This summer it feels like we’ve all been repeatedly encouraged to “get ready”:
get ready for the Word Cup, with multi-buy offers on 24 packs of lager and little plastic flags for your car windows; get ready for Wimbledon with copious amounts of strawberries, cream and pitchers of Pimm’s; get ‘beach ready’ with your 4-week bikini body plan, e-reader and retro sunglasses.
But for the past few months, much of the performing arts industry, and in particular the younger, emergent end of this vast spectrum, have been getting themselves ready for the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the largest arts festival in the world and for so many artists the biggest date in the theatrical calendar.
For a whole month, Edinburgh doubles in population and the city fills to bursting with a vibrant and eclectic mix of artists. There are around 3,000 shows performed, from beat boxing to puppetry, cabaret to circus, performance poets to musicians, innovative new work to revived classics; from shiny new companies fresh from drama school, university or college to veteran industry pros. They all gather for 25 days of performance art mayhem. Every possible venue, every stretch of pavement or patch of grass is there for your entertainment, and whether you’re a performer or a visitor it is quite simply an experience like no other.
This kind of summer requires a very different sort of preparation; a stark contrast to the kind of seasonal ‘getting ready’ where you’re standing in the supermarket car park, precariously strapping a barbeque to your car roof and cramming your boot with buy-one-get-one free packs of sausages and 50% extra free bottles of ketchup.
Scratch shows, applications, previews, advertising, tweaking and refining, fundraising, plugging, organising accommodation and transport, and a whole host of other physical and mental stresses all contribute to your Edinburgh summer preparation.
But just imagine, as a young company or emerging artist, if your Edinburgh preparation came with a chunk of funding, an excellent Ed Fringe venue, and industry expert mentoring. This is exactly what was on offer for the four lucky recipients of this year’s Ideas Tap Underbelly Award. The award offers financial backing, the Underbelly Cowgate performance space (one of the largest venues at the Fringe) and regular sessions with mentors Louise Callow (Scamp Theatre), Rachel Tyson (producer at the Bush Theatre) and Rob Watt (youth programme manager for the National Theatre).
Jasmine Woodstock-Stewart, co-founder of Antler Theatre, one of the 2013 winners, describes winning the award as “invaluable” and their mentor (David Micklem) as “a fountain of knowledge for us”. She also says, “the support we received from both IdeasTap and Underbelly surpassed mere financial support. [It] aided us in making the show, making the most of the Fringe and, consequently, led to opportunities beyond the Festival which otherwise may not have been accessible to us”.
This year’s winners are: Rachael Clerke’s How to achieve redemption as a Scot through the medium of Braveheart; Jacqui Honess-Martin’s We Have Fallen; Buddug James Jones’s Hiraeth; and Karla Crome’s Mush and Me.
How to achieve redemption as a Scot through the medium of Braveheart “explores identity, belonging and machismo, delving into the personal-political debate of a country on the edge of a decision”. Ahead of the Scottish independence referendum, Clerke’s solo performance piece will make audiences laugh and think about “what it means to have our identity dictated by place”. Clerke grew up in Edinburgh and so already feels like a bit of a “Fringe veteran” despite having never performed there herself. This leads to a mixture of excitement and nerves as, “in one sense I feel like I’m going in quite well prepared, but am also perhaps too aware of what can go wrong”. Clerke describes the support from the award as “amazing” adding that, without it “I’d probably have drowned in the workload before now!”
We Have Fallen follows three characters as they “embark on journeys across Europe in the midst of a global crisis” in a new play about “coming home and why we choose to fly… A show that will play on our human-ness, and our desire to be home; a story that we already know, looking for a lost place, looking for answers that will not come”. Rowan Rutter, producer of the show, describes how, thanks to the IdeasTap Underbelly award, the show could go to Edinburgh and be a definite step up from “when I first went to the Fringe as a student, [when] we did it on three loaves of bread, some shared sleeping bags, a lot of love and a brilliant show”. Now, “there are agents involved, PR companies and grown-ups”. The award covered a third of the costs for the show and was “the leverage to raise the rest – you can’t underestimate how much easier it is to raise the rest of the money when there’s already a chunk in the trunk”.
Hiraeth looks at the decline of Welsh identity and tradition, telling the story of one woman’s break from her family home as she, “sets out alone into the big smoke encountering men, heartbreak, drama and hilarity along the way”. Jones, writer and performer of Hiraeth, says that without the Ideas Tap Underbelly award it would simply not have been possible for the show to go to Edinburgh: “having this opportunity to tell my story to the masses of Edinburgh audiences is a privilege. I am passionate about this story, as it’s a part of Wales’s history and future. Remembering this is what drives me to make this show happen.”
Mush and Me “tells the story of Gabriella and Mushtaq, united by a mutual love of hummus and a shared distaste for bacon, but at odds over faith and family”. In this witty yet tender new play, Crome explores what it means to be a young British-born Muslim or Jew through the friendship of the two central characters.
Mush and Me‘s producer, Mirain Jones, describes the show as, “a modern love story for multicultural Britain,” and says that the IdeasTap Underbelly award is “incredible… we’ve received invaluable support, which at this stage in our careers provides a fantastic springboard for us to develop as a company and individuals”. The Mush and Me team are looking forward to “coffees by day, pints by night and deep fried Mars bars at 3am!” but, most importantly, to sharing their work with Edinburgh audiences “who are without doubt the most curious, generous and playful audiences around”. The Edinburgh top tips from team Mush and Me: “Bring a brolly” and “put a team of people you trust together – when it comes to Edinburgh, everyone has to muck in, so make sure you’ve recruited a team who are willing to roll up their sleeves”.
The Ideas Tap judges noted that, although the award doesn’t seek to link together productions with a common motif, all of the winning pieces carry strong themes of identity – as did many of the other applications – and that this is clearly reflective of the importance and relevance of this topic to young companies today.
If you’re in Edinburgh this summer and fancy catching one, or several, of the Ideas Tap Underbelly winners the details are as follows:
How to achieve redemption as a Scot through the medium of Braveheart, by Rachael Clerke runs 31 July – 24 August (except 12), 4.10pm at Underbelly Cowgate – Iron Belly.
We Have Fallen, by Jacqui Honess-Martin runs 31 July – 24 August, 2.10pm at Underbelly Cowgate – Big Belly.
Hiraeth, by Buddug James Jones runs 31 July – 24 August (except 13), 4.50pm at Underbelly Cowgate – Big Belly.
Mush and Me, by Karla Crome runs 31 July – 25 August (except 11), 2.50pm at Underbelly Cowgate – Iron Belly.
For more information and tickets to any of these shows, visit the EdFringe website.