On this last episode, we look back on 23 years of joyous, difficult and always informative conversation.
Imagine five tons of rice in the middle of the Kennedy Center’s Hall of Nations. Or two actors playing 41 parts in a play. These new and experimental works are just two highlights of “On the Fringe,” a showcase of work from the world’s largest arts festival from Edinburgh, Scotland. We learn more about some of the imaginative works being shown at the Kennedy Center October 28th through November 13th, and talk with one of the performers.
- Faith Liddell Director of Festivals for Edinburgh, Scotland
- Jake Oldershaw Performer with Stan's Cafe, an arts and theater group based in Birmingham, England
OF All The People in All The World
A Performance Installation by Stan’s Cafe. First created in Birmingham, England, the installation is part of the ON THE FRINGE: Eye on Edinburgh festival now at the Kennedy Center:
MR. KOJO NNAMDIIt's not your typical theater festival. You might find yourself experiencing an audio performance that doesn't have actors or a stage, or come across five tons of rice carefully arranged in the great hall of the Kennedy Center, or see two actors embody 41 different characters. You could be forgiven for wondering just what kind of festival this is. It's the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and they've brought the highlights here to Washington.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIAnd although there are no fringe festivals all over the world, our very own Capitol Fringe Festival in the district being one of them, this is the original. Created in Scotland more than 60 years ago, and it's still the biggest showcase of alternative theater and performance arts. We meet two of the people behind the events. Faith Liddell is the director of festivals for Edinburgh Scotland, including the On the Fringe Eye of Edinburgh Festival at the Kennedy Center. Faith Liddell, thank you for joining us.
MS. FAITH LIDDELLIt’s great to be here.
NNAMDIAlso joining us in studio is Jake Oldershaw. He's a performer with Stan's Café, a theater group based in Birmingham, England, which has a performance installation called, "Of All The People In All the World." Jake Oldershaw, thank you for joining us.
MR. JAKE OLDERSHAWHi, Kojo. It's great to be here.
NNAMDIYou, too, can join the conversation. Do you enjoy alternative performance arts? Do you plan to go to any events at the On the Fringe Festival? Call us 800-433-8850. Faith, for those who don't know the Fringe Festival in Edinburgh, can you tell us a little bit more about it and its history?
LIDDELLYes, of course. The Edinburg Festival Fringe began in 1947, the same year as our international festival, which is our kind of high-level, elite arts festival. And it was created in the wake of the Second World War, really to, in a sense, bring the countries of Europe together through culture after all the devastation of those conflicts.
LIDDELLAnd that festival took place -- a number of companies, eight companies -- performing companies, who were not invited to take part in it decided that they were going to take advantage of the fact there were audiences and critics in the city and just set up their own events. They took over spaces that weren't necessarily used as theaters normally, and they created their own very small festival. And at that stage, they weren't -- it wasn't called the Fringe. They were called Festival Adjuncts, which doesn't sound quite so attractive.
LIDDELLAnd it was the next year that the Fringe name was coined by a critic who described what was happening as being on the fringe of the festival -- of the international festival.
NNAMDIIt's not just theater. What kinds of performances does it include?
LIDDELLAnything and everything. I mean, it really is. It's -- it's an open access festival. It means that anyone who wants to come and perform there can do so if they have the means to pay the fee that allows them to go into the program and then to find a venue and bring their work. So it's an entrepreneurial event. There are risks involved, but there are also great advantages. It's the biggest marketplace in the world for exciting...
NNAMDISo these are the highlights of the Edinburgh Festival that you've brought here. How do you decide what the highlights are?
LIDDELLWell, I didn't decide. It was actually the Kennedy Center who go over to Edinburgh regularly. So it's a marketplace every year. We have a thousand producers in the city. I mean, the number of the shows there every year is -- there's 40,000 performances, there's over 2,400 shows and every year programmers, presenters, festival directors from around the world go to Edinburgh to look for interesting work that they can bring to their spaces and to their festivals.
LIDDELLAnd the Kennedy Center has been coming over for a number of years and this event has been in planning for a number of years. It's a collaboration between them and the British Council to find that work that represents what happens in Edinburgh, across the range. And you know, you've gone through some of the shows that are here. There's real texture there.
LIDDELLHugely different kinds of work and work that will work in the space itself, in the Kennedy Center itself, that will enhance it, that will challenge it, that will bring new perspectives to audiences and inspire artists as well.
NNAMDIAgain, you can call us at 800-433-8850. We're discussing On the Fringe Eye of Edinburgh Festival at the Kennedy Center. It's there through November 13. It started on October 28, so can you catch it. You still have a lot of time to do that. Jake Oldershaw, you are member of a theater group called Stan's Café that's here with an exhibition of, well, a whole lot of rice.
OLDERSHAWIndeed. It sounds a little bit odd, doesn't it?
NNAMDIWhat kind of performance piece is five tons of rice?
OLDERSHAWWell, what we do, we have enough rice to represent the population of the entire United States if each grain represented one person so 300 million grains of rice roughly. And over the course of the next week -- actually, our show runs until Sunday. So, through Sunday, we'll be separating that out into different piles that represent different population statistics. For instance, you might see the amount of people who eat at McDonald's every day in the world. That's quite a staggering amount.
OLDERSHAWAnd actually, kind of more than the -- roughly comparable to the population of England entirely. And for the Kennedy Center, we've related the pile that we've placed next to that as the people who live in the United States without health insurance, which is actually the same amount of people. So we ask -- we try to let people see comparisons in population sizes and think about those figures that you may see in papers or hear in the news that you may not really get a grasp on.
OLDERSHAWBut when you actually see the volume of it -- and you can relate that single grain, that you can imagine yourself as to that vast quantity and get a perspective about the world really.
NNAMDIThe rice represents statistics that are hard to imagine in the abstract. I remember the days when you would go by a McDonald's and it would say, 3,500,000 hamburgers served worldwide. And I kept saying to myself...
OLDERSHAWYeah, what does that mean?
NNAMDI...what does that look like? Now, we have an idea. There's, of course, a very simple practical question. How do you count out all that rice? How do I know that there are three million grains of rice in one particular pile of rice?
OLDERSHAWThat's exactly one of the first questions that many people ask, Kojo.
NNAMDIYes, we are the silly ones, yes.
OLDERSHAWAnd well, we have a calculation of 60 grains to one gram. We're metric. And so we made some tests and we found that -- well, we tried to -- the artistic director of the company really wanted to have a perspective about the vast quantities of people in the world. And we tried sand, which was too small, and we tried lots of different substances. But rice, we came upon as the best one because it is quite a constant and quite uniform substance.
OLDERSHAWIt was also practically the best thing because we come from a diverse city in Birmingham, in the UK, and rice was quite easy to find in the Chinese and Indian supermarkets that you can find over there. So it's a very simple mathematical equation. Sixty grains to one gram, 60,000 to a kilogram and so on.
NNAMDII was told, and believed, that you have a team of poorly paid workers who count the rice by hand, but then I've been known to be gullible. We're talking with Jake Oldershaw. He's a performer with Stan's Café, a theater group based in Birmingham, England, which has a performance installation called "Of All The People In All the World," at the Eye on Edinburg Festival at the Kennedy Center, October 28 through November 13.
NNAMDIWe are also joined in studio by Faith Liddell, director of festivals for Edinburgh, Scotland, including the current festival. It's my understanding that this festival is unusual, Faith, and that the Festival Fringe Society doesn't vet the programs at all.
LIDDELLNo. I mean, this is a selection, and it's a curated selection that the Kennedy Center have chosen because they think it's going to work for them and work for audiences in the city. But, no, Edinburgh as the Fringe -- there are actually seven festivals taking place in our kind of peak summer season between the end of July and beginning of September.
LIDDELLAnd the Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world on its own terms, but in total, our festivals year round bring in about four million people. The Fringe is the scale it is because it's dependent on individual enterprise. And despite the times of austerity that we're living through, it's continued to expand and more artists and companies have been involved every year.
LIDDELLAnd they're attracted by the freedom to be able to express themselves on their own terms without a curator deciding whether they can or can't be part of something. But also what they have in Edinburgh is an incredibly adventurous audience and that matters.
NNAMDISo if they're looking for the freedom to express themselves without a curator or anybody vetting what they do, what then is the role of the Festival Fringe Society?
LIDDELLThe Festival Fringe Society helps to look after them. So it does some very basic things.
NNAMDIThey need looking after, yes.
LIDDELLThey do. (laugh)
OLDERSHAWI can vouch for that.
LIDDELLOn the most basic terms, they publicize what is happening in the city and they provide a center for performers. They connect the people who are in the city to buy work and look for work and look for talent with that talent and with that work. And they, you know, they offer a press and promotional service as well. So a range of support services and encouragement. But the rules are you don't interfere, you know.
LIDDELLToo much government, you know, we know that that's an issue here as well. Too much interference from government is not always appreciated and that's the same. And they have a membership which is made of the people who are involved in making the Fringe happen. And the board of directors is made up of those people as well. So the artists are in control.
NNAMDIYou can call us at 800-433-8850. Do you enjoy alternative performance art? Did you catch any of the Capital Fringe Festivals events this summer? And if you did, and you've also see Eye on Edinburgh Festival at the Kennedy Center -- On the Fringe, Eye of Edinburgh, tell us how they compare. 800-433-8850, or if you questions and plans to go to any of the events, you can still call us 800-433-8850. Or shoot us a tweet @kojoshow.
NNAMDISpeaking of the Capital Fringe Festival, the Edinburg Festival started 63 years ago. The Capital Fringe Festival started five years ago. But what, if any, is the relationship between the Edinburgh Festival and the Capita Fringe Festival?
LIDDELLWell, the Fringe is the mother of all other Fringes, and has been, you know, an influence and an inspiration. This summer, we had a number of Fringes. Not this Fringe, but the L.A. Fringe was there and Fringes from around the world kind of gathered in Edinburgh to kind of share how they work. And they adapt to the -- they take their freedom seriously as well and create their own models, which vary.
LIDDELLIn some cases, there's a festival called a Fringe in Amsterdam, which is actually programmed and proudly programmed. There are other festivals that have funds to kind of encourage and support work. So sometimes it isn't all about anyone that wants to come along can do their thing. It's a mixture of that and particular bits of work are specifically encouraged.
LIDDELLAnd in Edinburgh, one of the things that matters is the individual venues with temporary spaces are curated as well. So you have programmers within the context of the festival who select work as well and create their own mini-individual identities for their venues and who work regularly with artists and select those artists, too.
NNAMDIAnd I've got to thank you because here, the Capital Fringe Festival over the past five years has almost literally just taken off.
NNAMDIIt's become widely popular. Back to rice for a second, Jake Oldershaw. How do you decide -- how do you choose which statistics you'll use?
OLDERSHAWWell, it's a range of things really, Kojo. We have, I feel like, a greatest hits because we've been doing the show since 2003. And we found that certain comparisons and certain statistics work better than others. We also...
NNAMDII like the McDonald's one. What other kinds are you -- what other ones are greatest hits?
OLDERSHAWWe make things -- always when we travel to a new city or a new country, we make statistics relevant to those places so that people can get a real sense of themselves and see piles that they would be contained within, such as the population of Washington D.C. And right now in the Hall of Nations, we're comparing the population of the metropolitan area of D.C. to the entire population of America in 1790. And it's actually -- there's more people in the city now, in this city, than there were in the entire country 200 years ago.
NNAMDIOne thing intrigues me. The U.S. Park Police used to give crowd estimates of rallies that took place on the mall...
NNAMDI...and they no longer do so. We had the big Restore Sanity, Keep Fear Alive rally this past week.
NNAMDIAre you going to represent the number of people who were there?
OLDERSHAWAbsolutely. We've been racing to kind of get a wide range of statistics so it hasn't quite found its way in. And it's funny you should mention that. We've been looking into it and the kind of large protest marches always represent a little bit of a problem for us because there's obviously a wide range of estimates according to who's counting, you know. The governmental figures are often much...
NNAMDIIn complete contrast with the organizers of the rally.
OLDERSHAWAbsolutely. And I think they made kind of a joke out of that. I saw some of it online and they really made a joke out of it. They said, oh, there's 10 million people here, isn't it fantastic? And yeah, obviously, the show really relies on the fact that you need to -- who's counting and who do you trust for your figures and who do you trust for your information? And I think we tried to make a virtue of that.
NNAMDIHow do you say humongous in rice? Faith, some of the performance pieces originated in really interesting ways, nowhere near a formal state. Tell us about Nine Years.
LIDDELLTell you about Nine Years? I don't know the detail of all the different shows, I'm afraid.
NNAMDINine years ago, it's my understanding two friends decided to see the world.
LIDDELLOh, this one. Sorry. Sorry. I beg your pardon.
NNAMDIOn foot and bicycle.
NNAMDITell us about that.
LIDDELLWell, I don't know the details of that show...
LIDDELL...because it's one of the ones I haven't seen. In fact, I'm just about to go and see the Stan’s Cafe show because I didn't get a chance to see it in Edinburgh.
NNAMDIWell, let me tell you about Nine Years. The two friends traveled the length and breadth of Europe, Scandinavia, North America and Australia. As they moved around the world, Greg Weiland and Gary Winters offered theatrical presentations as a gift to the people they met on their journey. Nine years and 700 performances later, they returned home, the journey complete.
NNAMDINine Years brings together the entire body of work in one 90-minute show. And that's what Nine Years is all about.
OLDERSHAWI haven't actually seen that show, but I can vouch for the wonder of their performance. They're old friends of mine and they always approach their work in a very comedic and human way. So I thoroughly recommend that show actually.
NNAMDIOf course, the rice exhibits are not seriousness. You use humor to get some ideas across in your rice exhibition. It's my understanding that you have rice representing our former secretary of state.
OLDERSHAWAbsolutely. Yeah. I was mentioning the greatest hits and Condoleezza Rice is obviously a great favorite.
NNAMDIHow big would the pile of rice be that describes Condoleezza Rice?
OLDERSHAWWell, as I say, each grain of rice represents one person. And I know she may have a larger personality than just one grain, but it is just one grain of rice. We like to come right down to the very singular grain to really show that one person can make a difference. Those vast numbers and the vast scales that we deal with in the show can be a little bit overwhelming for people. But we like to show that single people can make a great difference, you know. For instance, Rosa Parks.
NNAMDIMartin Luther King.
OLDERSHAWMartin Luther King.
NNAMDIYou also have that.
OLDERSHAWAbsolutely. We like to bring in Bill Gates in a kind of a humorous run, which is a little bit too long to describe here.
LIDDELLCome and see it.
OLDERSHAWCome and have a look, yeah.
NNAMDIWell, what's the experience for the visitor looking at these piles of rice? What have you observed?
OLDERSHAWWell, a mixture of sort of wonder and bemusement and laughter, and, you know, sometimes just sheer kind of not wanting to engage with it at all. But the fantastic thing about the work, for me, is that we're in the space about seven or eight hours a day changing the show, adding new statistics every day. It's not static. And you can talk to us or to the other people who are looking at the work. And you might recalibrate your thinking according to a conversation that you might have had with us or somebody else who is looking at it.
NNAMDII was about to ask, what's your role as a performer when people are experiencing the rice?
OLDERSHAWYeah. Well, it's a mixture of things. I suppose that, broadly speaking, a curator. I'm also a researcher because we make our own research. I'm also some kind of statistician, I suppose, mathematician. And sometimes I've even been mistaken for a cleaner. I've been actually told to stop tampering with the artwork on previous occasions, which I think is fantastic.
NNAMDIThat can give you great room for improvisation.
OLDERSHAWWell, absolutely. I feel like I'm doing my job properly. It reminds me that I'm actually a performer and an artist and yeah, I have a persona.
NNAMDIA lot of highlights at the festival. It's called Eye On The Fringe, Eye of Edinburgh Festival. It's at the Kennedy Center October 28 through November 13. Faith Liddell is the director of festivals for Edinburgh, Scotland, including the aforementioned On The Fringe. Faith, thank you for joining us.
NNAMDIJake Oldershaw is a performer with Stan's Café, a theater group based in Birmingham, England, which has a performance installation called, "Of All the People In All the World," that's the rice performance installation. Jake, thank you so much for joining us.
OLDERSHAWIt's been a pleasure, thank you.
NNAMDIThank you all for listening. Go check it out. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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