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In 2009, I went to the Old Vic New Voices’ “How To Make It At Edinburgh” event. Steam was coming off my pen as I ardently made notes of the wisdom and optimism of the key speakers and then, boom! I had my first thunderbolt moment: I should go up to Edinburgh in the character of my tutoring alter ego and offer audiences a one on one with myself, the modern-day Mary Poppins.
I started scribbling ideas down. Then came the second thunderbolt: how about creating a school and treating the audience like students, whizzing them through a day of silly school lessons?!
I could barely contain my excitement. I ran straight up to one of the Edinburgh reps and explained to her my genius idea. She liked it, gave me her card and told me to contact her the following Monday.
Somehow, I lost the card, and being terrible with names, I could not remember who she was. As time passed my excitement slowly dissipated and I lost focus. Well, in actual fact, I forgot about it, and spent the next week auditioning for the Microsoft Bing Commercials, which I was ultimately picked for. It was only after two years, upon returning to London from a horrendous home school assignment in deepest, darkest Georgia, that I decided it was time to finally make the show happen. But it was now January 2012 and I had only until 21 March to register. I had a good idea, but no venue, no team, no budget.
The converted hotel conference rooms offered in the Fringe Guide weren’t going to suffice. I needed a space I could turn into a school and let the audience’s imagination go wild. So I set about finding my own space. I rang up school after school, community centres, libraries, universities and offices. Half the time, I was met by Scottish consternation:
“So you want a stage?”
“No, it’s not quite like that. I’m looking for rooms.”
“No, no. No stages. You see, this is an interactive performance. There won’t be a stage. The teachers will be performing to the audience as if they are students in a classroom.”
“Oh no, sorry. We only deal with stages.”
Some loved the idea, but didn’t have the space; others quoted catastrophic hire fees and some never even got back to me. But after hours of exhausted translation, my iPhone about to explode, I had shortlisted ten different venues. I was particularly keen on a music school, which was offering their building for free! I knew then that this idea was possible.
However, having “suffered” this open-access arts festival four times previously, I was well aware of the perils of not housing the show with one of the “official” venues. Unless you are a community drama group, simply participating as a means to have fun, generally the main footfall and interest hover around shows presented by the big wigs, which include the Pleasance, the Assembly Rooms, the Gilded Balloon and the Underbelly. Unsurprisingly, they are more expensive and operate far tougher selection policies, normally based on them having seen your past work and liking it.
Regardless, I launched my embryonic idea at them. To my delight, although the concept of returning calls seemed alien to the Pleasance, the Assembly Rooms were interested. After meeting the head programmer of the Assembly Rooms, a certain Mr Michael Harris (definitely worth noting as he’s a lovely, talented chap), my show started to evolve. The show was culled from an idealised four-hour experience to a speedy hour and a half. The idea of having my show at the free music school was abandoned, as it was wisely pointed out that a 45-minute journey was asking a little too much from any audience.
But the work was not yet done. Time for registration was running out. I booked the night train up to the Scottish capital to peruse the potential venues for my “school”. Not realising that one needed to select a berth to actually sleep on a sleeper, I had an appalling ten-hour journey spent awake, listening to drunk students rate their sexual conquests. Shaking with tiredness, the day of back-to-back meetings dotted around the city was eased by the Scottish gem of a deep-fried Mars bar. In the end, I signed up to the first venue I had seen that day: Braidwood Community Centre, just behind the Pleasance Courtyard.
I had jumped ship. Due to the new location, I had to convince the Pleasance to get involved. To my surprise, they agreed immediately. All it took was an assertive phone call pointing out that I had done the hard work and merely needed the Pleasance to take the show under their auspices.
By 7 March, I had found my venue, signed up to the Pleasance and registered “Back to School” and “Back to School’s Disco” at the 2012 Edinburgh Festival.
Fifth time lucky? Let’s hope so.