Sometimes the Edinburgh festival gets a bit suffocating. Whether it’s artistic differences, Fringe fatigue, illness or something worse, there’s no point suffering in silence. So here are some possible escape routes from the festival bubble.
First, the Spotlight promoters’ centres. These offer free Internet access and advice for performers. There’s one at the Pleasance Dome, near Brooke’s bar (where free tap water is provided with genuine good grace). And the main centre is in the plush surroundings of the Freemasons Hall in George Street, which during the Fringe becomes the New Town Theatre run by Universal Arts. The welcome is always friendly, and there are leather chairs and newspapers (coffee seems to have been a casualty of the era of austerity, but perhaps it’s better that way). Full details of their locations, seminars and one-to-one sessions are on the Spotlight website.
However, the promoters’ centres are also quite well-known, so offer planned and unplanned networking. On my first day, a girl pounced on my press release for Thirsty by The Paper Birds. ‘Was that good?’ She said, letting slip rather smugly that she was a staff writer for The Independent. The details of the conversation have now faded, but I was left feeling a little peeved. Last year I bumped into the crew from Mobius Industries, which was actually quite helpful for organising tickets and photos. And a BBC producer seemed to be working from the centre at the Pleasance this Friday, despite the fact that some of the Beeb’s infrastructure (such as their rather public display of crew-only catering in George Square) seemed intact.
Second, Edinburgh’s network of Victorian swimming pools. (For the record, I swim slowly, asphyxiating during front crawl and slipping behind the recommended time allocation of 35 seconds per length in the slow lane, let alone 25 seconds in the fast lane. But you can still get something out of it.)
Natalie Haynes, comedienne and cultural commentator, once told me that she went swimming every day during the festival. I was interviewing her several years ago, and felt a bit bad as she invited me to Soho House for a student feature. It suffered from (a) the fact that she speaks very fast and wittily, whereas my shorthand was embryonic and (b) the fact that the copy was slightly mauled so I didn’t really recognizs the published piece. Anyhow, at the time swimming every day seemed an indescribable luxury.
You do have to be careful with the timetables. I’ve turned up at the Royal Commonwealth Pool to find it’s closed for refurbishment. I’ve arrived at Warrender Swim Centre when it’s closed for staff training or recently twenty minutes before the pool was shut for clubs, only to pay about twenty pence a minute to swim. (This was after Thirsty last Monday, actually, and the man on reception did throw in the sauna too – I just wasn’t really sure how to use it.) And in previous years I’ve arrived at Dalry Swim Centre during the disabled session. Of course, organised people keeping afloat during the festival could check the Edinburgh Leisure website.
Third, Glasgow. Scotland’s second city remains remarkably impervious to the madness that is the Edinburgh festivals. Occasionally, you see an actor ordering a beer from the trolley service on the train back, or hear a director chatting late at night. The shuttle can get predictably overcrowded at weekends or be taken over by a jolly orchestra late at night. However, Glasgow is basically oblivious to the thespian shenanigans.
However, there is a catch… You can’t be at the festival and escape it at the same time. The horribly sensible advice that I read in a recent interview with Fringe Society trustee Alister O’Loughlin was to eat, sleep and WORK the festival for maximum returns. ‘The enjoyment is in the work, and the people who get the most from attending the Fringe are the ones who are prepared to earn it,’ he said.
I am now approximately thirteen reviews, five blog entries, 25 trains, two two-hour meetings and a few wobbly moments into the festival. Despite working for free (or rather paid in the uncertain currency of free tickets), and this type of work not being considered ‘work’ but leisure by many people, I fear the disapproving suggestion by other participants that I am not ‘working’ hard enough. In 2009, I supposedly took an evening ‘off’ in Glasgow, only to go to a preview of The Last Witch by Rona Monro at the Citizens Theatre. To be honest, I have also been getting a little tired for swimming, though still have energy for another valedictory cliché (no offence Martha Reeves and the Vandellas). Perhaps there are plenty of places to run, but nowhere to hide.