The world. It’s awesome. But sometimes it feels like we’re not having quite enough fun. Sure we’re getting through things, hitting targets or going places or ticking boxes, but if that’s all we’re doing then I don’t think we’re making the most of the amazing planet we call home, or all the amazing creatures that buzz around us.
So why not commit to doing something fun this week? Here are a few suggestions…
- Blow a kiss to someone – a stranger – through the carriage window, as their train or tube is pulling out of the station. Make their day. Or just wave if you’re a little coy for that.
- Write inspiring notes on the next piece of loo role before you leave a public toilet stall. Far less damaging than graffitiing the door and, if the inspiring quote is just right, the act of using the square of loo role can add to the entire experience.
- Go into your copy of Microsoft Word (other word processors are available) and amend the auto-correct functions so that every time you type your own name it automatically changes it to read ‘The most awesome damned person who ever did walk the earth’. If you’re less egotistical than average, do this for a friend. Provide instructions how to change back so they aren’t late delivering a potentially important document.
- Send flowers, or another nice gift, to a random office building in your city. Address them to any name you like. Sign them ‘someone who just hopes you have a great day’. Start rumours (nice rumours).
- Offer to defrost every freezer in your street. Use the ice to start a snowball fight even though there hasn’t been any snow. Legend.
…and one that made me sad.
Happy is a pretty good state to be in. It’s probably the best of the states (even California can’t compete with it). During my annual trip to the Edinburgh Fringe I saw a lot that made me happy.
This was good.
Shows that stirred my heart and mind to a place of joy or interest that I consider comforting, inspiring or simply just fun.
Shit that makes me smile, basically.
And it made me think about what it is that I’m looking for in an experience that will make me smile, inside or out. Or to put it another way: what can a good bacon sandwich, a last minute equaliser and a beautiful monologue have in common?
Here’s my attempt at an answer:
“Things make me happy when it’s easier to like them than to list the ways they could be better”.
We all have options in our lives:
We can choose to work hard, or to relax.
We can choose to say hello, or to to wonder what could have been.
We can choose to be nice, or we can choose to be nasty.
But I’m not sure we can choose to be happy per se.
Happiness is what happens when our choices turn out to be right for us.
And we know they’re right when we’re not compelled to explore why they’re wrong.
When a mix of our values, fibre and experience pre-approve the experience as good.
Simple? I guess. But I’ve never considered it before, and it seems to make sense right now.
Good food? Yes.
Great sporting matches? Yes.
Brilliant music? Yes
Beautiful paintings? Yes
Wonderful stories? Yes
All things that make me happy when I don’t have to think about them in any depth, and even happier when I do.
So on that note, and in the interest of illumination, here’s a list of eight shows I enjoyed at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2013, and one that I spent most of the second half listing reasons it could have been so much better…
HAPPY HAPPY JOY JOY
Shows listed in the order I saw them…
Ten Out of Ten (Theatre) @ Assembly Hall
I picked this during a quick flurry of programme scanning trying to find some theatre to fit into an already bloated schedule. It is without doubt the best random pin-in-the-page selection I’ve ever made. A clever, funny and compelling piece of work that, without strain or struggle, managed to move and inspire at the same time. A genuine gem of show that enlists the toolkit of immersive theatre in the most successful, subtle and agreeable ways. Loved it.
The Room (Film) @ Assembly George Square
If you don’t know about The Room, Tommy Wiseau’s 2003 cult classic, you’re poorer for it. Google it, discover for yourself and find out where you can see it as soon as possible. This was my first viewing in a cinema rather than at home. Exceptional movie experience.
Festival of the Spoken Nerd (Comedy) @ Assembly George Square
I saw them in London last year and figured they’d be worth a punt again. For the uninitiated this is a trio comprised of a mathematician, physicist and all round science nerd who combine comedy, experiments and geeky references into a brilliant hour of entertainment, amazement and the teaching of solid gold conversation ammo. They also used an old school OHP. Lovely stuff.
Pajama Men (Comedy) @ Assembly Roxy
This was the seventh or eighth time I’ve seen the Pajama Men and they were just as brilliant as always. The duo mix mime, physical comedy, characters and great gags into a bizarre and mind-bending narrative that culminates in a satisfying and clever ending. It’s a bit like an episode of Jonathan Creek performed by Flight of the Conchords if Brett and Jermaine exchanged their musical ambitions for a desire to be earnest drama students. I know that sounds awful, but trust me, it would be brilliant. It would be the Pajama Men. (and yes, they perform in pyjamas).
Horne Section (Comedy) @ Udderbelly
The Horne Section is always great but, as with any show that features guests, you can get a little lucky. We were at the show the evening David O’Doherty was a guest. We were there the day that David O’Docherty was a guest while his parents were visiting. We were in the audience, the evening David O’Docherty – Fringe legend – invited his father (a pro jazz pianist) onto stage to join Alex Horne’s band while he performed. Wow. Fringe legend with Dad = moment to savour. Aside from the guests (which also include the wonderful Gateau Chocolat and the woefully misjudged Robin Ince) the Horne Section themselves delivered some brilliant musical based comedy set-pieces, my favourite of which was a great twist on famous love songs to put them in the second person, e.g. ‘Have You Told Me Lately That You Love Me’. Brilliantly witty, brilliantly silly, brilliant.
Devil in the Deck (Theatre/Magic) @ Pleasance Dome
Picked on a complete whim while looking for a show to fill gap in the schedule this was essentially billed as a magic show, but it was so much more than that. Created by magician Paul Nathan, the show was by my estimation 70% story telling, and 30% exceptional close-up magic. If you’re a fan of either, you’ll love this. And if you’re a fan of Javier Bardem look-a-likes playing guitar in the background you’ll love it even more.
Choose Your Own Documentary (Theatre/Film/Comedy) @ Gilded Balloon
An interesting show, and one that had a lot to live up to based on the concept: a show in which the audience chooses the outcome. How do you make that work whatever the scenario? How do you ensure there are enough fallbacks to create a valuable show no matter the outcome? Nathan Penlington who created this show has clearly thought hard about this, and set-up the hour expertly in order to offer plenty to entertain up front (some very funny material on the Choose Your Own Adventure book series) before moving into a moving and personal story that you, the audience member, armed with an electronic set of buttons, help control. We saw an outcome. It was lovely. There are a couple of thousand possible outcomes according to Nathan if memory serves. If I was still in Edinburgh I’d see the show again to find out more. I can’t give higher praise than that.
Fleabag (Theatre) @ Underbelly
I’m usually drawn to scripts, stories and ideas. It’s natural, I guess, given my background and interest in writing. But sometimes, even for me, the sheer quality of a performance can outweigh the material. Fleabag was such a performance. A one woman show, written and performed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, it may not have been the most brilliant piece of writing (though it was great, and by turns excellent), but her performance from the grotesque, to the dry, to the heartfelt, was wonderful.
The only slightly dodgy element was the pre-recorded interviewer’s voice over which was a bit crap. But then Phoebe even managed to bring those scenes to life, so maybe she was just toying with us.
Which leads us nicely onto…
THE BOO HOOS
Holes @ Assembly
Actually it was at Portobello Town Hall. That’s the first problem there. The first thing I wanted to fix, that stopped me from enjoying the show. Why? Why is the show at Portobello town hall? Portobello is a town just outside Edinburgh. It has a beach. The show is set on a desert island. This is why.
It all started in such a promising way: the outline of the show made it clear that the location was ‘secret’, that we had to find a meeting point rather than a venue. This was excitement, this was adventure. The show suggested a desert island, a plane crash, potential. But as we boarded the busses near Edinburgh’s George Square and rolled off into the afternoon it became pretty clear that the potential was going to be left on the pavement.
Anyone that has ever been to Secret Cinema, or heard about You Me Bum Bum Train, or had a friend devise a puzzle for their birthday, or visited the London, Edinburgh or York Dungeons, or spent a lazy day in a theme park, or visited Paul McCartney’s old house in Liverpool with the National Trust or indeed experienced any of the other hundreds and thousands of other events that manage to invest time and energy in creating an immersive experience will know that they’re brilliant.
Holes, a play by Tom Basden (a funny, but not a very good play – but this is almost beside the point), expends no time and no energy in creating an immersive experience. It just puts you on a bus to somewhere vaguely similar to the setting. It would be like creating a production of The Wild Duck at a duck pond. I realise how shit that sounds. I maintain it is an accurate comparison.
What was so painful about the experience was that given the effort to get people out of Edinburgh, organise the logistics and make the first step towards doing something interesting, nothing else happened. The busses could easily have become the pre-amble with the plane crash, audio played into the coach could have given us those cues. The audience could easily have been the dead bodies strewn all around, items on their person weaved into the script in the most basic improvisations. The setting, by the sea, could have been used to evoke so much more emotion from the proceedings by forcing audience members to face the tides, or the sand on the way into or out of the experience. But instead, nothing.
I’ve suggested above that the things that make me happy are the things that I don’t immediately feel the need to improve.
By extension, the things that make me sad are the things that could so obviously be far better.
It’s not about the lost causes (which I guess are just so boring or flippant as to be ignored) but the things that have a certain sparkle and could have been so much more exciting, so much more interesting, so much more effective. The things that just weren’t pushed far enough.
If you’re going up to Auld Reekie for the second half of the festivities, do enjoy.
Until next year Edinburgh…
I just donated to Wikipedia.
And, if you like exploring sporting stats, global variance in tax, the history of hats, who was in this or that; Or unearthing where you can see pandas in the zoo, the discography of The Who, the different shades of blue, the industries of Peru; Or if you’re fascinated by the Tsars or Mars or bras or you want to know more about a film called Mission To Lars; Or you’re intrigued by the Doges of Venice or the ungulate penis or the use of ‘love’ in Tennis or just Dennis the Menace. Or you just think that it’s awesome we can share information for the benefit of some kid in some nation that we may never visit, but we can quote lines on verbatim…
…then you should too.
There’s a great service I subscribe to called Quarterly. It’s a simple idea: a number of contributors put together packages that are posted to you once every quarter for the princely sum of $25 (plus shipping depending on where you happen to want the package delivered). In the past I’ve subscribed to Tina Roth Eisenberg (and got a brilliant pen), Jason Kottke (who sent Sea Monkeys!) and the Standford D. School (who inspired this post).
Sometime in January I received package #DSC03 from Standford. For reasons I can’t even recall today is the first time I’ve managed to find time to clear a space, sit down and examine the contents of the box. I’m glad I did. It was awesome.
Inside package #DSC03 was an exercise. A mini project of sorts to test creative skills and get you doing something, rather than thinking about it. They call it 5 chairs. The aim? To build 5 different chairs out of different materials in a tight time frame of just 30 minutes.
Step 1. Draw the chair
Step 2. Make the chair from cardboard and scissors
Step 3. Make the chair from pipe-cleaners
Step 4. Make the chair from Play Doh
Step 5. Make the chair from tooth-picks and chewing gum. Seriously.
Then reflect. What did you enjoy? What was tricky? What was frustrating? What are you happiest with?
Here’s my effort:
Everything was provided in the box. It’s amazing what you can receive through the post. Never thought I’d receive five chairs I didn’t know existed. And didn’t exist. Until I opened the box and sat down to think about it. That’s kind of fun.
Check out Quarterly, there’s a whole range of contributors so you’ll probably find something that takes your fancy. Sign up today and it’ll be a surprise when the next package comes (we all love a nice surprise, right?)