Making an Edinburgh Fringe debut, there is no time, or money, for your immune system to fail you. Eve Simpson writes about the reality of taking a show to the biggest arts festival in the world.
Standing all alone, holding my own,
Like I always do, but it feels new.
I feel so small,
As if I know nothing at all.
Which isn’t true, it’s just what I’ve been through.
These song lyrics are borrowed from a play I both co-wrote and make my fringe debut in: Twice Over. The lyrics themselves, however, are not confined to the parameters of the play – they are relevant to a much wider picture. This picture consists of those of us who are not only working day and night just to make ends meet but are also offering our new creative projects to the festival, allowing Fringe to maintain the status for which it is renowned: championing new art.
Don’t get me wrong, I am counting my blessings that circumstance, and an abundance of hard work, has afforded me the opportunity to be at Fringe this year – creating, performing and working. However, I’m completely overwhelmed by the inaccessibility of Fringe for working-class creatives. Quite literally surrounding the grandeur of the joyous fireworks at Tynecastle, the notion of invited guests and the formality of a multitude of press launches, it’s easy to feel suffocated by the privilege that surrounds us. There’s a romanticism of feeling so small in a city so big and rich with creatives just like us but the reality could not be further from romantic – it’s hard work.
Re-checking our budget for the hundredth time; one composed of months of fundraising and campaigning, I pull up my spreadsheet right there and then in the music shop to see if I can service and buy spare parts for my guitar so it sounds perfect for our 9-night run. I sit painting our set at 11:30pm with an unreliable artistic eye, worn from a hard 3-hour rehearsal preceded by an 8-hour bar shift. It’s the day before our previews and I sit painting our CIU social clubsign in my living room. I’m the only one awake, my director and stage manager are away to bed, up early for work and whilst this reflection on the graft that I’m submersed in may be perceived as admirable because it’s ours: the set, the words, the music, I’m also exhausted. Months of rehearsing and writing into the night after work, my lunch breaks consist of half an hour line runs and there is no room for any inconveniences such as illness. There is absolutely no time, or money, for my immune system to fail me.
Working to make ends meet is a form of financial anxiety that the majority of us will always have lingering over us, however, in addition to this state of living, when you’re also working to finance your own creative abilities as well as making ends meet, you exert a degree of pressure on yourself that can impact your own art and well-being in a very negative way. Working your way up and financing your own art through grassroots-based campaigns is placed on a pedestal, glorified as THE aspiring way to achieve success but after all, the success is yours and yours alone. However, what is often overlooked when having complete ownership of your own artistic projects and success, is the massive disadvantage you’re at in comparison to others who simply have more time.
We’re working night shifts to pay for our rent, we’re physically speaking to local businesses to help support community-based art, we’re budgeting to scrape by month-by-month and batch cooking and freezing to save money on the go. Our success may be ours and ours alone but, perhaps, this graft shouldn’t be placed on a pedestal worthy of worship. The reality is it’s hard, lonely and often, it is rare to reach this final stage of performing our projects, as this state of living is unforgiving.
If the nature of the festival is to be sustained as one that births the greatest, new emerging art, the festival needs to prioritise those marginalised and disadvantaged voices creating the art that stands out, not the companies that have the biggest marketing budgets. Making fringe accessible again will increase the diversity of stories and art available for a wider audience, welcoming more people from different backgrounds and cultures, rather than reproducing art past its sell by date, only available for corporate, hourly consumption.
I’m exhausted and nervous but I’m here. And, no matter how hard it is financially and mentally to sustain, I owe it to the thousands of us who try every year to give this everything I have, so that we’re represented, and our stories are platformed.