With Or Without Costume

Are you taking a character show to Edinburgh this year? Have you decided to pack the fake teeth and fluorescent anorak or are you planning to go costume-less? For what it’s worth, here is my experience on going with and without costume and props…

My Three
I’ve taken three character shows to the Edinburgh Fringe and (because I fear getting bored and am rubbish at marketing myself as being just one thing) I tried to do something a tiny bit different each time. My first “Five Characters in Search of Susan” was a reasonably standard character comedian show and had a mixture of wigs and non wigs, elaborate and less elaborate costume, and a suitcase full of teddy bears. But with my second show “Creatures” in terms of props and costume it was completely excessive. There was a fake severed head, shaving foam, party poppers, blood, a giant Tip Ex bottle and a human sized egg.

Excessive costume!

Excessive costume!

Partly as a result of lugging said massive egg up a flight of stairs and hauling it from car to venue for the sake of ONE PUN**, I decided to do my third show “Folken Britain” without costume and with hardly any props. I wasn’t naked I hasten to add ( I’m not a student theatre group jazzing* up a Shakespeare play on the Royal Mile) but I was in a set of neutral clothes throughout and was totally wig-less…which is kind of like nudity for a character comedian like me.

Challenges
To be honest it can be a challenge to do something so stripped down. There are no comedy clothes/hats/wigs to hide behind or be inspired by and no props to get a laugh out of. It also means that the characters one creates are even more open to interpretation. Hopefully there’s no doubt I’m Tony Blair (I even say “It’s me Tony Blair” which is a clue for the brighter audience members) but there are other characters I play who resonate in a different way for different people. One reviewer described a character as a “hippy” which wasn’t how I saw her, but it was an understandable confusion as there are no visual pointers to speak of.

So, do bear in mind that if you go without costume, there is less to hide behind and if one day you have an entire row full of German women who don’t speak English there is less for them to look at. Even if they come up to you in the toilets of the venue afterwards and say “thank you we had a nice time but we did not understand what you were saying” you may find yourself wishing you had employed the use of…. a giant egg, say, or a silly hat.

Minimal props!

Minimal props!

Venue
If you decide to go costume-less be careful what sort of venue you choose. If you are trying to do something stripped down (as I was) it’s probably a good idea to get a venue which feels down to earth. I ended up in a venue which was very slick looking but was completely at odds with the Folksy vibe I was going for. As a result, the contrast between my denim shorts and battered boots and the modern hotel club venue made me look more shabby shit than shabby chic. So be aware of that.

Set Up
Creative reasoning aside, the greatest thing about not having costume and props is that when you’re waiting for the previous show to finish you won’t have a major heart attack trying to set up in the 13 minute window of opportunity. Or you will, but it’ll be a minor heart attack and you’ll be marginally less sweaty. And in fringe theatre less sweat counts for a lot.

I will be performing Folken Britain on Monday 25th February at The Hen and Chickens Theatre, 7.30pm http://www.ticketweb.co.uk/event/34021 http://www.facebook.com/#!/events/608126095870929/

*pronounce with caution in this context.
** I don’t regret that. Never regret a pun. Even if that pun gives you a hernia.

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