JUST watched a documentary called The Actors Guide to Survival (yeah, the lack of apostrophe bothers me too), which I stumbled across the other day while thinking about how to promote my book, The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide.
If you are actually an actor looking for tips on survival, Mark Ashmore’s low-budget, fly-on-the-wall film will tell you virtually nothing. But if you are a performer wanting to get a sense of the chaos, desperation and exhilaration of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, then it’s definitely worth a look.
You get a sense of it in this YouTube video:
Ashmore followed actor and comedian Jody Kamali as he performed his show The Backpacker in 2007 (or maybe 2008; the documentary is not big on detail), following him backstage, observing the different audience reactions and charting his sometimes tense exchanges with director and techie. If you learned how to “survive and thrive” from this, I’d be impressed, but you will get a real flavour of the intensity, passion and gung-ho spirit that the Fringe cultivates.
I found lots of it very funny, but that might because of my love of Annie Griffin’s 2005 movie Festival, which is also set on the Edinburgh Fringe. Some of this feels like Griffin’s out-takes or like something Christopher Guest might have done as a spoof. You can never quite tell if Kamali’s show is brilliant or awful, which is kind of appropriate: isn’t that exactly how it feels for every actor as they arrive full of hope in the first week of the world’s biggest festival?
Also valuable for the would-be Fringe performer are Ashmore’s scene-setting sequences in which Glasgow actor Vivien Taylor accosts performers, directors and producers on the Royal Mile as they publicise their shows. Some of them have useful tips to share, especially in the extended interviews included in the DVD extras. But rather than offering straight advice, the footage works best as a taster of Edinburgh at festival time. There’s no substitute for the real thing, but this gives some pointers about what you’ve got in store.
It’s nice that the documentary focuses not on the big success stories and the famous names, but on the average performer doing their best to be heard above the hubbub. Most of them have that special shell-shocked look that the Fringe generates. It accompanies the feeling of tremendous excitement and tremendous exhaustion, a sense that even if you’re not enjoying it right this minute, you’ll look back at it one day and think it was the most amazing time of your life.
So well worth picking up for a tenner off Amazon or direct from the filmmaker for even less – not so much because it teaches you a lesson but because it gives you a bit of a warning.