The Edinburgh Fringe: students share their experiences

Arts and Culture editor Laszlo Szegedi talks to St Andrews students who participated in the Edinburgh Fringe last month, discussing their highs, lows and thoughts on Europe's biggest arts festival.

Photo: Grace Gathright

The Saint sat down with four students who shared their experiences from this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Joey Baker and Marykate Monaghan were involved in the play Pistorius: A Shakespearean Tragedy as actor and producer respectively, while Jess Hickman attended the Fringe as a visitor excited to see her friends onstage. Joel Moore also provides an account on his participation as a comedian.

The Saint: How did you learn about the Fringe for the first time, and what were your interests in going this year?

Marykate Monaghan: Being from the UK, I’d always hear about the Fringe, a bit like a folk tale. I’d hear how amazing it is, how the city turns into a theatre, and that was a big pushing feature for me to actually go and experience it myself. It is just like everyone says; it’s one of the best experiences I’ve ever had because there was so much theatre in every way you can imagine it. Think of walking in an alleyway, and there’s just someone doing a monologue. And everyone else is experiencing it with you, so it’s a big community getting involved in the arts in a city.

Jess Hickman: I heard about the Fringe when I was 14 and at school in the south of England. Some of my friends were performing there with their drama group, they came up and I didn’t get to see it… I’ve always wanted to come because they kept telling me the stories of what they got to see. This year my boyfriend and loads of my friends were in Pistorius. I stayed there for a few days, and the atmosphere was buzzing.”

Joel Moore: I first heard about it two years ago, I went with my friends from school. One of my other friends was doing a show there, and we ended up staying for a couple of days, watching about four shows per day. This year I helped produce a show with the St Andrews Revue, a sketch comedy group. My interest in the past was to see as much as possible, but this year it was much more about developing my show, getting the name out there.

TS: What was your experience with working on the show you were involved in?

MM: I was producer for Pistorius. The play takes a lot of influence from Macbeth, Hamlet, Othello, all these well-known tragic heroes. It kind of puts Oscar in their position, while Reeva is the mistreated female character, like Ophelia in Hamlet. We used these characters from real life and put them on theatre, which worked quite well at the Fringe, since people try out different techniques and ideas there. During producing I organised with the venue, transported the cast safe and sound and helped with the budgeting.

Joey Baker: I was an actor in Pistorius: A Shakespearean Tragedy. It’s about South African Olympian Oscar Pistorius, the murder of his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, and the subsequent trial performed entirely in Shakespearean language. I had a great time being on the Fringe and living with the whole cast, while also getting to know some new people. We received mixed reviews, but I was satisfied with the overall result.

JM: The St Andrews Revue performs about three or four shows in St Andrews and we go to the Fringe every year. We write our own sketches and fund them ourselves. It’s a great opportunity to be creative and try to be funny as much as we can.

TS: I assume you found time to watch other plays as well. Could you pick some highlights?

JM: This year I mainly saw sketch comedy. This year’s highlight would definitely be a group called Gein’s Family Giftshop. They do some really dark sketch comedy presented in a stream of consciousness with an interesting twist at the end.

JH: I’d pick This Is Not Culturally Significant. It starts off as really awkward and uncomfortable, you don’t really know what the man on stage is doing, everyone in the audience is giggling because they’re expecting something funny, but it’s not, it gets very dark. He did at least ten characters that he just snapped between. He did a setting where he was a cam girl, sitting and masturbating as a woman, while he was also the man watching her, a man named Dennis, then he also played Dennis’s wife, who had a hand tremor. Then he seamlessly became the cam girl’s father. It was amazing.

MM: A personal highlight when we were involved with Pistorius were our sell-out nights. The experience of counting down the seconds and waiting for the audience to come in was amazing. Out of the other plays I got to see, a standout for me was Mouthpiece, a Canadian theatre company’s play featuring two women with only a bathtub and a microphone on stage. It told the story of a woman coming to terms with her mother’s death. It also focused on how women are viewed in the media, in public, and how they have to give off a representation of a strong woman even in the worst of times.

TS: Based on people’s accounts of the Fringe, I can safely assume it is the right place to share your art beyond St Andrews, and address a larger audience. What do you think of this opportunity?

MM: The Fringe is the perfect opportunity for theatre lovers. There’s so much range to what you can watch. One minute, we were watching a Greek story played out with a lot of special effects and the next minute we were watching a comedy show, where you see all sorts of ridiculous things acted out — if you want to see a little bit of every genre, that is the right place to go. Since we have so many tragic events going on in the world, it is the perfect escapism for everyone.

JH: It’s great to get out of St Andrews to show other student groups what we’ve got. It’s essential to broaden our limits.

JB: I was surprised by how much good theatre there is in St Andrews. It’s definitely the right place for student plays, my top 10 was mainly a bunch of plays from the University. Blind Mirth and the St Andrews Revue were some of the funniest things I saw.

JM: It’s incredible provided that you’re the right person in the right place at the right time. If your show goes well, you can have up to a thousand people from all over the world watching your play. People surprise you with tweets about how much they loved your show. You get press coverage, both from students and professionals, and of course it’s a great opportunity to share your art with the world and take inspiration from others. My sketch group, for instance, met a lot of likeminded people.

TS: If you were to get involved in a project next year, what would your role of preference be?

MM: I’d go back at the drop of the hat. Even if I was asked to clean the stage, I’d say “Yeah, of course.” On a serious note, next time, I’d like to act. I would enjoy experiencing all of this again from a different perspective, this time from the stage.

JH: Directing would be ideal. I’d be happy to act as well. It would be great to be the one who knows ahead how she sees the story and share it with everyone else.

JB: If I had the chance to live with people I enjoy being with, I wouldn’t mind taking on any role. Even flyering on the Royal Mile — it’s grim, but if you’re doing it with people you like, it’s enjoyable.

JM: In the previous two years, my role has been spectator, but I always wanted to perform and help putting on a show. You see people putting on a show and you think, “I really want to be a part of this.” I’d love to put on a show again next year.

Next year’s Edinburgh Fringe will take place between 3 and 27 August. To all those interested, it is undeniably an ideal setting for addressing an audience beyond our bubble.


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