Yanks At The Fringe


Feature by Mavis Manus

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND – Like Topsy, it just grows and grows.

The 2014 edition of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival rang up the largest numbers in its 67-year-old history, with nearly 3200 shows on offer (a majority of which were standup comedy). Ticket sales cracked the two million mark for the first time, making EFF the most successful arts festival in the world.

Among the armada of performers at this year’s fest were a few dozen Americans, most of whom were members of such visiting companies as the Penn State School of Theater, American High School Festival, Hawaii’s Mid-Pacific School and the Blur Theater Co. of Fargo, ND.

Prominent on the fest’s celebrity roster were such names as the jazz singers Barbara Morrison and Melvin Brown, the actors Bill (“Midnight Express”) Hayes, Anne Archer and Will Eno.

Two of EFF’s brightest young American stars consented to be interviewed by LIVELY ARTS: Baba Brinkman and Debra Ehrhardt.

The Los Angeles-based Ehrhardt was in Edinburgh for the first time, performing her widely-acclaimed solo show, JAMAICA FAREWELL. A retelling of her bittersweet battle to make a new life for herself in the USA, the 75-minute show ran at the Pleasance Courtyard.

Q. What made you decide to bring JAMAICA FAREWELL to Edinburgh?

A. “My show had been playing to rave reviews in many countries and I thought it was time to make the dream of performing at the Fringe a reality.”

Q. What was the experience like for you?

A. “The Festival was quite unbelievable. I saw some incredible shows and met some extremely talented artists. Unfortunately for me, my show did not do all that well here because of its content. I didn’t realize that the majority of people at the festival were anti-American, so they really had no interest in hearing about my huge desire to leave Jamaica and go to America. They just couldn’t understand my love for America. But other shows had a worse time than me. All the Israeli and Jewish shows had pro-Muslim protestors outside their venues so they practically had no audience. One of the bigger shows packed up and went home. I was very surprised when I came out of Daniel Cainer’s THE JEWISH CHRONICLES, a terrific show, to find a mob of protestors there. The police had to make sure that the seven of us who attended were unharmed. Crazy that this would happen to artists.”

Q. How did you promote your show?

A. “I was out there ‘working’ my show. For hours every day I handed out fliers and talked to people, even though I had hired a publicity firm which was amazing at getting reviews. Unfortunately, the reviews were mostly mediocre, so they didn’t help with getting an audience...If I knew that people were so anti-American, I wouldn’t have mounted JAMAICA FAREWELL. And I just would not have gone to Edinburgh, period.”

Q. Any practical advice for American theater folk contemplating doing a Fringe show in future?

A. “Don’t plan on making any money. Try to bring a show that doesn’t cost a lot to produce. It’s not a guarantee, but bring a show that you have already mounted and you know is good. Don’t come here alone, it will be very depressing. You must have a publicist to get reviewers in or you will not have an audience.”

Unlike Debra Ehrhardt, Baba Brinkman is a veteran Fringe

participant, having appeared at the EFF seven times in all, including this year’s RAP GUIDE TO RELIGION, a solo show that “puts religion under a microscope.”

LIVELY ARTS directed the same questions at the New York-based performance artist. Here are his replies:

A. “It was bit tougher to pull a crowd this year, but I can’t say whether that’s because the Fringe has become more competitive or because I was absent for three years and had to rebuild my fan base.”

A. “I had a street team that handed out fliers for me, and I handed them out myself, and I promoted myself via social media. Because I did three different shows, I could cross-promote between them, and I had a pr team that helped get reviews and interviews and feature stories...Would I return to the EFF in future? Definitely.”

A. “As for tips for prospective performers, I used gumtree.com to find a place to stay and to hire a flyering team. Gumtree also helped me find a nanny for my daughter...Above all, don’t spend your own money on the Fringe; do a fund-raiser or get a grant. If you’re coming on your own dollar, have a small cast.”

A. “Regarding the 2014 anti-Israel demonstrations at the EFF, I don’t think artists should be penalized for the actions of their government, even if they have been lucky (or unlucky) enough to receive public funding. Art should be supported or disregarded on its merits.

“I watched the Israeli artists staging a silent performance of their play in the public square, surrounded by raging protestors shouting “get out of Scotland’ and ‘Gaza’s blood is on your hands.’

“The play wasn’t political at all, but it happened to be performed by Israelis and had some public support. It was an ugly scene and I was cheering for the artists.”