EDINBURGH FRINGE DIARY #3
If a show opens in the Fringe and nobody reviews it... does it make a sound? Yes, it does. A sad, pathetic, lost kitten sort of mewing sound. The sort of sound that does not lead to tours, future productions in exotic locales, or any money down the line whatsoever. That's why Fringe performers, writers, and producers are willing to humiliate themselves on the off-chance of getting the attention of a reviewer at Fringe. And the place everyone goes to humiliate themselves is Fringe Central, for the annual Running of the Artists. We get one chance, for anywhere between 90 seconds and two minutes, to speak to Every Important Reviewer at Fringe. And when the doors open on Media Day, there's a mad crush to get in line for the Prestige Reviewers.
Actually, it's much more civilized than it sounds. Hand it to the pros who run Fringe Central; they know how to make the excruciating slightly less painful. First, everybody has gotten the word through email that this is the big day, and although doors open at 2 p.m., best get in line early. Then the very polite Fringe Staff go down the long, long, long row and take everybody's name down, in order, to discourage line-jumping. A playwright from New York, Robin Rice Lichtig, was number six in line, having gotten there just after breakfast. She's promoting a show called Listen, the River, where her protagonist is a cat. Not a real cat, an actress playing a cat. So she is highly motivated to get face to face to explain directly to reviewers why her show (which is actually quite charming and moving) ought to be on their lists. I have a much easier time explaining my play, as Made for Each Other is still the only gay marriage play at Fringe. So I was a bit more laid back, arrived at 12:30, and clocked in at number 63.
Fringe Staff came down the lines at regular intervals offering plastic glasses of water on little silver trays. Barry Church-Woods, the Head Honcho Himself, went amongst the crowd with a cheery grin, offering water to the parched masses, the Mother Theresa of Media Day. Lovely touch.
Some came in costumes, assuming that wearing an enormous fright wig, or having the name of your show on your underwear and then mooning the journalists, would provide a boost. There were caped crusaders, trannies aplenty, and young women in their Best Dressed Brothel Paraphernalia. Honestly, as a writer myself, I don't think any of these things would make me more likely to review a show. On the other hand, some of the brothel costumes were quite fetching.
The best part of the endless wait was entertaining each other. We weren't showing off or trying to impress each other, as we all knew that nobody on that line would do our career the slightest bit of good. Instead, we let our guard down, and just became ourselves. A little lonely, a little confused, but also with a lot of natural wit and charm and humor. Sort of like trying to cheer up someone about to have a root canal; we all know what's coming, we all know we have to go through with it, so might as well exchange stories from Liverpool, Oxford, Manchester, and Nebraska. Yes, I'm the one originally from Nebraska. I haven't lived there since I was 18, but it's a conversation starter. I often begin by explaining that I never rode horses or shot a gun at anybody, and most of us in the Midwest have actually learned how to read.
The worst part began when the doors opened at 2, and we faced endless lines leading up to the 90 second chances to impress. Everyone stood like civilized cattle, in long lines in front of signs for review sites: this way for Broadway Baby, that way for Three Weeks, down there for Fringe Review. The longer the line, the more prestigious the reviewer, so the line for the Scotsman newspaper, The New York Times of Edinburgh Fringe, was two hours wait, at least. I made the strategic decision to see at least five different reviewers, instead of waiting all day for the Scotsman. That meant about 40 minutes wait for each. If you made friends on line, you could go to the bathroom or get a glass of water, and come back. We all made friends like mad!
It's one thing to stand in line for three or four hours total to buy an iPhone, and another thing to wait that long for an opportunity to sell yourself like a product to the press. Younger and less experienced performers were the most nervous, as they imagined that their moment face to face with Big League Reviewer could actually lead to fame, fortune, and all that. Lucky for me I've been around long enough to have been "discovered" by producers several times, had rave reviews and crap reviews and everything in between. I've even been reviewed by The New York Times. Don't ask. Even so, I felt the familiar flush come to my cheeks as I got closer and closer in line, and after forty minutes' wait, finally found myself sitting in a chair across from a Fringe Reviewer, trying to make myself heard above the din of 2,690 other people also trying to be engaging and funny in 90 seconds.
Show me an artist completely comfortable with self-promotion, and I'll show you... very few people, actually. Mercifully, many of the reviewers I spoke with had kind eyes, spoke to me like a real human being, and even if they could not promise a review, always left me with a bit of hope. These are true professionals, and I love them all. I will love them more if they come see Made for Each Other. I will love them passionately wearing any brothel costumes they'd prefer if they give us four stars or more.