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EDINBURGH 2019: BWW Interview: Vikki Stone

EDINBURGH 2019: BWW Interview: Vikki Stone

BWW catches up with Vikki Stone to chat about her 2019 Edinburgh Festival Fringe show and ways in which the festival should be made more sustainable.

So, it's been a while since you've done the Fringe?

Five years. Well, I did the one in the Grand a couple of years ago. I can thoroughly recommend doing Edinburgh that way: coming in with a concept show for one night and then leaving. It's my first full run in five years. I feel like Edinburgh's changed.

In what way?

People as an audience are looking for shows that might improve them in some way or maybe challenge them. I feel like my last full Edinburgh show was challenging and meaningful and very, very personal.

This one is the complete opposite - it's just some funny stuff. I didn't feel like I wanted to do anything more Edinburgh-y. Mainly because I'm taking it on tour, and you do notice the difference between what an Edinburgh crowd might enjoy and what you can then take to Nottingham and Leeds.

I'm not saying the audiences don't want as heavy stuff, but actually, if you look at someone coming for a night out and getting a babysitter - people do just want to laugh. I think that's hopefully what I've achieved with this show, and that it's just fun and silly and you do hopefully forget about the world for a bit while you're there.

How has audience response been so far?

It's been really good. I always like to ask who's seen me before and who hasn't, and it's really nice when people come back. You bump into people who've seen all the shows, and what's lovely about Edinburgh is that even though I haven't been back in five years, they're still there and want to see it. It's always nice to know that people are out there and interested.

Is it easier audience/review/feedback wise if it isn't a personal show?

From a reviews point of view, it's always harder when you're by yourself. The next thing I want to do is over winter is work with a team of people, because I've spent most of this year writing and developing stuff that's been led by me. So when you get a review, you don't anyone to share it with. If it's good you haven't got anyone to share it with, and if it's bad you don't have anyone to soften the blow.

If you're in a musical or play and there's a cast of six and there are producers and a band and lots of people involved, you can share that. If you're doing it by yourself with stand-up, then you're talking all that on yourself.

I think if it's personal then it's harder, because you're baring a part of yourself. That said, even when it's not personal you're still making personal choices. I spoke to Stuart Goldsmith on his podcast this week and what we do as comics is we have our ideas and our thoughts and we shine then up to the light and we say "do we think that other people will find this funny?" in order to get a laugh with observational comedy.

Everything is personal, because you do hope that your experience is the same as others, whether it be heavy content or not.

How are you approaching Edinburgh differently this year?

There are several things with Edinburgh for me. I can't really do the social side of it for two reasons. One is my voice, because in order to sing and sing the way I want to, I can't sit in a bar and talk over loud music, so the drinking thing has to go out of the window. It's so easy here because you can walk into any of these bars and always find someone that you know, so it would be dead easy to socialise every single night and then find I have no voice. So I need to look after myself in that way.

Also, especially from a comedy point of view, Edinburgh feels like a constant contest. Everyone is treading water really fast, sort of "look at my big poster" or "look at my stars on this", and so where I'm staying is further out and I've got my bike up here, I'm running every day, I'm running to Portobello and I'm going in the sea.

I'm just trying to get myself out of the Fringe environment, because if you're in it too intensely for the time that you're here, as a performer that can be quite toxic. You end up pitting yourself in a competition against your peers and it's a competition that's not really real. You can choose to remove yourself from it, which is what I've done this year.

Is this your first Fringe without Bert? [Vikki's cocker spaniel and co-star of her 2013 Edinburgh show]

Yeah! I'm on my own and staying a bit further away this year. It's quite a nice experience being here on my own - you're not sort of pulled in different directions. Bert is in Stockport with his Nana, my boyfriend's parents, and he loves it there. He's having fun. I keep running past the Edinburgh cat and dog home and I tweeted them and they said I can go in so I can go and visit some dogs.

And you're doing the Fringe more sustainably as well?

It's something that really bothers me. One of the most unsustainable aspects of what I do is the amount of mileage in the car. I've tried to get the most economic, eco-friendly car possible.

Flyer waste in Edinburgh is huge. You're normally told to get about 15,000 flyers. You only really need 11,000. For most print companies, it costs about £80-100 to get 10,000 and it's only about another tenner to get 15,000. Most performers will bin about 4,000 flyers. You've got boxes and boxes, unopened, going in the bin. If you times that by the number of performers you've got here, that is an insane amount of flyers going in the bin.

It's cheaper to print full gloss flyers and they're not even recyclable. They're all going in landfill. It's more expensive for the recyclable ones and they're not as glossy, so they don't feel as good.

There's a company called Staging Change and I didn't have my artwork ready in time this year, but they're doing a thing where they suggest if you print in two or three colours, it's even better for the environment. I'm using their logo, which encourages people to take a picture of the flyer rather than take it, and also my flyers are fully recyclable.

I just think people don't realise. I've done it with the posters for my tour - they're non-gloss and all recyclable. It has cost me more but I think the more people order them, the price will come down.

I think it could be something that the Fringe as a whole could do. If they said that everything had to be recyclable then the print companies would have to change and offer better deals so hopefully, if everyone is handing out things that aren't glossy, it would level the playing field and stop the amount of paper waste.

What can you tell us about the musicals you're working on?

I'm just about to contract a Christmas show for 2020. Also, a musical for a regional theatre that's going to be online first - probably next spring. It's crazy, because I'm talking about things that will go on stage in 2023. I've been commissioned to write a play for Edinburgh next year for a university group. I like the idea of writing things that I don't have to be in - it seems like a good way to do the Fringe. I'd quite like to do another play in Edinburgh next year as well.

Musicals take a long time. The one I've written that's ready to go I'd love to share with the world now and I hate that I can't. We've recorded an album with the most insane cast and ten-piece orchestra. We started recording in February and I just signed off the final mixes yesterday and it won't come out until next year. I want to show people now!

So do you like that stand-up is more immediate?

Yes, absolutely. If I come up with an idea for stand-up I can work it in tonight if I want to. But I am getting a bit bored of the form of musical comedy stand-up. I would imagine that this Fringe and this tour, I don't see myself doing the same next year. I mean, never say never, but I can't see that as something I would do next summer.

And it's quite an extensive UK tour you're doing in the autumn

Yes, Aberdeen, Glasgow, Newcastle and everything! I might extend it into 2020. Every time you post about a tour you inevitably get people going "Why aren't you coming to Slough?", so there are a lot of places I'm not going to. I also previewed a lot. I did about 20-odd previews for Edinburgh, so it's hard to go back to those places that you've done previews in but people might want to see the finished show or couldn't make it the first time.

Is it a similar audience for both Edinburgh and the tour?

No, it's different. I really, really like touring. In Edinburgh, I think audiences take on the role of reviewers. Because they're seeing multiple shows a day and they're posting about them on their social media - which is fantastic and really helps - they're coming in to judge you.

Whereas on tour, they're coming for a night out and have maybe been for something to eat and drink, and they're coming to see you because they want to have a laugh. That is in essence what is happening on tour and it isn't in the middle of judgement fest. So you get a level of relaxation that you're just not getting here. And people know what they're coming to see. In Edinburgh, they're more likely to take a punt.

Do you get anyone who comes in not knowing it's musical comedy?

Not really. I think it's quite clear. And if they didn't, the white grand piano onstage gives it away! Well, it's a fake one - it's a keyboard in a fibreglass grand shell - but it looks quite nice.

Do you think the judgement is worse in Edinburgh than when you started coming?

Yes. It's partly because of Twitter and the way that the press is has changed. When I started, there weren't many online outlets and there were maybe five or six reviewers that you would see on posters. Nowadays, I think because so many of the major publications have less coverage and have laid off staff, it means that everyone in this town is looking for four stars and above to stick on their posters, and you do what you have to do to get that.

I think that means that all sorts of people can start websites and start reviewing, and that does bleed into the audiences and them being a critic. Which is fine, because we are at an arts festival.

I went to see a musical the other day that I wish I had seen with a group of mates after a few drinks. But I saw it at an arts festival, so I was a bit judge-y.

Have you seen anything good yet in Edinburgh?

I don't tend to see much in the early days until my show has settled down. I've been through and seen mates, but I've got a list of theatre that I'd like to see. It's strange to be nine days into the festival and there's nothing 'wow' yet, but I'm quietly compiling my list of stuff I've heard is good.

Vikki Stone: Song Bird is at the Pleasance Courtyard until 25 August and then on tour across the UK.

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