Thursday, August 30, 2007

Freestyling the Fringe By: Baba Brinkman

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Well-Adjusted Citizens,

Today is the last day of the Edinburgh Fringe (nicely planned, I know), and tonight I will play my last of 24 consecutive shows, followed by a post-partum rest. A few hours ago I was on a different kind of stage, being presented with an impressively titled Three Weeks Editor's Choice Award including a photo and framed plaque. The biggest festival reviewing newspaper Three Weeks chooses the ten events, shows, or performers that made the fringe special each year, and this year I was one. Being selected as one special thing out of ten may not seem like a great honour, but there are over two thousand shows competing for attention at the Fringe this year.

Here is the Three Weeks review that led to the Award.

I have been rubbish (UK-ism) at keeping up with email during this festival, due to the constant welcome distractions provided. Our daily routine for the past month has been to wake up each day at around noon (or sometimes 3 pm, depending on the night before), and proceed to the local coffee shop for beverages, internet, and breakfast (I'm here right now, 4:30 pm, right on schedule). Then we prepare and hand out flyers for a few hours each afternoon, and get ready for our shows. Aaron has had about a dozen gigs at various times over the past three weeks, some at theatres and some at bars and cafés, and I have been performing The Rap Canterbury Tales every night at 8:45. When the shows are all finished around 10 pm we head out on the town for the smorgasbord of cabaret, dancing, theatre, live music, comedy, and nightclubs that are available around the city until 5 am every night, often ushering in the dawn as we walk home, and the next day we do it all again. In the (purloined) words of Jay-Z, it's a hard knock life for us.

How can I still be having fun doing the same thing I was doing three years ago? Well, this year I changed up my strategy and starting working more and more improvisation into my act, turning it into a spontaneous comedy play. For me, this has been the Freestyle Fringe. In the first week of the festival, Erik challenged me to experiment with the script every day (he said he'd die of boredom tech-ing the same exact show twenty four more times), so I have been doing my best to surprise him with new twists and improv dialogue in each show. We have also included a segment where the audience fills out short surveys in the lobby before the show, writing down phrases and words that they associate with rap and Chaucer. Then, at the end of the show, Erik projects the responses onto a screen on stage, and I extemporize everyone's ideas into a live freestyle rap as an epilogue.

The reputation I got for doing this freestyle outro in the show quickly spread to the official Fringe radio station, Festival FM, and on the fourth day of the festival they brought me in for an interview and got me to freestyle live on air. It went so well that they offered me a regular slot reading the nightly 8 o'clock news as a freestyle rap. So for the past three weeks I have stopped in at the radio station on my way to perform every evening, and they have prepared a list of the day's headlines, finding the quirkiest and most bizarre items of news to try to challenge me. Then they hand me the list of headlines and with no rehearsal or preparation I put them into rhyme live on air. This regular stunt has earned me a cult following with the festival media people, and we even brought the camera in to film one of the news sessions. You can watch the YouTube video here:

The result of all this experimentation and creative development, I'm happy to announce, has been a critical smash at this year's fringe. I was reviewed five times by various papers and websites and never got less than four stars out of five, with one five star review and two Critic's Choice picks. For those of you who are currently feeling nauseated by all this saccharine positivism, you will surely appreciate the final words of the Three Weeks review: if he wasn't so likeable, he'd be almost sickening. Erik takes issue almost every day with this affront, especially when I get on his case... "’likeable? ha!’

Here's some more of what the critics are saying:

Fest Review:

Review Review:

In a few days I'm on my way back down to Brighton and London to do some more recording with my UK hip-hop affiliates, then to Brisbane, Australia on September 6th. The Brisbane Writer's Festival has organized a writer's retreat for the week preceding their events. This entails flying all of the featured writer's to an island off the coast, where we will be put up in cabins and left to our own devices for four days in the middle of a national park. Fringe benefits.

Hope you have all had a similarly spectacular summer, and wish me luck on the hard road ahead.


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