Steve Langstaff – Debrief Edinburgh Fringe 2011

Steve and Shea

Now that the dust has settled on Edinburgh Fringe 2011 and everyone is back home.  I’ve interviewed those that did shows this year and asking for their thoughts and feelings about it. Steve Langstaff is half of the sketch double act “Him and Me TV” this was their first fringe as performers. Steve kept a blog as he went along of the experience but this is his is final thoughts on the experience.

What are you overall feelings about the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe Festival?

I loved it, and I wanna go again! Now! But at the time I was tired, and kept getting fed up with the show and the flyering etc, and we didn’t even do the full run. But how amazing to have been a part of something that big and to say we performed at the Fringe. I also saw some great shows, my favourites being Thom Tuck, Delete the Banjax and Sheeps.

Talk us through some of your favourite moments?

We had some massive highs and some ridiculous lows but my favourite moments were having a good-sized audience in the first week and having such a brilliant reaction, especially in the show my parents watched as it felt like a real justification as to the huge financial outlay and they went away feeling like their child wasn’t just a dreamer but could make a room full of people laugh. Also, the bits of the shows where something happened and we reacted off-the-cuff and really found out that we can be quick and improvise and be funny, that was a really valuable lesson. My one favourite part of our show was during a sketch when a character I play gets hurt and a man in the audience gasped and said out loud “Oh No!”. It got the biggest laugh of the show but was a great feeling to know he was really into it. Oh, and when a CBeebies presenter stopped us in the street to tell us how much he’d loved our show!

How well do you think your show went?

I feel like for a first ever run it was a success. We found out that some sketches don’t work as well as others and lost a bit of confidence at certain points, but overall we never came off stage feeling like we should give up! We were reviewed once by a website, they gave us 4 stars which was a lovely feeling, though it would’ve been nice to get more reviewers in, and ones that maybe hold more sway in the industry, but 4 stars are 4 stars so they went on the posters!

But we went to the Fringe to be a part of it and to perform a show we thought was good in the hope others would agree, and to test our material day in day out, to improve as performers and to learn more about performing live comedy, and all of these have a massive tick next to them, so it was a real success.

What did you think you learnt from the experience?

We learnt some valuable lessons! Actually scratch that, we learnt some INVALUABLE lessons! I feel as though our material isn’t quite as good as we thought after the amazing preview shows we had, but that we’re not too far off finding our voice and style. As I said earlier, as we’ve never done any compere work or improv, we learned that we can go off script and it be funny and involves the audience in a way that a lot of sketch acts don’t, but then half way through the run learnt that just because these off-the-cuff, chaotic moments are effective, that less is more! So we went from being slick at the beginning, to being chaotic halfway through and then hopefully striking a balance somewhere in-between the two.

We already know that what we do (fairly silly sketch double act with quite a lot of costume etc) can divide audiences, but that that’s no reason to have material that isn’t quite right, because if you really believe in what you do then you can win people over, but maybe sometimes we were going through the motions with some of the sketches and I’m sure this can be picked up on by an audience.

What would you differently next time?

I think when we apply for next year we’ll possibly try for a different venue. I’m not saying the venue we performed at wasn’t good, quite the opposite in fact, but the lack of a stage was a hinderance to an act like ours, and it was hard work getting an audience into the show when you’re competing with three other shows that run at the same time in the same building, let alone keep them there when they’ve not invested in it and have other options in a short space!

And the time we perform at will hopefully change next year too. 12 noon is not ideal when it’s the first show of the day and in the week you’re solely trying for people who are there for the Fringe as residents are at work and can go to shows in the evening. So it’d be nice to try out our act later in the day.

Also we want to do the full run, and because of that one or two days off will be VERY important!

What was your biggest challenge this year?

The time slot I think was the biggest challenge, it was hard work. Getting up and flyering when there aren’t many people even on the Royal Mile can be a bit soul-destroying. And when you do have an audience, they haven’t had a drink (which isn’t the be-all and end-all but can make a difference) and it’s their first show of the day (and it’s quite early when you’re at the Fringe), it was difficult warming them up, but not impossible! It’d just be nice to see if we get more audience and a bigger reaction if we’re later in the day.

What mistakes do you think you made?

As I said earlier, we made the mistake of thinking that going off-script was funny EVERY time we did it, and the more, the better! When in fact it was most effective towards the end of the set when the audience had seen us being more slick and then the sketches start to unravel.

It’s hard to think there were too many mistakes as obviously with us being quite a new act everything we do wrong is a good lesson learned. That sounds a bit like I’ve deluded myself into believing we’re amazing and didn’t make any mistakes but we’re quite anal and well-prepared as an act, so nothing was really a mistake, just some bits weren’t up to scratch compared with what the top acts do and that’s something that we’ll take care to change over the course of the next year, Edinburgh was a steep learning curve and it’s only right that we’re excited to move on and improve using the lessons we learned.

How do you think the fringe could be improved?

I think the Fringe is amazing! And this year was only the second time I’ve ever been so I’m not sure I’m qualified to even dare to suggest any improvements, it’s amazing how it all comes together and it’s based within one of most beautiful cities I’ve ever visited! What more could you want? The Free Festival was run brilliantly and I have absolutely no complaints about anything we were involved in on that side of things. Obviously the standard of the shows varies in all of the venues, not just the free ones, but that’s what the Fringe is all about, anyone can take a show there! Though I will say that the feeling I got whilst there was that audiences were impressed by the overall standard of free shows and that is really something to be proud of as we were hopefully a part of that!

Oh, and if Edinburgh could be sunny all the time and a little less hilly then that’d be perfect!

As newcomers to the fringe what were your thoughts on cockgate?

It was unreal how quickly and how much it all blew up. I don’t know Kunt and the Gang nor have I seen the act, though from what I can gather the material could be described as provocative and they have a following. I knew the posters had been taken down due to the image, and all of a sudden these cocks started showing up on posters everywhere. I thought they were very funny, but also I knew how much money we’d spent on posters, nevermind those big ones attached to lamp posts! I had the feeling that although it was funny to stick it to the big companies etc, that there was a definite risk of annoying other acts which can be counter productive. But as a newcomer to the Fringe it was one of those “I wish I’d have thought of that” moments in terms of the simplicity of the idea, the cost and the effects and huge publicity! Our friends Kooky Babooshka had a cock put on their poster and it got to the stage where I actively wanted one on ours! You’re were a nobody without one of Kunt’s cocks! And the apology posters were also hilarious. A great PR stunt.

Did you have any experiences that made you think “only at the fringe?

Apart from “Cockgate” the usual sights on the Royal Mile are something you only find at the Fringe, theatre groups laying in the street or following people dressed as zombies handing flyers (thought I’m not sure how effective these tactics are, maybe next year…). We had a couple of weird moments ourselves too. We’d gone to see Delete the Banjax at the Pleasance Courtyard and whilst in the queue Shea was approached by Daniel Cook, a member of the group, to ask if he would mind lending his shirt as a blue shirt like the one Shea had on was integral to the show. Shea was thanked on stage and at the very least, even if nothing ever happens for us, Shea’s shirt has performed in a venue at the Pleasance!

This lead us to chat to them afterwards, and in particular Gareth Cooper, another member, who was with his parents. The parents then asked us if we were putting on a show, asked for a flyer, and turned up to watch the day after.

What were your favourite places to drink, eat or hang around?

Eating was good at The Beehive as we had our Free Festival Performers discount cards! Always good food and the staff there were lovely. The discount cards also got us cheaper drinks in our venue, which was most welcome.

There was a crepe stall near our flat too which was dangerous as the chocolate and marshmallow crepe was amazing. The food in Bar 50 was quite good (though this was a PBH venue….shhhhh!) and a special mention should go to Hula where the smoothies were great and helped us get some actual healthy food!

As far as drinking and hanging out is concerned, I enjoyed the Pleasance Courtyard, the Three Sisters (apart from on a weekend when it turns pretty ugly), the Udderbelly and of course Espionage.

Did you keep any souvenirs or mementos of your two weeks?

I have a few badges from various shows, I think it’d be nice for us to do something similar but I’m not sure if the badge thing is a bit over done. I always keep tickets to stuff I go to see. We also took down some of our own posters and brought home a hand full of our flyers for posterity! But I never bought a souvenir or anything; my biggest souvenir is my depleted bank balance!

Did you have a daily routine?

We would get up at around 8.30am and be out of the flat armed with flyers for 9ish. Go and do some flyering in a fairly empty Edinburgh and chat about anything we’d do differently for that day’s show. Head back to the flat for 11am to collect our things ready to take back to Espionage for 11.30 when the doors (supposedly) opened.

We had our pre-show playlist, which lasted around 20 minutes, but would go on at around ten to 12 for a ten past start (to allow people to get served alcohol as the bar opened dead on 12).

After the show we’d go home and shower again, go for a big meal to set us up for the day and go off and meet friends, see shows, sleep, whatever, until 7.30pm when we would get ready to go and do the sound for our sketch pals Kooky Babooshka, then after their show anything goes!

It’s hard to have a definitive routine but we did pretty well and didn’t get (too) drunk as the show was early the next day. It would’ve been nice to be able to sleep longer some mornings though, that would’ve made a big difference when our moods were a bit low.

You can follow Him and Me TV on Twitter, Facebook The YouTube videos are here.

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