For years, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, those three performance-packed weeks in August, has been considered a hunting ground for original content. Now, with platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime churning content at breakneck speed, has that changed?
Chennai-based playwright Meera Sitaraman, who participated in the festival in 2014 with Theatre Nisha, doesn’t think so. “The Fringe will always remain a ground for great explorations and experiments because storytelling on stage can never be replaced by the media,” she insists.
This year, Edfringe, from August 2nd to 26th, will see artistes from 63 countries performing over 3,000 shows. It is perhaps the most diverse it has ever been.
For artists like Aditi Mittal and Devang Tewari, both participants this year, the allure of the Edfringe hasn’t dimmed. While Mittal looks at the festival as a “learning ground,” particularly from fellow comics like Natalie Palamides, Tewari considers the Edfringe as a launchpad for further international tours.
This year, apart from Tewari and Mittal, the Indian contingent at the Edfringe will feature two more comics — Vir Das and Sumit Anand — as well as the La Martiniere Girls’ Theatre Club, Lucknow. We catch up with three of the five artists and record their dreams for the Edfringe stage.
Aditi Mittal believes that a great stand-up comedy set is often a reflection of the thing you know best. For her, that’s her mother — her set at Edfringe, titled Mother of Invention, will highlight her aunt (who adopted Mittal and her brother following their mother’s death). She adds that she has been writing the show in her head all her life. “She is a single mother, who made some incredibly tough choices early on,” she says, the pride evident in her voice.
And what does her mother think? “I sent it to her as a voice recording, and she had only one thing to say — ‘Yeah, yeah, now you’ll sell your mom for a few jokes’,” laughs Mittal. “I don’t know what I’d do if she approved of anything that I do. I don’t think I’d be able to handle it.”
Comedian Sumit Anand’s stand-up set at the Edfringe is titled Nothing About Godzilla, precisely because “it is about nothing in particular, just like the film.” He adds, “There will be a bunch of stories, anecdotes, and my daily thoughts. The aim is to get people laughing through the hour-long set.”
With jokes about his relationship with his parents and the ignorance of youth, among other things, Anand’s set has been described by reviewers as a “slacker comedy”, riding on a low-energy performance that is bound to get a few guilty chuckles. A debutante at the festival, Anand believes that the show begins as soon as the audience buys tickets. “They already have a perception in their mind, and that plays a role in the quality of jokes,” he says, adding that the Edinburgh audience will be a tough nut to crack.
Theatre artiste Devang Tewari’s research for his solo-show Gigolo led many on social media to believe that he was a male escort. “After I spoke to a few male escorts as part of my research, I had people contacting me for my services. It was crazy,” he laughs.
Both excited and nervous to be debuting with Gigolo, at the prestigious festival, Tewari’s one-man show is an edge-of-the-seat thriller about a young South Indian male escort, Murli, who morphs into a psychopathic murderer, killing over 17 people.
This Lucknow-based artiste, who has earlier dabbled in Hindi theatre, was introduced to the festival at a playwriting workshop in Mumbai. Thus began the journey of writing and perfecting ‘Gigolo’, his first-ever solo show, which was written in English with the sole intent to be showcased at the Fringe. The production, which has been touted as a ‘must-watch’ by reviewers back home, will be “60 minutes of tightly-packed entertainment,” promises Tewari.
With the monetary profits from the festival being next to none, Edfringe is considered a financially-risky proposition for Indian artistes. Take Tewari for instance, who is crowdfunding his trip to the UK. With the support of some patrons and his personal savings, he has booked a venue but is still short by nearly Rs 1.5 lakhs in his budget of Rs 4.75 lakhs. “And even if I do sell out on all five days at the festival, I will make only Rs 1.7 lakhs, nowhere close to breaking even,” he says.
Meanwhile, for Mittal, Vir Das, and Sumit Anand, the Edfringe dream has been made possible by London’s Soho Theatre, a cabaret and comedy club.
This article was originally published in The Hindu by Malavika Balasubramanian on August 2, 2019, and has been reposted with permission.
This post was written by the author in their personal capacity.The opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not reflect the view of The Theatre Times, their staff or collaborators.