New acts on performing at the Fringe for the first time

Drag act Denim. Picture: contributed
Drag act Denim. Picture: contributed
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THERE’S a first time for everything - Kate Copstick talks to some performers who are experiencing the thrill of the new.

A fringe should be about trying the new, about giving it a go, about edginess – the clue is in the definition of the word.

Jan Ravens who is going solo with her show 'Difficult Woman'. Picture: Contributed

Jan Ravens who is going solo with her show 'Difficult Woman'. Picture: Contributed

But with an entity as vast as the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, we cannot all be on the edge and the visceral thrill (and/or terror) as you pop your Fringe cherry is an experience consigned to memory almost as it happens.

But the experience of being a Fringe Virgin is never to be forgotten. Among the fresh meat being gobbled up by Edinburgh this year is Denim, a fabulous quintet of amazing voices and pointed comedy led by Iraqi Moslem drag queen Glamrou.

“It’s been truly wonderful coming to the Fringe and performing our show to new audiences every single night,” she says.

“Part of the Denim philosophy is to not preach to the converted, and to make drag accessible to those who might not feel that it is their thing. Almost every night we have had packed houses, and the audiences are comprised of those who love drag, those who love comedy, those who love theatre, cabaret, or even straight white men who have been dragged to the show by their wives. Watching them collectively engage with the show and feel part of it is a joy.

I did find writing the show quite scary … but so many women have come up to me afterwards and told me how much of what I’m talking about chimes in with their experiences

“Of course, it’s hard here too – two-and-a- half hours of make-up every day, lonely days where we look like drag embryos with no facial hair and foundation on faces still, and it’s intense putting yourself out there emotionally every night , but it’s worth it, and I can genuinely say that doing the show every night gets me out of bed, and is the happiest part of the day.”

Most people settle into their groove, coming up year after year to “their” audience doing “their” thing. Especially those who are involved in the big success stories here. The lure of the Sold Out sign keeps many from straying too far from the herd. But some, the brave, go looking for another Fringe cherry to pop. Out in the big bad Fringeworld outside their comfort zones.

Jan Ravens is no newbie to the Fringe, or to Fringe success, but this time, for the first time, she is flying solo.

“There’s quite a sense of camaraderie in doing a solo show at Edinburgh. So many people are doing it,” she says.

Trygve Wakenshaw with his son and co-star. Picture: contributed

Trygve Wakenshaw with his son and co-star. Picture: contributed

“In my venue at the Gilded Balloon Dining Room, the acts before and after me are solo; Ben Hart the amazing magician before, and Mark Forward the hysterical comedian afterwards. So we have a kind of ‘big up’ as we hand over the baton.

“The great thing about doing a solo hour is that you can take the audience into your world, or at least your world-view. When I’m on a bill with other comics, I find it quite hard to initiate that gear change necessary to get people on your wavelength.

“I did find writing the show quite scary. I knew I wanted to do more than just impressions and I was concerned that audiences wouldn’t go with that. But so many women have come up to me afterwards and told me how much of what I’m talking about chimes in with their experiences.

“I feel very supported, actually. The Dead Ringers writers contributed some fantastic material, the technical crew have been great, I have so many mates up here and my director, Marcus Mortimer, has been amazing. My son Alfie [Brown] is also up here doing a work in progress and he could not have been more encouraging. When I decided to do the show, I knew it would mean having butterflies for several months beforehand. But it has been so worth it!”

All performers have their egos, and, after having the stage – and the glory – to yourself, your first experience as a double act can be difficult. Especially if the other half of the double act is your baby. But Trygve Wakenshaw seems to be coping incredibly well on his double-act debut

“It’s a double-edged sword, with both edges cutting my ego to shreds. It’s just a good thing he can’t write yet otherwise you would have asked him to answer these questions while I sat in the shadows and looked on. The kid is a star.”

There is, according to Dad, no rivalry between the two : “No way. Only love.” he says “No time for rivalry when you’re trying to prevent him from diving headfirst into the audience”.

So is the double act going to continue after the Fringe?

“We’re not sure. We are getting offers to tour the show, but even in the two weeks we’ve been performing it he has grown so much. If it does tour it will be quite a different show I think.” And next year ? “I’ll be back on the stage. He’ll be stomping around in the puddles in the Meadows. I don’t think we will make another show together unless he asks me to be in his show.”

The saying goes those who can do, those who can’t teach, those who don’t even do that, criticise. So surely the most terrifying leap must be from the safety of being one of those giving the stars to one waiting to receive them.

Robert Dawson Scott was once the arts editor of this very newspaper. This year his own play Assessment is fighting for column inches and audience and Robert is tasting life flyering on the Royal Mile for the first time.

“It’s all about the lanyards really. Orange lanyard and it’s, step this way, Sir, please come and see our humble little show, Sir, sold out show, Sir? No problem I’ll walk you in Sir, and perhaps a refreshing drink not at the normally usurious prices afterwards? Or maybe my first born child? Blue lanyard, the same only with more numbers and spreadsheets. And dates. Black lanyard? Pfft, I’m busy.

“Not that I expected much. I’ve reported long enough on how tough it is, what a risk it all is, what a rip-off Edinburgh is to everyone except the artists, how no-one in their right minds would ever do it, how nobody asked you to come. Or me.

“And yet here I am. No-one can say I didn’t warn myself. And it is dizzying. Hammering through that two minute tech. Waiting to see if anyone turns up. Waiting for those reviews. Do it again? You must be joking. But then again, if we had less of that and more of this and if …”