I’m crouched by my bed in my digs in Cardiff at an odd and uncomfortable angle (trying to get some kind of wireless signal on my laptop) horribly consumed by ‘The Fear’: it’s been raining pretty solidly in Wales ever since I got here a week ago (a little depressing considering I’ve got a month of Edinburgh’s tropical heat to deal with come August); iTunes has stopped working so I haven’t got any music to listen to on my iPhone; I’m suddenly aware that I’m not going to be home in London until October (the Autumn) and it’s now only 2 weeks to go before our first Edinburgh performance of Pedestrian at Underbelly. I think I’ve got everything under control and in place ready to go, but there’s this nagging doubt that I’ve gone and forgotten the Pink Elephant in the room and there’s something blatant that I’ve somehow overlooked.
In real life, I am a London-based actor, who, for his latest role, is currently trying to pull off a convincing impression of a bona fide Edinburgh Fringe theatre producer. I haven’t been found out... yet. I’m leading a strange double-life as actor/producer at the moment, having just finished our final day of rehearsals for the Shared Experience show Speechless - that I’ll also be performing in at the Traverse during the festival – before we start technical rehearsals for our two Edinburgh previews tomorrow.
I’ve been very fortunate career-wise over the past few years. When I came to the end of the run of a play I was in called ‘Rope’ at the Almeida Theatre in London back in February, I’d sort of forgotten what it was like to finish one job not knowing what was coming up next. It was like acting had become a ‘proper’ job for me, with all that security and peace of mind of knowing where I was going to be in six months time, combined with all the fun of doing something creative that I loved. I had a work-shaped hole in my life. It was a bit of a come-down to be honest.
Feeling slightly gloomy and at a loss, I came down to Bristol Old Vic Studio to see my good friend Tom Wainwright doing his absurdly-talented thing, in this show called Pedestrian which, not only had he written superbly, but, rather sickeningly, also performed magnificently... all by himself (well, with nothing but a live goldfish to keep him company on stage). And my wife, Amelia Sears, had directed it. There was no way I could avoid it really.
I was blown away. I’d worked with Tom as an actor in the past, but Pedestrian seemed like another step forward for him. Its journey through a series of often painfully familiar and all-to-recognisable situations was funny, thought-provoking, moving, exhilarating, and completely unique. At the end (apart from feeling immensely proud of my mate) I was left feeling thoroughly entertained but also challenged by what I had just seen. Here was a classy show with a satirical political bite underneath its glossy exterior. Here was a show with a simple, minimalist set that featured a cinematic fishbowl (I’d certainly never seen one before). I remember feeling that here was a show crying out for an Edinburgh audience.
I was on the lookout for an ongoing project that I could sink my teeth into in between acting jobs as well as during those days when I’d be performing at night. I wanted to have something of my own that I could have some level of control and influence over in an industry when you’re always at the mercy of others. I came up with a name, set up a website, and alas I’d set-up my own production company, 'SEArED’, with Pedestrian as our inaugural project.
Since March it has been a pretty relentless slog trying to get everything in place for August. Although there are still a few bits and pieces left to sort out, I have always tried to stay ahead of the game – my approach has been “let’s get stuff done as early as possible, to leave space for the inevitable but unforeseen game-changing disaster that will be headed our way sometime in July.” Added to this, as soon as I’d found a project away from the acting that I was really passionate about, the acting work inevitably started coming back in. I’ve shot a couple of TV episodes over the past couple of months, as well as rehearsing this show I’m going to be performing in at the Fringe. But it’s amazing how much producing you can still get done at lunchtimes, after rehearsals or even on an RAF base in Bedfordshire armed with just your iPhone.
It’s odd looking back over everything that’s happened to over the past few months to get Tom and his show up to Edinburgh. After all the donkey-work - endlessly sending proofs, drafts, photos and money back and forth between various concerned parties; writing, editing and then re-writing and re-editing countless bits of blurb for various different brochures and websites, I’ve completely forgotten what the actual show is like. It’ll be such a relief to see one of its two previews at Bristol Old Vic next week – just to remind me why the hell I was so delighted to take on the project in the first place.
Of all the balls I’ve been juggling, it was trying to secure accommodation that really sticks in the memory (and the throat). I was adamant that the whole team should stay together in one place. I remember back in 2005 when I was in Edinburgh with Angry Young Man this sense of a company, of unity, of hanging out and living under the same roof was a big contributor to our success. As we're all too painfully aware, as the population of Edinburgh doubles during August, so the rental prices quadruple. It’s ridiculous what people think they can charge as ‘Festival Prices’.
I wanted the team to be walking distance from the venue and in the heart of it all. I contacted a whole bunch of agencies and trawled the internet for suitable bargains. I fired out email messages left, right and centre on Gumtree, and was subsequently the victim of attempted fraud more than once.
The best was from a man who claimed to be a woman called ‘Kimberly’ who wrote English questionably, made up an address in Edinburgh and then posted some photos of a hotel he’d found on the internet claiming they were pictures of ‘her’ Edinburgh property. He/’she’ wanted my bank details as proof that I could pay the rent. But he/’she’ would refuse to meet me in person claiming, in different emails, that they were working on a construction project in Newcastle, Glasgow and London, miraculously at the same time. I ended up getting my email address hijacked by someone posing as me trying to sell iPhones to my contact list, including, amongst others, the Artistic Director of the Royal Court. An unmitigated disaster you might say.
Armed with a new email address, we eventually did find somewhere on Gumtree that seems pretty damn genuine, pretty reasonable, and only five minutes walk to our venue. I do have this slight fear that we’ll arrive on August 2nd to discover we don’t actually have anywhere to live, but we’ll see. I’m sure it’ll be alright?
We’ve got a brilliant show, two very well respected and established arts organisations behind us in Bristol Old Vic and Theatre Bristol who co-commissioned the show in the first place, we’re in one of the Fringe’s major venues, with one of London’s best publicists on board, but, in such a fiercely competitive environment, we’re still not guaranteed to get a single article or single review printed about us.
My emotions are flipping literally moment to moment. One minute I’m massively excited and arrogantly convinced about the huge stir Tom’s little show will create and the success story it will inevitably become; the next, I’m overwhelmed by an intense fear we won’t sell a single ticket, I’d have failed as a producer and I’ll be hounded out of the country as a penniless, bankrupt tax exile on September 1st. There’s a real chance that Pedestrian in Edinburgh could prove an overwhelming triumph that surpasses all our wildest dreams. Or it could fall flat on its face, we all lose money and a piece of our souls.... Or it could just do alright. I certainly would have learned a lot for next time around.
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