Arts Blogs for “The Scotsman,” emails, and miscellany about my experience at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival with my play LISTEN! THE RIVER in August, 2012. Check out the trailer: listentheriver.com
JULY– Actor Wendy Peace and I fire the London producer/director (don’t ask!) a little over a week before previews in New York at 59E59 Theatre’s East to Edinburgh Festival in July. The two of us decided to shoulder the entire project ourselves. I know. Thank heaven and all the angels for director Tracy Bersley in New York who jumps in as the clock is ticking toward zero hour. Thank heaven for Andy Cohen and Patrick Shea, sound designer and stage manager of the first order. Hurrah for Ikea where we not only find the perfect set and props, they cost under $40 (and can be purchased at Ikea in Edinburgh rather than trucked across the ocean). Previews go very well with good big audiences. We come up only a few dollars short of breaking even. A miracle in New York!
JULY 31 – Travel itinerary plan finalized: JFK to Logan in Boston, then Heathrow to meet up with Wendy. Two nights in London, then train to Edinburgh with Wendy and her Great Dane, Cooper.
AUGUST 1 – Midnight email from Robin (at Logan) to husband Joe: They just kicked us off the plane. The pilot and two co-pilots left the cockpit, walked down the aisle, then the pilot was rushed by ambulance to the hospital. Delta is searching for a new crew. We are given coupons for dinner at an airport food place ($7.00 oh boy). New crew found in Alabama. Coming in at midnight. We should leave around 1 a.m. Try to sleep stretched on chairs. Give up and watch Olympics. Please phone Wendy so she knows and doesn’t have to get up at an ungodly hour to meet me at Heathrow. Previous flight was almost seven hours so assume this will be the same if it ever leaves. Sure wish I had a phone! Word is the Customs people at Heathrow will have left for the day by mid-afternoon when we land so things will be very slow there. Excelsior!
NOTE: Bought SIM card for cell phone borrowed from Wendy’s husband to use in Edinburgh. Learned about “locked” and “unlocked” phones. It seems everyone in the world knows about this but me. Survived train to Edinburgh lugging two suitcases and heavy bag with computer. The worst is the suitcase filled with %$#@! Jolly Ranchers which must be the heaviest candy on earth. I sure hope it’s worth it for promotion. Thank God the flat is only three flights up. This is not for pantywaists!
AUGUST 3 – Email to Joe: Those strange emails were from me trying to type on tiny hand-held devices people loaned me. Wendy said she had a plug converter and a transformer for me, but it seems she doesn’t so I’m working very quickly on my laptop before the battery gives out. Hope to get on a computer at Fringe Central some time. Also don’t have a converter for the phone Mat loaned me. We can’t get the Ikea stuff until the day of tech. rehearsal since it’s so heavy we can’t carry it around and can’t store at theater until then. Slightly scary!
Crazy here. Yesterday I stood on my feet with no break from 10:15 a.m. until 5:30 p.m. to get a good place in the line to see the media people. After each 5 minute interview, you had to get in the back of another long line to see someone else. The interviewer from the Huffington Post was dead drunk and surly by the time I got through a 1-1/2 hour line to see him! (A sponsor was handing out free beer to everyone.)
Looks very stormy out today. Have to find a bank and use the ATT card. Wendy has had no time to go to the bank (her ankle is bad) and I’m almost out of pounds. Monica paid for my dinner last night. I owe her. The flat is beautiful. I’m sleeping on the sofa, but it’s comfortable. Long walk into town, but the busses don’t run often. Nice walk, just takes about 45 minutes at a healthy pace. Better sign off. Wish you were here!!! xoxox
P.S. Have a SIM card but you shouldn’t phone me unless it’s a big emergency. I don’t hear the phone when Wendy calls. I’m always in a noisy crowd. I’ll call you if I ever get a converter. This phone is a mystery. I can’t figure out how to do anything with it even if the battery is charged! Please email Ruby and Bernard and ask them to show Mom the Kickstarter info I sent. We have only 5 days left and still need $200 to be able to pay an actor for a signed performance. (Jane made an amazing contribution!)
AUGUST 3 – ARTS BLOG FOR “THE SCOTSMAN”: ZOMBIE PLAYWRIGHT – Ah, the joys of travel! Robin Rice Lichtig, playwright of LISTEN! THE RIVER here. I’ve schlepped from New York to Kenya, Alaska, Ecuador, Australian, Mongolia… and survived with relatively minor wounds. This trip to Edinburgh goes in the record books though. Herding an actor, multiple suitcases, 10 tons of Jolly Ranchers for handing out with fliers, and a Great Dane — The flight from the States to London (where I gathered the actor and her large dog) was delayed by six hours when the pilot made a swift exit to the hospital. No sleep at all the first night as Delta hunted for a healthy flight crew. Add in jet lag and you have Zombie Playwright. So this morning we take a train from sunny London up to what promises to be sodden Edinburgh. Not sure if the dog is going to fit on the train. We may have to run behind. Did I mention that actor Wendy Peace has a sprained ankle? Isn’t theater fun?! Stay tuned for more from the LISTEN! THE RIVER gang (first performance on August 13).
AUGUST 5 – Email to Joe: Yesterday found my way to Fringe Central without trouble since I finally had a normal map, bought the day before. Wendy and other young people try to get you to use their iPhones and other devices. Sorry. I like old fashioned maps so I can see the whole area and feel oriented.
At 10:15 a.m. I got right in the front (#6) of the line for the 2 p.m. media event. After sitting on the floor for half an hour, they moved the line. Lesson #1, don’t sit on the floor unless I’m prepared to be embarrassed because my knees won’t let me get up without help. I’m really feeling the lugging of hugely heavy suitcases up three flights of stairs, up stairs at subways, into trains etc. yesterday. Back and knees are not happy. Can’t believe it’s afternoon and I haven’t had a drop of coffee yet! (Only tea at the flat. Had to rush into town then and get in this line ASAP and save a place for Wendy.)
Everyone is super friendly. Of course everyone wants you to come to their show so… But still, beyond nice. Met up with Monica Bauer, Alexa Kelly and Brian Richardson, p.r. guy Calvin (who doesn’t seem to be doing any work)… Standing, standing, standing…. Finally the doors open. I’m second in line to see the interviewer for The Line, who doesn’t seem very interested no matter which tack I take. Maybe the guy wandering around in diapers or the girl dressed as a good fairy will have more luck. Wendy dashes upstairs and is early in the line for The Scottsman. Her interview goes well. Then to the back of looooonnnngg lines, over and over. We put together beautiful info packets, but can’t tell if anyone is particularly interested in our show.
Finally I’m in the line for the Huffington Post — for almost 2 hours. The two NY men behind me (one is Sir Adam Petherbridge, now a friend on FB) and I watch the elder journalists for the Huff. Post as they get drunker and drunker on the free beer being handed out. (Everyone is hungry, but don’t want to leave the line. Everyone is thirsty, but I sure as hell don’t drink beer on an empty stomach!) By the time I’m at the front of this line it’s clear that the one journalist who is still active (the other is slouched back, not talking, drinking) is interested only in talking to pretty young girls. He’s wasted. Fringe staff guy has spoken to him several times. Then, when he finishes with the two girls he just spent ages with, he says he’s taking a bathroom break and all hell breaks loose. The Australian conductor/composer guy two behind me shouts out something like “You’re a disgrace!” The journalist shouts back: “This line is closed!” (There’s at least 30 people behind me who have been waiting well over an hour.) Lots of shouting. The staff guy tries to quiet things down. Monica, who is blogging for Huffington, is very interested. Oh well. I really didn’t want to talk to the wasted guy.
By then my back is really tight and my feet are killing me. Monica takes me to a Turkish diner for some real food — the first I’ve had in days. All night there are shooting pains in my right foot.
The next day I’m happy to find that my back is okay. Many of the young people are suffering! I awake to pouring rain. Yesterday, when we were inside all day, was sunny. This is more standard I gather. I’m still concerned about not having enough pounds. Wendy says she’ll go to the bank and get my £, but she says your idea of changing money is outdated and I should just exchange some of the American cash I have. But you’ve trained me that exchange rates are so terrible I shouldn’t. To me walking around with 30£ feels like I have to watch every penny. To Wendy, I’m carrying around a fortune and tempting pickpockets.
Today another media event, this one hosted by the Space, our venue. Not one with lines though. Apparently in Scotland they have barbecues in the rain and don’t bat an eye.
I keep asking myself: am I having fun yet? Not really. Too much tension. The whole competitive thing of flyering to get people to your show, all the tricks and techniques… tense. All the stuff Wendy knows and assumes I know or remember at least — a LOT of stuff! — tense. The fact that we can’t get our set from Ikea until the day of tech. is super tense.
AUGUST 5 – ARTS BLOG FOR “THE SCOTSMAN”: INTREPIDITY – A blur of days ago I stuffed 10 tons of Jolly Ranchers into a suitcase and headed east, New York to Boston to London to pick up my actor and her extremely large Great Dane, then on to Edinburgh and the Fringe. I’m here despite a pilot who needed emergency surgery just before take off; despite the suitcase filled with you-know-whats that had to be trucked up stairs, down stairs, through London tubes, onto a train, then up endless flights to our flat in Edinburgh.
I’m here, with my intrepid actor, Wendy Peace, and her intrepid Great Dane, Cooper, who needed to be folded like origami to fit on the train (the dog, not the actor). We hit the ground running, or rather standing in lines at a media event to pitch our play. Seven and a half hours of standing, without food or drink (though free beer was temptingly offered). Good training, I kept telling myself. For what I’m not sure. Wait. Yes. Training for intrepidity — a must for Fringers.
I’ve already met an amazing assortment of theater people from all over the world and Minnesota. New York clowns immersed themselves in local lore right off by climbing to watch the Tattoo. Two companies of puppeteers from London charmed this somewhat (ahem) older playwright, bringing tea and sharing their puppets’ backstories. A young comic, newly split from his girlfriend, poured his heart out about chucking his conventional job and going for it in the Free Fringe. Stand-up comics are intrepid.
I need a spreadsheet to plan a course of action to see as much as possible while still flyering and getting ready for our show. Why the Great Dane? Why the Jolly Ranchers? Stay tuned for more tidbits from inside this whirlwind that is the Edinburgh Fringe.
NOTE: This is too much for two people (one way past spring chickenhood and the other also acting in the play) to handle! Wendy’s husband will be here for week #2 to help. Then he leaves (not enough room in the flat for more than three people and the dog) and Joe comes for week #3. But we need at least four full-time people to try to keep up with others promoting their plays. Imagine big-cast plays. We can’t begin to compete with their visibility — even with a giant dog.
It’s a hassle to wear different clothes each day like I would in normal life. Since I have to keep the same thing on from the time I leave early in the morning until returning at night, it works to choose one outfit and vary only with clean underwear and occasionally a different t-shirt. Since I’m rapidly losing weight because of all the exercise (and no time for lunch most days), two of the three pair of pants I brought are now literally falling off. I can wear only the pants with a tie waist. Every day. Same pants. (Thanks, L.L. Bean, for the handy dandy pockets in the legs exactly the right size to hold about 20 flyers each). Add a t-shirt, my Loop sweatshirt hoodie and sneakers. I carry three bags: the www.listentheriver blue and white backpack (containing an umbrella and additional backpacks as giveaways), a bag with flyers, and my Great Plains Theatre Conference bag with some money, needed papers, tape, posters and tons of other stuff needed during the day. I’m actually getting used to wearing pretty much the same thing every day.
AUGUST 6 – FIVE CHARACTERS IN SEARCH OF THEIR AUTHOR
Five people are lost. TINY (African-American giant), DEBORAH (New York socialite), TANK (music-addicted punk), ZOE (age 12), and ALICE (Victorian poet). ALICE lifts her skirts, climbs on a fence post, gazes into the distance.
ALICE: Where the devil is she?
(ZOE bursts into tears.)
TINY: Don’t fret, little one. Here comes the sun.
DEBORAH: The sun won’t come out until it comes out in my play, SEARCHING FOR A NEW SUN. That’s the only sun that matters. Going off in the middle of a rewrite is unacceptable playwright behavior!
ZOE: I’m shut in a dark drawer!
TANK: I’m out of music.
TINY: She’s neglecting me too.
ALICE: Look. Is that her?
TINY, DEBORAH, ZOE, TANK: No.
ZOE: She forgot me!
DEBORAH: Don’t be stupid. Playwrights never forget their characters.
ZOE: They can change them. Remember what happened to Carlos in LOLA AND THE PLANET OF GLORIOUS DIVERSITY?
TANK: That play has a dumb title. It’ll never get picked up.
DEBORAH: She wouldn’t change me. My part is pivotal. Without me there would be no crisis, no resolution, no play. And zero sex interest.
ALICE: I’m the title character in ALICE IN BLACK AND WHITE. It just won an award.
DEBORAH. (sneering:) Right. In Omaha.
TINY: Mine was in New York. HUMANS REMAIN —
DEBORAH: Never heard of it.
TINY: Directed by Stephen McKinley Henderson.
DEBORAH: Never heard of him.
TINY: It won an international competition.
DEBORAH: Oh that one. It had a reading, not a production.
ZOE: Miss Austen’s play is being produced next year.
DEBORAH: In Louisville. Big deal.
ALICE: Zoe’s THE POWER OF BIRDS had a New York production.
ALICE: Women with strong roles should stick together, Deborah.
ZOE: Yeah, Deb.
TINY: Mine’s about people of color. Very much in demand these days. If only she’d come back and start sending it out —
TANK: Hey! Mine’s the one she’s gotta work on. It just had a reading that was really, really hot and the audience wasn’t even drunk. My play, WOMEN WITHOUT WALLS, was inspired by Sartre’s NO EXIT and Dante’s freakin INFERNO!
TANK: Yours is about the Holocaust.
DEBORAH: At least we don’t all die in the end like in yours.
ZOE: THE POWER OF BIRDS is full of fun stuff. It’s hard work getting a second production. (calls:) Where are you, Robin Rice Lichtig? I’ll totally die if you don’t come back and start working!
ALICE: I see her.
TINY, TANK, ZOE, DEBORAH: Where?!
ALICE: Past the Victorian past where I live, past Tiny’s time in the New Jersey mountains, past Zoe’s time in the tree house, past Tank’s time —
TANK: She’s extending my time in the next draft. She promised.
DEBORAH: I see her. Past the Statue of Liberty, past the Tower of — She’s at the goddamn Edinburgh Fringe Festival!
TANK: It’s the freakin cat play.
TINY: Across the Pond, of the Cat she’s fond.
TANK: That totally sucks.
ZOE: LISTEN! THE RIVER.
DEBORAH: Where? What?
ZOE: It’s the play where the protagonist is a cat.
ALICE: It all makes sense now. LISTEN! THE RIVER just previewed in New York. There’s buzz.
DEBORAH: I’ve been upstaged by a cat?
ALICE: We all have.
(The playwright sends them an email with a link to the Fringe play: listentheriver.com. She promises to focus on them as soon as LISTEN! THE RIVER finishes its run at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. They sigh. They groan. They grumble, but they wait. That’s how it goes when you’re in a playscript. BLACKOUT.)
AUGUST 6 – Start of a bit about Cooper for our p.r. guy. She’s packing a suitcase. Bad sign. She keeps smiling, rubbing the pointy bone on the top of my head and using soothing words, but Great Danes are rarely fooled by humans. It’s clear as the large nose on my face that She’s going somewhere. What’s not clear is whether She’s taking me. I don’t mind staying with The Man, but I prefer to be with Her. She smells better. She’s strapping my bedding to her bag. Oh joy! We have a serious sit down. I catch the gist of what She’s saying. She’s chosen me to be part of what She calls The Team. It sounds sporty. Good. I can be sporty.
Off we go on the vehicle under the ground called “the tubes.” I love the tubes. There’s room for me if I sit my hind end on Her lap with my front paws on the floor. People always admire me and can’t stop staring. I suspect She’s going to use me in some way like publicity for Her show. I’m very suspicious of this whole undertaking. I’d rather nap.
(Didn’t finish. It’s another stupid idea on the p.r. guy’s part. He got me to write the play, above, which took time away from flyering, then said he’d have to rewrite it, then did nothing. Not a big fan of our p.r. guy.)
NOTE: Advice for future Fringers. Forget getting a p.r. person. All I hear is bad stuff from everyone. They are a waste of money!!! Ours wants us to hang out and drink with promoters after midnight. He’s not happy that we refuse. He likes to give us lists of things that he wants us to do, but refuses to tell us what he is doing for us. It’s a deep dark p.r. secret. In the end, everything we gain in the way of attention and promotion has zero to do with him and everything to do with our own efforts. (I think the only people who make money on the Fringe are p.r. people and the printers who make the flyers and posters.)
AUGUST 7 – ARTS BLOG FOR “THE SCOTSMAN”: FLYERING – A tsunami of colorful fliers swirls through Edinburgh. A pudding of imaginative offerings. Silly me. I thought New York was a theatrical bee hive. No comparison. I’m lying on the sofa contemplating “flyering.” The word makes my mouth dry. Flyering at the Edinburgh Fringe is everything I heard it would be and more. How will my actor and I ever manage?
“Get up, lady! The world’s tallest female dog (currently being adjudicated by Guiness) is here at the world’s biggest arts festival! I’m ready to flyer!” My face gets a lick with a tongue the size of a throw rug. It’s our intern. Thank goodness. I was afraid she couldn’t fit on the train from London and wasn’t going to show. Out of cash to pay actual people to help us, my actress and I engaged Cooper several weeks ago. She brought her own doggie flyering outfit, a fashionable, leatherette number plastered with posters for the world premiere of LISTEN! THE RIVER.
Full disclosure: I had to bribe her with a part in the play. Not an actual part, mind you. Like all of us in theater, Cooper has to pay her dues. I wrote her into the play as Peek-a-Boo, a one-eyed Great Dane. If Cooper does a decent flyering job, I’ll make her part bigger in subsequent drafts. If she does an amazing job, she’ll get a walk-on. And so forth.
Like others with plays in the Fringe, we’ll pull on our rainboots and head out with bags filled with flyers later this week. Watch for us with our very large yet fashionable four-legged intern. Give us a flyer for your play, and we’ll give you one of ours.
NOTE: It looks like we might not make our Kickstarter goal for a signed performance. After what my friends have contributed it would be really, really disappointing if this fails!!!
AUGUST 8 – ARTS BLOG FOR “THE SCOTSMAN”: WHOLESOME JOYS – It starts with a lecture from my actor. Wendy lives in London so when she lectures me about Old World-New World cultural differences, I listen.
We’re watching the Olympics, collapsed after a day of doing all that must be done for a play opening in five days at the Fringe. The tv interviewer’s featured athlete sports one of the first Olympic medals for the host country. “Well at least she got bronze,” I mumble through my latte. Wendy’s eyebrows shoot up. Her Great Dane, Cooper, sprawled on the floor, farts. “They don’t discriminate like that here,” she says. “Children are taught the wholesome joys of athletics without emphasis on winning.”
I stick up for myself. I was taught from birth that first place is a hellova lot better than second and third is practically shameful. Plus, for a New Yorker like me, pushiness is a manditory survival skill. The fact that only 17 per cent of women playwrights are produced in the U.S. adds fuel to my fire. I am competitive. I want to win. Wendy and Cooper exchange a glance: Poor uncivilized American.
At a Fringe panel, Francesca Carr (HighTide Festival Theatre) offers advice: Cooperate, don’t compete.
From everything I’ve seen, it’s happening. Fringers trade flyers, promising (really wanting) to go to each others’ shows; offer how-to advice; shmooze over beer (can you “shmooze” here or is that only a New York thing?); take soup and crackers to flu-stricken actors they only just met… I haven’t seen one instance of dog-eat-dog elbowing to the front of a line. This New Yorker, with fierce competitiveness running in her veins, is contemplating the wholesome joys of cooperation. By the time LISTEN! THE RIVER opens, you might not recognize me.
AUGUST 9 – ARTS BLOG FOR “THE SCOTSMAN”: WHERE’S THE BOTOX? – 10:30 a.m. Fringe Central. A girl with close-cropped brown hair swears at the paper cutter and resorts to snipping four-star flashers with scissors. Beside her, a 20-something man in an Oxford University sweatshirt staples flashers to flyers. Sixteen Fringe participants huddle intently over PCs, 32 more at the tables and on sofas sip coffee, focused on screens of various sizes, taking notes, phones to ears. Constant low hum of communication. The vast majority are 20-something, with a goodly number of 30- to 40-year- olds. A few hardy ancients over 50 are sprinkled here and there. The same as at any theater conference anywhere? Nope, something’s different.
It started in L.A. Actresses became indistinguishable. No furrowed brows. No ears sticking out. No thin lips. Amazonian Linda Carter chests, no sweet 34-Bs. Straight teeth gleam the same laminated white. Hair long, straight, mostly blonde. It spread to the east coast and crept like bird flu into live theater in New York. Good luck finding a quirky individual at auditions. Botoxed clones abound.
But not at the Fringe. I can’t remember when I’ve seen so many healthy-looking, non-surgically altered people. Despite high stress level, little sleep and a fair amount of boozing they look… real. Real good.
The bespeckled actor on the sofa across from me has a week-old stubble on her legs. I love her! I bet these real people are bringing real theater to the Fringe. No plastic. All heart.
AUGUST 10 – ARTS BLOG FOR “THE SCOTSMAN”: CANINE CONNECTION – Cooper, the world’s largest female dog, loves theater. This morning she held a photo shoot in Princess Street Gardens. Wearing a chic leatherette saddle plastered with posters for her favorite show in the Fringe, Cooper pranced, jumped and mugged for photographers around Ross Fountain.
Cooper’s person, Wendy Peace, plays six characters in LISTEN! THE RIVER. The main character is a cat, but after meeting Cooper New York playwright Robin Rice Lichtig wrote the dog into the story. It’s understandable why this play is Cooper’s pick of the Fest.
The LISTEN! THE RIVER team will give a portion of their ticket sale proceeds to the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home. The Home sent representatives to join in the photo opp. Glen, a young Yorkshire Terrier who is available for adoption, came with Rosemary and Daniel Eggleston from the Home. Podge, an elderly Staffordshire Bull Terrier who was adopted from the Home three years ago came with her person, Melissa Settle.
Everyone behaved admirably. The sun shined, flowers bloomed, birds chirped. A perfect day for a doggie romp. I have never seen such mugging for the camera! Glen wasn’t crazy about running under Cooper’s legs, but this was the shot the photographers wanted, so he screwed up his courage and complied. By noon Glen and Cooper had exchanged email addresses. They will certainly friend each other on Facebook. Podge doesn’t do Facebook.
NOTE: Cooper gets tons of press and personal attention. Beautiful big photos in The Herald, The Daily Mail and The Scotsman. Although the play is mentioned and she wears her “saddle” with LISTEN! posters while Wendy and I flyer, the connection to the play isn’t being adequately made. We feel our p.r. guy should have ideas about how to bridge the gap or at least take advantage of all the attention. Nada. He’s clearly pissed that he didn’t come up with the ideas that got us all the press. He keeps saying he got Broadway Baby to review us. Be still my heart. Broadway Baby reviews everyone. If we get a review from The Scotsman (my solitary goal in all of this), it won’t be because of him but because it’s a world premiere play and because I stood in line for HOURS so Wendy could interview with The Scotsman good and early.
AUGUST 11 – ARTS BLOG FOR “THE SCOTSMAN”: UP AND DOWN AND UP AND… – I’ve been here at the Fringe for nine days now. It can be described with one word: rollercoaster. Up: Our flat is beautiful. Down: It’s a 45-minute, uphill walk to our venue. Up: I need the exercise. Down: It’s raining. Up: The venue is great. Down: Flyers and posters are lost. Up: They found the flyers. Down: Nope. Up: A Starbucks! Down: No time to eat. Up: Sun! Down: Dreary comedy show. Up: Gorgeous Mexican show. Down: Tech guy doesn’t have essential equipment. Up: U.S. tech guy solves the problem. More up: Flyers found. Up even more: Eight photographers come to our photo shoot. And up: Photos in print and online. Down: Info accompanying photos not all accurate. Up: My blog printed in The Scotsman. Down: Bus to Ikea to buy heavy set. Up: Men from the Mexican company come and carry our set. And the sun is still out. And another photo ran in another newspaper. And LISTEN! THE RIVER opens in two days!
NOTE: Meet up with other New Yorkers. Go to Peter Michael Moreno’s one-man “Desperately Seeking the Exit” three times. I know! He’s great. Joan Shephard is here with Eve Sorel and Joan’s one-woman Confessions of Old Lady #2″ that I saw in NYC. Also saw W.E.B. DuBois show of Brian Richardson and Alexa Kelly in NYC. It’s been reduced to 60 minutes as are most of the shows here. (Take note if you’re thinking of bringing a show. Sixty minutes max.)
AUGUST 13 – ARTS BLOG FOR “THE SCOTSMAN”: PIGEON NOSTRILS – I’m a writer. I spend my days at my computer with no one to disturb me but the occasional cat. Silence reigns. The Husband steers clear. Once he broke his hand playing tennis and didn’t say a word until he was sure I had finished writing for the day. I don’t want to talk. I don’t answer the phone. I concentrate. Magic happens. Plays are born.
But here at the Fringe it’s: “Human entanglements through the eyes of a cat. Wonderful comedy-drama. Would you like a flyer?” Wash, rinse, repeat ad infinitum – with enthusiasm damnit. After flyering non-stop for four hours today, my tongue started sticking to the roof of my mouth. After another hour I started rolling my R’s. When your tongue is stuck to the roof of your mouth and you roll your R’s, spit shoots out the corners of your mouth like a water pistol. People started crossing the street to get away from me.
I think there’s a limit to the number of times you can say a word. Like the number of fertile eggs, you might run dry. My supply of “cat,” “eyes” and “entanglements” are dangerously low. Would you like a flyer? It’s a play about human spaghetti through the nostrils of a pigeon.
AUGUST 14 – ARTS BLOG FOR “THE SCOTSMAN”: BUT MAMA, WHAT IF? – Shivering against oncoming dark clouds, I scurry north onto Broughton Street headed to my home-away-from-home while at the Fringe. Another long day of flyering. I want to collapse on the sofa. Once again I admire a checkered table runner in a window of the John Lewis department store, cross St. James Place, pass the Police Box Coffee Bar (‘bagels and Philadelphia cheeze, amazing kool drinks’) and the closed Hotdog King cart. I glance at the sculptures in front of St. Mary’s Catholic Cathedral and again wonder what they signify. Two young boys climb on the giant bronze foot while a girl plays on the giant bronze hand adorned with grasshoppers and a mysterious miniature building.
A plaintive scree, scree, scree from the direction of the cathedral. At the top of the wide stone steps a baby gull is crying. She’s full size, as big as an adult, but clearly a youngster. She searches the sky. SCREE! SCREE! She paces back and forth. A stiff wind is starting up.
I climb the 17 steps and sit. The gull paces, approaches then veers away, then back toward me. An adult gull glides overhead. The youngster goes nuts, calling, pleading! The adult continues past without a glance, soaring toward Princes Street. I’m sure she’s sitting atop Wellington’s head watching for food scraps. She has done her job. She produced the baby, fed it, gave it adequate direction, then: You’re on your own, kiddo. It’s solo time. But Mama, what if I forget my lines? What if nobody comes? What if I get a bad review? What if I crash and burn?
The young gull teeters on the rim of the top step. She spreads her wings. A gust of wind catches them; she bobbles and chickens out but stays on the edge of the top step. She wants so badly to make it on her own. Slowly I inch down two steps. She eyes me, then hops down two steps. I go down two more, then two more. She follows each time. At the bottom I stand. The gull walks over to the giant bronze foot, hops onto the big toe, and turns to look at me.
It’s going to be okay.
AUGUST 14 – Note on Kickstarter from Wendy: Hi Everyone. Our interpreter, Catherine King, came and saw the show yesterday in preparation for tomorrow’s signed performance. She’s amazing. The performance will be signed in British Sign Language (BSL), but she explained how the characters of Larry and Angela will be signed with an American accent. Turbo the cat will be given a special sign name since it’s too cumbersome to spell it out all the time. If anyone is in Edinburgh (or you know anyone in Edinburgh) who wants to attend this performance, please let me know. Thank you so much for your support!
AUGUST 15 – ARTS BLOG FOR “THE SCOTSMAN”: THE PLAYWRIGHT AND THE DOG – Time: Yesterday. Place: Venue 53. Characters: Playwright, Dog
Dog: No fair!
Play: Tough shit.
Dog: People came to see me.
Play: You fell asleep!
Dog: Was there a reviewer?
Dog: Broadway Baby would find me captivating.
Play: You lay down center stage and started snoring. You missed your exit.
Dog: A delightful dream. Rabbits!
Play: You’re fired!
Dog: Lighten up. It’s the Fringe. Stuff happens.
Dog: (laughs:) Like you have a replacement waiting in the wings.
Play: I’ll write the dog character entirely out of the script.
Dog: People come for the dog.
Play: They come for the cat.
Dog: There isn’t a REAL cat.
(Dog stretches slowly, yawns, sits, lays down again.)
Dog: No skin off my nose. I have an audition for Ambien tomorrow. Better pay.
(Dog closes her eyes, naps. Playwright rewrites furiously. BLACKOUT.)
The world premiere of LISTEN! THE RIVER (without the dog) runs through August 25 at Venue 53.
AUGUST 16 – ARTS BLOG FOR “THE SCOTSMAN”: NO BOUNDS – Flyering today I talk to many people who are going home mid-week. They’ve explored Edinburgh, seen a few shows, downed a few beers and had themselves a nice wee vacation. The experience of the city is entirely different for Fringe participants. For many of us the world has shrunk into an area bounded by the half-price ticket booth, the bridge crossing from Princes Street up North Bridge across the Royal Mile to Nicholson, over to Fringe Central and the upside down purple cow Underbelly area along Potterrow. For shows in the Fringe, however, there are no bounds. None at all!
Some of what I’ve seen so far: Moon (a glorious choral story from Australia), Commedia dell’Arte Comes to Edinburgh (original masks on exhibit too), a Cockney comic who tackled the Free Fringe and escaped with his life, Dad Doesn’t Dance (charming solo show with movement from New York), and The Fantasist (which knocked my socks off). I’m dying to see All An Act (indiscrete clowns), Fragment (modern dance with a twist), The Awesome Show (quirky different), and many more. LISTEN! THE RIVER, my play about love, loss and new beginnings, provides another perspective on our old world. listentheriver.com
NOTE: Okay, this star business is out of control. The thing to do, apparently, is to make flashers (strips of paper with quotes from reviews and big stars indicating the number of stars in the reviews) to staple on the flyers to hand out. There is no indication of the level of importance or quality of where the stars came from. There are a huge miscellany of bloggers who give stars, places that take ads for shows then give those shows lots of stars, publications like Broadway Baby and Three Weeks that have hundreds of reviewers with little experience who scramble to cover all the Fringe shows, reviews that don’t match the number of stars given (I heard that higher-ups assign the stars while the stable of “reviewers” do the covering)… On up to The Scotsman, which is the premiere paper, akin to The New York Times. One group from New York blatantly tacked an additional star on their flashers that wasn’t there in the review. Who knows who else is doing that. Others have rows of giant stars, but look closely. They may have been given by somebody’s Great Aunt Minnie. The system sucks.
Yet people trying to decide what to get tickets for naturally use the stars for guidance. Can’t blame them. A flyer covered with flashers covered with stars? Looks good. We get a dumb review from Broadway Baby with two stars. The reviewer was about 12. He wanted Wendy to dress like a cat and prance around meowing. But then again, he hated the whole idea of the cat.
Trying our best to put this out of our minds. In fact, I am putting the entire star thing out of my mind. Our flashers say: Selectee for East to Edinburgh, NYC. (Three Weeks sent a bored looking boy to review us. They were so backed up the review never appeared. Probably just as well!)
AUGUST 17 – From Wendy, posted on the Kickstarter page: Thank you so much for making this happen! I’m sitting in the theatre lobby writing this, just a few minutes after the signed performance of the play. Catherine King, our interpreter, was brilliant. The stage is very small and she was right beside me, yet never once did it feel anything but an enhancement of the material/ performance. We didn’t rehearse together, yet I felt we were completely in sync. I’m having a difficult time expressing what an amazing experience it was for me as the actor. The audience loved it. Catherine is so talented. I probably should have waited a little while longer before I wrote this to try and gather my thoughts in a more coherent way, but I’m just so grateful to all of you for making this happen. It’s so important to enable as many people as possible to experience theatre and you guys did that. You rock!
AUGUST 18 – Email from Rosemary, from the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home: Hi Wendy and Robyn. Thought I’d let you know how much I enjoyed the show on Thursday. The show was incredibly well written and performed. The switching from one character took place effortlessly – which shows what a wonderful and talented actress Wendy is and how well written the script is to accommodate that and keep the storyline going.
It was at times funny, witty and thought-provoking while there was always that undercurrent of sadness which culminates in the very moving part towards the end. How true to life! Well done to you both and I wish you every success going forward with the show.
PS We’ve been handing out our own flyers for the show here at the Dog and Cat Home. Staff have taken them out with them to hand out too – we’re hoping that helps a bit. Good luck!
NOTE TO SELF: Stop watching every performance! You can’t continue to experience your sister’s death over and over like this. Stop. (I was totally exhausted at 3 p.m. after the performance every day. It took me a week to figure out that the emotional drain was translating itself to my body.)
AUGUST 19 – ARTS BLOG FOR “THE SCOTSMAN”: NIGHTMARE STARS – I had a nightmare about stars last night. In my apartment building people removed their names from their front doors and replaced them with rows of big black stars. The doors with five stars are on the most desirable, top-floor apartments. Four-star doors are mid-level; three stars are on the second floor. A three-star person mentions his status only if cornered or drunk.
On street level are the poor wretches with only two stars. Their doors are blank, but everybody knows. Two stars are boxed up and shipped to Mongolia or shoved under the bed. Two stars is akin to having bird flu. People are polite, but don’t ask them to lunch. In the basement there is a lonely man with one star. People walk around the block to avoid him.
Fives speak only to fives. Marriage occurs between fours and fives, but parents aren’t happy about it. When a four and a five have a child who turns out to be a two, the child is shipped off to boarding school as soon as possible.
Last week a woman was caught sticking a fake star onto her three-star door. Nobody said anything, but everybody knew. One couple practically covered their door with rows of four and five stars. The jig was up when others noticed that their stars were from places like “Audience Member” and “The Playwright’s Mother.” One unfortunate fellow was basking in the glory of his five-star apartment on Sunday, banished to the basement on Monday, only to be raised up to three-star level on Tuesday. He checked into a psych ward on Wednesday.
I walk toward my own front door, hopeful but terrified. How many stars are posted there? Who did it? Should I take them seriously? We don’t give out stars in the U.S. for live theater. I’m not at all sure I’m sold on the system.
LISTEN! THE RIVER has been featured in the Daily Mail, The Scotsman and The Herald as well as being chosen for the East to Edinburgh Festival in New York which adds up to at least 35 stars.
AUGUST 22 – ARTS BLOG FOR “THE SCOTSMAN”: CHAOS MANAGERS – There’s a lot of good stuff happening at the Fringe besides what’s on stage. I refuse to whine about the weather. I won’t fuss about flyering to the point of exhaustion or blisters or lack of sleep. I’ll tell people back home how incredibly organized the Fringe is. Organization in the midst of chaos. Tipping on the edge, but not going over. It makes for thrilling theater.
They must be running on some secret fuel — the media office, the ticket people, the receptionists… Everyone goes the extra mile to help us participants who are flapping around like chickens with our heads cut off. The people at Desk Central at Fringe Central don’t stop. Ten to eight every day during the Fringe, they’re buzzing around in the hive that’s the anchor here. Either they’re being paid a huge amount (which I doubt) or they’re selected not only for proficiency but for their good humor.
A team of six (all Scottish except for one from Nova Scotia) are charged with managing chaos. Harky, Katie, Claire, Becky, Katrina, and Alan — I nominate them for the Golden Trophy of Fabulousness. Scissors? Flash drive? Jammed stapler? Printer out of wack? They’re a six-headed mother looking after all of us. Never a cross word; never sending us to our rooms without supper. What do you mostly do here behind the desk, I ask Alan. “Eye up good-looking men,” Alan smiles. Katie smiles. “That’s what we all do. All except Harky.” The women (and Alan) say they wait all year for the wave of hot men that wash in with the Fringe. “The grass is always greener,” grunts Harky. Harky plays guitar and bass and needs to make money, he tells me. So he’s decided to work in theater. I keep a straight face and ask what’s the most interesting thing that happened today. So far, Harky says, it was when he told a girl that he couldn’t make a photocopy for her. She instantly burst into tears. He put an arm around her shoulders and made soothing noises.
Katie majored in maths at Edinburgh University. She plans to head to New York City to get a job. I tell her the job situation in the States right now isn’t good. She’s not discouraged. Claire is returning to Canada after the Fringe to teach kids about science. She confesses that yesterday the women got stoned on the fumes from boxes of new lanyards. Becky, a student at Edinburgh U. in English Literature, was laughing hysterically about a guy who asked them for a strimmer. A strimmer, she told me, is for cutting grass. Did he want one to cut flashers? Everyone doubles over with laughter. (Not fortified with lanyard-gas, I’m in the dark.) Katrina, in her last year in film, media and journalism at Sterling, found a large swatch of bubble wrap. The overworked Chaos Managers fell into a lanyard high frenzy of bubble wrap popping. (It was late in the day.)
I ask how they were hired for the job, really curious about how such very able people were found. I think the key is the face-to-face interviews where candidates have “a wee chat” with Fringe employers. Somebody has a very keen eye. They couldn’t have hired better people. Many thanks to everyone working in the Fringe. You rock!
Theatre review: Listen! The River, theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53), Edinburgh
By SALLY STOTT
Published on Monday 20 August 2012 17:14
ONE for all animal lovers, this is a sharply observed play that anyone who has owned a cat will really relate to. It’s also a moving account of bereavement, written by New York playwright Robin Rice Lichtig in memory of her sister. There have been many dramas dealing with the death of a pet, but in a well conceived twist here a pet, Turbo the cat, must deal with the death of his owner. Wendy Peace plays multiple characters, including Turbo, with understated warmth, avoiding cheesy feline impressions (and the gimmicky blue wig of her publicity picture) in favor of a simple, honest portrayal of two stories that could interconnect more, but are warmly told. When Turbo’s owner “Dear One” becomes ill he goes to live with her sister, and is occasionally cared for by a larger-than-life cat sitter whose girlfriend works at the vets and is getting over the death of their Great Dane. A vast industry of cat and dog paraphernalia – water fountains, outfits, tins of food named “chicken banquet” – is captured with wry humour in Rice Lichtig’s script. While there is inevitable sadness in what happens, fundamentally this is a celebration of the love we give our pets that they give us back.
AUGUST 20 – ARTS BLOG FOR “THE SCOTSMAN”: Published on Monday 20 August 2012 16:26
‘We Fringers look like the offspring of Heidi and a pack mule’ – Playwright Robin Rice Lichtig takes to the streets.
TODAY’S Edinburgh weather forecast: Light drizzle from 9-10am, then an hour of heavy rain, partly sunny,heading into noon, a downpour, then bright sun, then partly cloudy, sun again, before the temperature plummets and rain descends before dusk.
It’s easy to spot the natives. They’re the ones with no umbrellas, dressed as if it really is summer. We Fringers look like the offspring of Heidi and a pack mule. Layers of clothes are topped off with satchels, backpacks and bags for the paraphernalia needed to do what we need to do to get our shows noticed.
Right now, in my bag, are a stapler, a huge roll of tape, 20 posters, blue sticky stuff for postering, an extra pair of shoes for when my sneakers are sodden, extra socks, printouts of flashers and releases for reviewers, a hat (I’m sunburned in Edinburgh), a phone, two pads, several granola bars, an apple, giveaways (candy, backpacks), about 500 flyers and miscellaneous necessaries. I forgot the umbrella back at the flat today.
This morning a healthy-looking young woman with vermilion hair shows up at the half-price ticket pavilion with a stool and a sign: Ten-Minute Massages. I gaze at her strong hands with longing. “How much?” You donate what you want, she says with a sweet smile. I’ve rarely been so tempted. But the line of ticket-buyers is stretching out of the courtyard, down the walk toward the Scott Monument (despite the rain). In the line people thumb through Fringe catalogues, make notes, stare at the lighted list of shows with slightly dazed expressions. I have to work it. “Would you like a flyer for my show? It’s a new play – a world premiere.” Robin Rice Lichtig’s new play Listen! The River, is at theSpace @ Surgeons Hall, until 25 August.
AUGUST 29 – ARTS BLOG FOR “THE SCOTSMAN”: OVER AND OUT – Dateline: New York City. I’m home. Sun shining, my own bed, a quiet writing room. What’s not here is the need to flyer, the need to act cheery and sociable while flyering, the need to staple flashers on flyers, the need to walk miles uphill from my flat to The Royal Mile to flyer every day, the need to always carry an umbrella.
What’s with me now, two days after the plane headed west across the Atlantic (thank God with no delays), are a nasty head cold, jetlag and exhaustion. What’s not here are audiences with smiles on their lips and tears in their eyes; new friends asking how it’s going and offering candy and hugs; Fringe Central chaos managers and smoothie-latte-bacon-bagel makers smoothing over rough patches; Andrew in the Media Office with ever-ready encouragement; Danielle taking an hour out from changing gels and keeping order backstage to come to my play, lovely Scottish people with lovely smiles…
What’s not here are friendly pubs where we can sit without ordering anything as long as we like without being asked to leave; Tesco’s array of ready-to-eat meals; local ladies on busses who share life stories at the drop of a hat (no busses running on schedule here either for that matter). In Edinburgh there are flats-to-let with more care put into welcoming amenities than anything I’ve seen anywhere else in the world. They have haggis, neeps and tatties. Blood pudding too — but they understand “squeamish” and don’t push.
I longed for time to explore the wealth of second-hand clothing stores from North and South Bridge up along Nicholson. I want a week in Edinburgh just to do that, and several more weeks just to go to Fringe shows. There was no time!
In New York there’s a drug store on every block (sometimes two). When the head cold started closing in, I couldn’t find a drug store in Edinburgh. Everyone directed me to Napiers — “Herb and Plant Remedies since 1860.” The herbalist transferred liquid echinacea super plus from a glass bottle into two small plastic bottles to meet airline requirements and gave me and my husband gratis shots of something to ward off the notorious Fringe Flu.
I’m home with a fine review from The Scotsman. We didn’t have huge audiences, but they weren’t embarrassingly small either. There’s enough to give a decent check to the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home from ticket proceeds. I’m home. I survived the Edinburgh Fringe. Thank goodness I can stop subtracting 12 to know what time it is!
Over and out.
Robin Rice Lichtig
August 29, 2012
P.S. Two weeks later a letter arrived in my NYC mailbox from a Scotsman who came to my play in Edinburgh. LISTEN! THE RIVER had moved him to write two poems. I have never received higher praise!