Sunday, August 24, 2014

Art and a Movie at the Ringling: Who the *$&% is Jackson Pollock?

Earlier this summer, the Ringling Museum had a really interesting exhibit on entitled "Intent to Deceive."  The show told the stories of five master art forgers, including how they ultimately were found out.  As a follow-on to the show, the Ringling is hosting a series of "conversations" followed by a movie whose purpose, according to curator of education Maureen Zaremba, is to "virtually take us behind the scenes of the museum."  The first of these evenings focused on art authentication.

Maureen Zaremba and Beth Mattison
Zaremba and Beth Mattison, this year's Selby Fellow for Education, kicked off the evening by giving an overview of the ways in which art can be authenticated.  The somewhat surprising fact is that there is no real system by which works of art are authenticated.  Instead, museums, galleries and collectors use a triad of methodologies to determine whether an artwork was created by the artist in question.

The first of these methods is looking at the work's provenance; i.e., establishing the line of ownership from the hands of the artist to the current owner.  (As they spoke about provenance, I found myself thinking about how the provenance of "antique" furniture was faked in Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch and wondering how often disreputable art dealers engage in similar practices.) One of the ongoing areas of research relates to the provenance of artwork that might have been stolen by the Nazis during WWII.  The Nazi Era Provenance Internet Portal is one such project.  Its objective is to provide a researchable site covering all works in U.S. museums that changed ownership in Continental Europe during the Nazi era.  Needless to say, a huge task, and one that the Ringling has participated in.

The second means of authentication is connoisseurship, essentially an art expert putting his seal of approval on a work of art as genuine.  It reminds me of the Supreme Court's test for obscenity.  "I know it when I see it."  Of course, in this case, the connoisseur has usually spent a lifetime studying and writing about the artist in question.

An Amptek x-ray spectometer in use to examine a wall painting
The final means of authentication falls under the broad heading of scientific analysis.  These days, the use by a forger of materials that weren't available during the period the real artist was alive can lead to his downfall.  Other fakes have been detected using computer analysis to look at brushstrokes at a microscopic level to determine if they are consistent with those in other works by the same artist.  The technology available to assist in these inquiries is constantly growing and changing.  Zaremba shared that the Ringling previously used the x-ray machine at Sarasota Memorial Hospital to take a closer look at some of the works in its collection.  This tool is no longer available because x-rays, like so many things, have gone digital.  If you want to read a bit more about the use of an XRF spectrometer in analyzing art and architecture, click here.

Zaremba and Mattison then gave us a bit of background about the cast of characters we would encounter in "Who the *$&% is Jackson Pollock?"   The story revolves around Teri Horton, a California truck driver who purchased a larger than life painting from a thrift store for $5 to cheer up a friend.  When a high school art teacher suggested that the painting might be a Jackson Pollock, Teri's reaction led to the title for this documentary.

Teri Horton now knows who Jackson Pollock is.  
In the film, we meet Horton and some of her friends and family.  (Trust me when I say that Horton is quite colorful.) We also meet some of the people who have been involved in the authentication debate.  There's Thomas Hoving, a "professional connoisseur" who emphatically concludes the work is not a Pollock.  (The movie doesn't reveal that his area of expertise is not Pollock, or even modern art, but medieval art.)   There's Paul Biro, the "forensic" authenticator who uses science to reach his conclusion that the painting is a Pollock.  (Once again, the movie doesn't tell the backstory that Biro was implicated in a number of lawsuits relating to art fraud.) And we are introduced to the International Foundation for Art Research, a "nonprofit educational and research organization dedicated to integrity in the visual arts" that authenticates artwork but doesn't disclose the individuals who were involved in the authentication process.  (Purportedly, this is to protect against lawsuits, but it seems a bit odd to me that people are not willing to publicly stand behind their judgments.)  It's an entertaining movie that kept me interested until the very end.  And while I could have watched the movie in the comfort of my home, it was much more fun to share the experience with an auditorium filled with art lovers.

The final installment in the Ringling's series will give the audience a peek into the ways museums protect their collections from would-be thieves.  On Thursday, August 28, at 6:00, Ringling staff will talk about security at the Museum, with a screening of "The Thomas Crown Affair" (with Pierce Brosnan and Rene Russo) to follow.  Admission is only $5.  Perhaps I'll see you there.


Sunday, August 17, 2014

Go West, Young Women

Okay, I know that (i) the reference to going "west" doesn't traditionally mean west of Edinburgh and (ii) technically speaking, Wendi and I might not qualify as "young," but still this post title kept coming to mind.  And so I went with it for this quick travelogue of our three days on the road to Callendar, Oban and Dundoon before we started our EdFringe adventure.

Stirling Castle
The Castles -- Stirling Castle is one of largest and most important castles in Scotland, but I found its history a bit mind-numbing (and only in part because we went there directly from the airport).  The castle "changed hands" eight times in the period from 1296-1342.  William Wallace (popularized by Mel Gibson--in the days when we liked Mel Gibson--in the movie "Braveheart") is memorialized in the Castle as one of the leaders of the First War of Scottish Independence in 1297.  And Stirling Castle is where Mary, Queen of Scots ruled in the 16th century.  (She was six days old when she ascended to the throne.  Regents ruled until she was of maturity.)  Even this small amount of history is giving me a headache, so I guess it wasn't the jetlag.

Wendi at Inverary Castle
Inverary Castle was much more my style.  First of all, I always love a good turret.  Second, the castle is essentially the family home of the Duke of Argyll, Chief of the Clan Campbell, and was much more intimate.  Family pictures of the current (13th) Duke of Argyll, Torquil Ian, and his lovely wife (nee Cadbury of the chocolate Cadburys) and their three children are scattered throughout the rooms, and one wing of the castle is off-limits to visitors as they actually live there part of the time.  Perhaps a bit surprisingly, my favorite room in the castle housed the armory collection, which included all sorts of polearms artfully displayed.   If you're a fan of "Downtown Abbey," the castle might look familiar to you, as the setting of Duneagle Castle.  There were photos in the castle of a holiday episode filmed there.
Waterfall at Puck's Glen

Best walk -- Scotland is, of course, known for its walks, and our walk in Puck's Glen was incredibly beautiful.  I should have been counting the number of waterfalls that we saw.  It was actually quite magical, and the weather even held out for us.

Best weird Scottish food that I didn't try -- I'll admit it.  I did try a tiny bite of haggis (a "pudding" containing sheep's heart, liver and lungs), and it wasn't the worst thing I've ever put in my mouth.  (Interestingly, many places had vegetarian haggis.  I don't quite understand how that works.)  One night Wendi and I went to a local fish and chips place and a kid at a nearby table had a half-circle of indistinguishable fried food.  When we asked the waitress what it was, she told us it was pizza that had been breaded and deep fried.  As she said, "We Scots like to fry everything!"

Scottish Highland Cows
Best roadside stop -- It seemed like everywhere we stopped, we saw pictures of this wonderful animal that made us smile.  Really, how do they see?  I finally asked someone what it was and learned it is a Scottish Highland cow.  I knew our prospects of spotting one on our travels were slim, but Wendi told me to shout out if I did.  We were driving along when I suddenly spied one and cried out, "Cow, cow!"  We pulled a u-turn and drove right up into a farmer's driveway to get up close and personal with these brilliant beasts.

Best sign --  We've all seen deer crossing signs (how do they know that's where to go?), but this is the first time I've seen a sign warning to watch for elderly people.   I have so many questions about these signs that remain unanswered.  Why are these signs popular in the UK but nowhere else?  How do they determine where to place them?  What I did find out is that the image for the sign came from a children's competition held in 1981 and that there are people who now take offense at the signs because being old doesn't equate to being hunched over and walking with a cane.  (Political incorrectness comes in all shapes and sizes.)  All I know is that we found the sign hilarious and it caused us to pull over almost as quickly as we did for our Scottish Highland cows.  
Near Glencoe

Best view -- The Scottish Highlands were so different Florida that they were a real treat. The drive from Callendar to Glen Coe was particularly beautiful, and we found ourselves pulling off the road repeatedly onto vista points to enjoy the view.  If we'd had more time, it would have been great to spend some time hiking in this area.  But there was theater to be seen, so we soaked up the view and were on our way. 

And so concludes this edition of "how I spent my summer vacation."  I'm already plotting my return....


Tuesday, August 12, 2014

5 Star Show at EdFringe: SmallWar by Valentijn Dhaenens

While I didn't know what to expect from the shows at EdFringe, I knew what I was hoping for.  When I went to WorldFest at Venice Theatre earlier this summer, there were two styles of theater that really grabbed me:  multi-media shows (like Argentina's "Our Daily Bread") and theater concerts in which the lyrics of familiar songs are used in unexpected ways (like Danish Black Box Pangea's "POP! )  We got both, along with a heartbreaking story and superb acting, in Valentijn Dhaenens' "SmallWar."

The stage had a screen on it, behind which was a table with a phone and what turned out to be a hospital bed.  As the lights went down, a nurse (Dhaenens) wheeled the bed onto the stage.  It's a short bed--size appropriate for a small child--but all that is needed for this soldier who has lost his arms, legs and ability to speak (but not to think).  The soldier is a projected image of Dhaenens.

The nurse begins to sing the words from Nat King Cole's "Nature Boy" in a haunting voice:

There was a boy,
A very strange enchanted boy
They say he wandered very far
Very far, over land and seas...."

SmallWar (photo credit to Murdo Macleod for the Guardian)
Over the next hour, the nurse tends to her patient while telling stories--interspersed with song--about former patients she'd worked with.  At one point she tells us about the extent of Dhaenens' injuries.  She sings the words to "Smile Though Your Heart is Breaking."  While created for a different context, they work incredibly well for a nurse dealing with death and devastating injuries:

"Light up your face with gladness
Hide every trace of sadness
Although a tear may be ever so near
That's the time you must keep on trying..."

Periodically, the phone would ring and a projected image of Dhaenens would rise from the bed and answer it.  (Each image seemed to represent a different soldier.)  We learn about these soldiers' lives and the sacrifices they made by leaving home to go to war.  There are children born who they'll never see and parents lost.  There's a Dear John letter (accompanied by "Are You Lonesome Tonight?")  By the end of the show, the stage is filled with four standing soldiers, the bed-ridden patient and the nurse.
It was a hard play to watch, yet it was also beautiful and creative and incredibly moving.  It was a theatrical experience I will never forget, and the perfect ending to our EdFringe experience.  My rating:  5 stars (unforgettable, creative, I loved it)


Monday, August 11, 2014

Taking Chances at EdFringe

The Edinburgh Fringe Festival was established more than 60 years ago as an alternative for performers who were not accepted into the Edinburgh International Festival (a festival that continues to co-exist today with EdFringe).  While some of the established venues (like the Traverse and Paines Plough at Summerhall) curate their shows, the festival is open to anyone who can secure a venue.  Hence, the "fringeness" of many of the performances.  While I felt that some of the more experimental theater we saw fell flat, a few shows struck a chord.

Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland --It wasn't until the third day of our EdFringe experience that we went to a show that gave me an emotional wallop.  Schizophrenia deals with a mother's and son's respective psychotic breaks.   I expected it to be an intense show, and it was.

My view of the stage during first half of performance
The theater was broken into two sides, with a wall with a center door across the middle of the stage.  The audience was asked to divide into two groups and told that we would switch sides midway through the show, with the action being replayed.

It wasn't long before a man wearing hospital scrubs and dress shoes wandered into our room.  He had a totally vacant look on his face, and I could feel his anxiety.  Who was he?  A doctor?  A patient posing as a doctor?   Before long another man joined him, and their dialogue revealed that that the second man was a patient.  I continued to be unclear, though, about the identity of the first man.  Although he was asking psychiatrist-like questions, I began to wonder if he was a visual manifestation of another identity of the patient.  (Having now spent some time online, I realize that schizophrenia is actually different from dissociative identity disorder.  Schizophrenics often suffer from delusions and hallucinations--frequently auditory in nature--while patients suffering from dissociative identity disorder have multiple personalities.  This knowledge would have altered my perceptions of the show somewhat, but not its impact.)

While the story unfolded, we could hear bits and pieces of what was happening on the other side of the wall. Sometimes an actor from one side made a cameo appearance in the other side of the story.  Two of the actors shared a strong resemblance (both had shaved heads and similar features and were the same height).  It was disconcerting, and powerful.  I thought about how the staging--with multiple voices and the split between the audience and the actors--reflected the multiple personalities/delusions of schizophrenics.

As promised, midway through the show, we switched sides.  The show began from the top, but now we were seeing the mother's side of the story.  I could hear the son's story unfolding once again on the other side of the wall.  Both seemed different than they had in the first half.

Perhaps not surprisingly, there's no happy ending in this show.  In fact, there was no resolution at all. Wendi and I were both a bit unclear as to what had transpired.  Nonetheless, I was taken with the ability of the show to drop me into the world of a psychiatric patient.   And the ensemble cast was top notch.

My rating:  4 1/2 stars (I found it engrossing and creative and highly recommend it, but too confusing to warrant a full 5 stars)

Michael Puzzo
White Rabbit, Red Rabbit -- After seeing Theatre on a Long Thin Wire, my expectations for this show had been lowered significantly.  Similar to Long Thin Wire, White Rabbit, Red Rabbit is billed as having "No rehearsals.  No director.  No boundaries."  Happily, that is where the similarities between the shows end.

In each performance, a different actor reads the script cold.  Our reader was Michael Puzzo, a New York playwright who has a show in the Festival.  He was brought onto the stage by the producer and handed a sealed manilla envelope.  He opened it, removed the script, sat down in the chair, and began to read (stage directions and all).  He was terrific.

I don't want to divulge much about this show because I hope you will have the chance to see it some time.  (It has been performed around the world in 15 languages, so you might actually get the opportunity.)  I will say, though, that there's audience participation that lends a quality of lightheartedness and fun to a show that is ultimately very political.  We learn that the author, Nassim Soleimanpour, is an Iranian who cannot obtain a passport because he refuses to do the compulsory two years of military service.  Soleimanpour says, through the lips of our reader, that it "tastes like freedom to be able to travel to other worlds through [his] words" and that "it helps [him] feel we are connected."

As the tone of the play shifted, so did the demeanor of the audience.  The laughter that dominated the beginning of the show fell away, and you could have heard a pin drop as the play turned both personal and overtly political.  (The respectfulness of this audience was representative of audiences throughout the Festival.)

It was a thought-provoking performance whose use of a allegory (with audience participation) balanced out the intensity of the message.  My rating:  5 stars (wonderful, unusual, I loved it)


Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Night of Laughter at EdFringe

This year's EdFringe offers more than 3,000 shows (almost 50,000 performances).  To say that it was difficult to decide which shows to see--even with the guidance of Guardian arts critic Lyn Gardner--is an understatement.  So it came as no surprise when we saw a show that either Wendi or I (and sometimes both of us) thought was a stinker.  And many of the shows I awarded 4 or 5 stars to in our finely honed rating system were well done but dealt with serious subjects or required considerable analysis to try to figure out what had actually happened.  And so it was a treat to see back-to-back laugh out loud shows one evening.

Lotto's "Nativity" (1523)
Hannah Gadsby: The Exhibitionist -- Gadsby is an Australian comedian who was billed as "bringing her love of art into the prime time with a look at portraits, propaganda and show offs."   How could I resist?  

We learned at the outset that Gadbsy had studied art history and curatorship in Australia (which she recognized was chuckle-worthy in and of itself).  She then offered us a series of "unnecessary observations" about a variety of paintings and photographs with an accompanying slide show.  

Take, for instance, Lorenzo Lotto's "Nativity."  Your eye is drawn to Mary and Joseph looking adoringly at the baby Jesus.  What you might not notice is the crucifix in the background of the painting.  "Isn't that a bit insensitive?" Gadsby asked. 

Goya's "Portrait of the Duchess
of Alba" (1797)
She later shared Goya's famous "Portrait of the Duchess of Alba."  Not to put words in the sitter's mouth, but it does seem--at least to Gadsby--that the Duchess is inordinately excited about her new shoes.  

Gadsby segued into a showcase of family portraits with hilarious commentary.  (The inspiration for the show was her mother's gift of a shopping bag filled with her pictures of Gadsby.  While she is happy to have them, she did wonder what motivated her mother to decide that she didn't need those memories any more.)  My favorite was a picture that she claimed to be the only one of her as a baby, a shot that cut her off mid-face.  Her thoughts?  We'll never know if she was a cute baby, but she was definitely long.

My score:  4 stars (I loved it and highly recommend it)

Matt Tedford as Maggie
Margaret Thatcher Queen of Soho:  Wendi and I generally avoided shows about UK political issues/personalities (like the upcoming Scottish independence vote).  It's hard enough to understand what's going on in our own political system, much less someone else's.  But people were abuzz about how much fun Maggie Queen of Soho was, so we decided to give it a whirl.  After all, how often do you get the chance to see a drag queen impersonating a former prime minister?

This high energy show had us in stitches from start to finish.  A sell-out crowd piled into the Assembly Garden theater to the inevitable sound of the Village People's "YMCA."  Everyone was dancing in their seats when Maggie took the stage, accompanied by her two shorty-short wearing male sidekicks.

The show was part musical revue, part comedy revolving around the issue of Section 28, a British law that prohibited the promotion of homosexuality--or homosexuality as a "pretended family relationship"--in schools.  (The law was repealed in 2000.)   The use of songs in the show was brilliant.  Perhaps my favorite bits were at the beginning when Thatcher mentioned the topics that would not be discussed that evening.  Single parenthood (to the tune of Ace of Base's "All That She Wants [is another baby]") would be left for another day.  So would the war in the Falklands ("Don't Cry for Me, Argentina").

Bananarama's lyrics in its ever-popular (???) song "Venus" -- "She's got it, Yeah, baby, she's got it"  -- were reflective of the sentiment of the house.  Matt Tedman does, indeed, have it in his portrayal of Maggie Queen of Soho.

My score:  3 1/2 stars (really enjoyed it and recommend it)




Friday, August 8, 2014

Getting in on the Show at EdFringe

We all know that the best-laid plans can go awry.  And sometimes that turns out to be a good thing.  When we were planning our Fringe schedule, Wendi specifically said that she wanted to avoid shows that advertised as having audience participation.  I was on board with that as I envisioned painful comedy acts where audience members end up being poked and prodded and humiliated.   And yet we found ourselves at multiple shows in which we ended up being bit players in the performance.

Silent Voice 
Silent Voice -- This show was described as a portrayal of four men who get together for an "intelligent yet dangerous heist."  Being a thriller lover, it sounded right up my alley (plus it was part of the "South African season" that Guardian arts critic Lyn Gardner had lauded).  From the opening moments, though, we knew we had made a mistake as the actors shouted and ran around the stage.  About ten minutes into the performance, the actors came into the audience with guns raised, telling us to keep our heads down and not to look at them.  One actor positioned himself next to Wendi and actually pushed her head down.  Gulp!  As soon as the gun-wielding performers had made their way back to the stage, Wendi and I made our way to the door.   My score:  0 stars (we left)

Theatre on Long Thin Wire
Theatre on a Long Thin Wire -- This play was billed as a show that takes risk-taking to a new level, with no actors, no technicians and no set.  I was highly intrigued.   When on queue to get in, we were told to read the instructions as we entered the room and to leave all of our belongings at the door.  We learned that the phone might ring, and that someone could answer it if we wanted to.  Along with 14 other audience members, Wendi and I filed into a small room whose only decor was a chair with a phone on it.  Most people milled around as I sat on the floor.  The phone rang.  I encouraged Wendi to pick it up.  She did -- and cut off the caller.  He called back and another audience member answered.  Over the course of the next hour, the guy on the other end of the phone talked to various audience members (including Wendi and me), and we repeated his words to the rest of the group.  (Yes, a speaker phone would have been more efficient, but it would have defeated the objectives of team building and who knows what else.)  Thank goodness that we participated because the show was dreadfully dull.  The caller was an agoraphobic and we were his only connection to the outside world.  I won't reveal the story in case someone reads this who plans to see the show, but suffice it to say that I felt it was a failed theatrical experiment.   My score:  2 stars (I didn't like it but recognize it had some redeeming qualities)

Kraken
Kraken -- When we were on queue for a performance one night, we noticed a long line--and much excitement--for a show called Kraken.  This "beautifully strange stream of consciousness idiocy" from a Gaulier-trained clown sounded like fun so we added it to our schedule.  While waiting to get into the theater, Wendi pointed out a notice that the show included some nudity.  Huh?  As we were in our front row seats waiting for the performance to start, Wendi noticed a nose sticking out from behind the curtain; later there was a forehead.  We were giggling already.  "Kraken" (aka Trygve Wakenshaw) made a real entrance as he came onto the stage struggling against giant rubber bands that held him back from reaching his goal of a stool at the other end of the stage on which his clothes for the performance were stacked.  The only way to get out of the bands was to strip out of his clothing.  (I know this is hard to imagine, but it was really funny and well-done.)  He stands naked on the stage with a wry look on his face.  I felt like he was looking right at me and tried my best to maintain eye contact.  He is long and lean and quite adorable.  Once he was dressed, the show continued, and it was a combination of mime (the kind where some language is involved) and physical humor that kept us laughing for an hour.  He had a bit with a bow and arrow where he struck people in the audience, proclaimed "ow" and came over and kissed them on their foreheads.  I was delighted to be the recipient of a wound and a kiss.  (It was quite a remarkable night for me--a naked man AND a kiss!)  Later in the show he was doing a sleight of hand with some objects that disappeared.  "Has anyone seen my balls?" he asked innocently.  I chimed in that they were hard to see because they were very little, doing a bit of miming of my own.  "Perhaps it's cold?" I ventured.  He laughed, we all laughed, and we didn't stop until the performance was over.  My score:  3 1/2 stars (really enjoyed it and would recommend it).

Jonny Donahoe
in Every Brilliant Thing
Every Brilliant Thing -- When we entered this theater in the round, actor Jonny Dohahoe was approaching audience members and handing out pieces of paper with numbers and words on them.  A few were handed pages with slightly longer scripts and actually played characters.  Donahoe was cheery and endearing and I immediately was filled with happy anticipation (despite knowing that the show deals with depression).  As the show begins, a seven year old is told by his dad that his mum has "done something stupid" and that she's in the hospital.  She apparently doesn't feel like life is worth living.  The boy decides to make a list of all of the brilliant things in the world.  Donahoe would call out a number and the audience member would shout out his or her line -- ice cream or kind old people who aren't weird and don't smell unusual or realizing where an idiom comes from (like when you wake up in the morning and actually smell the coffee brewing).  Wendi's and my brilliant things were electricity and skinny dipping.

The list takes on a life of its own over time in a story that is sweet and sad and filled with laughter and love and optimism in the face of real-life issues.  Donahoe is wonderful in the role and is as believable in his seven year old persona as he is as an adult.  I loved every second of this show.  In the last scene, he unloads a large box filled with pages of brilliant things.  These ideas have been contributed by audience members, and we were invited to take a look as the show drew to a close.  I had already written my own addition -- the show "Every Brilliant Thing."  This show alone would have made going to the Festival worthwhile.  My score:  5 stars (wonderful, unusual, loved it).



Thursday, August 7, 2014

The EdFringe Experience

Wendi printing out our pre-purchased
tickets at Fringe Central
After seeing 37 shows in six days, my head is still spinning a wee bit.   EdFringe was every bit as crazy as I had expected -- but crazy in an orchestrated chaos way rather than an out of control way. After all, this annual festival has been taking place since 1947, so Festival organizers have had time to work out the kinks.

Our first stop was a ticket collection site near the hotel to print out the tickets we had purchased in advance.  It was the first preview day of the Festival, and things were quiet on the Royal Mile. That changed as the Festival proper got underway, with buskers in seemingly every nook and cranny and stages set up for scheduled performances.

Pop-up theater in Assembly Gardens
The Festival venues are spread out across Edinburgh, but all were walking distance from our hotel (hence the 15000+ daily steps on my FitBit!)   There are six established venues (each with multiple theaters) in addition to more than 300 pubs and clubs and pop-up spaces that host Festival events. The performance spaces vary significantly, but most are fairly intimate.  The Traverse, for instance, is a real theater with two spaces, the larger of which accommodates only 216 people.
Sign for the Demonstration Room
at Summerhall
The Summerhall venue was a veterinary school in the day, and the theaters there have names like Dissection Room and Anatomy Lecture Hall.  (These spaces were classrooms in their prior lives and still have wooden desks running across the front of the elevated rows from which we peered down at the performers.)  And the Assembly spaces range from classrooms to traditional performance space to a pop-up theater.  Each of these venues has cafes and bars--both indoors and outside--where you could hang out in-between shows.

Wendi with cast of Pioneer
The streets are filled with young people handing out flyers for shows.  (We even scored some free tickets during the preview days.)  Sometimes the perfomers themselves are out promoting their show.  (The cast of Pioneer was thrilled to hear that we had seen their show and enjoyed it.  And they were happy to answer our question about what happened to one of the characters.)

Some of the Underbelly Theaters
are on Cowgate  
Almost every stage is used for multiple shows, and the turn-around time between productions is quite short.  We generally joined the queue to get in no more than ten minutes before the scheduled start time (with shows running amazingly on time).  We'd line up, file in, the lights would dim, and the show would begin.  Sometimes when we entered the theater, the actors were already onstage just waiting to get started.  We often ended up in the front row (not always a good thing as some of the shows were pretty painful.  We only left two shows mid-performance, but there were a couple of others we would have left if a graceful exit had been possible.)

Needless to say, organization is key to making the most of the Festival experience.  Booking 24 shows in advance provided us with the backbone of our schedule while still permitting us to add on shows that got good reviews or sounded intriguing.  Of course we weren't able to see everything on our radar--and we made some missteps along the way--but overall I'm quite pleased with our choices.  And now on to some commentary about the shows....