In some ways, I’m having a great first fringe run. Although it’s early days, our show has already had some good reviews, we haven’t had too many empty seats, and the people I’m sharing digs with are all very friendly and fun to be around. That last point is the reason I am contacting you: although I’m quite loud and a joker on stage, I’m a bit of a loner off it.
Before this trip, I don’t think I have shared a living space with people outside my immediate family for more than a night. The rest of the cast seem to be full of energy, always up for going to free shows when we are not on, and even more keen to party when our show is over for the day. I’ve been joining in as much as I can so I am not tagged as ‘the weird one’ in the house, but I’m starting to feel edgy and exhausted, and with nearly three more weeks ahead, I need some coping advice.
A long Edinburgh Fringe run can provide lessons for performing life that would be difficult for even the most intensive training course to replicate. Those lessons aren’t just reserved for beginners. I have known performers with several decades of touring and travelling under their belts, who were still completely thrown by the hothouse atmosphere of a first Edinburgh run.
Fortunately, when the initial shock has worn off and they find their feet, most are keen to do it all over again. I’m hoping that’s how you’ll feel by the end of the month. In the meantime, it sounds like we need to do a quick course correction on your expectations of yourself and others.
Everyone responds to being up at the fringe differently, and that is okay. Those of us who have seen a lot of fringes through the years would probably go one step further and say that not only is the fringe experience different from person to person, it can be different for the same person, depending on the year.
Sometimes this is due to external circumstances ranging from bad gigs (or good ones) to the quality of the digs you find yourself in and who you are sharing with. Sometimes it just depends on how you feel within yourself.
Whether we travel to Edinburgh or Guatemala, the one piece of baggage we always take is the emotional kind we carry in our heads. Conversely, if we are generally feeling good, the dodgiest of digs and ropiest of shows can become adventures instead of frustrations.
If you are really struggling and especially if you feel there is nobody close at hand you can talk to, or anybody back home you want to contact for fear of worrying them, I would urge you to engage with the range of mental health support the fringe has put in place, ranging from quiet spaces to non-judgemental chat and advice sessions. You’ll find contact information, times and locations on the official website.
In terms of self-care, one really useful lesson you can put into practice straight away, which may also prove useful for future projects, is that working as a team is a key factor in keeping any touring show on the road, but it doesn’t have to mean living in each others’ pockets.
If others feel like partying or seeing every show in town, good for them. As long as you turn up on time for your shows and do your best job, whatever you decide to do with the rest of your time at the fringe is your choice, and nobody should judge you for it, least of all you. Best wishes for the rest of your stay.
John Byrne is also a writer, cartoonist, performer and broadcaster. Read his advice columns every Wednesday at thestage.co.uk/author/john-byrne