Friday, August 31, 2012

Flower of Scotland

After a sleepless night, one canceled layover, and several delays, I am home at last. Well, one home anyway. I have officially bid adieu to Edinburgh, my home for the past two months, to return to my base in Philadelphia. But even this journey is short lived; in a few short weeks I return to my other home in Evanston as I resume my studies at Northwestern. A nomad's rest never lasts for long. 

To say this summer has been the time of my life does not do the experience justice. There are times in our lives that we can look back on, particular fragments of our history, of journeys we have taken, that we can pinpoint as life changing; my time in Edinburgh has been all that and more. I have learned so much about about business in the arts, the Fringe Festival, networking, and etc. I've learned about myself, about my capabilities outsides the performance space, and my abilities to utilize my perspective as a performer to navigate the other sectors of the arts industry. And I've been to a kaylee. But of all the lessons I've learned in Edinburgh, I suppose the greatest lesson I've learned from this whole experience is about love.

 I fell in love with Edinburgh, just as I fell in love with Beijing four years ago. While this love only served to enhance my experience while I was in Edinburgh, it broke my heart when it came time to leave. The last thing I wanted was to be parted from this city, to be presented with the uncertainty of my ever returning. For you can never truly return to the same place twice; what if, if I should be so fortunate as to return, I came back to Edinburgh and it wasn't the city I remembered it to be? How can you face leaving a place, leaving what you love, with the full knowledge that it can never truly be as it was? 

I didn't sleep the night before my flight (I never sleep before I fly). And after I'd finished packing and tiding up my room, I still had an hour left to myself before I needed to get ready to leave the flat. I spent that hour watching the sun rise over Edinburgh. I watched the city stretch and unfurl itself from it's short slumber, coaxed out by the brilliance of that sunrise against my lovingly familiar grey skies. In that moment, my fears and my trepidations slipped away. I realized something; once you love something or someone, you can never truly be separated from it. To love  is both the most selfish and selfless act a human being can perform. It is selfish because we take something away and we keep it for ourselves. It is selfless because we also give away a part of ourselves, knowing full well we can never have it back. Such is the nature of my love for Edinburgh. For two months the city haa given me more than I could ever ask for and I gratefully and willingly soaked up every opportunity and adventure the city has offered. But it would seem, over the course of my great adventure, I have left a little part of myself in Edinburgh, some portion of my heart that will forever belong to the summer I have spent there.

The second morning I was home in Philadelphia I was about to go for a run when I realized that there was dirt caked all over my sneakers. The last time I had gone running was by my secret river in Edinburgh. It had been a particularly wet day and I had to slosh through all the mud and the puddles. But, instead of seeing just dirty sneakers, I saw a little piece of Edinburgh. Now dirt is still dirt, even if it is from Scotland, and it's not exactly the sort of thing you want to keep on your sneakers. So I did the only thing a runner can do when they have dirty sneakers; I ran. 

I ran through the dust at the bottom of my back porch, through the wilting lawns around my neighborhood, through the mulch laid down by the gardeners of a local university, all the way to my native secret river. As I ran the dirt fell off, some on a bit of lawn, some by the flowers, with the very last bits of it flaking off onto the banks of my river, all of it mixing together, seamlessly blending one soil with the next. And as i stood on the bank of that river, once again covering the soles of my sneakers with some familiar mud, I understood. This is who I am. I am a composite of dirt. I am an amalgamation of all the people I've encountered, all the places I've traveled, all the dirt I've carried. These adventures, while each with their own unique set of stories, do not attempt to separate or be sifted apart from one another. Instead, these stories come together to form one person's journey, my journey. And it is a journey that has only just begun. 

Thank you all so much for reading this blog. Once again, I cannot thank the women of the WEAA enough for sponsoring me, without them this trip could not have happened. And to all have you who have read this blog and taken this journey with me, I thank you from the bottom of my heart. I only hope you enjoyed reading about my adventures as much as I enjoyed having them. With this my last post about Edinburgh, I am going to take a hiatus from blog writing for the rest of the academic year. But I doubt this will be my lost post ever, for I intend on having many, many more adventures over the course of my life and, should you all want to, I would be honored once more to have you all along for the ride. 

Please feel free to leave any comments or to send me an email with regards to your thoughts about the blog and any improvements for future consideration.

Thank you all so much and I wish you safe travels on all of your wanderings. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Ancient Rosslyn

I think, perhaps, the only thing harder than saying goodbye is having to do it in stages. That is how I now find myself having to say goodbye to these people, this country, this unforgettable summer. It's not a sudden shift, one day here and the next day gone, but rather it comes in waves of bittersweet parting. 

My first goodbyes were to my internship. It's such a strange concept, saying goodbye to someone you have seen everyday for thirty days straight, without fail. I could not have wished for a better supervisor or a better internship. It was so much more then just a fabulous work experience, it was a unforgettable life enhancing experience. I gained so much insight and knowledge not only about the inner workings of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and arts management but about myself as well. But one of the last few things my supervisor did for me was, in the final days of my internship, re-introduce me to Edinburgh. 

It's funny, even when you're only in a place for a short while (i.e. two months) you can find yourself becoming overly accustomed to your surroundings. More often than not, in the process of developing our rhythms and routines, we can lose some of the wonder and awe that fills us when we first discover a new place. Though I never felt out of charm with Edinburgh, I was beginning to become a bit used to it. I believed that I was familiar with the city to the point that there were few, if any, secrets I had left to discover. Well, here's the grand lesson I've learned; any place, whether it be a town of 2,000 or a city of 2 million, always has more to see and discover then any person could possibly perceive. 

Inspired by the convenience of location and scheduling, my supervisor decided we ought to go on an impromptu trip to see Rosslyn Chapel. Rosslyn Chapel lies about 15 min (or less) outside the city of Edinburgh. Though Rosslyn Chapel has been a popular tourist attraction for many years, it is most recently famous for serving as the scene of the climax in Dan Brown's world wide best selling novel, The Da Vinci code. While I cannot confirm or deny Brown's implications about Mary Magdalene being buried beneath the chapel, I cannot fault him for desperately wanting it to be so. There is a hallowedness to that place that transcends religion. To me, it's holiness lies not in it's associations with God but with man. The Chapel is a testament to the artistry and ingenuity of man kind. There is not a square inch of that building that is not laden with layer upon layer of stony symbolism. Every crevice has a purpose, an intention. In fact, more often than not, it has more than one.

Aside from the obviousness that is Rossyln's beauty, that was the other thing I loved so much about the place; it fluidity and ability to be open to so many different interpretations. The complexity of Rosslyn's  architectural designs don't lend themselves to just one function or to just one truth, instead they have many. The famous green man carvings highlight are an example of the dimensionality of the Chapel. The image of a man emerging from the leaves is one of the most famous carving in the entirety of the Chapel. But no one's exactly sure what the carving is supposed to represent. Many assume it's a hidden homage to paganism and the worship of nature. Others believe that the image is a reference to the biblical story of Adam and his son, Seth. There are countless other theories, almost as many as there are depictions of the green man (according to the guide there were 120 at the last count.) I find there to be a kind of beauty and equality in Rosslyn's secrecy and uncertainty; there's simply so much there and so much we don't know about the Chapel that no one can ever be entirely right or wrong. 

A pink and brown sandstone exterior, dappled grey rock on the interior, set against the lush green of the beginning of the highlands, Rossyln serves as a monument to the Edinburgh I first fell in love with eight short weeks ago. This is not a country or terrain where survival is for the weak of heart, and the wear and tear on the Chapel attests to this sentiment. But the Chape is also demonstrative of the real magic of this place; unexpected wonder. Rosslyn lies at the end of a road, on the outskirts of a town, which is already on the outskirts of Edinburgh. If you didn't know where to look, you might never even know it was there. But that's Edinburgh's draw and a lesson I'm glad I relearned during my last few days here; there's something beautiful waiting to be explored and discovered where ever you go, you just have to take the time to look.

The time is drawing near to leave not only my fringe family but Edinburgh itself. But while we still have a few precious hours left together, I'm going to savor them and discover as much as I still can,until the absolute last possible second. 

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

What's My Age Again?

I consider myself very fortunate in the fact that I am often considered to be very mature, thereby leading most people to assume I'm older than I actually am and treating me as such. But, if pressed for specifics, I will reveal just how old I really am. I don't volunteer the number if unsolicited but I never lie about my age. The only reason I ever hesitate to mention it is because, more often than not, in spite of my conduct, the way I present myself, and any other interaction that indicates my professionalism and maturity, people hear a number and suddenly attribute and place on me all the connotations that are associated with it. It's can be an unfortunate circumstance to find one's self in. 

Recently, several people who hadn't previously known, found out how old I was. Though they all shared surprise at the number, their overall reactions varied greatly. One couldn't have cared less, they let the evidence speak for itself and, until I proved otherwise, I was an equal regardless of age. However, that was not the case with another one of them. Much to my chagrin, they were instantly taken aback and unsettled. Their entire manner of communicating with me altered. 

This is a phenomena that can occur to anyone--sometimes all anyone can see is a number. But people are so much more than their age--they are their life experiences. A number isn't a guarantee; some people have experienced more loss and heartbreak at 17 than others have in 80 years. I have meet children that were more mature and more of an adult longer than most of the adults I know. The work I've witnessed this week at the Fringe only goes on to confirm this.

I've seen some brilliant pieces of theater in the past seven or so days, truly spectacular stuff. But the brilliant performances I've witnessed don't belong to one nationality, one genre, and they certainly don't belong to one age demographic. One of the best pieces of theatre I've ever seen, let alone one of the best shows currently at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, is a South African Theater Company's adaptation of Mies Julie. I've seen about 5 different adaptations of the play Miss Julie by August Strindberg, never before have I seen such a nuanced and innovative interpretation of the text. The two young actors in the principal roles ought to be immensely proud of what they've accomplished on that stage. It's the kind of show that draws you in, that makes the material so terrifyingly relatable, that, when the show is over, you need a few moments to recover yourself, to come to terms with what you've just been exposed to onstage and what it's just revealed you about yourself. 

On the other side of the spectrum, I also saw two fabulous one-man shows this past week. One was a terrific production about Churchill's life. It was one of the loveliest pieces I've seen at the Fringe. Churchill so often comes across as this bull dog of a man, respected but not quite loved. But this play chose to highlight his humanity; his difficult relationships with his parents, his love and devotion to his wife, and the burdens that are the price paid by any great leader of men. At one point during the show, Churchill is discussing his failed navy campaign at the Battle of Gallipoli during WWI. He was the leader of the navy and under his watch 45,00 men died. He says "Can you imagine how many brothers and sisters, how many mothers and fathers, how many people lost someone that day? And they all hated me for it." The most heartbreaking thing is that he doesn't blame them for that hatred, for that blame rather, he accepts it. But he also accepts the fact that great men must make the decisions the no one one else can or will. And he most bear those decisions and their consequences. 

The other brilliant show I saw was Guy Masterson's one man show The Half. The half is about the 35 minutes before an actor's comeback in a one man production of Hamlet (in which he plays all the characters). This unnamed actor was once considered the rising star of the stage but lost everything, including his marriage, as he spent twenty years as an alcoholic. But this is his chance, his moment to make up for it all; for the friends and relationships lost, for the opportunities squandered, and for all the self hate he's had to live with. In his mind's eye, if this show is successful, it means he did good, that his life mattered. But over the course of the show, his old demons come out to haunt him, particularly those regarding the age at which he is trying to make his come back. In one fabulous and fluid monologue he goes from calling himself a  "well seasoned actor" to ridiculing his attempts to play a Hamlet, a mere boy of twenty.

But talent is not limited by age or nationality or training---we are all capable of great art. Age is not a hindrance to talent or intellect or worth. The best and the brightest and the most wonderful human beings in this world do not belong to any specific age group; they are as diverse in their ages as they are in their life experiences.A human being, the measure of a person's life, is and ought to be more than a number. At the end of the day, it's not the number of years you've lived, it's how you've lived them.

Friday, August 10, 2012

Oh Bhoy

I have learned so much at the Fringe. On a practical level I've learned to edit proposal, to write press release, and to create script review. I've learned how to adapt to a crisis situation and how to social network regardless of time or place. I've learned how to talk to people, as well as how to listen.  But one of the most vital lessons I've learned has been about balance.

(Ecstatically waiting for Danny Bhoy's show to begin)

Earlier this week I got to see one of my all time favorite stand up comedians, Danny Bhoy. I have been excited about the potential of seeing Danny Bhoy even before I was accepted into this program. I think he's wickedly funny and, since he never-ever-ever comes to America, I was thrilled at the chance to get to see him live. And the show was absolutely wonderful. Not only did I get to sit second row center but Bhoy's comedy was just spot on. As I left the theater, I could not keep myself from smiling. Later that evening, however, I wondered at the worth of that smile. 

Without using names, one of the shows my company represents is a dance troupe from Zimbabwe. On the same night of the Danny Bhoy show, I ended up having dinner with my boss and the leader of this troupe. And over the course of our meal together, I was reminded of why it is I do what I do.

The majority of the shows at the Fringe Festival don't make a profit, that's just the nature of the game. Instead, shows look to use the Fringe as a jumping off point for booking a tour or securing some other form of sustainable, steady income. Even artists have to pay rent. Thus, though most shows lose money, they find promoters to support their time at the Fringe in the hopes of capitalizing on it at some later point in time. Some shows, however, don't have this luxury. 

This Zimbabwe dance troupe isn't here because any one paid for them to fly and rent a venue space, they are completely and totally here of their own means.  When someone asks who paid for them to get here, they simply say "We did." This group spends the rest of the 11 months of the year working and saving and borrowing from friends and family, just to get to the Fringe Festival each August. For one month every year, they leave behind everything that is precious to them, to share what they love to do with the rest of the world. And their experience here is no picnic. Further out of town than even most of the out of townsfolk, it takes them over an hour everyday to arrive in Edinburgh. Even then, they have to arrive hours ahead of their show so they can flyer for a few hours before hand. And, when their extremely fast paced and physical dance show is over, they'll spend a few more hours flying before making the long journey back to the hostel where they are staying. They must endure immovable and harsh governments (on both sides), exhausting schedules, and the unfortunately- more - than- occasional- ignorant person.

But you would never know it from their performance. There is such a sense of joy, of loving life in their dance, that you can't help but smile to watch them perform. I've seen them change the atmosphere of the room with their dancing and their smiles. And it's because they hold onto those precious tenants of artistic integrity and basic humanity that we are all to apt to forget; they are here because they want to be here. They scrimped and fought to get to the Fringe so powerful is their love for what they do and their investment in sharing that passion with the rest of the world. 

As I sat listening to this man describe how much he and friends go through to get here and how much it means for them to be here, I couldn't help but feeling like a complete and utter schmuck for being so invested and excited in see a big name comedian like Danny Bhoy. I felt ashamed of my earlier joy. As an audience member, as an artist, don't I owe it to my craft to support the underdog? What am I doing in a big name venue, watching such a big name star? I took time of work to pay to see a show, they take time off from their steady jobs to pay to perform for others. At that moment I felt incredibly selfish.

But here's the ultimate conclusion I've come to; sometimes it's ok to be selfish. The challenge of our lives is to find the balance between selfishness and selflessness. Going to see Danny Bhoy was a completely self indulgent excursion. But it was ok to have that indulgence and it was more than ok to have a good time. Doing something for yourself does not make you a bad person, it makes you sane. We are allowed to be the providers of our own moments of happiness.  But in those moments, we have to remember how extremely special that joy is. We have to remember how hard people fight and struggle to attain their own snippets of joy. And we have to honor that. So take your moment for yourself. But there are two conditions. First of all, when you decide to indulge yourself, enjoy it. Happiness is an impermanent state of being, savor it while you can.  The second thing you have to do is just as important as the first. When your moment of positive selfishness is over, remember the billions of other people out there who didn't get to partake in that luxury. Remember them and, if you can, and I believe we all can, spend some moments of selflessness trying to help another person get to their own moment of positive selfishness. When that happens, when you do that for just one other person, just one, that's when you really learn what happiness feels like. 

Saturday, August 4, 2012

And They're Off!

And so it begins…

Today marks the opening day of the 2012 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. 

The truth of the matter, however, is that the Fringe started two days. While August 3rd remains the official opening day of the Fringe, it all comes to life earlier than that. On August 1st it's the performers, not the soon-to-be audience members, that descend upon the city. A sense of orchestrated chaos fills the streets as performers from all over the world rush around Edinburgh trying to find their rental flats, their performance spaces, and the nearest all night kebab stand (all extremely integral pieces of information for any Fringe participant). August 2nd is preview day, the last big game of pre-season, so to speak. For some, it's a final chance to polish and refine their pieces and to adjust as necessary to a new environment. But for others there is no preview night, as audience members and reviewers fill the house in an effort to beat the crows come mid festival. This is how August 2nd finds itself the unofficial first night of the Fringe. 

From a promoter/production company standpoint (that's the type of organization I intern with) it's been exhilarating to see the infusion of life and excitement that comes to Edinburgh the closer it gets to Festival time. 

It seems like overnight that venues have appeared all over the city. Anything that can hold people has become a performance space. And I literally mean anything. The Fringe hosts over 2200 different acts. Since there are not 2200 traditional theater spaces in Edinburgh (though, to their credit, there are quite a few) one of the best part of the Fringe is the use and creation of unconventional theater spaces.  The theater as a physical space is often treated as a very hallowed and sacred place, so it's particularly interesting to watch people turn parks, abandoned apartments, shops, restaurants, and any other previously unassuming and everyday spaces into arena that carries the same weight and maintains the same aura as any other theatrical auditorium. It's very much a reflection of the principle of the Fringe; if you want to and are able to perform there, than it's a theater space. 

But in all this glorious madness, with all this influx of new, global talent, a question has been raised; what about the other artists, the ones who are here all year round and are not a part of the festival? When the Fringe comes to town, what happens to them?

I've said it many a time but the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a one of a kind event. And the Edinburgh Festival (something other than the fringe--Edinburgh Festival is an organization composed of the 12 festivals that take place in Edinburgh throughout the year) truly makes Edinburgh the festival capital of the world. The fringe provides a platform for people from all over the globe to come and perform and to share. Yet, some would argue, that that platform is created at the expense of local Edinburgh artists. The issue is, that when the Fringe comes to town, if you're an artist and you're not a part of it, you are essentially treated as if you don't matter. It's an issue the Fringe has to confront and adapt to on a yearly basis; the conflict between creating a global platform and the local people that run the risk of getting plastered over in the construction process. It's a very tricky balance; ultimately the purpose of the Fringe is to create a free forum of artistic expression. But it is still very much a controlled forum in the sense that if you don't sign up and inform the right people and reserve your space---well then you're not considered to be a part of the Fringe. And even though the Fringe takes place in Edinburgh, it is very clearly a global event, not just a Scottish one. So how you do it? How do you balance the needs of the local community with the mission statement of an international event?

I do believe that this year marks a step in the right direction. They're calling this Fringe the year of Creative Scotland. Creative Scotland is organization designed to foster and support the arts in Edinburgh. This year, they have partnered with the Fringe to create a whole series of events highlighting the talents of established, as well as up and coming Scottish artists. Now the Fringe doesn't promote these events more than any others, it just helps with the logistics of establishing and coordinating the events. This allows the Fringe to avoid favoritism while still providing a mechanism for fostering positive relationships with local artists. For the truth of the matter is, you can't create a successful international artistic environment if you don't first create a welcoming space for the community from which it all originated.  

On a complete sidenote, I love that as I write this I get to have the Olympics on in the background. It's so wonderfully exciting : ) If you have the time, you really ought to watch it. It doesn't matter the event, in fact, it's better the less you know about the sport. In the past few days I've discovered just how intense Olympic kayaking can be. I know we all have extremely, extremely busy lives. But it's the Olympics, it only happens once. I say once because you never really experience the Olympics the same way twice, each one is unique onto itself. Even just by tuning in for a few moments, you get to take part in something that will never happen again. That is pretty amazing. At least I think it is.