Hastings & St. Leonards on-line community newspaper

Storming, not Dying, on the Fringe

Hastings writer and performer VAL LEE brushes up her after-show routine at Edinburgh

The venue owner said, “You can go on now”. “Great,” I said, “Will do.” What I wanted to say was, “Actually if you don’t mind, I’d rather stand in the middle of the road and wait for a bus to knock me over!”

This was the first performance of my one-woman show SHUSH! at this year’s Edinburgh Festival Free Fringe. My audience consisted of seven people sheltering from torrential rain and a boisterous, drunken party of five up for The Tattoo.

“Anyone here own a cat?” I plunge in with. Silence. Nobody shows a sign of even knowing what a cat is. “I’ve got a stoat,” drunken man says patting his trouser front suggestively.

The Free Fringe began in 1996, founded by comedian Peter Buckley Hill who wanted to counter the rising cost of admission to shows at the Edinburgh Festival and give performers a platform without them having to pay a fortune for the privilege. The audience gets in free, and at the end of each show they can show their appreciation (or not) by putting money in the Free Fringe bucket.

There was room in my venue for at least fifty people. Sunday to Wednesday my audience stuck between eight and ten, climbing at the end of the week – one Saturday reaching two dozen.

At first I was disheartened. “How’s it going?” other performers wanted to know. “It’s a nightmare. How’s your show going?” “Fantastic! Brilliant! We stormed it.” (‘Storming it’ is the performer’s highest self-praise.)

And then after several days, I realised that there wasn’t much of a divide between my ‘nightmare’ and their ‘storming’ it. “The audience rocked,” one guy told me grinning at the memory.

“How many in the audience?” “Four or five. But they were great. Fan-bloody-tastic.” Four or five? Fan-bloody-tastic? “How much in your bucket?” “One fifty-seven.” “Would that be one hundred and fifty seven pounds?” I asked.

Guy stopped grinning and looked defensive, “One pound fifty seven pence, but that’s almost fifty pence per head.” “Well not really.”

Suddenly I was a success – a bucket success, averaging out at two pounds per head, sometimes more. Twice I’d been handed a crisp Scottish fiver and most afternoons someone said something complimentary about the show. Had I actually been ‘storming it’ all along?

From then on I practiced not only my show routine but also my after-show routine. “What an audience!” I’d say slapping my thigh, “They loved me.” I perfected an inward looking smile as if reflecting on an evening of comedy mayhem.

My brother telephoned. “You’ve made The Times.” “Have I?” “There’s a photo of eighty women comedians. It doesn’t say your name but that doesn’t matter. I just tell everyone; you can’t mistake my sister, she looks like a serial killer eying up a victim.” I said, “I’ve made twenty seven pounds today.” “Is that all?”

“Actually that’s fan-bloody-tastic.”

Posted 13:18 Wednesday, Nov 25, 2009 In: Performance

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