guest post: performance artist paula varjack on the joys of the Edinburgh Fringe
What can artists expect from the Edinburgh Festival? A beautiful city that triples in population for 3 weeks with artists from all over the world. An exciting marathon of culture. An overwhelming assault on the senses and endless demands for attention from hundreds of others. A brilliant time. An exhausting time. A crushing time. An exhilarating time. A humbling time. A job with no breaks. A 3 week party. Sometimes all these things at the same time. What you get depends so much on why you go, how long for, what you want to get out of it, and how you are kind to yourself through it.
I think the Fringe can be useful for a number of reasons, but I don’t want to get behind the idea that it is something emerging artists have to do. Saying that, I do think there are a lot of things one can get from being at the fringe early on in their career. You get the chance to perform a lot, and hone your craft or your show through it. You have to learn how to sell your show clearly and simply to your audience. You visibly and tangibly get a sense of just how many people are crazy enough to try to make a career in the arts, as you are constantly fighting through a mass of flyers, and flyerers and this is pretty humbling. You can see a lot of work, and see different kinds of work, from all over the world. This also means you can connect with artists from all over the world. You can meet programmers in order to introduce them to your work. You can build an audience for yourself.
I love how open the audience at Fringe are. I love that these are people who come from all over the world to watch theatre all day and every day, not just for work but often for their holiday. I love the kind of person who on their down time from their regular lives wants to see 3-5 shows a day for 1-3 weeks. I love that they are an audience who are keen to discover and see artists and ideas that are new, and who are also keen to support artists they like over the years. Now that I have been going for a while, this year I started to get emails from people asking if I would bring a show because they loved my show last year. To have that kind of continued interest in your work is very cool.
I am half Ghanaian and half English, having grown up in Washington D.C., lived most of my life in London but also lived for four years in Berlin and 4 months in Madrid. All of these places have an impact on my worldview and the work that I create. I wouldn’t say being British or African influence my work directly, but living in London and being a person of colour definitely do. There is also probably a lot that comes from being mixed race. Being a person with a fractured cultural and racial identity attract me to the theme of identity and otherness. Living in London has a massive impact on my work. I become more aware of this every day. Living in London means I am exposed to a real diversity of artwork, and that I have the chance to see a great deal at any given time (and I do). The place I live has always had a big influence on the work I make, I am very aware of how being part of the art scene in London reflects back in the work I create to show there. Even though much of my work is about looking out and going elsewhere, its focus comes from being based here.
Of course being a performer always comes with the audience reading certain things about you, just by looking at you, no one is a blank slate. However I think being a feminine mixed race woman has potential to lend yourself to be othered in a particular way. I like to play to that, and call that out. I like to think about what assumptions may be there and work with them and then break them. It’s important to me to voice my thoughts around the lack of inequality there is related to my race and gender. It feels like a responsibility as someone who is given the platform to relate to people and get out there. But I want to do this always with a sense of engagement and honesty and joy. It’s so important to me to connect, and make people think, and to do it in a way that feels like a conversation, a conversation with warmth and openness, the kind I would have with really close friends.
paula varjack is an artist working in video, theatre and spoken word. Her most recent project Show Me The Money explores the value of art by looking at the ways artists support themselves in the U.K. She has performed at numerous arts festivals and cultural spaces, and is the creator of the Anti-Slam, a satirical take on Poetry Slams where the lowest score wins. Her first collection of prose and poetry Letters I Never Sent to You is part travellogue, part memoir, and will be out in October on Burning Eye Books.