Guest Blog: Playwright Abi Zakarian On Her First Fringe Experience
So, I've done it. My (drumroll) Very First Fringe. And in the space of a month things have been pretty wild...
The first thing is: book ahead. Because a few days in Edinburgh in August costs more than that Chanel handbag I've been coveting most of my life. Armed with horror stories from every theatrical I know I bagged a little flat on Airbnb and train tickets a full four months in advance.
Yes. My first time at the Fringe and the first time one of my plays is going on at the Fringe. I feel like a newborn chick: wide-eyed, wobbly and a bit fluffy - will it live up to my expectations? Will I survive the almost entirely drink-based diet? Will we sell any tickets? To say I'm terrified is an understatement.
But me and the husband set off - him, I'm pretty certain, slipping valium into my Virgin East Coast cuppa in a bid to stop me spinning off into any worse mania before we've even got there. But we make it and a serene calm descends: it's not that busy, the sun is out, all is chill. So I breeze about meeting up with my lovely producer Robin, awesome director Tom and amazing actress Nancy*, collecting flyers and posters and generally thinking 'I can do this'.
Five days later I am a different woman. I have seen things I can't unsee. I have drunk things I can't undrink. And I have most definitely fallen in love hard with the Fringe.
The day starts with flyering on the Royal Mile. I'm not sure my technique of rushing up to unsuspecting tourists, thrusting a flyer at them and saying "This Is The Best Thing Ever" worked, but nearly everyone was nice and didn't roll me away down the hill.
Best of all was connecting with lots of other writers and performers, all with a better patter than me; I learned a lot. And the posters. We soon worked out we had a great advantage thanks to my husband being over six foot tall, plus having our lovely friend Lilly staying with us - Lilly is slip of a thing and pretty fearless to boot, so up she went on his shoulders and, bingo, massive posters at the top of all those red pillars. Yeah, so you have to do this every day because they've all been papered over by 11am, but that's all part of the fun.
Then it's off to see my play Fabric - our slot was at 11.55am in Underbelly. Robin did an amazing job in the early days getting audiences in. I soon learned that word of mouth is key, and the signs were pretty good as we started selling out by the end of the first week - and, thanks in no small part to a really lovely write-up by Lyn Gardner in the Guardian as one of the picks of the Fringe, it kept selling out.
Nancy was incredible. Day after day she brought Leah to life - it's not an easy role, demanding and physical, but she took it to another level every performance. And the audiences loved her. It's always a bit nerve-wracking sitting in the audience at the end, trying not to listen/desperately trying to listen to what people think and feel.
My nerves calming a bit, I started to enjoy the whole Fringe experience. You soon get used to starting to drink at 11am and eating dinner at midnight. I loved the whole hey-want-to-see-some-comedy-it's-starting-in-ten-minutes thing - taking a punt and just randomly choosing stuff to see. There's good, bad and ugly but even the ugly stuff is part of the trip, and I got to see some things I wouldn't normally choose to watch, but when you're in that Fringey bubble you bounce along.
By day four I'm knackered. But the show is doing well and there's been no tech nightmares (thanks to Queen of a Thousand Cues Amy, our awesome CSM); Nancy continues to get rave reviews and it's still not rained. Oh wait...here it comes.
Seriously, the weather turns on a sixpence in Edinburgh. I'd been warned to take sun cream and gloves, but this is some crazy changeable. But not much is dampening my spirits as I stumble from my show to others, scarfing a veggie haggis on the way and setting up camp at the gin bar - I'm loving the madness.
Heading home was a bit sad; I was sorry not to be there for the whole run but needed to get back and get on with work. As I picked bits of flyers out of my hair and looked at my watch for the first time in five days I realised how lucky I was to have had such a joyful Fringe experience.
Nothing quite prepares you for the rush of teenagery excitement when you see the first poster for your play somewhere. Or the massive smiles and friendliness everywhere you go. It's like you're in on a really special secret you share with all the other thousands of Fringers. I loved it. And I was going to sleep for the five hours home.
A couple of huge cherry-on-the-cake moments upon waking up several days later: it was pretty brilliant to hear Nancy had won a Stage award for her amazing performance. And, and this is the bit I'm still pinching myself about, we won a Fringe First award! So, thank you Fringe, thank you Edinburgh and thank you lovely audience members who helped make this first-timer so desperate to come back again next year...
*Seriously, the best creative team ever. We made this play together.