand-up show. For this reason I'd consider paying for the full shebang next year. Having said that I think that this year...we're going to be a-ok. Fingers crossed!
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