Dan Simpson: Fringe Finale

As the Fringe hits its final weekend, Dan talks to us about how he’s been inspired to push his work to the next level.

There are mKgQxnwWMany, many metaphors you can use to describe doing a show, and being, at the Fringe. Paula Varjack describes it as a videogame, which hits my nerd sensibilities perfectly.

The imagery I’ve got in my brain right now is that it’s a month-long performing arts course at a really intense university. A practical and theory module rolled into one: not just a training ground, but also a school for performers.

Once the Fringe has wrapped up, I would have done 64 performances in 23 days. From a solo(ish) hour to hosting all types of shows; being a panellist on comedy quiz shows to competing in slams; engaging in a haiku deathmatch to appearing on a 90s kids show; late-night cabaret sessions to late-night Museum performances; improvised lectures to facilitating a new dating night; from a science-chat show to recording poetry for radio.

Variety: that’s what the Fringe throws at you. And it asks you to respond, and get better, and push yourself as a writer and performer. It’s like a battery of constant tests: it makes you feel worse about your art, but want to improve. Because when you succeed at something new… Wow.

Theory-wise, it’s all about seeing shows. And you learn something from all of them – particularly the bad ones – though so far I’ve seen none this year! Seeing high-quality versions of the kind of thing you’re doing – Vanessa Smythe’s In Case We Disappear and Jonny Fluffypunk’s Man Up spring to mind – challenges you to be better and think harder and aspire more.

But new stuff outside your usual art form – and shows that adhere to no definite genre – are really the advanced knowledge sections of this course. Two stand-out shows for me:

1. Butt Kapinski: a participatory, reverse-gender, live-action film noir that is both hilarious and hugely impactful. I’ve learned something about what audiences can and are willing to do, and how to bring people into your universe by giving them the power to be funny. An incredible and powerful show that I’ll still be reflecting on, and will no doubt influence my practice, for years.

2. Foxdog Studios: an interactive, high-tech, musical comedy about PAT testing and tax returns, during which – amongst other things – you play games on a giant screen using your smart phone. One of the most inventive and fun things I have seen – and been part of. The games and tech the guys use to fuel the show could so easily overwhelm them: but their stage presence and on-control performance keep it massively engaging and funny. A lesson in what you can achieve given a great concept executed perfectly.

I’m nearly at the end of my course here. There’s no graduation ceremony or certificate – just a quiet shuffling of feet onto trains and a whirling cloud of thoughts in your brain. The real results of these lessons won’t be felt for months or years. I’ll be applying again for this intensive training scheme again next year – maybe you’ll join me. See you in class.

@dansimpson | dansimpsonpoet.com

Nerdsmith: 6.20pm, Saturday 8 – 30 August, Banshee Labyrinth. More info. | Stand Up & Slam: 7.15pm, Saturday 8-29 August, Cowgateshead. More info.