TAC Member Sarah Norris talks about prepping her show, Hitler's Tasters, for Edinburgh Fringe Festival
(Any first timers or aspiring Fringe fanatics, pay attention!)
For all of us theater folk, there might be those who have dreams in one day taking a show to Edinburgh Fringe Festival. We want the opportunity to gather in that small city in Scotland where artists from all around the world, big and small, come together and share their work. Lucky for TAC Member Sarah Norris, she has that opportunity to take her theater company, New Light Theater Project, to Edinburgh for the first time.
Hitler’s Tasters, written by Michelle Kholos Brooks, and directed by Sarah, is a dark comedy about the young women who have the “honor” of being Adolph Hitler’s food tasters. New Light originally produced the show in October 2018, with an all female team, and since December, have been getting ready for the four week intensity of Edinburgh Fringe. As she is getting ready to leave for Scotland, Sarah just came back from taking Hitler’s Tasters to North Shore Center in Chicago, and is now going to be showing it here in NYC at East to Edinburgh at 59E59 Theaters.
During her time in the co-working space, I was able to sit down with Sarah and get some insight on how she has gathered her resources for Edinburgh Fringe Festival for the first time.
Before you got accepted into the festival, what was your perception of Edinburgh Fringe Festival?
Well it’s been on my bucket list to go. I love traveling, but what a bonus it would be to do it with theater. In grad school I was fortunate to go to the Adelaide Festival in Australia. The idea of art, not just theater, but the scope of international art, is very exciting. So with Edinburgh, for how long it’s been going, I think it’s incredible how many people have gone through, and still go through Edinburgh.
How did you get into the festival?
Well, it was not my idea, we were approached about doing the festival, and once we were approached, I wanted to really make sure it would be a good path for our company and whether or not they would be willing to do it, so after discussing it with the team and getting a confirmation from them, we got started on applications. From my understanding, anyone can submit to the festival, but what you have to do is apply to theaters and venues. So it was a few days of applying to different theaters, and doing the research, and figuring out which space would work for the show. We didn’t want to go to a huge venue, since we haven’t done the festival before, and don’t know anyone in the circuit, so we wanted to make sure it was a theater that we felt we could fill. A lot of it was narrowing down the search, and what would best fit our show.
Why did you submit Hitler’s Tasters over all your other shows?
Hitler’s Tasters first and foremost is a play, but there is a lot of dance and music in it, which is an element I thought would serve well in the Fringe set up. It’s a smallish cast, four people, the whole team is female, and they all were super excited about it. It helped that they were up to the challenge of raising the extra money, and that we had some additional funding set up for this project as well. The show itself seems like the perfect travel play, because all you need is a table and chairs, and there are no real specialty items involved. Even the actresses got along very well, I mean, they had slumber parties. They took that “getting along” to another level. Since it’s going to be a long and stressful month of sharing rooms, doing shows everyday, promoting the show, flyering, and getting people to try and come see the play, there’s not much private time, but on the other hand they seemed very eager and willing to do the work, so it just felt like a good balance of artists, and a right fit for the festival.
What have you done to prep yourself and your team?
The show is originally 85 minutes long, and it’s strongly encouraged to cut your piece down to an hour. So we’ve cut it down, since we don’t want people leaving towards the end trying to catch their next show. We went back into the rehearsal process, getting ready to take the show to Chicago for two weeks, and that was something that came out of the blue and seemed like an exciting opportunity to test it out. We also are participating in the East Edinburgh Festival here in NYC at 59E59 for friends and family. But mostly what I have thought about was the prepping of the choreography for set up and break down, because that’s part of the time element: five minutes to put up, five minutes to take down. Everybody has to participate in that. So I was working out what that would look like, which seems exciting, but I feel nervous for the cast, because there’s no time to settle, or prepare yourself, or get in the headspace, since you’re sort of rushed to set up all the props, and then perform on the spot.
Can you go more into detail about how you went about the funding process?
Well we haven’t done crowd sourcing in a while. And when we were approached about doing Edinburgh, at first I thought it felt like I had to choose one of our babies over the other, and I wasn’t comfortable focusing all of this money into it. I thought, why would I put so much money towards this show, and neglect our other shows? So the person that approached us about submitting to Edinburgh, I was very up front about them needing to help us fund specifically for Edinburgh. So that person matched what was raised in the past, through the indie go we put up for Hitler’s Tasters. And I was also very forward with everyone that this was a huge endeavor and Mike (Michael Aguirre, Producing Director of New Light Theater Project) and I can’t do it on our own. Everyone has to understand that this is a project that they’re producing and contributing to, and everyone seemed really excited about that, including our design team and stage managing. They kind of divided up the jobs, like having a yard sale for example. So, they’ve brought in money by working together. Also, I didn’t ask other company members who are working on other projects to pitch in, since they’re not attached to this project. And we’ve raised the money we need to go, and used things like the yard sale and other fundraisers to give food stipends to our team, and additional money to make our month a little more comfortable.
So only the Hitler's Tasters production team was heading the Edinburgh funding process?
Yes, and I wanted to be very clear that our team was not doing fundraising for New Light Theater Project, because if that was the case, I would have divided the money up with all our other New Light shows. So, for example, two of the actresses took on a project, and called it “Hitler’s Taster’s the Play Fundraiser”. So we were very clear about where the money was going. And we’ve done other things, like a restaurant donated an evening to us, where we went in and talked about the show, and they gave us the money that was raised from the restaurant that evening. We had artist friends who donated some paintings that we auctioned off. So being kind of creative, and it’s been a slow process, but we started our funding process back in December.
Were you surprised about the eagerness of your team to help out with gritty production side of things?
Well, I knew I couldn’t do this on my own, so I was really communicating with the team about whether or not do we really want to do this, and whether or not they were up to doing the not so fun process, like submitting applications, raising money, doing research on posters, etc. And since it was our first time, we didn’t have the resources or research from past shows. Basically, we were starting from scratch. The team made it clear that they were eager and willing to do that, and so we all worked together in making a budget, and who was necessary to travel with. We knew we wanted to bring a lighting designer. At first we thought we would only travel a stage manager if we could raise the money, but then quickly into it, I realized we needed to travel a stage manager whether or not we raised the money, because there is just so much to do. So trying to figure out what was necessary, creating a wish list, eventually we came up with three different budgets that ranged from the bare minimum of what we need, to leisure expenses. Just so that we can have the money to support the production, but also have money for any last minute, extra expenses.
You mentioned that Edinburgh has been on your bucket list. Did you realize how much work it would take to get yourself to the festival?
No. And I took a couple of workshops this year about Edinburgh, and 59E59 does a workshop about Edinburgh that I was a part of. They are a presenter and they bring in a lot of shows from Edinburgh. Then there is a solo artist that has participated in Edinburgh for about 8 years, who I took a workshop with. And he said something in one of his workshops that stuck with me and that is: Edinburgh is like four years of college crammed into four weeks, it’s exhausting, it’s thrilling, you’re partying, you’re working, and you’re getting very little sleep. So with that, that is probably the reason why I’m intimidated, but on the other hand, I’m glad I know that going into the festival so that I can prepare and set myself up properly. Also with the team, I made sure we communicated on taking care of each other, whether someone is having a rough day, or needs a break, that we are being aware and paying attention to those kinds of needs. There can always be someone who can step in and take over. Even if they are the designated Tweeter or Instagramer, there is someone there that can let them step away and have some quiet time if they need a break.
What’s one thing you hope to get out of Edinburgh?
I mean, you never know what will happen, but I’m just really hopeful about being exposed to international coverage, and being able to expand and build New Light Theater Project, and making contacts with presenters who can bring the show to other venues. I’m especially excited about connecting with other companies and artists.
What is some advice you would give to those who also have Edinburgh on their bucket list?
I think being realistic about money, and giving yourself enough time to raising the money is really important. Also, I think finding at least one other person to help with the workload. I’m very lucky that I have a team, but I can’t imagine having to do it without at least one other person. I know people travel and do solo shows, but even those artists, like the solo artist I took the workshop with, he travels with a producer. Even though he has done it for so many years, and has stated that he can do Edinburgh on his own, since he’s had a lot of experience, it’s still nice to have one other person there. Especially if you’re having a bad day, you have to have someone there to support you.