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The daredevil life of the Fringe dweller


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The Adelaide Fringe is upon us and with it comes another epidemic of Garland-Rooney disease.  You know the symptoms – that itch that won’t go away until you finally get your friends together and decide: “Hey let’s put on a show in the barn!  Yaaaaaay!”

Why? You may well ask.  There’s certainly little or no money in it.  It would be much more lucrative to grow a hydroponic crop in the barn.  But, hey, where’s the fun in that?

Having performed in comedy festivals, seniors festivals and the Melbourne, Adelaide and Edinburgh Fringe festivals, I’ve put on lots of shows in barns. Of course, it’s not necessary to be part of a festival to put on a show, but it’s much more fun than doing it at normal times. Festivals take over a city; they’re a visible physical presence of something happening – from the banners, to the tents, to the parade, to the street performers you cross the road to avoid.

And audiences throw caution to the wind and discover their inner-daredevil – they take risks with shows, often taking in two or three a night, which don’t necessarily star someone from the TV.  For performers, there’s the camaraderie of other optimists who’ve had 10,000 flyers printed and hocked their grandmother’s engagement ring for the theatre deposit, and who feel that this time they might be “discovered”.

And that feeling is not without precedent.  The Adelaide Fringe has provided a leg-up for many performers – not to mention a leg over, but that’s another story!  It attracts producers from all around the world actively looking for shows for their venues and festivals.

After a huge season of my show Alzheimer’s the Musical: A Night to Remember! at the 2012 Adelaide Fringe, we were invited to perform at the Gilded Balloon during the Edinburgh Fringe.  The cast (Carole Yelland, Lyn Shakespeare and I) had each just turned 60, so we decided, what the hell!  What better way to celebrate that milestone than by taking a show to the Edinburgh Fringe?  Isn’t that what all sexagenarians do?

When I first performed in Edinburgh in 1979 – yes, I did claim to be back by popular demand! – there were “only” 600 shows in the Fringe and I thought that was insane.

We’d heard the horror stories about the average Edinburgh Fringe audience being five.  And you can see why, with nearly 3000 shows, headline performers like Simon Callow, Julian Sands and Ruby Wax, plus the usual suspects of stand-up comedy, plus the official Festival, plus the Tattoo. What hope did we have to attract attention?

Fortunately for us, Gilded Balloon is such an iconic venue that audiences were willing to take a punt on performers there.  We had numerous sold-out shows across the four-week season, with people literally hanging from the rafters.  Audiences were shoehorned into every available space.  It was quite unnerving at first to look up at faces peering over the balcony directly above the stage, but we got used to it.

It was exhausting, exhilarating and nerve-wracking.  Especially with the 15-minute turn-around between shows.  On opening night we were still pulling on wigs and zipping up frocks as we dashed onto the stage.  But by the end of the run we were reading War and Peace every night waiting for the cue!

When I first performed in Edinburgh in 1979 – yes, I did claim to be back by popular demand! – there were “only” 600 shows in the Fringe and I thought that was insane.  I remember handing out flyers standing next to a nice young New Zealand chap who was promoting a show he’d written and directed with Rowan Atkinson.  Richard Curtis was his name.  I wonder whatever happened to them …

Our show, Errol Flynn’s Great Big Adventure Book for Boys by Rob George, was on at 10pm – necessitating a mad dash to the pub if we wanted a warm flat beer before they called “Time please”. Thankfully, this time we were on at 5pm, so there was plenty of time for a post-show tipple.  And you can even get a nice cold shandy in Edinburgh these days.

And, yes, I have another show in this year’s Adelaide Fringe. Another year older, but obviously no wiser, otherwise I’d be content to settle down in front of Midsomer Murders with a mug of Milo and a Tim-Tam.   But no, I’m addicted to putting on a show in the barn!  And as there’s no known cure for Garland-Rooney disease, that’s what we Fringe tragics will keep on doing.

Ada & Elsie: Wacko-the-Diddle-Oh! by Maureen Sherlock, directed by Rob George, starring Carole Yelland, Malcolm Hansford and Maureen Sherlock, is on at the Capri Theatre from February 18 to 22 at 7pm. Featuring comedy, music and drama, the show is a celebration of Australia’s first female comedy duo, Ada & Elsie, who were a top-rating act on radio in the 1940s and ’50s

More Adelaide Fringe stories:

Outback Homosexual Serial Killer

Jamie MacDowell & Tom Thum

Bitch Boxer

Naked Girls Reading in the Garden

Boris & Sergey’s Vaudevillian Adventure

Albert Einstein: Relativitively Speaking

Record line-up for 2014 Fringe

Fringe ambassador Katie Noonan




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