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Careers Clinic: How do I get over an awful Edinburgh?

John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
John Byrne. Photo: Catherine Usher
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I left drama school last year and my first job was a play that went up to Edinburgh. I had been looking forward to doing that since I first went to stage school, but, in reality, the experience was awful.

We played to audiences of just two or three most of the time and the low pay I received meant I was living on ‘yellow label’ sandwiches by the end of the run.

Oh, and one of the two flats the cast was supposed to stay in was double booked, so everybody ended up in our small one. I slept on the floor for the last week.

It was all a far cry from my dreams of being discovered by an agent, getting good reviews and immersing myself in world theatre.

I had no intention of going back, but my best friend from drama school is directing a show this year and is begging me to come up and replace a cast member who dropped out at the last minute. I can hardly refuse to go, but can you give any advice to make me dread it less and help this year go better?

JOHN BYRNE'S ADVICE Any fringe veterans reading this will probably agree that, when it comes to Edinburgh, there often isn’t one easily defined ‘thing that goes wrong’ or indeed ‘thing that goes right’ that decides whether a particular year is a success or a disaster.

One of the most useful lessons a new performer can learn from fringe season is precisely how up and down this business can be. That’s one of the main reasons I would encourage you to go up again with an open mind, despite how last year went. I don’t think things will be as difficult this time round.

This is not because I am in possession of a crystal ball, but more because, without wishing to trivialise your previous sufferings too much, what happened last year does to me sound like a fairly typical first-time experience. Some might say your first time up doesn’t sound particularly well planned, but I would suggest it might also have been more a case of too detailed a plan – at least in terms of the very specific picture you had in your head.

I would even argue that in some ways you are in a better position now than if the previous year had been a stunning success (and, believe it or not, that can be an equally typical first-time experience for some newbies). This way, even if things do go badly again, there is some safety in not having the pressure of a successful reputation to maintain or to live up to past glories.

I’d certainly budget a little better this time, and maybe even bring a spare blanket in case the digs situation is as crowded again, but if you can try to let go of expectations either positive or negative and treat it as an adventure I think you’ll enjoy the experience much more this time, no matter what actually happens.

Stepping into a part last minute means you are certainly going to have a lot of quick line learning and rehearsals to focus on during the next week or so, which should leave a bit less mental space for fretting.

If the fringe experience isn’t more enjoyable this time round (and remember that enjoying it, or not enjoying it, is a choice that you make of your own free will) then yes, you can decide fringe is not for you knowing you have given it a good go.

If, as I hope, you have a much better time, then welcome to the club of those of us who have been bitten by the Edinburgh bug. I’ll look forward to seeing you on the Royal Mile – if not this year, then on one of your many return trips in the future.

Contact careers adviser John Byrne at dearjohn@thestage.co.uk or @dearjohnbyrne

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