I learned early on in my time working for Christopher Richardson, founder of the Pleasance, of the need to take swift action if there is a problem. It is no use believing your flyer is not working and still circulating it. It is no use realising your show needs 5 mins cut out of it and still overrunning. And it is no use realising that your lighting design is not good and just hoping no-one notices.
The Fringe has a massive churn of audiences and every day is both a first night and a press night. It also might be the time your cast is most hung over or croaky – but somehow you have to pull the goods out of the bag and give a sparkling performance. You don’t know who is in the house – even if it is just the one person.
Yesterday I was in a packed house for an Arts Council England funded company presenting their wonderfully performed and written show in one of our prime venues in Edinburgh. It was also the signed performance and so ideal for someone like me who relies on a bit of lip reading and maybe even a quick look at the signer to get the full meaning of a speech.
For this show the lighting was some of the worst I’ve seen in professional theatre for a long time. I hope something went wrong with the board and that most of the lights were, for some reason, not working. I suspect it was a moody design from someone who has a passion for lighting feet. The best lit person throughout was the signer. Actors were walking in and out of light as they passed through black spots liberally scattered across the front of the stage. At one point an actor was sitting delivering important material in solid darkness whilst another section of the stage was brightly lit. I hardly ever saw faces enough to really hear the detail. This was an immense shame because the diction of the actors was phenomenal and the material was powerful.
So the company and theatre have three choices: (a) ignore my direct email to them and presume I was alone in finding it a challenge [and indeed I may have been the only one with a problem, I guess]. (b) tell each other that they will fix it when it transfers to London or goes off on national tour. Or (c) work with the venue to find 45 minutes in the schedule when they can reprogramme some lights, and bring into the mix a fully functional downstage lighting state which lights from shoulder up, rather than knee down. If Christopher were in charge he would be screaming blue murder and the Dan or Matt of my day would be straight over to sort out the lighting teams to make a difference in time for today’s performance. [Editor’s note – its ok Anthony this isn’t a Pleasance show]
I hope the company and the venue either replace the fuse/bulbs and everything works fine, or chooses option (c.) – making sure that the audience today can really relish the diction and skill of the cast from wherever they are sitting in the house. Options (a) and (b) are when a company puts a problem on the ‘its too hard’ pile. No company or solo-performer, funded or otherwise, can afford, knowingly, to put stuff in the too hard pile.
If there is a problem Fix It today so the new audience tomorrow, along with the new promoters and new press you are trying to get in, have the very best experience of the art and entertainment you are trying to deliver.
See It, Say It, and then Fix It Fast. It will make for a much better Fringe experience.