The intimacy of fringe

By Evi Triantafyllides, Head of Community & Social

I still (and probably will always) remember my first proper fringe experience.
“Let’s try to find something different,” my dad had said.
“Let’s try to find a fringe performance.”
“But is it going to be good?” I recall wondering.
“No harm in trying” he encouraged.

And after lots of online research and conscious effort to avoid all the big West End names that kept re-appearing, we stumbled upon one: “One Flea Spare” it was called, at the Old Red Lion Theatre.

One Flea Spare at Old Red Lion Theatre.

Just like that, everything was settled. Tickets were purchased for that same night, at a price that was lower than our cab drive there, and with no assigned seats.

Expectations had definitely hit a new low. And they continued at that low well into our arrival at the venue. For a girl for whom up until then, the magic of theatre was measured by the glitter and splendor of the production on stage, things weren’t looking that good.

A small, unadorned room, stripped to the bare minimum, with some basic chairs surrounding a 10×10 meter stage and nothingness as its claim to fame.

Without me realising it, my dad pulled me in the very front and I found myself at a first row seat, with an unpromisingly claustrophobic stage waiting to capture me.

And right then, the lights went off and the actors came out. It felt strange. The prospect of having real people in such close proximity and at eye level to me, trying to convince me of their acting in such a simple, unpretentious and intimate setting almost felt…awkward. Awkward and somewhat embarrassing.

And it was nothing less than that. Well, not for the actors, but for me.

Nothing less, but much, MUCH more. Somehow, in the most unassuming setting, and in the most unexpected circumstances, up until this day, I still feel that that was the evening I truly learned how to appreciate and love the fundamental essence of theatre and acting.

In a couple of hours and with everything around the actors battling against their power to transform me, trap me in their quarantined house and make me really understand what it felt to be in their characters’ shoes, they achieved just that.

Four people standing at the same level as us, without enough separation from the audience or enough artificial lighting to hide their flaws, nor enough room to avoid getting intimidated by our critically staring eyes. And yet, they managed to reverse the roles and completely intimidate us.

Morse

I can still vividly see Morse’s face, despairing, raging. She was dangerously distressed, she was crying out for help. It was real. Our eyes met. And she just wouldn’t stop staring. Was she looking at me? What did I have to do? She was personally reaching out to me, extending her desperation, pleading from me to help her. But I just sat there, petrified. And in a flash, after that moment passed, she turned around, and I once again became a spectator on the outside, as if that moment had never happened. But that intense second in which I felt the urgency of her calling and the responsibility for her well-being, kept playing with my conscience for many hours. Acting, at its purest.

Because as I’ve realized that night, the magic of theatre might be obvious in its biggest grandeur with the help of a production’s technicalities, but its most intimate and humane command lies within the ability of the individual to act. Because the smaller the production, the less room there is for the performer to hide from its designated character. No lighting and dramatic music, no extravagant costume designs and sets, no fancy backdrops and elevated stages that support the production’s formal visibility. No space between the performers and the audience to allow for even a second to be missed by the spectators’ eyes, no room for mistakes, no missed moments, no uncritical distance – no nothing.

Only a human being, standing in front of another human being, trying to convince him that, in fact, he is a third human being. That, to me, is all the magic and authority the theatre needs.

My point? I’m guessing you probably get it by now. And I’m sure that what I’m saying is already a well-appreciated fact to the hard-core theatre lovers out there. But what I’m hoping to achieve, is to extend a message to all of my ‘6-years ago self’ theatre fans, whose theatre trips and experiences lie within the confines of the elitist West End and Broadway lights. And this is probably the main reason I first joined Stagedoor:

My will to shed light to the majority of theatre performances that exist beyond the headlines, and to the individual names of actors and creatives, as it is they, who are the bare bones of theatre.

Try to embark on a small experiment and extend your theatre-going activities way beyond the household names; turn them into more affordable, more frequent and more truthful, everyday experiences. You’ll soon realize that that’s where it all begins.

If theatre’s validation is a more real, alive and intimate experience than TV, then, surely, this is what fringe theatre is to bigger theatrical productions.

So, to all you fringe actors that are just starting off and are dreaming of your Broadway debut, enjoy the ruggedness. These are the days where you can embrace the personal struggles of acting to its fullest. These are the days that the power of your act, lies entirely in your own internal capabilities.

We’re right in front of you, staring you in the eyes, waiting to get swept off our feet. And if we do, you should never forget that it was all because of you: an actor at its truest and most intimate moment yet.