Hello again, everyone! As I mentioned in my last post, it’s nearly time for this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe. While I couldn’t be more excited about the show I’m performing in this year (Loud Poets) and the opportunity to see other artists’ shows, I also wanted to write a post acknowledging some of the more difficult elements of the Fringe. The Edinburgh Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world, which means it’s a thrilling confluence of international artists, complete with opportunities to network and soak in various styles of performing arts. It also means that it can be overstimulating, exhausting, and expensive. This being my third year performing at the Fringe, I’m by no means an expert, but I have accrued some tips for artists – and for festival-goers – on how to have a healthy Fringe. I’m sharing them here in the hope that they may be useful for others based in or travelling to Edinburgh this August.
- Make sure you eat!
This might seem obvious, but I can’t stress it enough. The first year I performed at the Fringe, I lost 20 lbs over August because I transitioned from a generally sedentary life to one where I wasn’t getting enough sleep and was on my feet flyering and performing all day. Trying to save money meant I sometimes didn’t eat as much as I should have. But I learned my lesson: skipping meals leaves you exhausted and grumpy, and that’s no fun! This year I’ve stocked up on granola bars and I’m planning lots of big batch, easy-pack meals that I can store in my fridge and grab on my way out the door (I highly recommend egg-broccoli-cheese mini quiches and fajita bowls with rice, beans, veg, and cheese). And make sure you always pack a water bottle, especially for shows in those sweaty cramped venues. Staying fed and hydrated doesn’t need to be pricey, and it is essential!
2. Plan in advance…
The Fringe doesn’t sleep – there’s always shows on to go see, flyering to do, social media to be updated. It’s easy to get caught up in the mentality that you must always be working! While there is a lot of work to do to keep a show afloat, I’ve found it to be more productive for me to plan the shows I want to see and the times I want to flyer in advance. That way, each morning when I wake up I have a plan to tackle, rather than facing a wall of stress and anxiety but being unsure of how to get everything done. This also goes for planning your other work – giving yourself blocks of time to get certain pieces of work done, and other blocks of time for every-day tasks like laundry and dishes.
3. … but be flexible enough to go with the flow.
You never know when an opportunity will pop up, or a performer will fall ill, or some unexpected non-Fringe related work will need to be done ASAP. Over August, it’s simply impossible to stick to a schedule 100%. Plan ahead, but be easy enough to go with the flow of whatever’s happening on that particular day.
4. Find your happy place.
I mean this one literally and metaphorically. Literally: find that place in the city where you’re happy and return there whenever you need it. If you’re an extrovert, that might be the Banshee Labyrinth at midnight with loads of pals and a pint. If you’re more introverted, like me, that might be a quiet close off the Royal Mile where you can retreat if you need 5 minutes to yourself in the middle of the chaos. There’s a garden near the bottom of the Royal Mile which is always peaceful where I love to go if I can spare the time to sit and breathe and eat. In the metaphorical sense: if you have a meditation practice, remember to take the time to be present – or if you don’t, now might be a good time to start! Go in your mind to the beach, or to a blank space – whatever floats your boat and brings you some calm.
5. Take care of your body.
With the chaos that the Fringe brings, it’s easy to stop all the habits that keep you going – to take on the “Well, it’s OK to not exercise or sleep and just live on chips and cider for a month” mentality. And – hey, a little bit of that is unavoidable. But try to keep self-care habits going to the extent you can. Last year’s Fringe, I did 10 minutes of yoga backstage at every Loud Poets show, and it helped so much. I know some Fringe performers who bought an inexpensive one-month pass to a spa in the centre of Edinburgh and went there for swimming and massages whenever they needed it (reminder to self: ask them which spa and sign up!). And again, don’t forget to eat and stay hydrated!
6. Remember this is just one month – life goes on!
This is a tip I’m borrowing from fellow Loud Poet Catherine Wilson. It’s easy to get caught up in the whirlwind of the Fringe and to forget that there’s normal life after it. Try to schedule in something once a week that has nothing to do with the Fringe – maybe going to see a movie, or spending the morning in a quiet park, or Skyping with family, or visiting a friend and playing with their cat all day (let’s be honest, this is top of my list…). Remind yourself that normalcy is still there under the chaos!
***UPDATE: A few lovely folks commented on social media with more useful suggestions:
“It’s important to maintain a proper schedule for eating and sleeping – this stops your body clock from going haywire. Even if it’s knocked off from your usual timing, try to eat and sleep at the same times each day to maintain a semblance of normality.” – Sam Irving, comedian
“Ask for help if you’re struggling with anything, from low attendances to flyering to general wellbeing. You will feel like you can’t ask anyone anything because everyone is busy and doing their own thing, but conversely this means loads of people around you know what it feels like to be in your situation, so they know what will help, so ask them.” – Andrew Blair, poet
“My tip is be forgiving of yourself if you miss certain shows you wanted to see/can’t fit everything in. I never manage to catch EVERYTHING I want to see and, since Time Turners aren’t real, I had to learn to say: oh well!” – Carly Brown, poet
“Having given this some more thought, I think the best way to stay healthy is to try and discover (then rediscover when you forget) that you chose this presumably because you love it. You can be in love with something or someone and get fucked off and irritated with it or them on the regular. But when it’s good it’s fucking great, no? And natural for humans to seek it out. So you aren’t weird for wanting to do this. If you’re a performer you love to perform, you’re seeking that out. And if you do it a lot, you’re likely to find it. At the Fringe, you get to do it loads, surrounded by people looking for that too. So many of them. It’s exciting.
I reckon self-care is also about your attitudes to your work. The Fringe is such a good change to stop being afraid of it, to allow it to change. If you’re a spoken word performer, you get to constantly interrogate your own writing. And editing’s a form of love too. I’m going into this Fringe being so delighted to keep searching my writing for new methods of delivery, to keep making it better, and enjoy the moments of intimacy that you’ll only get from one audience ever, for the solitary hour that you’ll share together (and try to accept that each audience is different).
Which is a gushy way of saying, use it as an opportunity for a really big search of your work, of its meaning in objective and personal dimensions. Don’t let things stay static, or give the same performance every night (it’s pretty much impossible to do this anyway) – embrace every show being different, test things out, try and write down what you’re learning. You’ll come out of it better at being in love.” – Colin Bramwell, poet & actor
For my fellow Fringe folks – hope this tips are useful to you! If you have any other advice, please do comment it below. Thanks for reading, and have a fun and healthy August wherever you are! – K