A regular visitor to the Edinburgh Fringe from North America, Ian Garrett not only has brought many shows across the pond but also created the Edinburgh Fringe Sustainable Practice Award. Pete Shaw spoke to Ian about what he’s up to this year and just what is the attraction of Edinburgh.
All in the performing arts have to have some level of insanity to keep committing to the hours, inconvenience and often unrecognised work of getting a show up. The Fringe, and whatever success you may find, really offers the biggest potential reward to the artist doing what you love.
Welcome Ian. I know you've been involved with the Edinburgh Fringe for many years. Tell us about what you're up to this year.
“The big change has been shifting from supporting work from students and alumni at CalArts, which I've been doing for the last six festivals, and moving to York University (in Toronto), where I currently teach. I'm still consulting with CalArts and helping the new managers there figure the festivals out. I'm also working with Creative Carbon Scotland again for a fifth year to support the continually expanding award for sustainable production and the programming we do around that at Fringe Central for participants. This is the first time since 2008 that my family (and new son) will have a chance to come as well, which is really exciting for me. With all the change and the new baby, I've taken a year off bringing my own shows to Venue13 or elsewhere... but I'm already thinking ahead to 2015.”
You’re involved with Victims of Influence – Inspired by Frankenstein? Tell us more.
“Victims of Influence is a reversal of myth of Frankenstein's monster. If someone is familiar with the novel-come-opera Grendel, which looked at Beowulf from the Monster's perspective, this show does something similar but much more modern. It looks at how the "monster", once birthed (or reanimated) and recognised as different, becomes monstrous. One of our cast members is very active in cosplay, so we had fun with integrating that sort of fandom and celebration into the show, looking at the monster myth and it's evolution in video games like BioShock, and the way the Frankenstein and the Creature were cast in the Danny Boyle directed version of the play from 2011 where the actors playing both switched off in the roles. The ubiquity of Frankenstein helps to keep it fun, tied to popular images in classic horror from Shelly's novel to the Universal monster movies... and which really lends itself to the fusion of theatre and film that audiences will see in the design.”
Together with Miranda Wright, you created the Edinburgh Fringe Sustainable Practice Award. Has that had a positive impact on the Fringe?
“I think so. We started with the simple idea that there are a lot of folks on the Fringe which are exploring sustainability. Some are bringing work where an element of sustainability is a central theme. Some are making the work to be as sustainable as possible with how they build and tour it. And a number of venues have been interested in sustainability in terms of managing their resources such as all of the lighting 3000 shows requires, or being smart about the waste created by the necessary evil of leafleting. We wanted to shine a light on that and start up the discussions about how shows can be responsible in this regard. It's since grown as we've formed a close partnership with Creative Carbon Scotland, and had significant encouragement from the Fringe Society and Festivals Edinburgh. It's opened up a number of opportunities for the recipients as well; this includes touring and future production. Between the Award for artists and the Green Arts Initiative for venues and presenters (such as Bedlam, Assembly, Gilded Ballon, Traverse, etc), there is now a strong web of support for those looking to make themselves more conscientious. This is important with Arts Councils starting to look at environmental impact in their funding models. But it's also extremely practical since we've seen literal tons of waste from discarded set pieces to case upon case of flyers diverted from landfill through the post festival recycle days at Fringe Central.”
CalArts is synonymous with Venue 13 at the Fringe - can you tell us what their highlights are this year?
“This year CalArts has four shows at Venue13, making the 11th year of bringing work to Lochend Close. It's an interesting year, with all of the shows based on existing plays, when previous years have had a new writing focus. I think you'll see that the experimental style of the company's shows will ring through, and maybe go that much farther with established text. Alison Keating, who directed last year's Mask, returns with Yellow Fever by London playwright Simon Parker, which is looking promising. I'm particularly interested in Pomegranate Jam which is a re-imagining of the Greek myth of Pesephone told with shadow puppetry and dance. Kaspar by Peter Handke, the Avant-garde Austrian novelist and playwright will definitely be interesting – it was hailed as Europe's "Play of the Decade" when it premiered in 1967. And Maeterlinck’s The Intruder gets the Things From Before collective treatment.”
What is it about Edinburgh that attracts so many from North America?
“I think It's a number of factors.
“First of all, you've got a beautiful historic city with such a high concentration of artistic works within walking distance, that for many of us it's almost more of a vacation than work. I think we're all attracted to Edinburgh and points further into Scotland as a place to visit already, that getting a chance to perform makes it that much easier to head over.
“Secondly, there is also something appealing about the open market of the Fringe as well. We have ‘Fringes’ in North America, but they are their own stand alone festivals, many have either a lottery or curation to select the work which happens there (even if it's on a similar scale), so you have a real sense of boot strapping entrepreneurial excitement with trying to make a show work in Edinburgh.
“Also, if it's not working, at least there is a lot to see and a lot of artists to talk to and chat over drinks about how to try and crack some sort of code... which makes you want to come back and try it again. Sometimes putting on shows is partially an excuse to get to see everything else I think!
“Sure, there is the possibility (though likely sliming as there are more and more shows) of international tours, selling out your hot show, getting picked up by a bigger venue or producer... but I think focusing on that is the quickest way to disappointment and leaving the Fringe unhappy. But, if you're going to develop the work, raise the funds and travel to show your stuff, why not go big? For many, it's going to be the same amount of work and money to go to a Fringe Festival in Toronto, New York or Minneapolis, so why not go all the way (at least one) and get over to Edinburgh.
“It's a bit of a rite. It's the oldest, biggest, most expansive festival. Just surviving can be a badge of honour! All in the performing arts have to have some level of insanity to keep committing to the hours, inconvenience and often unrecognised work of getting a show up. The Fringe, and whatever success you may find, really offers the biggest potential reward to the artist doing what you love. And, if that doesn't work, the whisky is worth the trip too.”