Texan writer-actor-knitter Elaine Liner had a surprise five-star hit with her show Sweater Curse: A Yarn About Love at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe. As she prepares her wool for a return to the festival, Pete Shaw ask her about the show; how good reviews help and whether Broadway Baby will be getting a nice jumper to wear.
Performing at Edinburgh Fringe is addictive
Tell us about your Edinburgh Show.
"Sweater Curse: A Yarn about Love is my one-hour solo comedy weaving my obsession with knitting (I've been knitting and crocheting since I was eight) into some sad-funny tales of boyfriends I tried to knit sweaters for. The old 'sweater curse' says you should never knit for the one you love. He'll leave before you finish the sweater. I rewind back to some of the great knitters in literature (I call it `knitterature') like Penelope from The Odyssey and Madame DeFarge. Shakespeare mentions knitting in more than half his plays. That can only mean one thing: his wife had to have been a knitter. I also do 'knitting in the news.' There's an Australian performance artist who puts a ball of yarn in her nether regions and then knits out of it. I do not do that onstage. I do invite theatergoers to bring their knitting and keep on stitching during the show. That's my target market: knitters who've been avoiding theatre because it takes time away from the wool. At my show, knit away! (And crochet, if you must.)"
This is your second visit to the Fringe. What are your reasons for returning?
"I was warned at the 2013 Fringe Society's 'road show' in New York City that performing at Edinburgh Fringe is addictive. Oh, baby, yes. I've described the experience as 'surfing a wave of happiness'. Every day last August was better than the day before. The atmosphere, audiences, artists – everyone crowded into that beautiful city to celebrate and experience art. I burst into tears at least twice a day during Fringe just from sheer joy. But I'm a middle-aged woman, so some of that might be hormonal imbalance."
Last year you really impressed our Broadway Baby critic. Did that have an impact on your show?
"The day I walked into Sweet Venues Grassmarket and saw the five stars from Broadway Baby glued onto my posters, I knew that review would change my life. Box office doubled overnight and just kept building. By the third week, I had full houses, right up to the final Monday of the Fringe. That review by critic Richard Speir totally 'got' everything I want Sweater Curse to do. He said it was elegant and funny and a 'feel-good moment'. As the kids say on the interwebs, he 'felt all the feels'. After my show that day the review was published, I was so exhilarated, I walked around Edinburgh for five hours and I don't think my feet ever touched the ground. It's one of the best days of my life. Right up there with the time I had tea with Julie Andrews at Pinewood Studios. (Back in the 1980s and '90s, I interviewed a lot of celebs in my job as an entertainment journalist. Ms. Andrews is one of the nicest among all the big stars I've ever met. Buy me an Irn Bru and I'll tell you stories about all the ones who weren't. One of them is mentioned three times in my show.)"
EdFringe attracts quite a lot of performers from North America. Do you have any tips to help them cope with Edinburgh?
"There are a lot of Yanks in the Fringe, mostly from NYC. Last summer I was the only Texan there – the lone star from the Lone Star State. I've spent this past year encouraging more performers from my part of America to try to get shows over there. Talent extends from coast-to-coast, you know. Dallas has a huge theater community and some fiercely talented playwrights and actors. Get ready to hear more drawls in future Fringes.
"As for tips, just a couple. First, don't be afraid of going to Edinburgh solo. I've never met friendlier, kinder, more engaging people than the Scots. Get ready to be hugged all day. My audiences hugged me. The ushers hugged me. I left my camera on the counter of a shop one day and the clerk ran down the street, gave me my camera AND a big hug. Amazing.
"Also, bring twice as much money and half as many clothes as you think you'll need. Bring duplicates of your costumes though. You'll feel good in a fresh costume every day.
And finally, here's my tip as a media veteran: Don't fear critics. Welcome them. You never know when their words will change your life and give your show the boost it needs. I've been performing Sweater Curse all year in various places, including an historic opera house, since debuting at last summer's Fringe. I got one three-week booking solely because of good reviews. I keep waiting for some critic to call my show a `yarn bomb', but it hasn't happened yet."
Can you knit us a jumper with the Broadway Baby star logo on it? OK, 'sweater'....
"You know, I wondered about changing the name to Jumper Curse because of the language diff. But I was afraid people would think it was about suicides.
"And yes, I can knit you a Broadway Baby star logo sweater. Can I assume, since you're a journalist, that the size might not be extra-small? I say that as someone who found that after a career spent sitting at a laptop, being a solo performer at the Fringe is a great jolt to fitness. My first week in Edinburgh, I walked off 7 pounds. It was like a spa vacation on cobblestones. But with way more hugs!"
Sweater Curse: A Yarn about Love, written and performed by Elaine Liner, 14:00 daily (except Wednesdays), 1 hr, 1-24 August, Sweet Venues Grassmarket (Venue 18). Suitable for audiences 12+.
Follow Elaine Liner on Twitter @TheSweaterPlay and Facebook.com/TheSweaterPlay.
EdFringe listing for tickets: https://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/sweater-curse-a-yarn-about-love