Edinburgh Fringe Diary Vol 1: Self On Self Psychological Torture

8 August 2012 | 4:20 pm | Tomas Ford

I know what I'm in for. Three and a half weeks of anxiety, ecstasy, massive audiences followed by tiny crowds and simultaneously more validation and rejection than any human mind is built to deal with.

It's an odd title for a tour diary, but I've done Fringe Festivals before. I know what I'm in for. Three and a half weeks of anxiety, ecstasy, massive audiences followed by tiny crowds and simultaneously more validation and rejection than any human mind is built to deal with, all happening at once in a small city filled with half the worlds' entertainment industry.

It's been a long time since I've thrown down a full season at one of these things. For the last seven years, I've been building up my solo act through shows around Australia in pubs, clubs and at festivals, basically pulling together a following like any other dance music act would. I'm not really like other dance acts. I play live electro-disco beats, change a thousand costumes, croon deliciously, project video, and fuck around with audiences. Even though I've never intended to be a cabaret act, over the last year or so, I've realised that's what I do.

Earlier this year, I decided to venture to Adelaide Fringe and Perth's Fringe World for party-sized experiments – they were appropriately debauched and a nice change of pace from touring around on my lonesome, so I decided to dive in the deep end with my first Edinburgh Fringe season. Through saving gig money, a very successful bout of crowdfunding and some ArtsWA help, I was able to get my arse all the way around the world with a new version of my show called An Audience With Tomas Ford, playing at Edinburgh's Jekyll & Hyde every night of Fringe at 11:50pm.

...which brings us to now. It's 8:40pm. I've been on a plane for about two hours and because I'm an Australian, the hostesses have racially profiled me as an alcoholic and are plying me with endless drinks. I graciously accept, as I know I need to fall asleep in order to enjoy my six hours in Amsterdam. The flight is dead quiet; I've got my own row and I spend the whole thing catching up on the latest K-pop (I'm flying an Asian airline). Particularly of note is the hyperactive future R&B of Kim Hyung Jun and rapper Edison Chen who you should totally listen to right now (https://vimeo.com/15431258).

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After twenty-ish hours of transit, I make it to Amsterdam and head out in search of the Red Light District. It's my first time in Europe and even though it's 6am on a Tuesday morning, I'm determined to find some kind of amusement. There's nobody around and I can't even find a place to have a breakfast coffee, let alone an open coffee shop. Luckily I'm easily pleased and spend the next six hours riding a bike around, getting lost in the depths of the suburbs. I make it back to the plane only just in time to board a flight to Edinburgh and deal with the pain in the arse that is getting my equipment through customs.

Edinburgh is beautiful – every building is old in a way that we just wouldn't allow in Australia. My experience of cities are that they're a hodge-podge of concrete and glass, but this is really something else. Even the ugly buildings are pretty.

I arrive at the very comfortable sharehouse we are calling The Bordello, where some of my flatmates have already arrived. Dryly funny Perth comic Sian Choice is my roomie, so I try to get her and Bonnie Tessa-Davies to come out partying with me. I'm very enthusiastic, insisting on karaoke, scotch and shenanigans. Before we make it out the door, I am basically asleep on the couch.

Direct marketing is shit.  Any performers or Oxfam fundraising staff reading this already know this fact. Flyering is pretty much the only way to guarantee an audience here, but it's tough work. My show is a particular challenge, as it's not the kind of thing that I would sell to under-age kids, families or old people. For the first few days of the festival, they are the only people around. I flyer pretty hard at anybody between 18-55 but it's hard to tell if anybody is really interested. After all the effort of getting here, I'm not sure if I will actually be able to find an audience for my show here. I'm even less sure that I know how to sell my show in a way that doesn't sound terrifying or awful.

My opening night is an odd gig. The Jekyll & Hyde is an L-shaped room with a stage in the corner; I've played a few places like it before, so I didn't think it would be a problem. Unfortunately the stage opens out onto a wall and there are two very separate audience areas, which is a big problem since the audience watching each other is a huge part of the fun of my show. The audience are all into it, but I don't feel the kind of warm fuzzy audience unity that I'm used to at Australian shows. To compensate, I'm throwing out way too much energy, a bit like I'm playing in an unresponsive beer barn back home. I come off stage, not feeling very happy. Twenty four shows in a row might feel like a very long time.

I'm onstage, having a wonderful time. I've moved things around to make the room work better for me and now everything is going so amazingly well! I'm crowdsurfing! The audience are reacting exactly how I want them to! This is amazing! When I am angry at them, they emote! When I ask them to sing, they sing! After last night, this is such a relief. My show translates! This is what I came here for! It's perfect! I'm so validated it hurts! I can't believe it! Maybe I will be famous! My show is amazing! I am amazing! I love my life! Wahoooo!

Nothing is bad about today. I go to see a sketch show called Bad Bread that features my housemate Brydie-Lee Kennedy, and it's a blast.  It's tightly executed, totally off-kilter sketch comedy. Then I perform one of my favourite shows ever. Life is amazing. I can't believe I get to live twenty two more days like this!

I wake up early at 2pm so I can go see Simon Munnery's new show Fylm Makker (http://www.edfringe.com/whats-on/comedy/simon-munnery-fylm-makker). You might remember him from his kooky La Concepta fake restaurant shows in parks at comedy festivals. It's worth the effort; he sits in the audience with a camera pointed at his head and musical accompaniment from Mick Moriarty from Australian act The Gadflys (the old Good News Week house band). It's a bit of an experiment, but it pays off handsomely. When it works, he achieves something like the comic equivalent of close-up magic; the intimacy amplifies the power of his jokes and his visual gags are totally on point. Being a contrary bastard, he finishes the show with a terminally unfunny short film (which is very good but feels jarring in the show). It kills the audiences' buzz, which is a real pity as up until that point they had adored him.

After another busy afternoon's flyering, I head to my own show. I've been having trouble with my laptop power supply; tonight it comes to a head when my laptop browns out just prior to the peak of my set. Luckily, some pleasant gents from Othello: The Remix (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lgOXJRTo7wc) are loudly enjoying the show and their enthusiasm buoys the rest of the crowd. I keep going without any music, making my entirely electronic show work a capella and am pleasantly surprised to find myself carried up the stairs and onto the street at the end of the show. Although I often crowdsurf in my show, I would never ask a crowd to take me upstairs. It feels unreal.

Edinburgh is deserted. There's an epidemic of two person audiences today, so when I turn up to my show and realise I'm set to play for three friendly-looking fellows, I've got the perspective to know this is one person above the going average crowd for the day. I head up to the bar at the start of the  for is that when I go into the main bar and shout for everybody to come down, everybody does. A stack of my housemates turn up too, making this  show is one of the most fun to date. Fun fact about trying to sing while crowdsurfing your way up stairs: it's a very effective way to strain your vocal chords.

...But not as effective as drinking. After the show, I head out with my deranged housemate Abogoliah Schaman (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=v6EVXBXwaJM) and a bunch of random French dudes that have turned up at the venue. They purport to have very little English, and I have bugger all French, but we do bad mime-dancing together and communicate via the international language of alcohol. We dance to the worst Will.I.Am electro-house bullshit music imaginable, drink until we can't talk and then attempt to communicate. He tells me I should come to Lyon. I tell him he should come to my show, “it is... uhhhh... le Daft Punk... le cabaret...” He looks appropriately confused.

I am also confused, but deliriously happy. Being an unknown here, I'd expected to come here and play for nobody for at least the first week. If it keeps on like this, the season will build very nicely. I'm drunk. I'm delirious. I'm on top of the world. I'm dancing to Fedde Le Grand.

An Audience With Tomás Ford plays at the Edinburgh Fringe at The Jekyll & Hyde (Hanover St) at 11:50pm, from August 2-26. His new album of the same title is in stores now and tomasford.com, iTunes and Spotify.