Tuesday 7 August 2012 | By Caro Moses
Carol Tambor: A Fringe love affair
Carol Tambor has been coming to the Festival for a very long time. She is also the originator, as you might likely expect, of the Carol Tambor Award, a theatre prize awarded every year at the Fringe.
An oil-painter by trade, this August she is also bringing an exhibition with her, of portraits of Fringe practitioners. It’s in aid of Fringe venue and year round home of the Edinburgh University Theatre Company, the Bedlam Theatre. ThreeWeeks caught up with Carol to find out more about her award, her art, and her love of the Festival.
CM: You’re well known here at the Edinburgh Fringe, not least because of the award that bears your name. For the uninitiated tell us more about the Carol Tambor Award, and what the winners receive.
CT: The winner of the Award receives a fully paid four-week run in The Clurman, a beautiful off Broadway house on 42nd Street. My foundation picks up all expenses – hotels, visas, air transportation, theatre rental, shipping of props, even a per diem allowance for meals – and the winners get the box office takings too. We rent the theatre for four weeks so that the company can remain after the reviews come in and word of mouth has increased the demand for tickets, and also guarantee that they go home with at least $10,000 from the box office receipts. We also present the winner’s show during the APAP’s NYC event [an annual forum organised by the US Association Of Performing Arts Presenters] when over 3500 producers descend on New York looking for work to present themselves, so it’s an amazing opportunity for any company to be seen.
CM: What motivated you to set up the Award?
CT: About ten years ago, I brought my husband Kent Lawson to Edinburgh for his first Festival. I realised that so many of the plays I had seen and loved at the Fringe had no further life, and he encouraged me to change that. I then thought New York deserved to see a bit of the magic that drew me to Edinburgh every year, and I worked out I could afford to bring one show there each year. Since the Fringe Society saw this as a perfect award for drama, in contrast to the well known then-Perrier Award for comedy [the Edinburgh Comedy Award], I was encouraged in my idea. The Scotsman newspaper also provided access to their writers as additional judges– and so it all happened!
CM: How do you choose the shows you go to see in Edinburgh?
CT: I choose the show to see in several ways: I look for companies, playwrights and actors whose work I respect and then I ask EVERYONE what they have loved. Don’t be surprised if I accost you in the street! I also have relationships with the wonderful arts writers, venue managers and producers who want me to see good work.
CM: For how many years have you been coming to the Fringe? What is it that draws you here, and what do you enjoy the most?
CT: I started coming to the Fringe about twenty years ago when I first found out I could see five plays a day and it was only 60 degrees! The creative energy in Edinburgh in August makes it the cultural capital of the world, and I immediately knew I belonged here.
CM: You are clearly a theatre lover, but have you ever trod the boards yourself?
CT: I had a dear friend in college taking a directing course, and she asked me to do a scene from ‘A View From the Bridge’. Although it was ultimately performed, and she did well in the course, the experience only increased my respect for the process and for actors, although I knew it was not for me.
CM: This year you are also bringing an exhibition of oil paintings to the Fringe, proceeds from which will go towards the renovation of the Edinburgh University owned and student run Bedlam Theatre (somewhere the ThreeWeeks editors spent a lot of time in the early nineties!). How did this come about?
CT: The exhibition of oil portraits at the Edinburgh College of Art is an outgrowth of my desire to raise money for the Bedlam Theatre. In 2008, I gave the Award to Ella Hickson’s ‘Eight’ which was on at the theatre. After, I heard some talk of the Bedlam possibly closing because of its state of disrepair. I asked Professor Sir Timothy O’Shea, Principal of the University, if I could assist in fund-raising. We came up with the idea of the exhibit, a private view and party for donors. It is a thrill to see both sides of my life come together in Edinburgh. So please come and donate for this very good cause. Bedlam is completely student run, and an enormous asset to Edinburgh.
CM: The art works in the exhibition depict actors, playwrights, directors and critics from the Fringe. How did you decide who to paint?
CT: Many of the subjects are prize winners: actors under the lights, writers, directors. Others are friends whom I’ve met during my years here. Some are actually writers and performers from the US, but it took the Festival to bring us together!
CM: One can only presume you spend much of your time in Edinburgh actually seeing shows, but is there anything else you like to do while you are here?
CT: I love everything about the city – just walking the streets and marvelling over the skyline and architecture is a treat. The surprise of the fireworks lighting the sky, the incredible Book Festival, the terrific restaurants, all add to the excitement. But the best part are the friendships that have come about because of this fabulous event each year.
CM: Finally, what advice would you have for theatre companies embarking on their first Fringe journey?
CT: If at all feasible, come to the Festival prior to presenting. Try to figure out where best your work fits, and how the Festival works. Attend many of the talks given by the Fringe Society about bringing work here. Then, make it a work of true passion. Don’t try to figure out what the audience will like, just do what your talent insists is good, and then polish it till it shines. Even if the show goes no further, you can be proud of your best effort and you’ll have learned for the next piece you do.
The ‘Faces Of The Fringe Exhibition’ was staged at Edinburgh College Of Art at Fringe 2012.