Tuesday, 28 August 2007

Forest Fringe

"Why am I even doing this?" I ask.

"Because you want to learn how to produce, right?"

"No, I never want to produce. That's the last thing I want to do."

"Well then why ARE you doing this?"

I pause. I think. "I guess because it's the festival, and I guess because I want to give other people like me a chance to show their work."

"Well I think that's a very good reason. Now where's the hoover?"

There you go - as quickly as it was born, fleeting, beautiful, Brenda Patrakous from LA called it "a little miracle" - the festival is over, I'm back in London, and I have this vague feeling that I just spent two of the most difficult and amazing weeks of my life. I just went through the folly of artistic directing a venue over the Fringe.

Hm. I'm doing my dissertation on this venue, so where to start without exhausting the material (but there would be no way to exhaust it, there's just so darned much of it) is difficult. I guess I could go through the beginning.

So I get to Forest- and I don't know how many of you have ever visited Forest but it is in equal parts amazing and infuriating - a volunteer-run art collective and organic cafe in Edinburgh - it's a charity and a co-operative, and the kind of place where things are fun and disastrous. Now coming from my very London attitude - things have to make sense, they have to be in order, they have to happen smoothly, trust no one, etc, etc, into an office in the basement where ten people are crowded around R. Kelly's "Trapped in The Closet" - which apparently takes precedence over printing that needs done for the venue - well, that was difficult. But - how do I put this - after a few days of railing against Forest and what it is, and what it represents, I realized how, if you're positive about it, what it is and what it represents is also incredibly beautiful. Which is one reason that all of the developers walking in and out of the venue and admiring the space upstairs was unnerving. I asked one man thinking of buying it to turn it into an arts complex if they would keep the Forest downstairs. "Oh yes." He said. "We'll have a cafe. But something more upscale."

(Anyone who has not been to Edinburgh it's easy enough to say that there are enough upscale cafes in the place. In fact, you can barely sneeze for an upscale cafe. Forest is an organic cafe, which is ecclectic to say the least, but welcoming, well intentioned, and with loads of potentialin all directions. When it is good it is very very good, and when it is bad, well, it's understandable really.)

The first few days were a lot of cleaning. A visual art collective from Brixton called "What they can do They Did" had just been using the hall for a week and made one of those glorious artistic messes of it - perfect for them, a disaster for us. After spending all day designing a sign for outside, a woman comes by and tells me that the wood is hers, I'll just have to start over again. Looking down at the carpet heroic partner in crime and I realize that it has never, ever, been hoovered, and it's just, well, the dirtiest most beautiful space. It needs a cleaning and badly. So after two days of frustrated attempts to find cleaning material, paints, etc, with no help from outside vollunteers, the space looks, well, presentable.

Then came the actual running of it. James, the technical director, and I decided that love Forest as we did, we were not going to run our theatre like the cafe. Yes, it was volunteer run (this was penance for the companies who used the space - promoting each other's shows) but roles were very precisely laid out - Becky was our amazing volunteer director, James did tech, and I did programming. Which was not always that clearly defined. Occasionally, for example, "volunteer director" had to mean "volunteer" if someone hadn't showed up or wasn't pulling their weight. (And there were a few of those, as there always will be.) Sometimes Tech meant, ahem, reminding me that we didn't have any act on for the 8:30 slot on a Saturday night (Yikes!) and sometimes Artistic Director, well, most of the time Artistic Director meant doing the recycling and picking up garbage. Okay, but that's why it was fun! The first week was idyllic, the second exhausting, and now, well, it's over.

We ended up working with about 25 companies from all over the world: America, Ireland, England, Canada, Scotland, Germany, Australia - with some nights that were unexpectedly awesome, and others that were unexpectedly slow. One night Sketchatron, the popular Sketch Comedy troupe pulled out - but last minute I met Brenda Petrakous from LA who was part of the five star story telling show PoeJazzi, and she came along upstairs with her partner and together they did the most amazing story telling show. Not a dry eye in the house. Though equally, one night I programmed some acts so perplexing I'm not sure if they were incredible or awful. All I can say is they truly challenged my sense of irony.

Anyway, I'll probably just be blogging about the fringe for about a month now that it's over- there was no time to reflect on it as it was happening- it all just went by too quickly, there was too much recycling to be done, too much garbage to be picked up, and too much theatre to see. But I think that it's really strengthened my opinion that the most worthwhile endeavours are often the most difficult. Like so many beautiful things I guess, there were so many ups and downs, but now that's it's over I can't feel anything but gratitude.

So to anyone who was around and helping out - and especially to James, Rebecca, Ryan and the madness of Forest - well, thank you so much. I never thought I would like producing, turns out I do. I really do.


Andrew Haydon said...

"I'll probably just be blogging about the fringe for about a month now that it's over"


Miss Pearson said...

I got busy...! Besides, theatre is lived in the moment, not in the blog and bla bla bla bla bla.