Edinburgh Festival Day 1: Let's do the show right here]: Why be the audience when you can be the star? Take John McKay's advice and play a part

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The Independent Culture
Thinking of visiting the Edinburgh Fringe this year? Why go as a mere punter, when you could have all the fun of putting on your own show? Being last-minute and low on wherewithal is no obstacle on the Fringe: these are qualities you'll share with hundreds of other beginners. They are, in fact, the very attributes required to produce the classic Fringe show. I should know - I've done it 10 times in the last 12 years.

Interested? Pack the leotard, follow these simple do's and don'ts, and you should fit in nicely:

DO: Book late into a tiny church hall / garage / electricity substation somewhere on the road out to Glasgow. This won't help the audience figures, but should distract reviewers from slating the show. For a production of Macbeth, Richard Demarco once eschewed Edinburgh venues entirely, in favour of an island in the Firth of Forth, accessible only by fishing boat.

DO: Be American - preferably from some Midwestern territory better known for wheat than Wedekind. In these circumstances, do provide speaking parts for your entire family, PTA, and Hank who runs the grain elevator, because it would be a shame for anyone to miss the trip. I remember with fondness the Big Butte Festival Thespians: no less than 50 downhome folks determined to have a good time, buy knitwear, and remember that darn line by the end of the run.

DO: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Berkoff's Decadence, anything that will involve a deeply physical interpretation and a lot of grimacing in the production photos. If you must devise your fare, keep it positive and New Age.

DON'T: Cancel on Fireworks Night. The annual detonation of several tons of TNT over Edinburgh Castle adds an unforgettable frisson to shows about Beirut, intense mime performances etc; though not, sadly, to The Seagull I attended, where Konstantin, having exited in despair, appeared to shoot himself several times over, and with increasingly heavy artillery.

DON'T: bother to hire a flat large enough for your cast and crew. For one thing, all the big, expensive flats have already been booked by the big, expensive acts from the Assembly Rooms; for another, theatre is not the only nocturnal activity for which people come to Edinburgh: just think of it as a three-week game of sardines.

DON'T: Rehearse. Or, if you must, don't bother to talk to the lighting operator before the show. I recall a student production of Lady Audley's Secret, which played like a mid-Seventies Top of the Pops: lights flashing randomly, occasional bursts of music, bemused young people shuffling about.

DON'T: Neglect to use the word 'madness' in your publicity hand- outs. Alliteration is good ('musical madness', 'Mancunian madness', 'Mephistophelean madness' and so on); but best of all is the triple-whammy with exclamation marks, eg: 'Mystery] Mayhem] Madness]' This will clearly signal your meaning to the audience, ie: Our writer has not finished the script.

And that's it. Easy, right? So break a leg, but don't let that stop your run of Timon of Athens Goes Tap.

Tomorrow: Peter Guttridge talks to the film director Ken Loach

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